August 31, 2010

The pro peloton has gone aero-wheel crazy. Team Sky takes a corner with Bradley Wiggins in the maglia rosa on stage 2 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia. (Photo: Roberto Bettini)

RBA tests aero-profile wheelsets from American Classic, DT Swiss, Easton, Mavic and Reynolds. Rim depths range from the 66-millimeter Reynolds SDV66 C, to the minimalistic 32- millimeter Easton EC90 SL, and prices run from $3000 for the DT Swiss RRC Tubular, to the Sub $1300 American Classic Carbon 58 clincher wheelset. Anyone in the market for a slippery wheel in hopes to buy some cheap speed can find a suitable mate for his or her riding style in one of these five.

Our wheel test protocol is made to give you all the information you require in small, easily-digestible chunks so you can make a performance wheel selection. Read the tech, check the prices and weights, and then check each of the eight performance ratings. (A “one” is just a wheel and a “five” is the best wheel in the universe.) Still not sure? Then check out our “buying advice” for a concise opinion on who would best match each wheelset.

American Classic Carbon 58
American Classic lives and breathes high-performance wheels, and many racers who have the money and connections to ride any wheelset made choose Ameican Classic exclusively. The Carbon 58 deepprofile clincher wheel reflects the company’s conservative design philosophy—its braking tracks and tire interfaces are aluminum to withstand the furnace-heat buildup of descending mountain passes, while the bonded carbon aero section of the rim is a load-bearing component of the wheel. The Carbon 58 is designated for road racing, triathlon and cyclocross.

American Classic’s blend of lightness and reliability comes from sweating the details. The bladed stainless steel spokes, rim profiles, spoke nipples and hubs are American Classic designs. The 24-spoke rear hub, for instance, uses taller flanges to increase the spoke angle in relation to the rim, while the left-side flange is moved inboard to even the spoke tension. Visually, the narrower flange spacing seems weaker, but testing— real world and in the lab— shows otherwise. The radiallaced front wheel uses AC’s 18-spoke Micro-58 hub. The bearings are ceramic hybrid, and freehubs for Campagnolo and SRAM/Shimano are optional. Carbon 58 wheels weigh 1880 grams a pair sans quick-releases and run close to $1200.

The Carbon 58 wheels mounted to Hutchinson Atom tires (115 psi) replaced Specialized Roval Rapide SL45 wheels on a Specialized Tarmac SL3. Tires mounted easily to the American Classic rims, and because the braking tracks are aluminum, we did not have to switch brake pads to test the wheels.

BEST USE: Sport-level time trials, big-guy road racing and multi-sport events.

Initial setup: 4
Mount the tires and go.

Weight: 2
There is no hiding 1880 grams when you are plan ning on racing. The tradeoff for the reliability and braking of aluminum is the weight penalty.

Acceleration/climbing: 3
Good, but not exceptional in straight-line acceleration and climbing. Their stiffness is a benefit when climbing out of the saddle.

Road comfort: 4
Nothing bad to report: Carbon 58 wheels roll smoothly and are notably comfortable—a surprise from a deep-profile rim.

Cornering feel: 4
Carbon 58 wheels impressed us in the turns. Heavier wheels usually corner well, but the American Classic wheels remain more sensitive to the tarmac than we would have expected.

Braking: 4
The Carbon 58’s secure road holding ability further enhanced its smooth, powerful stopping potential. Wonderful braking all the way around.

Windy conditions: 4
Quote: “I liked them a lot in the wind. I’m not sure if it’s because they aren’t the lightest hoops in happyville, but then again, I’m not the lightest rider in the peloton, either. Compared to the Roval wheels, they performed much better in crosswinds.”

Durability: 4
American Classic built the Carbon 58’s tough: “At 1880 grams, these aren’t wheels for 130-pound-andhungry racers. In my opinion, they are built for those of us 170 and up who want the benefits of a deep-dish carbon wheel.”

American Classic bills Carbon 58 wheels as all-purpose racing hoops, but we wouldn’t go that far. What they do best is maintain speed—once you roll up past 20 miles an hour, their heft vanishes and you can feel the Carbon 58’s working hard to keep you there. Triathletes seeking to upgrade to a versitile aero wheel would do well with a set. For big riders, Carbon 58s are a great everyday wheel with the added aerodynamic benefit. If you weigh over 180 pounds and want to cheat the wind for less than $1300, buy them.

Weight: 1880 grams/pair (without QR)
Compatible: SRAM/Shimano
Price: $1200

DT Swiss RRC 32 Tubular
DT Swiss presents their elite RRC Tubular road racing wheel with a beautiful carbon rim laced with white, bladed Aerolite spokes and the 190 hubset. DT Swiss offers the RRC wheel in 32, 46 and 66-millimeter profiles. We chose the fastaccelerating 32-millimeter version for this test.

DT Swiss weight-limits the RRC Tubular wheelset to 198 pounds, which should include all but the most massive road racers. White, double-butted, bladed spokes make the wheelset pop, and the carbon rim has a distinctive woven outer later that looks stunning at rest. Spoke nipples are DT’s hexagonal Prolock items, which ensure maximum spoke tension. The wheelset is composed of the 20-spoke radial-laced 425 front wheel and the 24-spoke two-cross 525 rear wheel. The 190 hubset uses DT Swiss’ star ratchet freehub (Campy and Shimano/SRAM options) and can be disassembled by hand without tools. Our wheels were equipped with DT Swiss RWS Ti-shaft quick-releases, bags and Swisstop brake pads. The RRC Tubular wheelset weighs 1005 grams without quick-releases and costs around $3000.

Our DT Swiss RRC 32 wheels were glued up to Schwalbe Ultremo tires set at 120 psi. The bike was an Aerocat carbon, and we raced them extensively at the Cat-2 level.

BEST USE: General road racing, climbing and criterium.

Initial setup: 2
Glue-on tires are fussy, and the RWS quick-releases can cost time during midrace wheel-changes.

Weight: 4
At 1000 grams, DT’s carbon tubular wheels are in the money for elite-level racing.

Acceleration/climbing: 4
Quote: “These wheels felt super light on the bike. I was able to accelerate up the climbs with ease, especially when the grades were above 7 percent. The stiffness and acceleration are great advantages when climbing or attacking in a race.”

Road comfort: 5
Very smooth-rolling and compliant.

Cornering feel: 4
Stiff and dependable: “I tend to push it harder in the corners than most…I went hot into a downhill corner and the rear wheel skipped on me; to me, this is a sign of their stiffness. I was able to control it, but it was definitely an exciting moment.”

Braking: 3
Especially good for carbon rims. We never got into wet conditions to judge their foul-weather performance, though.

Windy conditions: 5
No crosswind effects; “The rims are not very deep and were excellent wheels for crosswinds as we rode in 40-50 mile per hour gusts during the Gila, and the wheels were solid. Other guys were literally blown off the road, and I was able to focus on pedaling instead of controlling sails.”

Durability: 4

No-nonsense racing wheels from one of the world’s most reliable wheelmakers. You may choke at their $3000 price tag, but you will be singing about the performance of your RRC 32 wheels well into the future.

Weight: 1005 grams/pair (without QR)
Compatible: SRAM/Shimano
Price: $3000

Easton EC90 SL Wheelset
Easton was ripping it up in the high-performance carbon fiber arena when the bike industry was arguing about steel versus aluminum. The EC90 SL racing clincher wheelset rises out of an unparalleled wealth of knowledge and the proof of this lies in the fact that Easton’s mission statement about its EC90 wheels begins with a description of its testing and verification protocols. The 38-millimeterdeep rim is built with a heat-resistant carbon that Easton dubs “Therma Tec,” which resists heat deformation caused by harsh braking to the degree that the wheels are not weight-limited.

To begin, EC90 SL wheels are beautifully made—molded into their final shape and finish so that every unidirectional carbon fiber is used to support a load or boost rigidity. Sapim-bladed spokes (18 radial up front, with 24 at the rear hub two-cross drive-side and radial left) are hand-tensioned using red-anodized alloy nipples, while the hubs roll on ceramic hybrid bearings. The rear hub has a high/low flange arrangement to help even spoke tension. Graphics are bold enough to let the peloton know that there is a new sheriff in town, but not so much that EC90s will convert your Colnago into an Escalade. EC90 SL wheels are made in Campagnolo and SRAM/Shimano freehub configurations and come with Swisstop carbon-specific pads, valve extensions, quick-releases and wheel bags. The set weighs 1460 grams sans quick-releases and will set you back $1798.

We replaced Mavic Kyserium wheels on our Scott Addict with Easton EC90 SL wheels mounted with Hutchinson Atom slicks (at 110 psi) for a 226-gram total weight savings. Mounting the wheels to the tires and bike was easy as pie, with the freehub spacing remaining consistent enough to exclude a derailleur adjustment and there was no need for a valve extension with 60-millimeter Presta valve tubes.

BEST USE: Century and marathon rides, and weekend criterium or club racing in dry conditions.

Initial setup: 3
Easy, but you’ll need to switch to Easton-supplied Swisstop carbon-specific pads.

Weight: 3
1460 grams is a very good figure for a non-weightlimited racing clincher.

Acceleration/climbing: 3
They feel fast, both while climbing in cadence and when zipping up a gap under pressure. EC90 SLs feel light under power— especially for a clincher.

Road comfort: 4
Quote: “On the fabulous RBA scale of pleasure, I can give them a 4 out of 5 for comfort. I didn’t expect carbon rims to be this compliant, so it was a nice surprise.”

Cornering feel: 4
Their lateral strength, and the fact that the EC90 wheels suck up a good deal of road vibration, helps make them one of the better-handling wheels in the mountains.

Braking: 3
Easton rightly chose Swisstop brake pads for their new Therma Tec carbon material, because only Swisstop pads provide positive braking on the smooth carbon rim. Other pads woould barely stop the bike.

Windy conditions: 4
A little wavering from the front wheel was all we could complain about— and that was during gusty conditions and high-speed mountain descents.

Durability: 4
No wiggles, no heat distortion and no worries throughout testing—and we really beat the EC90 SL wheels hard.

Easton has a wonderful all-purpose wheel in the EC90 SL—a durable, aero wheel that can handle an aggressive rider’s sprint and cornering or take a weekend event rider over 100 miles in luxurious comfort.

Weight: 1460 grams (without QRs)
Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM and Campagnolo
Price: Around $1798

Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLR
Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLR wheels are unlike any we have seen. The spokes are molded, carbon the rims are aluminum, bonded to a thin carbon aero shell and, at slightly under 1600 grams, they fit into the performance category in the gray area between an elite racing and a sport/training wheel. The Cosmic Carbone wheelset has “Mavic” written all over it—innovative, wild-looking and well-engineered.

Aggressive braking and a degree of crash insurance are the motivation for choosing aluminum rims—while carbon can be molded paper-thin in order to shape the Cosmic Carbone’s wind-cheating, 52- millimeter profile. Called Rimto- Rim (R2R), the unidirectional carbon spokes slip into notches in Mavic’s lightweight aluminum hubs and are tensioned with more or less conventional nipples. Both front and rear wheels use 20 spokes in a cross-two pattern. Special spoke nipples hidden by the carbon shell (aluminum up front and brass in the rear) ensure that the wheel is serviceable. Unlike most Mavic Maxtal rims, Cosmic Carbone hoops are drilled and thus require a rim strip (included). Mavic doesn’t go for ceramic bearings, and instead chooses ultra-precise stainless steel bearings which roll noticeably well. Mavic offers both Campy and Shimano/SRAM freehubs, and ships Cosmic Carbone SLR wheels with bags, special spoke tools, valve extenders, quick-releases, rim tape and bearing adjustment wrenches. The pair weighed 1595 grams without quick-releases and cost around $2000.

Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLR wheels mounted to Hutchinson Atom tires (100 psi) replaced the stock Bontrager wheelset of our Trek Madone race bike. The Swisstop brake pads did not require replacement, as they are suited to aluminum and carbon surfaces. Mavic requires a wide, 2.5-millimeter cassette spacer—which still placed the Shimano Dura-Ace cassette inboard, so we needed to re-adjust the shifting when we substituted wheels. Tires were initially tough to mount due to the stiff plastic rim strips, which prevented the tire beads from dropping into the rim well.

BEST USE: Club racing, endurance events, sprint triathlons.

Initial setup: 3
Fussy cassette spacing and a bit tough to get tires mounted ding this otherwise easy-going wheelset.

Weight: 3
1600 grams is not heavy, but not lightweight. Considering that the Cosmic Carbone competes with mid-depth aero wheels, it still ranks highly at its weight.

Acceleration/climbing: 3
Surprisingly quick in a sprint and peppy-feeling on the climbs. You don’t get the snap of a 1000-gram climbing wheel, but the Cosmic Carbone isn’t weight-limited, either.

Road comfort: 4
Sweet riding wheelset. Somehow the carbon spokes and lightweight Maxtal wheels mute the road without detracting from their stiffness—and they are very quiet.

Cornering feel: 4
Quote: “The Mavics held in tight, giving me confidence when I was laying it on the line. I railed the corners.”

Braking: 4
Smooth stopping with very positive control.

Windy conditions: 2
Crosswinds affect the 52-millimeter-profile wheels more than expected. You’ll need to keep your hands on the bars in gusty weather.

Durability: 3
The newness of Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLR construction makes us hesitant to give it the “4” rating test riders bestowed upon the wheelset. That said, they rank among our first picks when we ride unknown roads.

Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLR wheels rank among our favorite wheels as of late, and we have some heady rolling stock to pick from. Mavic’s carbon/aluminum hybrid wheelset handily spans the gap between an everyday performance wheel, and one that can take the heat of weekend criterium and club racing.

Weight: 1600 grams/pair (without QR)
Compatible: SRAM/Shimano and Campagnolo
Price: $2000

Reynolds SDV66 C
Reynolds offers the clincher version of their successful SDV66 deep-profile aero tubular wheel for those of us who desire a more convenient (and significantly less expensive) tire for racing. The SDV66 C uses the same airfoil as the tubular, so you won’t be trading speed for the switch to standard tires and tubes. Reynolds was among the first carbon rim makers to build a successful carbon clincher—which is no small feat. Composite rims are essentially reinforced plastic, and braking concentrates intense heat at the highly stressed rim flanges.

Reynolds spares no expense with its 66-millimeter deep rim’s construction. A new higher-pressure molding process helps keep the carbon lay-up stronger and more uniform. The width of the rim at the tire is 22 millimeters, and it tapers to a blunt, 14 millimeters at the airfoil’s minor axis. Spokes are bladed DT Swiss Aerolite, radial-laced to a 16-spoke HYB front hub, and with two-cross-lacing on the drive side/radial on the left to a 20-spoke DT Swiss 240 S rear hub. Reynolds supplies DT Swiss Competition brake pads—which run smoothly on special braking tracks molded into the rim surfaces. Bold, white graphics on black rims, spokes and hubs make it impossible to mask the fact that you are riding aero wheels—but that’s the point, isn’t it? Reynolds sells its SDV66 C wheelset equipped with a special spoke wrench, brake pads, valve extensions, titanium-shaft quick-releases, rim strips and an owner’s manual, which includes helpful training tips for first-time aero wheels users. Wheelsets are available with Campagnolo or Shimano/SRAM freehub options. The SDV66 C wheelset weighs 1675 grams for a pair without quick-releases and costs around $2600.

We ran the SDV66 wheels back-to-back with Reynolds’ wildly expensive RZR tubular wheelset on a BH G4. Tires were Hutchinson Atoms inflated to 105 psi. The ’66 wheels added almost 780 grams to the bike. Mounting the tires was simple, and we experienced no significant shifting issues using a Shimano Dura-Ace cassette.

BEST USE: Hilly time trials, multisport races, solo endurance events.

Initial setup: 3
Tires mount up easily, although you’ll need some thread-sealing tape to seal the Presta valve adapters, and Reynolds insists that you use its supplied brake pads, so you’ll need to install them on your calipers.

Weight: 3
1675 grams is a bit heavy for a $2600 carbon wheelset, but it has few competitors if you want a full-carbon aero clincher rim.

Acceleration/climbing: 3
Quote: “You’ll feel them if you’ve come off of a sub-1000 gram wheelset, but they still get up and go when you need to close a gap.”

Road comfort: 3 Those who ride deep-dish aero wheels exclusively will find Reynolds SDV66 C wheels to be relatively comfortable. That said, they deliver a noticeable pounding to the arms and back when compared to a lighterweight climbing or road racing wheelset.

Cornering feel: 4
As long as the winds are not buffeting, Reynolds deep-profile clincher wheels hold the road securely and hold a line well.

Braking: 3 Smooth-for-carbon braking with an occasional squeak from the pads when the wheels heat up. There is no grabby feel when the pads make contact, so riding in a tight group is easier than with other carbon rims.

Windy conditions: 2
Piece of cake to control in moderate crosswinds, but the SDV66 airfoil develops considerable lift as wind and forward speeds increase, which makes it tough to hold a line or ride in a tight pace-line.

Durability: 4

A true aero wheelset with the convenience of clincher tires, the Reynolds SDV66 C is a good choice for road racers or triathletes who want a TT wheel that is versatile enough to ride on weekend club or century rides.

Weight: 1675 grams (pair without QRs)
Compatible: SRAM/Shimano, Campagnolo options
Price: $2600

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