If you are looking to get a new set of carbon road bike wheels for your rim brake bike, you are going to want them to perform well on every measure. For what they will cost you, they better deliver a big improvement in performance over the carbon hoops you have now or transform your cycling experience if you’ve been riding stock or upgrade alloy wheels.

The best all-around carbon wheels are made with 40mm to 50 mm deep carbon fiber rims and should give you sustained aerodynamic benefits when you ride fast and make your climbing easier when you go up long, steep ascents. You’ll expect sure handling and easy rolling on everything from smooth pavement in calm weather to rough road surfaces or strong crosswinds.

They should be stiff, accelerate well, and be responsive enough to keep you competitive in group rides or road races, comfortable enough to ride on for hours and hours in an endurance event, and stop quickly and predictably on both dry and wet roads.

That’s a long list of requirements for a high-performance rim brake carbon clincher wheelset. To help you make an informed and confident decision about which wheels and stores will deliver for you, dig into my reviews below that tell you how the latest group of carbon bike wheels perform, what they cost, and how they compare.

Related: Looking for carbon wheels for your road disc bike?  Click Best Carbon Disc Wheelset

Related: Not sure what kind of wheels to get?  Click Road Bike Wheels – How To Choose The Best For You


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The performance of all-around carbon wheels has gotten better recently in four ways

I recommend two Best Performers in this category

Compare wheelset performance, prices, and specs for those I reviewed in one chart

Several other wheelsets provide good options you should consider


With each new generation of carbon bike wheels, there continue to be notable performance improvements. That’s especially the case for the all-around, rim brake, carbon clincher wheelset category that this review focuses on.

Five years ago, cyclists could make compelling arguments for and against the best carbon and best alloy wheels for all-around riding. With the developments since then, however, it’s now pretty hard to put up a credible argument in favor of alloy wheels on anything other than price.

The best carbon road bike wheels are clearly superior against all the key performance criteria.

Which performance characteristics separate out the best carbon road bike wheels from the rest? What developments have there been in recent years that have created this superior performance?

Here’s my short list of the most important ones.

1. Aero performance – Trend spotters go around saying things like “beige is the new black” or “comedy is the new rock’n’roll” or, the one I especially hate, “50 is the new 30”.

That last one, which I think means we’re all going to be working a lot longer, isn’t far numerically at least from what’s been going on with all-around carbon road bike wheels. Whereas the depth of wheels in the “all-around” category used to be 35-45mm, the best ones are now 40 or even 45 to 50mm deep. Deeper wheels are faster than shallower ones when you are riding at aero speeds. (This study is only the latest to reach this conclusion.)

And before you jump to the conclusion that deeper wheels are heavier, and therefore won’t climb as well, I will tell you that the best all-around carbon wheels aren’t any heavier than the 1500 gram +/-50 gram range than they were when I began tracking and updating this category in the mid-2010s.

Actually, these wheels are staying in this weight range while getting both deeper and wider. 19C and even 21C wheels are the new 17C, the “C” referring to the internal width in millimeters between the bead hooks of the rims of these wheels. The external widths have also increased to as much as 27mm and even 28mm across the brake tracks though many 17C wheels are still in the 24-25mm external width range.

Along with these deeper and wider rims, or perhaps because of the added latitude it gives wheel designers to change the shape of rims made of carbon fiber, the crosswind performance has also improved. While you used to have to worry about getting pushed off your line (or even blown off the road) on the best of the old 35-45mm deep carbon wheels, you don’t anymore. The best ones now almost thumb their blunt noses at crosswinds while you continue merrily along at speeds you used to only be able to maintain with time-trial depth wheels.

2. Comfort – The best carbon road bike wheels are now more comfortable than ever. Because the rims have greater internal widths, you can put wider tires on them. And because you can put wider tires on them, you can reduce the pressure you set your tires at and get a more comfortable ride while still providing the same amount of overall volume in the tires to oppose your same weight.

Further, because the outside rims of your wheels are wider, wider tires don’t hurt your aero performance as you go to those 25C tires everyone wants to ride these days for better comfort. That, of course, is as long as the mounted, inflated width of the 25C tire you want to ride is narrower than the external rim width. (More on this in the Topic of the Week section of this edition of Know’s Notes.)

Finally, because your tires are wider on the wider rims, you get better handling with more of the width (rather than length) of your tire in contact with the road.

There may be a practical limit to how much wider wheels go and contribute to your comfort. The front forks and rear stays of many 3 to 5-year-old rim brake bikes won’t fit 28C tires. Older bikes often won’t even fit many 25C tires.

Even where they can fit, 28C tires will wreck the aerodynamics of the wheels that are even 27mm or 28mm wide. Most 28C tires, once installed and inflated, measure a millimeter or two wider than the 28mm width suggested by the 28C tire designation.

28C tires will be the new 25C for the already wider and growing carbon disc wheelset category. And, with many more new enthusiast-level road disc bikes being sold now than rim brake ones, and as that gap continues to grow, I don’t expect rim brake bike makers will invest in designing and trying to sell new rim brake bikes with wider forks and rear stays to accommodate wider wheels and tires.

In addition to wider tires, tubeless ones further add to comfort on the latest generation of carbon bike wheels. You can lower the pressure on tubeless tires another 5-10 psi below your tubed tire inflation levels with little concern for pinch flats.

Tubeless-ready wheels are now nearly ubiquitous among the best carbon wheels. Tubeless-optimized wheels, ones that have rim beds with center channels, side gutters, and bead hooks designed for the width, bead designs and low pressures of tubeless tires are becoming more commonplace.

If you want to read more on all of this, here’s my post on the best tubeless tires.

You can’t put lipstick on a pig to disguise its true nature. By that, I mean that a wheel has to have the vertical compliance built into it in the first place through a combination of its rim, spokes, spoke angles, and hub flanges for it to have a chance of being comfortable. A wider or less inflated tire won’t do it alone.

Most of the best carbon wheel makers have figured out how to make compliant wheels. Your choice of tire width, pressure, and tubeless vs. tubed tires can enhance the compliance they start with but only take you so far.

3. Puncture resistance and resilience – The tubeless tires you can run on today’s best carbon bike wheels are more resistant to pinch flats than tubed tires as they don’t have the tube rubbing against the tire that causes the tube to pinch and flat in the first place. Pinch flats are a bigger risk as you run lower pressures with wider tubed tires.

Tubeless tires are also more resilient, meaning they recover more quickly when you puncture. Most punctures happen at the bottom of tires that are in contact with the pavement. The sealant in your tires will fill holes the size of most punctures while you roll along without you even getting off the bike.

Of course, larger bottom punctures or those in the side may require you to put in a new tube with if the sealant doesn’t close a large puncture or sidewall tear in a tubeless tire.

4. Braking – Big gains have been made in the dry and wet braking performance of the best carbon clincher wheelsets for rim brake bikes. At the same time, big differences remain between wheels within the best category and between the best and many lower-priced carbon wheels.

Wheels with the best braking performance have brake track surfaces that are textured, etched, patterned or treated in some way to create an uneven surface. This surface creates more friction when the brake pad comes up against it and helps slow you down.

While carbon bike wheels that have one of these brake track treatments perform better than those that don’t, there are differences in modulation, pad wear, noise, and wet road performance between those that do. I note that in the reviews below.

The use of resins that have a higher temperature melting point also separates the best carbon clincher wheelsets from the rest. The use of these resins greatly limits the risk of carbon delamination you can get after braking wheels with lower temperature resins or with made inferior carbon wheel manufacturing techniques.

As riders, we have also adopted braking techniques that serve us well when riding carbon clincher wheelsets on rim brake bikes the same way any group of riders adapts to new products that can improve our performance. For example, time trial riders change their body position to use aero bars and enthusiasts train differently and better by using power meters rather than relying primarily on heart rate monitoring.

Specifically, I and others who have learned how to get the best out of carbon clinchers don’t drag the brakes when riding downhill as many riders will when braking on alloy wheels. We also alternate braking the front and back wheels. Doing this should allow you to give each wheel 2-4x the amount of time cooling as braking.

We engage the brakes firmly and get off them quickly rather than ease into it and hold them a bit longer as with alloys. In the rain, we know to give ourselves a little more time and we squeeze the brake levers a little harder when we first brake to clear the water from the brake tracks.

Do you need to use these braking techniques? Not totally. I’ve tested the best current-generation carbon bike wheels of various depths on an 8%, 1 mile downhill stretch while dragging the brakes the whole way and many aren’t even warm to the touch at the bottom.

Should you adopt these techniques? Absolutely. It just so happens that they maximize both your performance and the longevity of your wheels. You don’t go out and buy carbon bike wheels that enable you to go faster just so you can drag your brakes going downhill. That would be like going out and buying an aero bike and seldom getting in the drops or buying a power meter and not having a training program.

On the other hand, if you agree with my fellow tester Moose who says that brakes are highly overrated and seldom uses them, none of this matters much at all.

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For In The Know Cycling reviews, I evaluate product-specific criteria in four groups – performance, design, quality, and cost. The criteria that matter most in those categories for the best all-around, carbon wheels for rim brake bikes are:

Performance:  Versatility, aerodynamics, stiffness, acceleration, comfort, handling and braking. You can read detailed descriptions of each of these here.

Design:  Wheel weight and material, rim depth, rim internal and external widths, rim profile, hub and spoke design or selection, and wheel finish.

Quality: Durability, warranty, and service/support.

Cost:  Market price.

The Best Performer wheelset is selected independent of cost and chosen using the performance criteria mentioned above.

Design shows up (or not) in performance so I don’t judge it alone. Two products with very similar designs, for example having U-shaped rim profiles and the same weight, may perform similarly or differently. Design is an intended means to an end but not itself the basis for an evaluation or product choice.

Quality is either a go or no go in my recommendations. I won’t recommend anything that doesn’t have an acceptable level of quality but I’m not going to recommend something just because it has superior quality if it under-performs or has higher costs.

My cost evaluation is based on the wheelset’s best available price from looking at what it sells for across all the online stores that have it in stock and that meet my customer satisfaction rating requirements. This is the market price, often less than the full retail price, the manufacturer’s recommended price, or what it sells for at your local bike shop.

I’ve been reviewing the all-around carbon clincher category of wheels since I started this site. I wrote my first review about these wheels in 2014 by sorting through 36 models from 23 different companies largely based on their 35mm to 45mm rim depth. 

This included carbon and carbon alloy wheels from well known and lesser established brands, wheels that varied in performance from truly outstanding to barely acceptable, and wheels that varied in price from a little more than $1,000 to as much as $3,000.

Each year I review this category I seem to narrow the field. I have eliminated some models because it has been 2 to 3 years since they were introduced or updated and their performance is no longer competitive.

Technology and performance has changed very rapidly in this category. Anything more than a couple years old will likely have braking, comfort, handling or other performance below that of the best of the current generation models.

I’ve not considered some carbon road bike wheels in this review because they are distributed and supported only through dealers in one country or region or only sold online and sometimes come from halfway across the globe directly to you. While that in and of itself doesn’t make the wheels perform any less well, if a wheel brand doesn’t have a dealer network or at least a service center in the country or region where you ride or another way to quickly and cost-effectively get your wheels serviced should you have a problem or warranty issue, that’s not a wheelset I want to own or suggest you even consider.

I know this puts the smaller, less well-financed, and regional wheel makers or brands at a disadvantage. Frankly, I don’t care about the disadvantages or advantages of wheel makers and brands that sell wheels to us. I care about my fellow enthusiasts being able to buy, ride and get service for the wheelsets we buy.

This review considers the best performing all-around carbon bike wheels against the performance criteria I laid out earlier. You can read a two-part post (Part 1 and Part 2) covering a wide range of lower-priced, all-around carbon wheels that perform below those in this review across multiple criteria. 

You can read reviews of deeper aero rim brake carbon road bike wheels (here), shallower carbon climbing wheels (here) and lower cost, low profile alloy upgrade rim brake wheels (here).

I am also no longer reviewing or recommending carbon-alloy rim brake wheels. I haven’t seen any new or improved carbon-alloy wheels come out in the last few years. Companies appear to be investing in improving their carbon clincher braking performance as I described above and developing carbon road disc wheels.

If you don’t see the wheelset you are interested in this post, you might want to enter the wheelset name in the search box at the top of this page or look at the list of reviews in the sidebar as they might be reviewed in another category.

Along with each review, I’ve provided you links to stores that carry each wheelset, have them in stock at the best prices, and have excellent customer satisfaction ratings. Using those links saves you time and money and also supports our ability to bring you more reviews.

With that hopefully informative but regrettably long introduction, let’s get onto my recommendations.

For the first time, I’m recommending two wheelsets as Best Performers. After the reviews of each of these, I’ve provided some direct comparisons.

Best Performers


Little more than a year after Zipp introduced its first line of NSW wheels, it came out with an updated line in 2018. The latest 303 NSW is wider (19C), lighter (1510g), and has an updated rim profile. Along with its NSW siblings, the new 303 is the first line of Zipp rim brake wheels that are tubeless.

The hubs and brake tracks that were new with the earlier NSW carry over as does its premium price.

I and my fellow testers rated these the Best Performer the last time we reviewed wheels in this category. I wondered if the changes made them any better.

Zipp 303 NSW carbon road bike wheelsIn a word, yes. They are more comfortable on long rides and mixed terrain than before. They accelerate and climb a tad better. They still have an uncanny way of seemingly ignoring the crosswinds. If you run them at lower pressure with tubeless tires, they seem to be even more surefooted than before. If you run them at higher pressures, they feel as responsive as a whip.

My fellow tester Nate, the all-business, often stoic Bullet Train and A group ride leader at my local bike club who also led his race team to another TTT victory and won his age group up the New England equivalent of the Mt. Ventoux climb this year called the 303 NSW “absolutely dreamy.”

Seems the ability to run this 303 NSW carbon clincher wheelset tubeless at <80 psi for Nate, who is all of about 155 lbs/70kg, created what he described as a super smooth ride with great stability and control, soaking up bumps and harsh road conditions.

I seldom hear Nate or the few other super talented and competitive riders I’ve met talk about comfort and stability. This wheelset brought out that reaction.

At the other end of the spectrum, I was surprised to hear my fellow tester Moose, who weighs about 200lbs/90kg (and thus the reason for his nickname), speak positively about the 303 NSW’s stiffness and responsiveness. Zipps characteristically aren’t as stiff as other wheelsets and under Moose’s frame, I thought they might be a tad soft.

Nope. He found them sturdy enough and really liked their responsiveness. Despite the range of alloy and carbon wheels that were shallower and deeper and the same depth as these we rode this summer, he kept coming back to the 303 NSW as the one he wanted to ride for this event or that long weekend away.

When I ride these wheels, I feel like the Wayne and Garth characters from the old Wayne’s World skits who repeated “We’re not worthy” when someone famous invited them to stick around.

Why? When I get the 303 NSWs up to speed, which doesn’t take long, they seem to hold my momentum without me having to work really hard to keep them there. When I go out on a windy day, my 150lb/68kg body can get pushed around but the NSWs seem to anchor me to my line. The wheels are snappy on legs that haven’t had much snap in them for more than a few years now. They also climb easily for me.

The braking on these wheels is probably their most debated characteristic. The performance isn’t debatable – they are as capable on dry roads as alloy wheels and nearly so on wet ones.

Instead, the noise that comes from these brakes creates the greatest divide in the evaluations I and my fellow testers have had and that some of you have shared in your comments in past reviews about other Zipp wheels that use the same brake track design.

While it’s not annoying like the shrieks you have likely heard from older carbon brake tracks and pads, some don’t like any noise while others think the Zipp brake sound is cool. Perhaps the best analog is the reaction people have to noise coming off of freehubs. Some like it while others want it quiet. Ironically, the hubs on the 303 NSW freewheels without a whisper.

All in, the new 303 NSW is probably the most versatile and complete all-around set of carbon bike wheels a road cycling enthusiast will ever need. A racer might want more of this and not care about that from their wheels but for those of us who enjoy a wide range of riding from individual training to aggressive A and B group rides to long endurance rides to serious climbing to riding at high speeds and want one wheelset to help them deliver great performance and riding experiences, the Zipp 303 NSW is hard to beat.

Am I worthy of this level of performance from a wheelset? Probably not but I’ll gladly take it. And, if I’m going to pay the market price of about $3200/£2600/€3000 for this one, I’ve earned that level of performance or at least bought it. If you want it for yourself, you can find it online at my top-rated stores Competitive Cyclist, Merlin, and Tredz where you get 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10, and others I recommend at Know’s Shop.

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There’s something about my long-ago memories of driving a Chevrolet Corvette and my recent experience riding the Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 wheels that connects.

No, it isn’t the phallic imagery of a Corvette and the XXX label of the latest Aeolus, though perhaps you could make that connection. (Sorry that I just did.)

Rather, it’s the rush of rolling at speed they both provide. While a lot of cars and wheels roll fast, it’s what happens in the moment of speed that makes life behind the wheel and in the saddle exciting.

Hitting a turn at speed carries more unknows than rolling straight. The Corvette’s wide wheelbase, wide tires, and low chassis provided me the handling performance to confidently hit every turn faster than I’d ever done before.

Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 carbon road bike wheelsSimilarly, the Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 mounted with 25C tubeless tires stick it in the corners. Fellow tester Nate enthused they always seemed so much more planted and stable than any other carbon clincher wheelset he’d experienced, especially in turns with bumpy pavement.

I measured the internal rim width between the bead hooks at 21.1 mm on these and other Bontrager Aeolus XXX series wheels. That makes them the widest rim brake carbon bike wheels we’ve tested, notably wider than most which run 19 mm or 17 mm these days.

Their 27.5 mm external rim width across the brake tracks is nearly as wide as others like the Enve and Zipp in this category. The external rim width along with the mounted and inflated 25C tire width helps contribute the XXX 4’s aerodynamic performance while its wide internal rim dimension and the wheels’ stiffness lead to its great handling and comfort.

Many road disc wheelsets have been at 21 mm internal for a couple years now and I can confirm riding them is a similar speed-liberating handling experience. The better support a wider rim provides to the sidewalls of the same 25C tire makes a real difference. It’s nice to see Bontrager bringing this to the rim brake world.

Moose took these wheels for a ride down the 8-mile, 8% average grade asphalt road at Whiteface Mountain, home of the Lake Placid Winter Olympics. Hitting speeds of 50 mph, he reported that the crosswinds made the riding the XXX 4s “a little sketchy” but not enough to back off his exhilarating speed.

I don’t know if that’s Moose’s daredevil approach to going downhill on bikes (and skis) that he prefers but I do know he arrived safely at the bottom and was so excited after the ride he sent me a half dozen texts about his descent.

While neither of us could find strong crosswinds, Nate and my experience in moderate ones on these wheels were fine. They did acknowledge the breeze but it didn’t affect our steering or cause us to do anything unnatural.

Unfortunately, you sometimes need to slow down. Fortunately, all three of us were impressed with the braking power and modulation of these wheels on dry roads; they are among the best here.

On wet roads, however, they are no better than earlier generation carbon clincher rim brakes. Like the Vette, leave these Bontragers in the garage when it’s wet outside.

The XXX 4s are “stiff enough” to climb and sprint but they are more above average in this all-around carbon clincher pack than clearly superior compared to others on this criterion. They are considerably heavier than the 1400 grams claimed by Bontrager – 1556 grams on my scale. This puts these XXX 4s some 50-100 grams heavier than most in this rim brake carbon road bike wheels category.

Why is there such a big weight difference? I measured them with the rim strips you need to ride them tubeless. Bontrager doesn’t include the strips in their claimed weight. It’s unusual to have rim strips weigh so much. Most rim tape adds 5-10 grams per wheel. These rim strips weigh about 65 grams per wheel.

I asked the Bontrager support line and a dealer whether I could run them tubeless with tape rather than the strips. Neither recommended it. The strips add the height and rim bed gutters you need to get your tubeless tires locked in.

If you want to ride them with a tube and clincher, they will be far lighter. But, to gain the versatility, comfort, and handling that we experienced, run them tubeless even though they will be slightly heavier.

The added weight makes for an average, more dampened acceleration than a lively, springier reaction when you want to accelerate. Their DT Swiss star ratchet hub internals provides quick engagement (and quiet freewheeling) but doesn’t improve the acceleration enough to make a difference.

If you’ve got the watts in your legs, you can probably get these wheels up to speed much in the way a Corvette corals the horses under its hood to get you from 0 to 60 mph faster than most.

It’s what the Corvette and Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 do at speed, more than how fast they get you there, that separates them from the competition.

You can order these wheels online for $2400 by clicking through on this link to Trek.


So what separates the two Best Performers? The Bontrager XXX4 is the stiffer of the two. That stiffness shows up in more precise cornering and the feeling of more direct power transfer when climbing. The Zipp 303 NSW is a more responsive, more lively ride and feels like it is less work going uphill.

They are both comfortable but the Zipp holds the edge here and it shows up on long rides. Choosing to ride them tubeless, which makes both more comfortable, and where you set the inflation pressure will likely have as much or more effect on your comfort than choosing between the wheels.

The XXX 4 and 303 NSW brake extremely well on dry pavement though the XXX 4 does it quietly. Because the XXX 4 is stiffer, you can set up your brake pads closer to the rims and get better modulation in your braking. If you find yourself riding on wet roads often, the 303 NSW will give you notably better braking.

As a light B group rider, I loved both but preferred the livelier Zipp wheelset and it being totally unfazed by crosswinds. While I prefer its quiet freehub, I wasn’t bothered by the brake noise.

I’d have thought the slightly stiffer XXX 4 would win Moose over but he liked the responsiveness of the 303 NSW and the range of things it did so well.

Despite loving the comfort of the Zipp, Nate gave the nod to the XXX 4 for its better handling and brake modulation. He also felt the way it handled varying terrain would make it a great wheelset to use during cyclocross season.

Performance comparisons and preferences aside, the price of these two wheelsets differs by quite a bit. While neither of these wheelsets is a bargain, the Bontragers are about $800 less expensive. That’s an important consideration if you weigh the price of performance in your decision.



Campagnolo is a proud company and a much-admired brand. Most Campy fans I’ve come across are extremely loyal in the same way sports fans are to the teams they’ve been rooted for since childhood.

A friend I’ve ridden with for years only rides Campy wheels and groupsets and isn’t the least bit interested in trying gear from other companies. He owns a half dozen classic bikes, his dad runs a Ferrari dealer, and he’s of Irish heritage.

That last part doesn’t line up but I totally get and see how the rest of it fits together. And he rides away from me whenever he wants to which tells me his loyalty and talent are well suited too.

Campy Bora Ultra 50 carbon road bike wheelsBora is one of the most iconic wheel models in the Campy stable. Always at the top of the Campy line and with great performance to back it up, it was proudly a tubular only wheelset for 20 years. In 2015, the first Bora clinchers were introduced. In 2018, Campy introduced the first disc brake Bora models.

For a company with a great heritage, undying customer loyalty, and iconic models like the Bora, making change is like walking a tightrope between retaining what made you successful in the past and keeping you successful into the future.

The Bora 50 Ultra is teetering on that tightrope. It is changing but the change is slow. Its performance is running behind other wheelsets in this category of all-around carbon bike wheels that have changed much quicker.

The Bora is a reasonably comfortable wheelset with 25C tubed tires on it but no more comfortable than average. It isn’t tubeless-ready. They haven’t widened the rim’s 17mm internal, 24mm external dimensions since they introduced it as a clincher in 2016. So don’t plan on taking it out for a dirt ride or run it in a cross race.

With 25C Continental Grand Prix 4000S II mounted on these Bora 50s, the tire measures 26.9mm wide. This creates a less than ideal aero combination when other all-around wheels are wide enough to exceed the tire’s width. If you are looking for speed, you’ll be better off with 23C tires mounted to these rims.

Its classic, V-shaped profile creates a classic crosswind handling issue on these 50mm deep rims during a time when other wheels have created profiles that have greatly reduced or nearly eliminated crosswind hassles.

If you are a Campy loyalist, I can imagine you are saying to yourself or perhaps yelling out loud at me things like “I don’t care about wide wheels, U shaped profiles, tubeless tires or doing any stinking dirt road riding. I want a stiff, classic Campy race wheelset and I know how to deal with the crosswinds just fine, thank you.”

If that’s your reaction, and you want a classic set of wheels, these may be for you.

The Bora Ultra 50 is indeed stiff, amongst the stiffest around. This is a Campy wheelset characteristic that has been central to the Bora and continues in this clincher model. That stiffness, along with their light weight, shows up when you accelerate and when you climb.

They handle very precisely, though not any better than a few other of the better handling wheels in this category.

A trademark of Campy wheels is their smooth rolling hubs. Very smooth rolling in the case of the Bora Ultra 50 which come with the company’s top ceramic bearing fitted hubs.

Oh, and they look drop-dead gorgeous. I don’t normally comment on the looks of gear because everyone has their own tastes. But, these Boras standout. No stealth looking black on black labels and matte black finish rims for these babies.

The carbon weave is beautiful. The large grey and white or red Campagnolo labels scream your brand preference. It’s hard for anyone to miss what you are wearing… uh, riding. Very Italian indeed.

Campagnolo did make some changes for the 2018 update of the Bora you’d normally associate with faster changing wheel brands. They went to a textured brake track and added in some higher temperature resin to improve performance and reduce the chance of overheating.

While the previous model had pretty good carbon rim braking, this is a touch better and puts them on par with the best dry braking carbon wheels. Like the others with textured tracks, they are a bit noisy but I’ll take that every day for the improved performance. The Bora’s stiffness allows you to set the pads closer to the rims and get better modulation than many other wheelsets.

Like most things Campy, they sell for a price premium to every other wheelset in this category. I guess if I threw a set of Lightweight Meilenstein into the mix the Bora Ultra 50 would look like a bargain. But at Campy’s suggested price of USD$3260, £2620, €2830, they look pricey. Fortunately, you can often find them for a market price far less.

Go to these search results at Know’s Shop to see where you can buy the Bora Ultra 50 from stores I recommend because they have the best prices, customer satisfaction records, and selection on enthusiast-level cycling gear and kit.

An option is to go with the Bora One 50, the same wheels but with Campy’s less expensive ceramic bearing, alloy shell USB hubs. They add back about 50 grams to the wheels but are still perfectly good, smooth-riding hubs that will save you hundreds from recommended stores through this link to Know’s Shop.


The latest incarnation of the Easton EC90 SL carbon road bike wheelset really likes to go. I know that’s not a technical term but that was my initial impression after riding them the first few times and every time after that. They are fast, faster than a 38mm deep carbon wheelset should be or at least as fast as any wheel I’ve ever ridden in the 40mm depth range. They roll very smoothly – light, quiet though not silent freehubs, and kept me going without having to put out a whole lot of extra effort once I got them up to speed.

These are also very stiff wheels. They are right there with me without hesitation when I accelerate and don’t flex when I get out of the saddle to climb. Consistent with this level of stiffness, they handle precisely and confidently in corners.

Not sure if it’s the rims or the hubs they’ve put on these wheels that have wider spacing between the flanges than in prior models, but together (with the spokes of course) these wheels are plenty stiff, responsive and confident.

While they are stiff laterally or side to side, and that’s a good thing, they are also stiff vertically or up and down, and that’s not such a good thing. Vertical stiffness is another way to say compliance which is another way to talk about comfort. These aren’t as compliant or comfortable as other wheels in this category.

If you are a competitive rider that likes to inflate your tires 90 or 100 psi and do 40 and 50 mile long rides, their comfort won’t be much of a consideration. You like a firm ride, it’s a relatively short distance, and you probably put comfort way down on your list of priorities.

On the other hand, if you do long endurance rides and lower your tire pressure as far as you can because you want comfort, these wheels aren’t going to be plush no matter how wide your tires or low your pressure. They just aren’t built that way.

If you fall somewhere in between, the comfort isn’t bad. It’s certainly not going to ruin your ride and it’s just not going to be the highlight of your experience. They do ride more comfortably with tubeless than tubed tires so set them up that way if comfort is important to you.

The latest, 2017 version of the EC90 SL has somewhat improved braking but they have neither a textured brake track or use a high-temperature resin as the best braking wheels do. The brakes perform at last generation levels so give yourself some extra time to stop, especially on wet roads, over what you are used to if you are coming from alloy wheels.

I also recommend you use something other than the Swissstop Yellow brake pads Easton ships with these carbon wheels. The Yellows leave a pollen colored ring on the otherwise very attractively finished and labeled rims and the modulation is somewhat soft. I’ve used ENVE, Zipp and Swissstop Black Prince carbon pads with these wheels. All provide better modulation and no ring around the track.

You can buy the Easton EC90 SL wheels by clicking through this link to recommended stores on Know’s Shop.


When ENVE introduced the second generation SES 3.4 wheelset as “climbing wheels with an aero advantage” it seemed like we were being fed a new product with an identity crisis. The first generation SES 3.4 were all-around wheels. And ENVE also had the SES 2.2 climbing wheels in their lineup, ones I’ve previously evaluated and rated the Best Performer in my first review of carbon clinchers for climbing.

ENVE SES 3.4 carbon road bike wheels

Well, the SES 2.2 is still around but the second generation SES 3.4 is a better climbing wheel. In my latest review of the best climbing wheels, I rated them the Best Performer.

Riding them back to back with the Zipp 303 NSW, Nate and I found the SES 3.4 stiffer and a better climber than the NSW or anything else in this category.

They don’t get up to speed as fast as the 303 NSW and you need to put more work into them to maintain it once your there.

Makes sense; at rim depths of 38.5mm in the front and 42.5 in the rear, the SES 3.4 is shallower than the NSW and Bontrager XXX 4. But they feel as fast or faster than the other wheelsets in this category not named Zipp or Bontrager and they laugh in the face of crosswinds.

ENVE rim brake wheels all use the same textured brake tracks. In my experience, they are top of the charts both in dry and wet conditions. The hub options sold with these new wheels – ENVE’s branded hubs with either an alloy or carbon shell (both which use Mavic’s Instant Drive 360 internals, a DT Swiss 240-like dual ratchet design), Chris King R45 and R45 ceramic – are all first-rate performers, rolling smoothly, engaging quickly and accelerating with the best of them.

Weight, free-wheel sound, rolling smoothness, long-term durability, and price are the things that separate these hubs but you can’t go wrong with any of them. I’m partial to the ENVE alloy hub. They’re quieter, the least expensive option (USD $2550) and need no maintenance. The ENVEs sold through European stores are often speced with Chris King models however and those are some of the smoothest rolling hubs you can find.

Wheelset quality, customer service, and warranty (5 years) are also exceptional.

The SES 3.4’s market price falls in between the 303 NSW and XXX 4 Best Performers. You can find the best prices from the best stores for the ENVE SES 3.4 by clicking these links to Competitive Cyclist, Tredz where you get 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10, Merlin or directly from ENVE by clicking through this link to

USA residents can get a $600 credit for trading in non-ENVE carbon wheels and a $900 credit for trading in ENVE carbon wheels when you order by January 3. Go to this link at ENVE for full details.

If you are torn between buying a climbing and all-arounder, the SES 3.4 is the wheelset that doesn’t force you to choose.


The Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST is an update of the Cosmic Pro Carbon SL C, Mavic’s first medium depth rim brake wheelset using only carbon fiber and resins in its brake track. Previously, Mavic had put aluminum sleeves inside their carbon rims to provide alloy brake tracks that dispersed the heat generated from braking.

In going from the “SL C” to “SL UST” model, Mavic also widened the rims, put on new hubs, and built it to their new UST tubeless standard.

The result? The new Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST is a more comfortable, quieter, and more tubeless-ready wheelset. It’s clearly an improvement over the SL C it replaces that I reviewed previously with the headline – A strong, noisy performer at a good price.

The SL UST is 2mm wider than the SL C, and now 19mm across the inside of the rim (measured between the bead hooks). I could feel added comfort in the ride. This is especially so with the new Mavic Yksion Pro UST 25C tubeless tires that are made for Mavic by Hutchinson and that come pre-installed on the wheels and included in its price. Just add the sealant that also comes with the wheels and inflate.

Compared to the much-heralded original Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires, tests of these new Yksion Pro show equivalent rolling and puncture resistance (see tubeless tire ratings here). In my experience, these tires also have a better road feel and their aerodynamics are better for this wheelset’s profile (and many others) than the Pro One. The mounted and inflated width for the 25C tire is a millimeter narrower than the Schwalbe and closer to the wheels’ 25.5mm external or brake track width.

Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST carbon road bike wheels

The Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST hubset is also new but, according to the word out among shop mechanics, is a knock-off of DT Swiss 240 hubs used on many other carbon road bike wheels. Whatever its design influence, the new Mavic hub is smoother and quieter than the noise created by the SL C hubs while retaining the distinctive Mavic freewheeling sound.

This is real progress if you care about freehub buzz. We’re talking about going from it’s really annoying; don’t buy it to something like it’s fine if you like to hear your freewheel spin.

Mavic continues with the same version of their textured brake track on this Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST wheelset that was used on the SL C. At the speeds I ride (18-20mph on an average training or group ride), I found it gives you good braking on dry pavement but is not very good on wet roads.

My fellow tester Nate rides considerably faster (23-26mph) and challenges wheelsets a good deal more. He was unimpressed with the braking power and heat dissipation of these wheelsets down long, steep alpine descents. We both noticed they squeal after warming up.

While these Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST wheels climb well enough, this kind of braking seriously dulls the reward you’ve earned climbing when you are looking to cash in doing a long downhill. They do handle well in the crosswinds you often find in high mountain passes or those coming across open spaces.

While they are clearly stiff when you want to turn up the speed or head up a ramp, these wheels aren’t lively. There’s no snap and little giddy-up when you want to accelerate or get out of the saddle.

They do hold their speed well once you get moving but nothing out of the ordinary. The same can be said for their handling – solid but not inspiring of aggressive riding in the corners.

Over the year or so that Mavic improved these wheels, other well-established wheel makers like Zipp, Bontrager, Roval and DT Swiss were also improving the design and performance of their carbon road bike wheels and introduced new or updated wheels in this category. The Pro Carbon SL UST didn’t keep up or catch up with the improvements made by their competitors.

The market price for this wheelset of around $2,100/£1,700/€2,000 puts it in a tough spot as it doesn’t match up against others in a similar price range. You can find and order it using these links to my top-ranked store Competitive Cyclist where US and Canada residents get 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20 exclusively for In The Know Cycling readers and compare prices from other recommended stores at Know’s Shop.

You don’t have to spend a whole lot more to get much better performance and you can spend a lot less and get performance as good. If you don’t have the budget for better-performing carbon road bike wheels or if you value Mavic’s extensive dealer network and aren’t going to ride them as hard as a Group A rider like Nate, then this solid if unexciting wheelset may work for you.

If you plan to buy these wheels, make sure you track down the Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST with all of those words and initials in the name in that order. Mavic’s model names are confusingly similar and it’s easy to find a very different wheelset with a very similar sounding name. For example, Mavic makes or, in some cases recently made a Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST CL (a disc model), Cosmic Pro Carbon UST, a Cosmic Pro Carbon, a Cosmic Pro Carbon Exalith, and a bunch of other Cosmic blah blah blah models that are different wheelsets than the one with I’ve reviewed here.

Now you know…


Roval uses the same rim, hub internals, and spokes on its CLX 50 disc and rim brake bikes. The review below is excerpted from my write up of their disc brake model.

The Roval CLX 50 rim and disc brake wheels share the same profile – width, depth, shape, tubeless-ready, rim bed, etc.  Sure, the two wheels have different spoke counts and hubs but even the hubs have the same DT Swiss 240 internals with ceramic bearings.

While many of the first two generations of road disc wheels were optimized for rim brakes and tweaked for discs, this one appears to suit both formats well, if not necessarily optimized for either. It may straddle the Gen 2/3 road disc wheel characteristics I laid out earlier, but these compete on performance (and specs) with the latest Gen 3 all-around wheels.

Yes, these road disc wheels are heavier than their rim brake brothers, but the CLX 50 disc brake wheelset, at a measured weight of 1457 grams, is one of four wheelsets in this review coming in at under 1500 grams. So, it’s not sacrificing anything by being a rim twin with its rim brake brother.

[By the way, the 1415 gram claimed weight is probably without rim tape. I and several others that have reviewed this wheelset and actually weighed it all come in somewhere between 1440 and 1460 grams, likely due to whether we ran the tape around once or twice.]

Roval CL 50 Carbon carbon road bike wheels

The Roval CLX 50 has a modern aerodynamic profile and maintains your momentum well. It’s what you should expect from 50mm deep wheels that will set you back US$2400, £1870, €2200 as these will. Not all wheels deliver speed even at that price that but these clearly do.

They remain stable and easily handle in the crosswinds. These will tell you they are feeling the wind but they won’t jerk around on you. A light, steady touch on the tiller will keep them on course.

They also accelerate and climb better than most. While the weight difference between the CLX 50 and ENVE 3.4 is a minimal 50 or so grams, I felt a little more comfortable on the ENVEs on a blustery day of climbing and descending. But, the Roval isn’t far behind.

Perhaps it’s because the ENVEs are 10mm shallower that they handle the crosswinds so amazingly well. On the flip side, the Rovals are faster on the flats if you are riding at speeds where aero really matters – >20mph or 32kph.

The CLX 50 is stiff but not overly so. Likewise, they are compliant and handle well, on par with many of the wheelsets in this review.

Run them tubeless and lower your pressure if you want maximum comfort. Toss the plastic spoke hole plugs they come with and run rim tape if you want minimum hassle installing tubeless tires. The tires can get hung up on the plugs and make installing and removing them a whole lot more work than anyone should have to do to enjoy cycling.

About the rim brake CLX 50 … Reports from other testers found the rim braking on these wheels adequate but not on par with those made with textured brake tracks. Actual weight measurements of these wheels run from 1408 to 1429 to 1438 grams vs. a claimed weight of 1375 grams.

Check out this link to Know’s Shop to see where you can buy the CLX 50 wheels online at stores I recommend because of their superior price, selection and customer satisfaction ratings.


If you bought one, it’s maddening that a set of top-rated, all-around, carbon bike wheels you spent $3100 on could drop in price nearly $1000 and be surpassed in performance by a successor model in as little as a year.

If you didn’t buy one, now may be the time to get the less expensive model that’s a lot like the one you could have spent a whole lot more for, especially if its strengths and budget suits you.

Such is the world of Zipp wheelsets and the innovation going on more broadly in the world of carbon bike wheels these days.

In 2017 Zipp started selling its line of NSW wheels with new rim shapes and hubs. The Zipp 303 NSW knocked the Zipp 303 Firecrest off the top of its performance and price perch and the 303 Firecrest price was reduced to $2200.

In 2018 Zipp did it again. A new NSW line of carbon road bike wheels was introduced including a new Zipp 303 NSW. With that, the original 2017 303 NSW rims have become the centerpiece of the new 2018 303 Firecrest, the one I’m reviewing here, together with Zipp’s 77/177 hubs first put on the 303 and other Firecrest wheelsets in 2016.

Are you following me?

Oh, and the current Zipp 303 Firecrest sells for a recommended list price of $2,200/£1,880/€2,200. It is available at the best prices through these links to recommended stores in the US/CA Competitive Cyclist and in UK/EU at Tredz where you get 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10. You can find prices for this wheelset from other recommended stores through this link to Know’s Shop.

Zipp 303 Firecrest carbon road bike wheelsThese changes were triggered by Zipp’s efforts to improve the speed, crosswind management, braking, stiffness, comfort, and handling of its wheelsets. With innovation in the wheelset world focused on these areas over the last half dozen years, other wheelmakers had caught up to or surpassed the Firecrest wheels in several of these areas where its performance was tops.

Some of the improvements (speed, crosswind management, braking) showed up in the first-generation NSW rims that are now the core of the 303 Firecrest. Other improvements (comfort, handling) are seen in the latest NSW wheels that are wider and tubeless.

So, how does the latest Zipp 303 Firecrest perform?

This new 46mm deep, 1500 gram carbon clincher wheelset is very snappy when you want to accelerate. Once up to speed it maintains your momentum very well, riding like wheels 15mm deeper on the flats. It climbs like ones 10-20mm shallower uphill and don’t flinch in the face of crosswinds, running as straight as a low-profile alloy wheelset in gusting or steady winds.

If you’ve never ridden carbon wheels, those brief comments about responsiveness, momentum, climbing, and crosswind behavior are the first things you look for in separating out carbon wheels. Most carbon wheels that sell for less than the 303 Firecrest can’t do most or any of the things. Some that sell for the same or more than the Firecrest can’t do all these things as well.

The textured brake tracks on the new 303 Firecrest (that came with the earlier NSW rims) are a clear step up from earlier non-textured models. They can give you the kind of confidence on dry roads you get from alloy brake tracks. On wet roads, they are better than carbon wheels without textured tracks but not as good as alloy ones.

Top of the line (and more expensive) ENVE and Bontrager Aeolus XXX series wheels provide better power, modulation, and wet braking than the 303 Firecrests. But these wheels brake better than others Nate, Moose and I have evaluated in the same and lower price ranges as the 303 Firecrest.

Earlier 303 Firecrests and NSWs always felt moderately stiff to me and perhaps not stiff enough for heavier or stronger riders. Amongst carbon bike wheels, ENVE and Bontrager hoops are stiffer.

Zipp put redesigned 77/177 hubs on the 2016 303 Firecrests. That, perhaps along with other things they may have done with the rims made those stiffer wheels. Those hubs carry over to the new 303 Firecrest.

If you are light (68kg/150lbs) or not regularly cranking over 3.5 watts/kg, you’ll likely find the current 303 Firecrest plenty stiff and will enjoy the responsiveness I feel from these that you may not feel with a stiffer wheelset. If you are over (82kg/180lbs) or cranking it out at over 4 watts/kg, you might find yourself wanting a stiffer wheelset going uphill and in your more competitive rides.

I find this 303 Firecrest very comfortable on the road and handle with a kind of riding on rails confidence you want in every wheelset but find in few. With a set of 25C Zipp Tangente Course or 25C Continental Grand Prix 4000 II S tires, you’ll get a good aero fit where the mounted, inflated tire width is less than the 27.5 mm rim width at the brake track.

If you are purely a road cyclist committed to clincher and tube setups, the rest of this review won’t matter to you. If you do want wheels to ride for cyclocross or occasional dirt path riding, know that these 303 Firecrest don’t come tubeless. They also have relatively narrow inside widths (17.5mm front, 17.2 rear) than those best suited for gravel and cyclocross riding.

With other rim brake wheels being tubeless-ready and inside widths at 19mm or even 21mm wide, there are better choices for you than the 303 Firecrest if you value greater stability and low tire pressure when riding off-road. Zipp went with a tubeless, 19mm rim on the latest 303 NSW to make them more competitive with what others had already done in this rim brake carbon clincher wheelset category.

There is one question that I’ve been wondering about. You may be too after reading this review. The question: Is it worth waiting another year to see whether Zipp will pass on more NSW technology to the 303 Firecrest and at the Firecrest’s lower price?

With Zipp’s recent track record, it’s entirely possible they will do so yet again before long. However, seeing the technology separation Zipp has kept between the NSW and Firecrest lines that help explain, if not justify the price difference, I don’t see them being able to pass more technology down in the next year or two, for example, 19mm tubeless rims, without blurring those lines.

* * * * *

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  • What happened to the Reynolds Assualt. I thought you liked them before and were best value. Any thoughts?

    • Ahmed, I did/do and they were. It’s just that I like the performance of the Easton EC90 SL better and they are less expensive/a better value. Steve

      • Thanks Steve for your response and more importantly, the review. I enjoy coming to your blog and read what you post. Well done and keep them coming.

  • You missed a good one…. Ride Maple’s wheels, especially the Lima

  • This blog is the best, congrats !!

    My question is comparing this EC90SL Carbon with the other Easton you recommended EA90SL.

    In terms of using them on flats, with high average speed over 40km/h is there such a big difference between them ??

    What about the EC90SL or that Reynolds Assault C TL Clincher 2017 you told us about here ??

    • Thanks Pablo. Yes, there is a notable difference. The EC (“Easton Carbon”) is more aero, will hold your momentum better, is stiffer and more responsive than the EA (“Easton Alloy”). As to the EC90 SL ad Assault, see my response to Ahmed above. Steve

  • The Easton Alloy EA90 compared to Fulcrum Zero C17 ?? What do you think for mixed terrains, hills and flats.

  • You’re review is one of the most comprehensive I’ve see. Thank you for that. One thing I’d like to used as a comparative metric is rotational moment of intertia .I personally feel weight is used too generically to compare carbon rims, and it can be very misleading as the depths get bigger because weight changes to the rim impact climbing and acceleration far more than the total .Comparing the zipp 202fc to the new 2018 303 fc, there’s a very marginal weight difference but there’s a clear difference in performance in climbing vs aero for those, respectively .I wish wheel vendors would share inertia of the rims, but perhaps it’s too telling .I’ve done some theoretical calcs for some of the wheels you reviewed based on available info, and would love to share that with you as another data point.

    • Matthew. Thank you for your kind feedback. I focus on performance and don’t try to get hung up on weight and other specs. While I continually try to make this point, I put some specs in the table because many people want to know and have been trained to look at them and I’d be answering questions forever about them if they weren’t there.

      Rotational weight/inertia is a better measure than overall weight, I agree, but it still isn’t a straight line predictor of performance. FWIW, more wheelmakers are listing rim weight. True, rotational weight/inertia contribute to climbing, acceleration, etc. but so do differences in carbon layup, rim profile, hub engagement, spoke angle, etc., etc. I can’t separate out the effect of one design aspect from another on performance and really dislike how some wheel sellers emphasize/market the aspects of their design they think favors them and suggests performance.

      I know my reviews of performance are subjective but between Nate, Moose, me, and other team members that join me to evaluate wheel performance, I’m trying to share the perspective of different enthusiast rider types with the sole focus being on the needs of fellow riders and staying outside the influence of advertisers, industry sources, wheel makers, commercial pressures, etc. Perhaps no better or worse than other approaches but that’s the most honest one I can come up with.

      Thanks for the opportunity to get up on my soap box. Steve

  • Have You ridden ’18 Zipp 303 Firecrest but Tubulars? How would You compare them to old 303 tubulars? I guess they also share the same features from NSW like braketracking? What about weight?

    • Peter, I don’t evaluate tubulars so unfortunately can’t answer your question. Tubulars are too much of a hassle for most road cycling enthusiasts to deal with. Steve

  • Thanks Steve, I’m new to your site and this is the best review I’ve come across. Taking your recommendation on board, I wonder what you think of the new Zipp 302’s which seem like very good value

    • Shaun, Thanks for your feedback. Much appreciated. I’ll be including a review of the 302 in my “value-priced” carbon wheel review coming in a few weeks. But, the Easton I’ve recommended here is a better wheelset at a better price. Steve

      • Thanks again Steve, the Eastons meet my budget and are 170g lighter than the 302s and your review would suggest they are ideal. I am preparing to hopefully get a good Friday deal to get get ready for racing including hillclimbs and TTs from next April on. The 302s are 25.6 wide as against the Eastons 27.5 and I have Ultegra brakes, as I understand it I would have modulation issues with the Ultegras once they go over 25mm. I think I will be using 25mm Conti GP4000s. I would really appreciate your opinion on the brakes, would I lose a lot of ‘feel’ with the Eastons?

        • Shaun, You shouldn’t have any issue getting the Eastons and 25C Contis in your Ultegra brake calipers if they are one of the last two models models bought in the last 5 years and the bike has about 35mm of opening in the rear stays and front fork for wheels. Steve

  • Thanks very much Steve, Eastons it is then

  • Hi Steve,

    I’m curious to know if you have experience/thoughts on wheels made by Lightweight? Specifically, the meilenstein line. I’ve been debating between that, the 303 or the Enve 4.5. I think the 303’s are likely going to be a little too wide for my chainstay on the 2012 tarmac.


    • Biren, Super expensive ($6500 and up), super light, super stiff. Old money combined with old school design – narrow, v shape profile – and old school craftsman build creates an incredible climber, sprinter, handling wheelset. Neither the ENVE SES 4.5 or Zipp 303 NSW or anything else I’ve heard of are in the same performance league. That said, if you can afford a set of Meilensteins you can afford a new bike that doesn’t have chainstay or fork width issues. Heck, you could probably afford both! Steve

  • Thanks Steve! I was actually eyeing a used set of Meilensteins significantly cheaper, so that explains my reticence in replacing my bike :). I hear their braking will not be great because of a non textured brake track?

    • Biren, Well, you don’t buy Meilensteins for their braking or comfort. You buy them to go fast. I also would be very hesitant to buy carbon wheels that have been used for a year or two without riding and inspecting them first. Hard to know why kind of condition the carbon tracks are in, how well the hubs have been maintained, if there any issues with the carbon integrity, etc.

      In a couple years time, rider A might ride a set of wheels 10,000 miles, in all weather on dry and wet/gritty roads and dirt roads, seldom cleaning his pads or servicing his hubs, etc. while rider B might only take them out on nice days, do 2,000 miles a year, keep pads, wheels, bike super clean, ride on mostly good roads, get them professionally serviced at the beginning of every season, etc. Meilensteins are also unique in the way the spokes are attached to the rims and hubs, the hubs themselves, the carbon used, etc.

      I suggest you revisit why you want new/different wheels using the rider profile in my post about how to choose the right wheels for you. It may be that another set of wheels may be a better way to go to meet your objectives or that you are limited by your current bike and that a new one may be the right move for you. Steve

  • Steve – Thanks for the reviews! I find many of the commercial publication reviews to be a suspiciously glowing, so it’s really helpful to see an independent point of view. re: the Easton EC90 SLs … could you elaborate on the braking performance? Other reviews rave about the Mavic Cosmic Carbon Pro SL UST’s braking (and they tend to like the wheels in general), but you seem pretty “meh”. Which wheel brakes better? If there is a difference, would you say the difference is slight or significant? My riding is a mix, involving both crit racing and long, steep, technical descents, so stopping power and heat resistance are definite concerns.

    Thanks, Richard

    • Richard, I’ve described the Easton braking about as best as I can. The Mavics are slightly better on dry roads, no better on wet. The ENVE, Zipp and Campy are significantly better in the wet, slightly better on dry. None of these brake with the shreiking and poor modulation of older generation and many of today’s no-name carbon wheelsets on dry roads or the Hail Marry inducing praying required on wet roads. The Mavics may be a touch better braking but I wouldn’t trade it for the stiffer Easton for riders like you who are racing and climbing. With either, make sure to brake with the technique I described in the article. Steve

  • Steve, thanks for the excellent review! Always read these with interest. I have a pair of the Easton EC 90 SL’s and they are fast, they roll great. The issue you brought up about the yellow Swiss Stop pads is spot on. I just got the Swiss Stop black pads, you mention that they seem to be a bit better, have you tried them in wet conditions? Thanks again, great work! Chris

    • Chris, No, I haven’t. Please let us know what you find. Steve

      • Hi Steve, I finally got around to testing the Swiss Stop Black Flash Pro Prince pads on my Easton wheels in wet weather. The verdict is a very noticeable improvement. The brakes feel more grippy, still not the same as aluminum rims, but certainly much better than the Yellow Swiss Stop. Won’t go back to the Yellow Pads. Keep up the great job on your reviews and thanks! Chris

  • Kind Steve, thank you for really informative review!
    Could i ask you for opinion/advice?
    I (may) need wheels to do fast races like this one: uci granfodndo worldchamps final 2019 in poznan. A fast 120-150km, mostly flat or 1-3% with less then 1000am, occasional short uphills of less then 6%-7%.
    As for now i ride AEROAD CF SLX on zipp 303 FC-2017 (177/77) for such races.
    I am 50, 72-76 kg, able to produce around 4.3 (off season) to 4.7 (on season) for 20-25 min
    I also have the front wheel zipp 404 FC-2018 (came as a stock one with my TT bike).
    I seem to have the following options:
    1. Buy the 404-FC-2018 rear for 672+20 EUR delivery ONLY and race on the set of 404 FC-2018
    2. Buy 303 FC-2019 showstopper for 1500 EUR
    3. Do nothing and keep on riding 303 FC-2017
    I have not considered 303NSW or 404 NSW as i beleive the price of 2300EUR+ is a bit high and it is mentally hard for me to spend that much for he wheels

    The question:
    If you were me which option would you go for? Any more options? What is your opinion/recommendation? Is it worth spending 1500eur on the new 303FC-2019/showstopper ? They are lighter then 303FC-2017 , are they also stiffer?
    404 NSW / 404 FC-2019 seem to be not stiff enough (according to your reviews)?

  • To continue … this passage of yours makes me think thrice before investing 1.5K EUR in 303 FC-showstopper …

    “If you are light (68kg/150lbs) or not regularly cranking over 3.25 watts/kg, you’ll likely find the current 303 Firecrest plenty stiff and will enjoy the responsiveness I feel from these that you may not feel with a stiffer wheelset. If you are over (82kg/180lbs) or cranking it out at over 4 watts/kg, you might find yourself wanting a stiffer wheelset going uphill and in your more competitive rides.”

    • Andrey, Well, one thing I know for sure is that I want to be riding on your train! Or at least trying to. Looks like you are putting out some impressive power numbers.

      As to your questions, I can’t quite get into your head about your tradeoff between performance and budget. If the budget side of your brain is in charge, go with option 3. You’ve got the aero 404 in the front already and the rear wheel (option 1) isn’t going to give you as much of an aero benefit as the front. If the performance side of your brain takes over and you want to go Zipp, go with option 4, the 404 NSW. Option 5 would be another deep wheelset like the ENVE 5.6 which is a little deeper, stiffer, lighter than the 404 NSW for a little more or less depending on the hubs you choose. Option 6 would be an option 1A – demo or find a friend who could give you a rear 404 FC 2018 for the race. That would give you a little aero benefit in the back without the need to lay out a lot of money essentially for one race.

      I don’t see any reason for option 2 given that you already have the more aero 404 on the front.

      For the course profile you described with limited, short climbing and given your weight and that you aren’t going to be putting out 4.7 w/kg the whole ride, I think you’d find the latest 303 and 404 NSW plenty stiff enough and you would welcome their responsiveness for acceleration changes over the course of a race. Steve

      • Kind Steve, thank you for comprehensive reply!
        I need to come to agrement with my budget now …
        As for the numbers , they are pretty average.
        The top 5 guys in Varese IN MY AGE GROUP (50-54) this year produced 400-420 over 29 min TT course. Beeing roughly my weight.
        During those short 1-2-3 min climbs i will have to produce over 400 if i want to stay in the first pack. .

  • Have you any thoughts on the Yoeleo C38 Pro (with DT Swiss 240s) vs. the Easton EC90 SL? They seem to be at a Similar weight and price.

    • Matt, Not yet. I’m doing research for a post on the subject of lower-priced carbon wheels from lesser known brands that should help with your question. For me, there’s far more to making a decision than comparing price, weight, and components so I wouldn’t draw any conclusion from these commonalities. Steve

      • Well… I didn’t wait for your upcoming ‘value-priced’ post to come out, so hopefully the Eastons end up as the top performer of that list. All in price from CRC was $1,125.00 USD. Anyway, I was curious if you rode the Eastons tubeless. I am planning on running a set of 25C conti GP4000sii unless you would recommend going tubeless right out of the gate.

  • Thanks for the great review. I would love to hear more of Moose’s experience on the stiffness of the 303 NSW. I have the new 2018 version (set up on a Dogma F10) and my only qualm with it has been scrapping of the rear brakes when going above a certain power. I weight ~86kg / 190lbs.

    At initial setup, with where I would want my brake pads, they would scrape most times I got off the saddle and also when sitting down (in the latter case, mostly when going by bumps or if going at or above 350w or so).

    Since then I have widened out the pads and tightened the rims within the limits of the spec. This has helped and I rarely get scrapping when sitting, but still do usually get scrapes when standing up and going 300w+, especially when pushing down on the drive side.

    Two questions: (i) is this consistent with your experience / the expected stiffness on this set? I keep wondering if I should try sending these to zipp to check on or if they are within normal behavior; (ii) should this scrapping prompt me to be more cautious when sprinting out of the saddle for any reason? I feel I have never felt fully confident to go all out on this new wheelset due to this.

    • Sergio, I’m answering after talking to Moose about this and reflecting on my own and Nate’s experience with both these wheels and the Dogma F8 which we each rode for about a month in 2017. The 303 is the wheelset Moose most liked to ride this past summer. Yes, they are a little more flexy than some others but he really like their responsiveness, comfort, braking, handling, etc. He did get a little rubbing in climbing situations (Moose don’t sprint!) but merely opened the brake pads a little and, presto, no more rubbing and still good braking.

      Nate is a crazy refined and strong cyclist and likes maximum modulation out of his brakes so gets the pads as close to the rims as possible. He needed to back off the pads while riding the 303s more than a stiffer wheelset like the Bontrager XXX 4. I’m not as strong a cyclist and can run the 303 as close as I do any other wheels.

      You aren’t going to like this next bit but I’m afraid I have to tell you anyway to honestly answer your questions. The Dogma or at least the F8 that Nate and I rode and what I’ve heard about Dogmas is that they have a rather flexy rear triangle. Yes, I know that Team Sky use them but the bikes the pros use and those we mortals use aren’t always the same. The flexy rear triangle was a turn off for Nate and Moose (who took it out for a short ride and had the brakes rubbing the whole time). So the scrapping you are feeling is probably as much if not more due to the bike than it is the wheels. A heavy and strong rider can open the calipers a bit with a less stiff wheel and eliminate brake rubbing. With a flexy bike and a strong rider, a lot of wheelsets are going to rub.

      Ironically, the F8 we rode was a loaner from SRAM, parent of Zipp, equipped with a SRAM eTap groupset and Quarq power meter provided for the purpose of testing those components. The SRAM tech rep told me ahead of time to expect the rear triangle to be a bit flexy.

      I’m sorry. Steve

      • Steve, thanks for all the great input. Interesting point re the bike triangle, I’ll try to test the wheels on other frames someday to see how they behave. I did have Knight Composites 65’s previously on an F8 and never got a scrape though, those were super stiff.

        But other than this, absolutely agree with the points you mentioned from Moose, the wheels feel amazing riding and taking up speed, great breaking power and handling. Had some high winds this week and never felt it on the handlebars. So am all compliments on the wheelset other than this scraping when standing up…

  • Hi. Wanted you to know that I’ve removed the Best Value designation for the Easton EC90 SL. It’s no longer available online at the price that made it such a value and you are likely to pay closer to the recommended retail price or MSRP if you buy it at your local bike shop. I’m working on a post on low-priced carbon wheelsets now and hope to give you those of you on a tight budget some more options in that post. Thanks, Steve

  • hi Steve,

    Really appreciate the thorough reviews. I’m considering a top-end rim brake wheelset, just because I can, not because I can rationally justify it, and your reviews have narrowed the choice down to the Enve 4.5 and the Zipp 303 NSW.

    I’m 6’1″, 195 lbs plus minus, in my mid 40s – probably about the size of a Moose, though likely nowhere near as strong as a Moose: I top out around 280W/20 mins and 1200W burst. I ride in the Oakland hills in the Bay Area, which means I am almost never riding flats — I’m either going up (typically 5-15% grades) or going down. I don’t race. I push an old IF Ti Crown Jewel with Campy Super Record RS gruppo and Mavic Open Pro rims on Campy hubs.

    Since your Enve 4.5 review is now a bit older, and you (and Moose) seem quite enthusiastic about the new 2018/19 303 NSWs, I’m curious:

    1 – Overall how do the wheelsets compare? Are they about equally stiff, equally comfortable, similar climbers, and equally good in the handling dept? Or are there meaningful differences? Aero?

    2 – Braking – how does the latest 303 NSW brake track compare to the Enve 2nd gen track, particularly in the wet?

    3 – Hubs. In the Aero wheel reviews, you wrote about the Firecrests that “the Cognition hubs used on all their NSW wheelsets is yet another new hub for Zipp. They don’t engage particularly fast, certainly not as fast as the ENVE or DT Swiss 240 hubs.” I’m wondering if the Cognition hubs in the 303 NSW still don’t engage fast. One of the advantages of the Enves is that I can get them built with any hub I want (and if I go that route, I probably want the Onyx sprag clutch rear hub).

    Thanks very much for any further input!



    • Brandt, The Zipp 303 NSW and ENVE SES 4.5 are all-around wheels. With the terrain you describe you are riding, you’d be best with more of a climbing wheelset. I’d suggest the ENVE SES 3.4. It has all of what you are looking for – stiff, comfortable, best climber, good handling, superior braking dry and wet and great performing hub options. With 40mm plus/minus rim depths, it’s also quite aero and passes for a lower profile all-around. You can see it’s comparative performance ratings and my review above.

      It doesn’t sound like you need to but you can also get a $700 trade-in credit for your Open Pro alloy wheels From 11/23 to 11/26 if you buy direct from ENVE – use this link to the ENVE upgrade program. Steve

  • hi Steve,

    Thanks for your response! The reason I was looking more at the 303 NSW/4.5s than the Enve 3.4s is that in your review of the 3.4s you noted that Moose found the wheels to be not particularly stiff. That wouldn’t trouble me going uphill, but might be more of an issue on fast downhills. And the weight of the 303 NSWs, 3.4s, and 4.5s looks to be about identical across all three at around 1500g. So from a climbing perspective I would imagine they would perform fairly similarly. If the 303 NSWs (or 4.5s) would give me more stiffness and more aero at the same or functionally identical weight without being meaningfully worse for climbing, I’d go for the stiffer/more aero wheels.

    Last note, it looks like Enve’s wheel trade in program is only for carbon wheel trade-ins, unfortunately.

    all best,


    • Brandt, I like a good exchange but I must ask you to read a little closer for us to have productive one.

      First, I wrote in my climbing wheels review that Moose didn’t find the ENVE SES 3.4 as stiff as the Zonda C17, which is the benchmark. I wrote in my all around review that the 3.4 are clearly stiffer than the 303 NSW.

      Second, as I’ve often written, specs or design don’t determine performance. Two wheelsets that weigh roughly the same, have the same rim dimensions, etc. won’t necessarily perform the same. A stiffer wheelset will transfer your power more effectively to the pavement and climb better. This is the case with the 3.4 vs. 303 NSW.

      Finally, I shared with you the dates which ENVE will give you a $700 credit for your alloy wheels. Yes, your alloy wheels. ENVE has shared this information with me and I am sharing it with you and other ITKC readers. Steve

  • Do you have a contact at Enve that will confirm the credit? That would be great. As it is, my wheel builder (who has an Enve account) says alloys don’t qualify.

  • I ask because I called ENVE and the guy I talked to said alloy wheels don’t qualify for their promo.

  • All sounds good, but I have yet to find someone at Enve that will admit to being in the know.

  • hi Steve, apologies if I failed the ITKC reading comprehension test, but I think comparison of the below excerpts from your reviews could lead a reasonable reader to the conclusion that Moose, the rider in your testing cohort whom I apparently physically most resemble, likely prefers the stiffness of the 303s to the 3.4s.

    “Moose, on the other hand, whose power can probably flex a steel I-beam, didn’t find the ENVE SES 3.4 as stiff as a Campy Zonda, the stiffness benchmark for alloy wheels or even as stiff as some all-around wheelsets. So, if you are a heavy guy looking for a dedicated climbing wheelset (an unlikely combination, I’ll admit), you may not find this, or any climbing wheelset stiff enough to your liking.”

    “At the other end of the spectrum, I was surprised to hear my fellow tester Moose, who weighs about 200lbs/90kg (and thus the reason for his nickname), speak positively about the 303 NSW’s stiffness and responsiveness. Zipps characteristically aren’t as stiff as other wheelsets and under Moose’s frame, I thought they might be a tad soft. Nope. He found them sturdy enough and really liked their responsiveness. Despite the range of alloy and carbon wheels that were shallower and deeper and the same depth as these we rode this summer, he kept coming back to the 303 NSW as the one he wanted to ride for this event or that long weekend away.”

    I haven’t ridden any of these wheels. However, by Occam’s razor, I suspect the reality is that we’re splitting hairs and that there is no significant difference in rim performance (for the recreational cyclist at least) between the 303 NSWs, the 3.4s, and the 4.5s (other than maybe aero at speed, possibly some braking diffs in the wet, possibly some minor handling differences). So, rather than pursuing the quiddity of each wheel by parsing your work in a manner more appropriate for, say, the writings of Gottlob Frege or Rudolf Carnap, I’m going to end my inquiry with the proposition that these are all great wheels that are very similar to each other, and that the differences between them, to the extent they matter, are not easily described and may be experienced idiosyncratically. As even the analytic philosophers and positivists can agree, some things are beyond language.



    • Brandt, That’s some heavy philosophy you are laying down. Thanks for taking me out of my comfort zone! As to the quotes, they are indeed correct but not directly relate to your questions you originally asked and the answers I provided. For example, Moose doesn’t ride the kind of 5-15% terrain you say you ride all the time all the time and he didn’t test the SES 3.4 this summer.

      While choosing between carbon wheelsets is clearly a “first-world” problem, there are noticeable performance differences in stiffness, wet and dry braking, and other performance criteria etc. that cause me to recommend one wheelset or another. If there weren’t or we were splitting hairs, I wouldn’t be wasting time doing reviews. Every rider profile is also unique and that’s why I developed the guide in this post to help readers decide for themselves and prevent me from making individual recommendations with incomplete rider info. I saw in your original question a real layup of an answer but I’m absolutely fine with you using as much or as little of my input to make your decision. Best, Steve

  • Rupert Weissenbacher

    Hello! I have 78 kg and press between 280 to 300 watts. For hard turns also like over 1000 watts. I drive hilly routes and a lot of mountain. Are the Zipp 303 nsw maybe too soft for me?

  • Rupert. No, the Zipp 303 NSW are not too soft for you. The Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 is stiffer but not as lively or comfortable. The comparison table and text just above it describes the relative performance of the Zipp 303 NSW to the Bontrager and other wheels in this review. Steve

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