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August 21, 2012
Reynolds takes all of their experience with high-end carbon wheelsets and distills it to produce the Assault wheelset with carbon clincher rims for less than $2000. At the same time they claim this wheelset will out-shine both alloy and carbon wheelsets on offer from their competitors.
The Reynolds catalogue is deep in high quality and high performance wheelsets. Their all-carbon RZR wheelsets retail for $6499, while their “Road Racing” wheelsets retail for $2899-3099 depending on the depth of the rims. Paul Lew joined the company a few years ago to bolster their expertise in aerodynamics and the result was the RZR wheelset, which according to one set of wind tunnel data (their own testing), is the fastest wheelset in the world. At the same time, they set about to develop a range of carbon wheelsets that benefitted from many of the traits of their high-end products but at a lower price. The “Competitive” range of wheels features four models: the Attack (32mm rims), Assault (46mm rims), Strike (66mm rims), and Assault/Strike (46mm front rim, 66mm rear).
Before the ride
The Assault wheelset features 46mm rims laced to Reynolds branded hubs with DT Revolution double-butted spokes (20 spokes front, 24 spokes rear) and internal nipples. The wheels are available with tubular or clincher rims and a choice of a Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo-compatible freehub. The claimed weight for tubular Assaults is 1263g while the clinchers are 1483g; the price for the tubulars is a little less; $1799 versus $1899 for the clinchers. The purchase price includes a pair of skewers plus two pairs of Reynolds’ Cryo Blue brakepads (available to fit Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo brake pad carriers).
The brake tracks feature an obvious carbon weave while the rest of the rim has a smooth, stealthy black finish. Reynolds insists that all buyers use their Cryo Blue brakepads with their carbon rims. Every wheelset comes with a two pairs of brakepads as part of the purchase price.
Reynolds insists that all owners use the Cryo Blue brakepads with their carbon wheels. Overheating of the braking track can be lethal for a carbon rim, especially a carbon clincher, hence the importance of a specific braking compound that creates less heat. Reynolds have also bolstered the braking track of their rims with their “CTg braking system”, a specific composite that disperses the heat from braking into the rim to keep temperatures low. The inclusion of CTg in the brake track distinguishes the current generation of Reynolds wheels from the previous generations that had something of a reputation for failing under heavy braking (read Reynolds’ response to this concern).
The hubs roll on oversized hollow axles and cartridge (“sealed”) bearings. Up front, the bearings are pressed onto the axles and into the hub; the alloy end caps then thread onto the axles to keep the elements out of the hub. Out back, there is a similar arrangement for the bearings and axle. The freehub is easily removed after removing the end cap to allow easy serving of the pawls and springs. All told, the hubs are effective without being glamorous and should promise a reasonably long service interval.
Stripping down the rear hub is simple, just a couple of allen keys are needed to release the freehub for servicing.
Potential buyers may be interested to learn that they can “insure” their new wheels with the Reynolds Assurance Program (RAP). The program costs US$250 and provides repair or replacement of the wheels for a two year period should they be damaged in an accident. There are a couple of limitations to the program: first, you must signup within 30 days of purchasing the wheels, and second, each wheel will only be replaced once during the coverage period. Alternatively, Reynolds also have a crash replacement program where an Assault wheel can be replaced for US$450.
After the ride
The marketing language for the Assault wheelset is pretty assertive claiming it “has a leg up on the best alloy wheels, but it can out-sprint, out-corner and generally out-perform any deep profile carbon wheel for a fraction of the price.” After spending a few weeks on these wheels, I’m not convinced that this claim holds true.
First my impressions: the Assaults look quite striking on the bike, the tall rims evoke a pure race intention, and the graphics are bold without being overbearing. Once rolling, the wheels provide a smooth ride yet the rims are very stiff and provide a firm foothold when making an effort out of the saddle. In contrast, the wheels felt a little sluggish when climbing in the saddle. Braking with Reynolds’ Cryo Blue pads is satisfactory and bordering on good, but not quite good enough to inspire aggressive braking. The pads resist grabbing the rim though they make a little noise when in use, a light twittering or chirruping that was more obvious at higher speeds under heavier braking. Most noticeable was the effect of the wind on the wheels. The rims catch a fair bit of wind and a strong crosswind caused me to veer off course on one occasion. In lighter conditions, the wind created a gyroscopic sensation that made the front wheel heavy and reluctant to turn. All told, the Assault wheelset performs well but lacks versatility.
So, to return to the marketing claims, has the Assault wheelset a “leg up” on the best alloy wheels? Maybe. I really liked the quality of the ride, smooth and efficient without any undue harshness, yet at the same time, offered impressive stiffness. Now, a lighter alloy wheelset can be bought for less than the price of the Assaults, but I wonder if there is an alloy wheelset that is as stiff and as comfortable. If you enjoy racing criteriums, then I think this wheelset will be a great performer, but if you like riding up hills fast, stick to a lightweight alloy. And for those that like epic rides, I suspect the susceptibility of these wheels to the wind will undermine their appeal.
It’s the second marketing claim that looks much shakier to me. In absolute terms, the Assault wheelset does not “out-sprint, out-corner and generally out-perform any deep profile carbon wheel.” The Assaults are too heavy compared to the high performance (and higher priced) wheelsets offered by Enve, Zipp, and Bontrager etc. Similarly, they don’t promise the same kind of aerodynamic advantage. Their only advantage over other brands (and Reynolds own “Road Race” range) is their asking price, but that alone is not sufficient to justify their purchase.
I’ve already discussed the pros and cons of carbon wheels but it’s worth repeating a few of the major points. Carbon rims are strong and reliable, however they are expensive to replace in the event of a mishap. The cost of a wheelset (or rims) is generally prohibitive and they suffer from braking problems, especially carbon clinchers. Reynolds address both of these shortcomings to some extent with their Assault wheelset, but their marketers may have overstated the performance. Regardless, if you’re looking to buy a set of carbon wheels, then Reynolds have a fine product without a high end price and the added security of strong after-sales service that cannot be found for cheaper alternatives.