ROAD TESTED R I D D E N & R AT E D
BEST ON TEST
WINNER › NOVATEC JETFLY Low weight, great responsiveness and a top price
he great news if you’re on a relatively tight budget is that our overall experience of these 10 affordable wheelsets was more consistently positive than in some of our cost-no-object tests. Reliability was good throughout, alloy rim braking was consistent in all weathers and while weight and stiffness vary, none of the wheels are wholly uncompetitive. Features include high quality adjustable bearings, butted spokes, steel or steel-reinforced freewheels, the latest tubeless-compatibile wide rims and even sub1500g weights – so there’s very little you can’t expect for under £400 these days. Some wheels inevitably stand out in comparison or for their unique features. Hope pairs its Pennine-made, mountain bike-bred hubs with Mavic’s classic Open Pro road rims to form a super-tough combination. Our long-term experience with their 10-speed predecessors
suggests that Shimano’s updated 11-speed up and if you’re happy not shopping locally Ultegra 6800 wheels are the closest you’ll get they’re the clear winners of our value award. to tightly responsive, tubeless-ready perpetual In fact, the general standard of wheels on motion if you treat the bearings right. But when test has been so high that it’s taken one of the it comes to gaining a place on the hoop, hub and world’s largest hub and wheel producers to spoke podium, the super-tight and lightweight step out of the shadows – with a wheel made CAMPAGNOLO ZONDAS impressed us with under its own name – to take overall honours. their power transfer and ability Novatec has a vast amount to sustain speed to take our of manufacturing experience The Jetfy wheels are race wheels title. and the scale of its production the lightest, most SUPERSTAR’S PAVE 28 has allowed it to produce the wheels skip conventional lightest, most responsive responsive wheels shop costs to keep the wheels on test by a fair on test – and they’re price to a minimum. But margin – and at a cracking a cracking price too they’re a far from cheap and price too. Bang-up-to-date cheerful offering, as their wide profile tubeless rims contemporary wider section, tubeless-ready laced to top quality hubs make the NOVATEC rims and handbuilt quality deliver the sort of JETFLY an outstandingly fast yet friendly and performance you’d expect at twice the price. durable performer and the clear winner of our Add outstanding warranty and customer backaffordable wheelset showdown.
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TESTED R I D D E N & R AT E D
All our test wheels use 1 alloy rims. They’re not just more affordable than carbon fibre, they’re more predictable under braking – particularly in the wet – and not much heavier. But widths, shapes and weights make a big difference to performance.
SPOKES Spokes are the obvious visual signature of a wheel, which is why some manufacturers seem determined to do ‘different’ arrangements than conventional cross-over patterns. How many spokes are in each wheel, how they’re arranged and how well they’re tensioned are the key factors.
BEARINGS Most wheels use selfcontained cartridge bearings that you remove and replace when they get worn and rough. Some are adjustable to take up any wobble or slack before needing replacing, while old school ‘cup and cone’ bearings are totally serviceable if you have the skills.
HUBS 4 You can get some really
fancy semi-carbon or fancy spoke block hub designs on expensive wheels, but most sets here stick with traditional flanged hubs for simple and effective reliability.
FREEHUB The little drum that spins when you coast and drives when you pedal isn’t so simple. It’s essential you get the right SRAM/Shimano or Campagnolo spline standard, as well as 11-speed compatibility if you need it. Engagement lag (the amount that the freehub moves before driving the rear wheel, measured in degrees), noise, ease of servicing and spline toughness are all significant too.
SKEWERS The cam-action rods that lock your wheels in place can vary dramatically in quality and even security. Some wheels – like Hope’s – even come without skewers, reasoning that those you have are probably fine, so why pay for an extra set you don’t need?
Upgrading your wheels will transform your bike’s ride. These 10 sets show that it needn’t you cost a fortune…
hanging your wheels potentially gives you a greater performance gain than with any other component upgrade. The reasons are simple but significant. Firstly, because the wheels – particularly the rims – are rotating at the end of a long lever (the spokes), the effort it takes to accelerate and decelerate them is magnified massively compared with mass elsewhere on the bike. In other words, you’ll notice 200g saved in a wheelset far more than on a chainset. Secondly, your wheels are the vital connection between your bike and the road. That means every stamp on the pedals or tweak of the steering is translated through the freehub, hubs, spokes and rim through the tyre to the road. The faster the freehub reacts, the tighter the spokes, and even what shape the rim makes the tyre – all make a difference you can really feel. All these stresses and strains are fed through bearings that spin faster than any others on the bike, and so the quality of those bearings, how well protected they are, and how easy they are to adjust and/or service – and
ultimately replace – is crucial to long-term value. Depending on how tough you are on your wheels or how far you are from a good bike shop, ease of replacement and repair are a definite consideration for epic explorers or fanatics who hate to miss a single day due to a delay in getting spares. The great news is that the best wheels here – and that’s not necessarily the most expensive – are not only light enough to give your legs and lungs a real helping hand, they’re also tight and responsive enough to reveal the full character of your bike. They’re smooth enough to coast you home on the dying embers of your energy and tough enough to take you far off into the back lanes or even bridleways and ’cross races for the foreseeable future. They’ll even have you covered for the latest technology, whether it’s tubeless tyres or 11-speed cassettes. We’ve put these wheels through exhaustive head-to-head battles, and with long-term feedback from our ultra-experienced and relentless Yorkshire test crew, set out to find the ultimate cost-effective wheel upgrade to suit your riding needs.
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SUPERSTAR PAVE 28
£164.99 › One for the road from mountain bike component king SPECIFICATION WEIGHT F/R 698/R 881g SPOKES 20/24 RIM 17/23x30mm ENGAGEMENT LAG 13 degrees
he name may not be known to roadies, but Superstar is the cost-effective, direct-buy mountain bike component king. The Paves are the first product of an extensive road range it has planned. The tyre-fattening 17mm internal width and rounded aero cross-section of the Pave 28 rims echoes the latest Zipp, Hed, Bontrager and Easton designs. They’re not just thrown together either but hand-laced into the small barrel hubs with quality Sapim Laser spokes and nipples.
The result is light, tight and because Superstar works WE SAY... impressively responsive with directly to develop product the surefooted handling and with its Far Eastern suppliers, Light, tight, great easy speed feel that comes which cuts distributor and handling wheels with rounded rims and shop margins out of the with lifetime backfattened tyres. In fact we equation. The actual wheel deliberately didn’t tell our test up at a superb price building takes place in the UK, team (the branding is subtle) though, and the price includes that these wheels were less than half the price free retruing and cost price wear/damage of many on test and they still rated them among replacement for life. This is more than most the best performers. shops or bigger brands offer and makes them a The current freehub can already be swapped clear winner in value for money terms. from Shimano to Campagnolo, but wait until www.superstarcomponents.com May and an extra £10 will get you top quality SKF bearings and an 11-speed-compatible HIGHS Light, responsive, price, service freehub. Superstar durability has always been LOWS Direct sell only fine and the cartridge bearings are easy to replace if they do wear out. RATING ★★★★★ The extremely aggressive pricing is possible CYCLING PLUS | May 2014 | 143
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£359 › Training wheels only, or capable of more? SPECIFICATION WEIGHT F/R 646/841g SPOKES 20/24 RIM (inside/outside x depth) 17/21.5x32mm ENGAGEMENT LAG 13 degrees
ovatec has been producing high quality, reliable wheels for numerous prestigious brands for a long time. Its latest own-brand wheels truly deserve to bring the company out of the shadows, though. We think the Jetflys are undersold as ‘training’ wheels; at under 1500g a pair, with a reasonably fast-reacting, steel-reinforced freehub, they feel very responsive, with just a hint of front wheel flex when you’re really giving it grief out of the saddle. The 32mm-deep rim handles impressively in a full range of wind conditions and sustains speed well. The rim is tubeless-compatible, and although valves and tape aren’t included you do get four spare double-butted spokes and quick release skewers. www.extrauk.co.uk HIGHS Light, responsive, reliable LOWS Slight front wheel flex
GIANT P-SL1 £229.98
SPECIFICATION WEIGHT F/R 753/1072g SPOKES F/R 18/24 RIM 16/21x21mm ENGAGEMENT LAG 20 degrees
ike many top-end wheel producers, Giant bases its P-SL1 wheels around DT Swiss internals. Unlike most you don’t pay a premium for that. The hubs don’t look cheap either, with neat low-profile block flanges for the straight-pull DT Champion spokes. Tight lacing keeps the mid-width rims feeling precise and surefooted and DT’s unique RWS ratchet quick releases keep them secure. Engagement speed and weight are average rather than advantageous but the overall riding character feels great given the very affordable price. Initial issues with spoke breakages on the driveside rear have been solved on the latest sets too. www.giant-bicycles.com
A winning combination of price, practicality and performance
FULCRUM RACING 5 £239.99
SPECIFICATION WEIGHT F/R 762/963g SPOKES F/R 20/24 RIM 15/21x24mm ENGAGEMENT LAG 12 degrees
ulcrum’s trusty 5 is brought bang up to date for 2014. The steel freehub resists cassette damage and it’s now 11-speed compatible as standard. The relatively fat hubs with plasticshrouded bearings also feature a large driveside flange with fancy transverse slots that carry twice as many spokes as the offside. They definitely feel comfortable rather than taut, though, and while their relatively low weight makes for keen initial acceleration, they feel soft under a serious power kick. Weight-balanced rolling performance (heavier spokes opposite the valve) and lifespan of the adjustable clamped bearings is always good and red anodised nipples look smart. www.i-ride.co.uk
VISION TEAM30 £299.95
SPECIFICATION WEIGHT F/R 798/1058g SPOKES F/R 20/24 RIM 13/18x30mm ENGAGEMENT LAG 16 degrees
ith polished, bladed spokes and smoothly rounded hub profiles, Vision’s semi-aero wheelset is a head turner. The wheels aren’t light, so getting the 30mm-deep rims turning takes a fair effort but their stiffness helps you make use of your power. The tight feel aids control in sidewind gusts, although they feel straight-line stubborn rather than agile on descents. Once up to speed on flat or rolling roads they have an easy, momentummassaging pulse that rouleurs will like. The cartridge bearings are well sealed, the tough steel freehub is 11-speed compatible. Tyre fitting is a fight, though, and they’re Shimano/SRAM only. www.windwave.co.uk ★★★★★
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SHIMANO ULTEGRA WH6800
£329 › Shimano turns its Ultegra transmission capability up to 11 SPECIFICATION WEIGHT F/R 713/941g SPOKES F/R 16/20 RIM 16/21x23mm ENGAGEMENT LAG 20 degrees
he switch to an 11-speed version of the tough steel freehub was obviously necessary to keep the Ultegra wheelset compatible with its partner Ultegra groupset. Shimano hasn’t made the mechanism any faster-reacting, though, so it’s still slightly slow on the uptake and isn’t available in a Campagnolo version. The mid-width asymmetric rim is tubelessready and light, with small raised anchor platforms for each straight-pull spoke.
Oversized flanges on the front bearing races is now tool-free WE SAY... hub have kidney-shaped which makes adjustment cutouts while the rear hub’s easier too. Responsively light have distinct block spoke Ultimately, whether they yet durable, stiff, terminals. The thickset rear fulfil their potential to stay high performance hub is also extended on the silky smooth for years offside for a wide bearing and tubeless-ready depends on how well you stance, while Shimano quick learn the art of adjusting release skewers are among the smoothest them or at least knowing when they need taking operating and most secure around. to your local shop for a tweak. That means The combined result is a surprisingly stiff and they’re not a wise choice for fans of totally fitaccurate ride despite there only being 16 front and-forget equipment. and 20 rear spokes, and previous generation www.madison.co.uk Ultegra wheels have proved utterly bombproof in long-term use. HIGHS Strong, smooth, longevity Shimano is the only manufacturer here still LOWS Slightly slow to engage sticking with user-serviceable ‘cup and cone’ bearings rather than cartridge bearings. The RATING ★★★★★ preload adjustment of the precision ground CYCLING PLUS | May 2014 | 147
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BEST RACE WHEEL
£376.99 › For those who favour rush over plush SPECIFICATION WEIGHT F/R 665/915g SPOKES F/R 18/21 RIM 15/21x26mm (F) 30mm (R) ENGAGEMENT LAG 12 degrees
ampagnolo’s light and super-tight Zondas are great if you rate speed over comfort. Though not toeing the ‘fatter is better’ line, the rim isn’t super-thin so won’t unduly pinch fatter tyres. The front rim is slightly shallower than the rear, for more responsive, windproof steering. The Mega G3 lacing clumps the bladed spokes together in two driveside/single offside batches, and it’s not just cosmetic – the rear wheel is seriously stiff with great power transfer. The Zondas put punch into acceleration and maintain momentum on steep climbs, though the ride is on the firm side. The bearings are smooth and the bombproof steel freehub is available in Campag and Shimano/SRAM formats. www.chickencycles.co.uk HIGHS Stiff, fast, smoothly reliable LOWS Might be too stiff for some
Light, semi-aero wheels with good power transfer but a very firm feel
Are inner tubes out of date? Tubeless wheels and tyres swap the inner tube for airtight tyres and rims. The tyre deforms more easily over lumps and bumps for a potentially smoother, faster ride. No inner tube also means no ‘pinch’ puncture, while liquid sealants can ‘heal’ small
punctures, or slow down the leaking of bigger punctures. The rim and tyre edges need to be shaped to lock securely in place without a tube. There also aren’t many tubeless tyre options available yet either, and while they’re all expensive
some are surprisingly heavy. You can still split the tyre too badly for it to seal, and trying to squeeze a tube into a tubeless setup can be really tricky. The jury is out on tubeless tyres, but a tubeless rim is a useful future-proofing feature.
HALO MERCURY 6D £349.98
HOPE HOOPS MONO RS £355
MAVIC KSYRIUM EQUIPE S WTS £390
SPECIFICATION WEIGHT F/R 710/902g SPOKES F/R 20/24 RIM 14/19x30mm ENGAGEMENT LAG 20 degrees alo’s UK designers have been evolving their cost-effective wheels for years and the latest Mercury benefits from 2013 test feedback. They’ve stuck with a narrow and deep rim that cuts through straight-line drag situations with a clean, efficient feel. Steering is slightly stubborn at higher speeds and the skinny tyre footprint leaves them feeling sharp on rough sections, though an extra four spokes in the front makes them much more obedient and consistent in corners than the previous model. There’s still some softness in the rear if you’re sprinting out of the saddle, but they’re light for the money, which makes them a lively upgrade for lighter racers. www.ison-distribution.com
SPECIFICATION WEIGHT F/R 796/941g SPOKES F/R 32/32 RIM 15/20x24mm ENGAGEMENT LAG 15 degrees
avic’s eyelet-reinforced Open Pro rims have a reputation for toughness. Hope handbuilds them into wheels using 32 Sapim double-butted spokes and brass nipples and its own Mono RS hubs. These hide quality stainless steel cartridge bearings behind effective seals, and the latest models are Shimano/SRAM 11-speed compatible, while the new four-pawl, 24-tooth pick-up freehub is faster-reacting and quieter. The wheels handle relentless all-weather training, ’cross or light touring and we’ve got older sets that have survived years of use. If the Mavic rims are a little heavy and narrow, you can choose Stan’s 100g lighter tubeless-ready Alpha 400s. www.hopetech.com
SPECIFICATION WEIGHT F/R 789/952g SPOKES F/R 20/20 RIM 15/20x24mm ENGAGEMENT LAG 20 degrees
avic’s Wheel Tyre System matches wheel, tyre and tube (all included in your £390). The Ksyrium Equipes don’t get the machined cutouts of more expensive Mavic wheels, leaving them slightly lardy for the price, but once the slow-reacting freehub has picked up, the taut, bladed spokes keep them feeling sharp and responsive. Handling is equally precise, though the flat spokes are noticeable in crosswinds. Structural durability is good, and Shimano/SRAM and Campagnolo versions are 11-speed ready. The Mavic Yksion Comp tyres are okay, and the narrowish rim gives an occasionally harsh feel – but they look great. www.mavic.com
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The JETFLY wheels come out as best in test out of the 10 wheels tested!