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While all wheelsets perform differently, the Elitewheels Drive 50D wheelset stands out as the only serious climber among the all-around value carbon wheels we’ve tested.

Its combination of stiffness and low weight really came through when fellow tester Miles and I rode the Drive 50D up steep pitches and across rolling terrain.

As a rider that is usually looking for a pull on anything steeper than a 5% grade and lives where flats never seem to last for more than a quarter of a mile, I welcomed the Drive 50D’s ability to “level the playing field.”

While it’s not on par with lighter, more expensive, dedicated climbing wheels, these Elitewheels are notably better on this kind of variable-grade terrain than anything else we’ve tested in the value carbon wheelset price range.

Yet, the Elitewheels Drive 50D is not exclusively a climber’s wheelset. Far from it. Our takeaway from riding it for 3 months is that it’s a paved road all-arounder that also happens to be a good climber.

As an all-arounder, and compared to other value carbon wheels, it performs on par with most in this price range and among the best in some ways.

Elitewheels Drive 50D

The Drive 50D is one of the most responsive value carbon wheelsets we’ve tested. It accelerates almost as though it was reading your mind; there’s no hesitation once you put your foot down. In a large group ride when the pace can vary continuously, this performance characteristic can reduce the spikey power surges and cadence drags that might otherwise create more fatigue than you bargained for.

I’m not one to project performance directly from wheelset design or component choice but I’ll note the Drive 50D does have carbon spokes. One theory goes that carbon spokes make for a more responsive and stiffer wheel. Theories aside and as I attested to above, these are very responsive wheels.

But not to get too carried away, the carbon spokes on these wheels, or perhaps how they are combined with the hubs and rims, don’t lead to consistent stiffness in our experience.

For me and my 175 to 250-watt typical ride power, I found the Drive 50D plenty stiff. Miles felt it too on climbs. On the other hand, the wheels felt a bit “sloppy” for Miles and his P/1/2 power, seemingly leaking some of it when he cranked it up for breakaway and sprint efforts.

And regardless of its design or materials, the Elitewheels Drive 50D’s compliance or comfort is also more like the average wheelset in this category than ranking with the best.

Even with less than aerodynamically ideal 28mm wide tires inflated to a below-recommended pressure of 50-55 psi, the comfort on decent roads was just ok and not noticeably better than with the tires pumped 10 psi higher. On rougher roads or uneven sections of good ones, the ride became a bit jittery.

That said, riding the 28mm tires that measured wider than the rims didn’t seem to slow the Drive 50D’s momentum. Once up to speed, something that takes less time to do with these wheels, they hold that speed about as well as all but one wheelset in this category.

And in sidewinds, the Drive 50D is very stable, cutting through them better than most. We noticed no drifting or buffetting from the winds.

The Drive 50D freehub is audibly louder than the latest DT Swiss 240 EXP hubs and at the same decibel level as a Chris King or Industry Nine hub yet without the more enjoyable harmonic range that accompanies those. While the Drive 50D freehub is loud, it’s not egregiously so like the Scribe and Hunt ones that hold me back from wanting to ride those wheels.

For you OGs who remember that far back, the Elitewheels hubs sound and look like Mavic hubs of 10 or 15 years ago. And like the old Mavics, the Elitewheels hub shells are silver and cylindrical with what initially looked like, but aren’t, yellow safety stickers that I thought about removing.

Most modern hubs shells are stealthy or glossy black. Some like the Chris Kind and I9s also give you a choice of funky hub shell colors like turquoise, purple or pink if you want them to stand out even more. Many also neck down between the flanges to for a rather sleek look.

Elitewheels Drive 50D front hub

Silver hub shells and flanges which taper larger toward the disc side flange

If anything, the silver Drive 50D hub shells taper to a slightly larger diameter on the disc side. While I get that they may have done this for structural reasons, this requires you to use the supplied lockrings with tightening notches on the outside of the ring, and a tool for that purpose (not supplied), rather than the more commonly used ones with notches on the ring insides similar to cassette lockrings that use the same tool to synch it down.

The rims also have a distinctive look. A high gloss clear coat shines on top of a marbled carbon rim finish with your choice of a black or white, nearly full rim depth Drive logos.

Elitewheels 50D closeup

Glossy coating over a marbled carbon finish gives the Drive wheels a distinctive look

I find the rims quite stunning and the whole look quite different. I never did a group ride without someone asking me about what wheels I was riding.

Like most observations about cycling gear, however, the Elitewheels Drive 50D’s aesthetic and acoustic qualities are in the eyes and ears of the beholder. They don’t affect the wheelset’s performance but could affect your performance if it changes how you feel about riding these wheels.

Design: Along with 21 front and 24 rear straight pull carbon spokes, the Elitewheels Drive 50D hubs come with bearings that use ceramic balls. While these so-called ceramic bearings used in hubs and derailleurs make for good marketing, at the low speeds that we ride bicycles the best ceramic bearings actually wear faster and reduce friction losses by an insignificant amount  (<1 watt) compared to stainless steel ones made to the same roundness tolerances.

Bearing seals, lubricants, and cages each play a far larger role in frictional losses than the choice of ceramic or stainless ball bearings.

Elitewheels 50D rim specs

Max weight and tire pressure specs are visible right on the glossy rim’s spoke edge

The carbon rims on the Drive 50D wheels we tested measured 50.5mm deep with widths of 21.2 mm inside and 28.8mm outside on average measured at a range of locations on both the front and rear wheels.

At a measured weight of 1347 grams with a Shimano/SRAM 11-speed HG freehub, these Elitewheels weigh at least 150g less than other value carbon wheelsets we’ve tested.

Like most but not all value carbon wheels sold these days, you can use clincher or tubeless tires on the Drive 50D’s hooked rims. The wheels come standard with hubs set up for thru axles and centerlock rotors. If you’ve got an older disc brake bike, you can order them for use with quick release axles and 6 bolt rotors. Mine were delivered with the rims pretaped for tubeless, valves installed, and 4 extra carbon spokes.

The Drive lineup also includes 40mm depth wheelset and rim brake wheels. Given what how well the Drive 50D’s perform in sidewinds and how light they feel, I don’t see a reason to go any shallower. Not having tested the rim brake model, I can’t speak to the performance of those wheels.

Quality: As with value carbon wheels that we’ve found perform the best, Elitewheels policies are quite good. You can return them for a full refund within 60 days if you decide you don’t like the way they ride.

The original owner gets a 3-year warranty against manufacturing defects. If you need to replace the front or rear wheel within that same timeframe due to a crash, Elitewheels will give you what amounts to nearly a 50% discount on the original price of the damaged one.

Elitewheels sells and services their wheels from their manufacturing base in China. The shipping is free and it took about a month for the wheels I ordered to arrive in the United States.

Price: The Elitewheels Drive 50D wheelset is competitively priced at US$1189, £1015, €1170 and available using this link to Elitewheels. If you use the code ITKCycling, you’ll get a 15% discount, effectively reducing the price to US$1011, £863, €995.

You can read a comparison of this wheelset and other value carbon wheels in this review.

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  • Hi, thanks for the review. I’m in the market for a budget carbon all rounder to replace my Reynolds AR41s on my Defy, which I’ve found to be a little hairy in crosswinds while descending at speed. (I actually went down to a 25c tire from a 32 to reduce the amount lateral surface and shed a little weight from 1600g-ish Reynolds) These Elite Drives are pretty tempting given the weight, especially for fondos with a lot of climbing. And of course the price. The other contender is the Aeolus 37 which seems to be unanimously praised for cross wind stability. Any thoughts on how these wheelsets compare? Most of my riding is in the 175-200w range.

    • Hi Mark, the Elite Drive 50D and Aeolus Pro 37 are two good options for what you’re looking to do. Both rate very highly in our “stability” evaluation in crosswinds. I compare them and others in my review of value carbon wheels. In case you’re talking about other Aeolus wheels of the same 37mm depth, I’ve also reviewed the more expensive and better performing pure climber Aeolus RSL 37 and all-road (paved and gravel) Aeolus RSL 37V at those links. Steve

      • Thanks Steve. The Pro 37 was the one I was thinking of. Always tempting to go RSL, but the local bike shop assured me I’d be more than happy with the Pro. I’m divided between the Drive 50d for the weight, and the Pro 37 for the quality hub and support for the local bike shop. A nice dilemma to have at the end of the day. Thanks for the assurance that I’d be good with either choice.

        On a side note, I feel I should mention that I had very good support from Reynolds after a wheel unexpectedly failed in a crash – sent them the pics and a description of what happened (dropped a chain and went down hard, and somehow the spokes pulled out of the rim bed) and they sent me a new wheel straight away.

  • Bonjour

    Merci pour ce test. J’utilise les Elite 5à Drive depuis quelques jours seulement. j’avais précédemment des Fulcrum Speed 55 et des Vision 45SL. Je trouve ces roues plus faciles pour les montées ou pour grimper le Ventoux. Le terrain est très valloné chez nous à Montpellier et le vent toujours présent. ce sont pour moi après avoir eu aussi des Lighweght (mais patin) Meillenstein d’excellentes roues “passe partout” etassez peu sensible au vent latéral (moins sensible que les Vision 45SL). Un prix contenu et un excellent rapport qualité prix. Quand on voit le prix des roues Princeton ou autre faut juste arrêter. franchement j’ai 65 ans, une VO2 de 67 et une PMA de 280W et ses roues sont largement suffisantes pour moi.

    • Phil, Merci pour vos commentaires. Votre expérience d’escalade avec ces roues est cohérente avec la mienne. J’ai entendu dire que Montpellier est un bel endroit pour vivre et rouler. Je t’envie. Apprécier! Steve

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