Summary: All-around carbon road bike wheels provide you the versatility to perform well on most any type of road terrain and conditions you’ll ride. After testing and comparing the top models, I recommend the Zipp 303 NSW available at the best prices from my top-ranked stores here and here and the Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 available here.

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 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 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.

You can buy them using this link to JensonUSA or go through this one 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.

* * * * *

Thank you for reading.  Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.

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Thanks and enjoy your riding safely!

First published on October 14, 2018. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.


  • Rupert Weissenbacher

    Hi Steve!
    I do not believe it, since three weeks trying to get an answer to the question, no chance! You have answered me one day!
    Dream, thank you.
    Rupert from Austria

  • Rupert Weissenbacher

    Hello Steve!
    I have another question.
    Which are better – 303 nsw or 404 nsw?
    Are the 404 much worse than the 303 with crosswind?
    I would like the 404 better.

    • Rupert, Both are good wheelsets but for different purposes. 303 is an all-around. 404 is more of a flat road speed demon. Both are good in crosswinds. This post will help you determine your rider profile and which type of wheelset is best for you. Steve

  • Hi, have you had an opportunity to ride/test the new Giant SLR-0 42mm carbon Wheelset?

  • What would be abd wow could you tell the difference between the 2015 and the 2017 EASTON EC90 SL versions?
    Thanks 🙂

    • Lorenzo, Easton improved the brake track in the 2017 model and made a rim width change around the time of the 2015 model. Steve

  • Excellent information. Could you please give me your advice?
    From Mercury M5 and HED Jet 6+. Which one do you recommend me?? I have a limited budget.

  • Competitive Cyclist is selling the old SES 3.4 at $1,600. Do you think the saving is worth it, considering no tubeless compatibility and the slightly different rim width and depth, not yet optimized for 25 mm tires?

    • Saturday Kid, Depends on what you are looking for. If you want tubeless and 25mm tires, obviously not. If you are coming from a narrow alloy rim, perhaps yes depending on your priorities and goals.

      Enve’s best deal is their trade-in/trade-up program which from 11/22 – 11/27 offers you a $700 credit for trading in an alloy or carbon wheelset toward a new wheel as part of the ENVE upgrade program. Doing that, you can get a new model 3.4 for $2200. Steve

  • Hi , Steve, Im looking at Reynolds Carbon Assault SLG 2018 clinchers.(rim brake) They are 25 external and 17 external. Currentley riding HED Ardennes Plus SL tubeless 25c. 21mm internal 25 xternal. Will i notice any improvement in speed or comfort? The price on the reynolds is very good right now at competitive cycles………Thx Alex

    • Alex, HED will be more comfortable, Assault will be speedier IF you run 23C tire and ride at 20mph or higher speeds. Assault will be snappier under acceleration. HED will be better in dry and wet braking and in crosswinds. Steve

  • Steve,Thanks for the fast response! You’ve convinced me to wait for a wheel set that will give me an improvement over the comfort and braking I now enjoy! Are you planning to do a review on mid range carbon wheels at some point?
    Really enjoy reading all your reviews! Thank You!

    • Alex, I’ve been working on one on and off for several months. Hope to get it out this winter. Honestly, I don’t think you’ll find a carbon wheelset that will be more comfortable and provide better braking over the HED Ardennes Plus SL tubeless wheelset you have now. Carbon provides other performance benefits. You might want to take a look at my post on Road Bike Wheels – How to Pick the Best for You to see what type might best fit your goals, riding profile and budget. Cheers, Steve

  • Eric Barranquilla

    Hi Steve! I just sold a pair of Roval CLX64 rim brake wheels, using them for a couple rides taught me what a vertically stiff but laterally flexy wheel feels like. Whenever I got on the handlebars for a sprint I would hit the brake pads, something I never really experienced before, part of it due to my 210lb frame but like I said I never felt that on my 1st gen Enve 3.4s. I feel that these new generation wider rim brake wheels are taking up al lot more brake clearance. Are there any wheels you would recommend to avoid this or do you think in my case its just better to bite the bullet and switch to a disc frame so I can get disc wheels and eliminate the problem altogether. What are your thoughts. As always thanks for keeping up this great site!

    • Eric, A few things to separate out here. At your weight, you want the stiffest wheels you can find. At any weight, a stiffer set of wheels (and frame and drivetrain and cockpit components) will transfer your power more efficiently than a more flexible on. The comparison in this post shows which are the stiffer than others. You should avoid those that dont have + stiffness.

      For wheels of the same stiffness, you need to open up your brake calipers for wider wheels. Some of the older calipers don’t open wide enough to handle the up to 5mm of wheel deflection when you are cornering, sprinting or moving the bike side to side out of the saddle.

      Disc wheels aren’t stiffer because they are disc. If your bike isn’t stiff enough or your forks and stays aren’t wide enough for wider wheels, that might be a good reason to get a new bike to accommodate the benefits of modern wheels which happen to be wider. But there are pleny of stiff rim brake wheels and they don’t get any stiffer because they are made for disc brake bikes. Steve

  • Hi Steve, thanks a lot for this page and plenty of information. I have a question concerning life expectancy of this wheels. My giant tc advanced sl came with what feels to me very decent giant slr 1 climbing wheels. Being my first ever carbon wheels I notice great stiffness and comfort. Great acceleration due to low rotating mass, but they seem to be kind of slow on the flat, compared to my previous aluminium citec aero 3000. I already decided to swap the tires, but the temptation of having a treat and going aero is still there. But if I get say a 303 or 404 fc, I would like to use them every week, not only on race days. So the question is are such wheels made to stand 10000 km on 50% rolling 50 mountaneous areas? I am 75 kg and tarmac quality is ok-good mainly, otherwise I slow down anyway. Many thanks

    • Michael, Yes, these wheels should last you far more than that as long as you don’t drag the brakes. The view that you should have separate training and race wheels is really a thing of the past, especially given how well modern carbon wheels are made and the prices we pay for them. Steve

  • Steve, thank you so much for this deep review of wheelset. And now question for you and other guys. Im looking for best options allrounder wheelset. Because i don’t want pay 2000$ or more for wheelset, deciede between these 2:

    1.) Shimano Dura Ace WH-R9100-C40-CL (Rim height: 37mm)
    2.) FFWD F4R FCC Carbon Wheelset with DT Swiss 240s Straightpull Hubs (Rim height: 45mm)

    I think, Shimano Dura Ace WH-R9100-C40-CL is better quality, silent, rims: aluminium(brake), carbon. Hubs spins forewer.

    FFWD F4R FCC is lighter (+/- 50g), full carbon, DT Swiss 240s hubs are OK, rim heigh is more then Dura Ace WH-R9100-C40-CL.

    I stuck with these questions:
    1.) Is FFWD F4R FCC with rim height: 45mm, much more aerodynamicy in comparison with Dura Ace WH-R9100-C40-CL? (37mm vs 45mm)? Which of those is faster by same Power?

    2.) How often is hub maintenance for theese wheelset. Dura Ace Hubs vs. DT Swiss 240s?

    Which of these two wheelset, would bee better choice?

    If who ride this wheels (one or both), please describe your experiance.

    Thanks for help

    • Speedberger, Your comment reads like an exam question. Are you a teacher? 🙂 The Shimano is out of date/not competitive performance wise with those in this review. I’ve not ridden the FFWD and wouldn’t consider it unless you live in Europe near a dealer; it’s really a regional brand. Performance and alignment with your rider profile matters way more in choosing a wheelset that’s right for you than specs like depth, weight, width, etc. Both the DA and DT240 hubs are very durable hubs. Steve

      • Hi Steve,

        thank you for your opinion. Look, I do not agree that Shimano is an outdated technology. In HAMBINI study in your post, are listed 2 examples of Shimano wheelset, Dura Ace C50 and C35. However, this is not the only model of wheelsets offered by Shimano on the market. A lot of Pro-Riders drive Dura-Ace wheelsets. Example: Chris Froome’s Giro d’Italia Pinarello Dogma F10 X. (

        Most of them use clincher for all-rounder training (own training) and for competitions carbon wheelset with tubular tire.
        If I continue: Sky Team, Mitchelton-SCOTT, LottoNL-Jumbo etc .. drive Shimano wheelsets!

        All recreational cyclists do not have money for wheelset like, ZIPP, ENVE etc ..

        Thank you for post, I read the Hambini study gladly. I agree with you about FFWD, and also agree with you, that the ZIPP 303 (both models) is the perfect all-rounder choice.

        Best regards

        • Speedburger, The pros ride whichever wheels their team sponsors provide them. Unless you are a neo-pro or Cat 1/2 racer, what the pros do and ride and how they perform has little relationship with what we mere mortal cyclists ride and how we perform. I know it makes for good press, but theirs is a different reality with little relationship to ours. We shouldn’t pick gear based on what the pros ride and expect the same results or improvements. Aero and weight differences are two things we cycling enthusiasts have a hard time distinguishing between when the differences are small (e.g. <10 watts or <100 grams)

          Fortunately, we get to choose and unfortunately we have to pay for our wheels so we best choose the best suited for our unique riding profiles and preferences. The performance factors that I believe matter to most road cyclists are the ones I use to compare and recommend wheels and are laid out in the review above and detailed here.

          Shimano’s Dura Ace C60 and C40 clincher rim brake wheels are no different than the C50 and C35 wheels that were first introduced 5 years ago except for the name and label cosmetics. They are a good deal narrower and not tubeless ready as compared to today’s modern wheels. The result is that they are less comfortable, a performance criteria that many cycling enthusiasts value today. They also have carbon-alloy rims, a rim material combination that no major wheelset manufacturer I’m aware of has used in a newly introduced wheel with in about 5 years. At 35 and 50mm deep, they are also about 10mm or so shallower than today’s standard all-around and aero wheel segments they fall/fell into previously. Being alloy wheels with carbon wraps, they cannot be as easily shaped into more aero profiles and are marginally less aero than their competitors as the Hambini data shows.

          They are perfectly good wheels that I used to recommend against others of their era but they don’t compare as well against modern-day wheels using my evaluation criteria.

          Shimano introduced all carbon, deeper and wider models of these wheels using the same C40 and C60 names in tubeless disc brake and tubular versions at the same time they introduced the only cosmetically changed rim brake clincher versions. Shimano is a very shrewd company and I believe they made the judgment that rim brake wheels would be surpassed by disc brake ones and chose to invest their development resources during a financially challenging time for them (and the entire industry) in the disc brake market whose sales now surpass rim brake bikes and wheels in the enthusiast segment. They also continue to invest in tubular versions used for their sponsored teams, likely to maintain high brand awareness through the press. Steve

  • I would like to see more tests at 25-40km/h. Tests at 50km/h is something most riders never achieve riding solo, unless going downhill.

  • Hi Steve, thank you for the wonderful and comprehensive review. I am hobby cyclist, living in Switzerland. After not doing anything for almost 20 years, I spontaneously decided to “rediscover” my childhood hobby, bought myself a road bike and began cycling again, concluding first season with almost 4000 km and 8 kg lighter, and almost reaching my goal to commute to work (36 km) under 1 hour (61 minutes my personal best).

    I would like to upgrade the stock wheels, seeking for a true all-rounder. My commute to work is flat/hilly. In weekends, there is plenty of opportunity to bike in Alps… I have narrowed to 4 candidates: Enve 3.4, Zipp 303 NSW, Bontrager XXX 4, Campagnolo Bora Ultra 50.

    I am not worth any of them 🙂 I take it as long term investment that will further increase (my already hight) pleasure from riding. Could you please make a comment about durability and frequency of maintenance? I have read that Cognition hubs are made for speed, but require regular and more frequent care. I would like more or less hustle free wheels that stay true for a long period. Reading some internet discussions, I gained the impression that DT Swiss hubs (Enve, Bontrager) could be close to this requirement.

    With 76 kg of weight and average power output, do I need to be concerned with stiffness?

    My favorite choice is Enve 3.4, but they just happen to be the most expensive ones on the Swiss market (more expensive than Zipp 303 NSW). Did you have a chance to test DT Swiss or Fulcrum wheelsets (both very widespread on the local market)? Are they comparable with your top selection?

    Design-wise, the Italian Campagnolo wheelset would be a great match to my Colnago CLX, however, from your review, I gained the impression that it is running behind the competitors…

    Thank you for all the effort. Best regards, Jan

    • Jan, really good and thoughtfully laid out question. Despite just getting back into cycling, you clearly think like an enthusiast, albeit perhaps a more rational one than most of us! I would choose between the ENVE, Zipp and Bontrager. As you noted, I’m not a fan of the Campy. Fulcrum is much the same product, performance and design as it is made by Campy. I have less experience with the DT Swiss wheelsets though I did review the ERC 1100 Dicut 47 all around which is a disc brake wheelset. There has been a fair amount of turnover in the DT Swiss line in the last couple years, mostly for the better, still a mix of old and new with some of the new wheels designed by them and some designed by SwissSide, so I don’t have a good fix on everything or the character of the line overall the way I do for other brands.

      Between the ENVE, Zipp and Bontrager you can see how I’ve evaluated their performance and the differences. Yes, you probably need a bit more regular maintenance with the Cognition hubs than the DT 240 (which you almost never need to do anything to) but the Cognitions don’t need anything more than normal and you really shouldn’t buy a wheelset as good as any of these and not plan to give them some love and care once a year. They should all stay true under your weight and on decent roads (you don’t have potholes in Switzerland as I recall) though from my experience, any wheelset can go out of true at some time regardless of the brand.

      If the performance differences don’t sway you to one versus the others, I’d suggest you decide based on price and which have qualified mechanics you can take the wheels to if and when you need to. If there’s little difference at that point, buy whichever one you like the looks of, which is where a lot of us start! Cheers, Steve

      • Steve, thank you for the comprehensive answer. I think, I will go with the DT240 hub. Based on your answer, I feel that I should engage also my heart in the decision making process. Over the weekend, I have decided to rule out Bontrager. Performance-wise, it is a strong candidate, but looking at some pictures on internet, the combination Colnago-Bontrager looks somewhat funny. On the other hand, the combination Colnago-Enve is very pleasing to my eyes.

        Intrigues by your other review, I am tending to Enve 4.5 over 3.4, i.e. getting more-aero wheel with a small weight penalty rather than a “climbing wheel with aero advantage”. Seeing that you considered to move the 4.5s to the all-round selection, it seems to me that the 4.5 could be the better of the two options for my riding profile. I did a few rides in Alps, but vast majority of my rides are in flat to hilly landscape, with up to 1000 meters of climbing. I would like to do more riding in mountains, but considering the reality (2 children and enjoying family life as well), it is unlikely that I will do more than 4-5 “all day” rides over Alpine passes in a season. Enve 3.4 are 1455 g, Enve 4.5 are 1575 g, and my current wheels Fulcrum Racing 5 are 1660 g. In many discussions, I have repeatedly seen the opinion that weight reduction is less likely to be felt than the aero-advantage (under assumption that you are able to ride 30 km/h or more)… Would you agree with this? Thank you, Jan

        • Jan, I agree. Plus, there are lots of less expensive ways to reduce weight for climbing purposes starting with each of our own midsections. So you can get better aero and weight reduction at the same time. Enjoy the ENVEs. Steve

          • I was of the same mindset with the Enve 4.5 over the 3.4 to get more aero with little weight penalty. Then the Enve 5.6 came out and with the carbon hub I believe they weigh in at 1491 grams. Is this too good to be true? A great aero wheel light enough to not punish me on medium climbs?

          • Brian, I’m a few weeks away from publishing my review about the ENVE 5.6. They weight 1559 grams on my scale. Steve

  • I’ve owned a pair of farsport 50’s and I was happy at with them. However I replaced the hub with a powertap. But For $750-850 with Dt hubs how can you go wrong? But I’m also curious on any thoughts on lightbike wheels. I find it amusing people are so adamant on wheels, when they give up more watts on their drive chain, and tire chioce, and even clothing than the difference in most wheels. $2500-$3000 for a wheelsset is a joke. ?. Thanks again for you’re hard work and thoughtfulness.

  • Thanks for you great articles.
    Is there a way to check the date of its writing ?

  • Thank you for very useful article. Have you ever tried Speed 40 clincher? I want to know hw it compares to Zipp/Enve and other wheelsets

    • Kid, I reviewed them in an earlier review of this category but dropped them for this update as they really weren’t competitive with those that remain. I wrote: The newer Fulcrum Speed 40C shares the same rim design as the Racing Quattro Carbon but comes with a stiffer carbon layup and a better rolling hub.  It’s about $500 more in the marketplace, is a bit stiffer laterally yet less comfortable and unfortunately shares the same disadvantaged rim profile as the Quattro Carbon and Bora. Steve

  • Steve
    Super helpful reviews and I love your site. I have the disc 303 NSW and they’re as amazing as you say, but my only issue is the time and effort it takes to change a flat. My question is am I better off running these tubeless as they were designed or would that not matter? My other option, I suppose, would be to go to the 202 wheelset which presumably would easier to change due to a shallower rim depth.

    Thanks as always for the adivce
    Steve B

    • Steve, I’d run them tubeless. The rims hooks and channels are optimized for tubeless so I think you’d have better luck. Steve

      • Hello Steve. I am asking for an advice! I own an S-Works Tarmac SL6 with zipp 302 wheelset. I am weighing 71 kg and the terrain which I am training is most flat with some rollers and 1 day per week at least, i am having 700-1200 meters of ascending with 5-20 km on hilly roads. I also race 5-7 times per year. I am in search of buying a new wheelset, lighter than 302 that can provide me some benefits on hilly but also gaining some speed on flats. I am usual riding on flats in 30-32 kmh. What’s would you choose? I am thinking of spending around 2000€. Thanks!

        • BillP, take a look at the reviews for the Zipp 303 NSW and Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 that I recommend here. If you want more of a climbing all around, the ENVE 3.4 also reviewed above would be your best choice. Steve

          • Thanks for your reply Steve. I am watching also Roval’s CLX 50 but I am thinking about their breaking performance. Do you think that the NSW’s will be a big and noticed difference from 302?

          • BillP, 302 is a several generation old 303 Firecrest without the dimples and a lesser hub. 303 NSW is a totally different wheelset – profile, hub, brake track, etc. Night and day difference. Steve

        • Thanks for your answers Steve. I am trying to find the best value for money buy. I am seeing the NSW selling around 2600€ min. I know that they are a top product but a little over of my budget. I read your review on Rovals CLX 50 and I am not getting clearly if worth buying them. I found them in a good price, same with Bontrager Aeolus 4

  • Steve, super website, your reviews are the best!

    I have been riding on Shimano C35 clincher for the last 4 years now and I am now looking for a fresh pair of wheels. I wanted to stick with all-rounders, dependable wheels that are responsive, kinda aero but not too heavy and that i can use day in day out on normal, canadian paved road.

    Since i’ve been riding on a Pinarello for 2 years, i am looking hard at the Bora One 50. They seem to match what I am looking for. My biggest question for you is: Is the change worth it, or will it really be only a lateral move? I’d like to think that i will at least feel a difference and an improvement if I am going to spend that kind of money…

    Curious to get your 2 cents on it.

    • Louis, Thanks for your kind feedback and comment. Without knowing your performance objectives, a more fleshed-out rider profile, and budget, it’s hard to answer your question. I always encourage my fellow enthusiasts looking for new wheels to be clear about their objectives, profile and budget before answering. I wrote this post to help riders figure out what wheels are best for them after a little self-analysis on those topics.

      For example, if you want a more comfortable wheelset that you can put a 25C tire on without sacrificing aero performance because you are training to ride or already ride at least 18-20 mph average on your rides, there are better choices for you than the Bora One 50. If that describes you, the Bora will be a lateral performance move over your C35.

      If, on the other hand, you value a more integrated look on your Pinarello, your C35 is ready to be replace, and you are a heavier, stronger guy that wants a stiffer wheelset than you have now, are a little unsure of braking on a carbon rim wheelset, and you can budget $1500-$2000 USD, the Bora is probably a good option.

      Those are just two scenarios from the different combinations that might come out of reviewing your objectives, profile, and budget. I encourage you to do that to come up with the best option for you. Steve

      • Hi Steve,
        To follow up on your reply and give you more background, I am a 80kg rider with an FTP of 295w. I am hoping that my move from Dura Ace C35 (the version from 4 years ago) to new Campag Bora One 50 will mean better aerodynamics while also lowering weight.
        So I’d say my main objective is better performance while hopefully not sacrificing on my current level of comfort.
        Do you think I’ll see decent improvements by doing this move? Again, really appreciate your time and comments!

        • Louis, Given how I rate the Bora’s aero and comfort (see review and table above), I think the improvement would be marginal. If it were me, I’d choose one of the wheelsets that rates better on both performance characteristics. Steve

  • Fantastic site. One of the best on the web! Thanks so much for all your effort. I have a few questions having read a lot of your content. Hope that’s OK.

    I have a Colnago M10 that has little clearance for 25mm tires, they are tight! The ones like Continental 25mm that are actually more like 27mm don’t fit. Do wider rims flatten the tire at all? It’s the tire height that I’m struggling with and if I get a wider rim I’m hope that the 25mm will work well.

    I’m after a mid-price wheelset £1000 max, so some of your favourite options are out. I usually buy second hand though so no problem if they’re over that on rrp but usually go cheaper. I’m from the UK. I shortlisted Reynolds but I’m wondering what else you recommend? I’m not a heavy rider, and I’m not that quick. I value comfort (sorry to say that!).

    Thanks v much!

    • Tim, Thanks for your feedback on the site. As to your wheelset choices, unfortunately wider rims just make for wider tires. See the third graphic under my Topic of the Week in the Knows Notes here. 23C Conti GP4K measure close to 25mm on most 17C rims so perhaps that’s worth a try. I’m working on a review of less expensive carbon wheels but if you want the most comfort, you need to go wider or tubeless regardless of price. That may mean time to start looking after a new bike (ouch) or be happy with a 17C wheelset, some of which are comfortable/compliant in and of themselves and not requiring a 25C tire to make them so depending on the road surface you ride. If you don’t need carbon for depth or stiffness, plenty of good alloy upgrade wheelsets in your budget range that are tubeless. Steve

      • Great thanks Steve! My question probably wasn’t clear enough. I have sufficient width for a wide tire it is the height that is a problem. Do wider rims make tires higher?

        From your data I can see that a 23c that is actually a 25mm is a great option. I don’t want to change the bike lol I just got it. Will also check out the alloy wheels, although to be honest the look of carbon is very tempting!

        • Hmm… I don’t think a wider rim makes the same width tire taller. But, if you are going after comfort and put a wider tire on because you bought a wider rim or even on the same width rim, that wider tire is going to be taller than a narrower tire. Data I’ve seen suggest a 25C Conti GP5K is 2mm taller than a 23C version on a 17C rim. Steve

          • Hey Steve,

            Just an update 1) to say thanks! and 2) in case anyone else has had the same issue.

            I picked up 303 NSW’s – 19mm internal width. Having read up a lot on the net found the Schwalbe 1 Pro V-Guard. At 23mm these expand out to 25mm on the 303’s. These aren’t a high tire, so I have plenty of clearance.

            Your recommendation for the 303’s is a great one. Outside the strongest sidewinds blowing these a bit, I can’t fault them.

  • Hi Steve,

    Love your work! Would you be able to tell me if there is much difference between the Roval CL50 and CLX50? I’m particularly interested in the rim brake version.


    • Daryl, Rims are the same, CLs have lesser hubs and spokes. If you are an experienced rider, you’d likely notice the difference in the hubs – not as responsive or smooth. Steve

  • Steve, I’m pondering replacing my Mavic Ksyrium Elite 2018 with Mavic Cosmic Pro Sl 2019. Riding for fun on dry days, no hills. What would I earn and what loose (except the cash)? Would the ID360 hub be louder than the Elite’s (which I find nearly quiet) ?

    • Nick, going from alloy to carbon wheels like the switch you are contemplating will give you performance improvements like strength to weight, more responsiveness, deeper rims for more aero performance, etc. if any of that matters to you. Some also prefer the look of carbon. I don’t find any of the Mavic hubs quiet in the way say a Zipp or even a DT Swiss hub is quiet – Mavic has a distinct ratchet sound on their freehubs, even those like the one on the current Cosmic Pro which is a knock off of the DT Swiss 240 design, a much quieter hub. Steve

  • Hi Steve.

    Thanks for the amazing website. It’s one of the best truly independent resources for the enthusiast.

    I still ride with my stock wheels and I’m considering a long overdue upgrade. I was thinking of the traditional Ksyriums, which seem to be the choice of many for a first investment in better wheels.

    But I don’t ride at 20 mph to get all the aero benefits from a deeper section wheel set, but I want to get there (I’m training consistently). I also don’t do a lot of crazy descending, so I’m not particularly worried about the braking performance of carbon.

    So the question is: should I spend a bit more now and get an all around carbon wheelset to “grow into” or save the money and wait a couple of years to get all the benefits when I’m faster?

    • Sergio, That’s for you and budget to decide. But if you think it’s going to be 2 years before you’d get the benefits of carbon, I’d personally hold off. Steve

  • As a bigger guy (90-100 kg) and with a fair amount of power (FTP 300W and rising) it is not easy searching for wheels as durability and stiffness is maybe the most important factor (I have killed wheels before). I have up until recently been riding a pair of Ksyrium Elite which have stayed stiff and true but after a bike change I now have stock wheels and they feel soft (subjectivly feeling) compared to the Ksyriums. So I have started looking at new wheels for fast riding on the flats and I think I want to go for a more aero wheelset than a new set of Ksyriums.

    I have for instance been looking at Zipp 302 as they have a high and wide rim with sturdy Sapim CX Sprint spokes with brass nipples but with maybe to few spokes (20 + 24). So on paper the wheel might have the characteristics that I’m looking for.

    But how can I tell if a wheel is stiff enough before spending my precious money? What do you think I should be looking for; spoke count, rim profile, rim width or just a combination of them all? Anything I should look out for other than low spoke count?

    (I have been reading (a lot) and there are so many ifs and buts in the material so I risk going crazy before reaching a conclusion)

    • Patrik, Great question. Unfortunately, not an easy answer. Design specs don’t tell the story; performance evaluation does. Spoke count, rim width and profile for the better all-around wheels these days are getting pretty similar these. Hub flange placement and diameter, spoke bracing angle (between hub and rim), carbon layup, spoke hole drilling, and probably a dozen other variable designers play with to create desired wheel stiffness. Some of this is quatifiable (e.g. flange diameter, some not (e.g. carbon layup). How much each matter is hard to know.

      Moose, Nate and I – who weigh in and power up across a range that includes a lot of our readers – test the wheels we evaluate to come up with the on-the-road stiffness and the other performance characteristic comparisons you see in the chart above. Tour Magazine does lab testing to come up with their results. Beyond that and as you have found, what I’ve seen and heard is anecdotal, word of mouth, marketing materials, and a lot of reading that can indeed make you crazy. And unfortunately, we haven’t found the Zipp 302 (or any of the Zipp wheels) to be among the stiffest in the wheels out there. Steve

  • Hi Steve
    Great info in your articles and replies. Thanks so much. I’m considering Zipp 303 Firecrest as an upgrade from my stock Bontrager Race wheels on my Domane 4.5. My plan would be to continue to use the Specialized Roubaix Pro 25/28 tires that I have evolved to for mainly comfort reasons. My concern is that the tires may be too wide for the 17mm internal width on the 303 Firecrest. Will these tires work well on the 303 Firecrest? If not, do you have suggestions for a good tubed tire that maximizes comfort while providing good puncture resistance?

    As background, I’m a 60 year old, 170lb, 16mph solo rider that rides ~2500 miles per year in the flatlands of the Midwest.

    Thanks for your thoughts

    • Andre, I’d suggest you don’t go any wider than 25C size tires on the 303 Firecrest wheels. There are comfortable tires that have lower rolling resistance than the Roubaix Pro including the Michelin Power Competition or Continental GrandPrix 4000 or 5000. The 25C Power Competition will measure about 26.5mm wide on that 27.5mm width rim. The 25C Contis will measure about 28.0 mm. Any of those will give good comfort and handling.

      If you want to research more, here are a couple of posts I’ve written on tubed tires and tire size choice. Steve

      • Thanks for the advice Steve. My Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels with new Conti GP5000 tires arrive on Monday. I’m getting excited!

  • Do you (or can you), do spin-down tests to evaluate hub friction?

    I have an old set of Bontrager Aeolus 5 D3 with a lot of hub friction, even after an authorized Bontrager dealer replaced the bearings. In a rudimentary test on some front wheels available to me, I used a cordless drill to spin them up to same speed and see how long they spun.

    Spin-down results:
    – Bontrager Aeolus 5 D3: 54 seconds
    – Oval Concepts 946: 268 seconds
    – Pre-Firecrest Zipp 303: 292 seconds

    While my protocol may not have been super-rigorous, the Bontragers definitely have higher hub friction than the other two, costing wattage. According to Bontrager, the new XXX’s have the same hub internals as the D3…so they’re off my top-picks list.

    Would love to see more review test this aspect. Aero wheels are great but their hubs shouldn’t eat into those gains! 🙂

    • Bikr, I don’t know that there’s a correlation between spin-down time when the wheel and hub is unloaded using a test like what you are describing and actual hub friction and wattage loss on the road. If there is, I’ve never seen it. I’d think that if there were a 5 or 6x difference between hubs unloaded that carried to the road, the one that was so much slower would get replaced.

      I’ve often thought louder hubs must have more friction than silent ones. You can hear all that energy getting lost, right? But I don’t think the audible differences translate to much if any friction differences, otherwise companies like I9 and Chris King would never sell a freehub.

      By the way, Bontrager uses DT Swiss 240 internals on their Aeolus wheels. Those are pretty well accepted hubs. Steve

      • Yeah, I was aware that they’re DT internals. Maybe it’s a poor implementation or I just got a bad pair…who knows?! ????

        I’m not sure how adding a vertical load would decrease it ?, but for me, it’s a non-trivial difference that I just rather not have.

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