SHIMANO ULTEGRA C50 – AN ENDURANCE RIDER’S WHEELSET
The latest Shimano Ultegra C50 wheelset is totally consistent with my experience of Shimano products – well-made, well-balanced, better supported, and at the higher end of the price range of products in its category.
In the years before Shimano introduced the Ultegra C50 as part of its 36, 50, and 60mm deep line of Ultegra and Dura-Ace wheels – its first tubeless-only, road disc brake models – several generations and a crapton of tubeless, road disc wheel models from other brands and manufacturers have come and gone.
And like many of its other Ultegra products, the Shimano Ultegra C50 wheelset (aka the WH-R8170-C50-TL) lands squarely in the middle of the performance pack. There are better and there are worse performing ones in the value carbon wheelset category that I put the Ultegra C50 into. And there are attributes of these hoops and the experience of owning a Shimano product that may make them right for you.
My fellow tester Miles and I came away from independently testing the Ultegra C50 believing it can be a good wheelset for more conservative enthusiasts or recreational riders or a training wheelset for racers who want to spend the money to keep the miles off their high-performance wheels.
In short, it’s an endurance rider’s wheelset.
If you inflate your tires to the right pressure for your tire width and weight, the Ultegra C50 is one of the more comfortable value carbon wheelsets we’ve tested. We rode it with 28mm Continental Grand Prix 5000 S tubeless tires with sealant, though you could use tubes inside or a clincher setup if you prefer.
It also manages crosswinds better than most wheels with 50mm deep rims. On the windiest days and in strong gusts, these Ultegras will get pushed a bit but in a steady way rather than one full of unpredictable jitters. You can easily manage the winds’ effect on the front wheel with a bit of counter-resistance on your bars.
The Ultegra C50 hubs roll and coast smoothly and without a sound. Some of the less expensive value carbon wheelsets are on the opposite end of the sonic spectrum – so loud when coasting that you can’t have a conversation with a fellow rider or get the peace you may seek on a solo ride.
We found the Ultegra C50’s performance on other criteria – specifically its stiffness, responsiveness, and ability to hold its speed – to be very middle-of-the-road. You don’t feel any snap when you put the power down, they don’t get up to speed as fast as several other value carbon wheelsets, and you don’t get any help from the wheels maintaining your momentum once you get above 20mph/32kph or so.
To be fair, there are just a few wheelsets in this category that do some of those things better than the others and none that do all of them. (See my chart comparing value carbon wheels we’ve reviewed for details). But the Ultegra C50 isn’t one of them.
However, if you combine this Shimano’s comfort and stability along with its quiet hubset, it’s sympatico with those who do a lot of endurance or Zone 2 training where quick acceleration, hard cornering, or fast riding isn’t on the menu. And if you never ride that way or have a higher-performance wheelset that you want to keep free of logging all those long-slow-distance training miles, the Ultegra C50 is an option to consider.
Design: Shimano continues to use a cup-and-cone bearing design in its hubs that make these wheels roll smoothly and quietly.
Recognize, however, that you’ll want to grease the hubs every year when riding in good weather and more frequently if you ride on wet roads to keep the bearings and races from wearing out and needing to replace the entire hub. Most hubs nowadays use cartridge bearings that you can simply and inexpensively replace when their time has passed without affecting the longevity of the hub itself.
The Ultegra freehub has only 36 points of engagement, a design that creates a lag between when you put your pedals down and the power kicks in when racers like Miles want to sprint out of a corner and kick-off (or follow) a breakaway.
Shimano makes a micro-spline freehub for its Dura-Ace wheelsets that, along with its 12-speed cassette does increase the POE to 50 for faster engagement. The Ultegra C50 freehub we tested did not have a micro-spline freehub but neither Miles nor I have 12-speed Shimano groupsets either.
Also, if you use SRAM or Campagnolo 12-speed gruppos, this wheelset isn’t for you. Shimano doesn’t make XDR or N3W freehubs for its Ultegra or Dura-Ace wheels to use with its competitors’ groupsets.
The Ultegra C50 weighs in at 1603 grams on my scale including the preinstalled rim tape and valves. Its hooked, VU profile carbon rims measure 50.6mm deep, 28.2mm wide outside, and 21.6mm inside. There are 24 bladed, straight-pull spokes on both the front and rear wheels.
Consistent with Ultegra’s second-tier status in Shimanoworld, the C50 model labels are quite muted and hard to see on the rim’s matte black finish. By contrast, the far smaller yet bright yellow labels that sit at the edge of the rim near the inflation valve and warn you the wheels are disc brake only and not to be inflated above 109 psi stand out and don’t remove easily.
Quality: Similar to every Shimano product we’ve tested before, the Ultegra C50 wheelset overall and its components look to be very well made. During our testing, no issues came up. The Conti GP 5000 S tubeless tires we use on all the wheels we test also held their inflation pressure well, perhaps an indication of the preinstalled rim tape job.
Of course, Shimano dealers and parts distributors far outnumber those of any other cycling brand. That’s good news when you need service or repairs. The better news is that Shimano makes amongst the most durable cycling products. If you are willing to service the cup and cone bearings yourself, you’ll likely never need to take these wheels in for service.
Price: The Shimano Ultegra C50 wheelset sells for US$1400, £1250, €1500. It and the shallower Ultegra C36 and deeper Ultegra C60 siblings can be found at these links to Competitive Cyclist, BTD (BikeTiresDirect), and Merlin, all stores I recommend for their competitive prices, customer satisfaction, and enthusiast product selection.
Compare our reviews and ratings of the Shimano Ultegra C50 with competitively performing models in my review of the Best Value Carbon Wheelset.
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Hi Steve, Given the your test on Ultegra c50 wheelset, how do you presume Dura ace c50 wheelset? Specifically in responsiveness and aerodynamic?
Your review on Ultrgra c50 aerodynamic is not great and do you think Dura ace one will be similar as both Ultegra and Dura ace wheelset use same rim profile? Or Dura ace c50 may be better because of different hub used in Dura ace c50? I think responsiveness can be better but not sure how it will be in Aerodynamics.
Lois, I wouldn’t want to extrapolate how the Dura-Ace would perform based on the Ultegra or on assumptions of their common or different components and designs. I know it’s frustrating not to have a review of the Dura-Ace wheelset yet – I’ve had more requests than for any other wheelset and I’m frustrated too – but they just aren’t widely available to us enthusiasts right now. It’s at the top of my list of priorities and I hope to have answers to yours and everyone’s questions about them when I finally do get to test them. Steve
Thanks for posting this review. I have these wheels. I like them. I think they are good wheels for group rides and gran fondos. I use them with 28mm clincher tires (they do have a hooked design and work with clinchers) and latex tubes. They are very stable in the wind. They are quiet. They don’t make a lot of noise as they cut through the air. I can hear a very faint whooshing sound riding fast on a quiet road. If I raced crits or did a lot of flat very fast group rides I’d get a more aero option but I think they are a good all-arounder.
You write that the wheelset is comfortable. But is it still stiff enough and even in fast descents precise and very good controllable for a driver with 90 – 95 kg or are the wheels rather floppy in such situations at this load? I ask because I was very dissatisfied exactly in this point with the old Dura Ace C36.
On the new bike I currently have the Mavic Cosmic SL45 and I feel much better than the old Dura Ace C36. The Mavic are light, stable, precise, agile, responsive, well controllable and yet comfortable. Also in terms of crosswind, they are much better than the C36. Only in the roll/glide characteristics were the C36 better.
Due to the very noisy hubset, the average roll/glide characteristics and the inner with of only 19mm, I plan to upgrade to the Dura Ace C50, but I’m not so sure anymore if that really brings noticeable benefits (except the quietness of the hubset and the micro-spline)? What is your opinion on this?
Daniel, We haven’t tested the Dura-Ace C50 but will be sure to evaluate it’s stiffness when we do. I can’t extrapolate how stiff the Dura-Ace C50 will be based on the Ultegra C50. Steve