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by Matt Wikstrom
August 4, 2014
Campagnolo’s Bora wheelset is well known as a high-end (and high-priced) racing wheelset. Where once there was a single 50mm profile on offer, now there are now three to choose from (35, 50, and 80mm). In this review, CTech Editor Matt Wikstrom rides and reviews the Ultra 35mm version.
Over the last two decades, Campagnolo has devoted as much effort to wheel development as it has to groupsets. Some may remember Campy’s original Shamal wheelset from 1992/3 that ushered in the era of high-profile rims. The alloy wheelset weighed around 1,900g and used 16 spokes front and rear. At the time, the company stressed the value of the aerodynamic design of the rims.
A couple of years later, Campagnolo created a carbon version of the Shamal and the Bora wheelset was born. The rim profile was conserved, as was the spoke count, but the weight dropped to just over 1,600g for the tubular wheelset.
The design of the Bora has been refined over the years to improve the performance of the wheelset and reduce its weight. The latest iteration features a 50mm carbon tubular rim, 18 spokes for the front, 21 spokes for the rear, and the set weighs around 1,310g.
There are now two other rim profiles in the Bora range: 80mm rims for greater aerodynamics, and 35mm rims for more versatility. There are also a few different builds (alloy versus carbon hubs) and two finishes (bright or dark labels).
For this review, Campagnolo provided a Bora Ultra 35 wheelset with bright labels that sits at the top of the 35mm Bora range.
In all, there are three Bora 35 models to choose from: Bora Ultra 35, Bora One 35, and Bora One 35 CX. They all use the same 35mm carbon tubular rims, stainless steel spokes, alloy nipples, and G3 lacing pattern but different hubs are used for each build.
The Bora Ultra 35 has carbon hub bodies and front flanges and ceramic bearings. The Bora One 35 wheelset is built with alloy hubs and spin on standard steel bearings, while extra bearing seals are added to the alloy hubs for the Bora One 35 CX wheelset.
The different hubs affect the weight and asking price for Bora 35 wheelsets. The Ultra 35s weigh in at 1,215g versus 1,255g for the Bora One 35, while the CX version weighs 1,350g. The local asking price for the Ultra 35s is $3,800 compared to around $2,200 for Bora One 35s.
The front wheel employs radial spoke lacing while the back wheel uses Campagnolo’s G3 lacing pattern. The G3 pattern essentially pairs radial lacing of the non-drive spokes with a two-cross lacing pattern for the drive-side spokes. The important distinction is that every non-drive spoke is positioned in between a pair of drive-side spokes to even out spoke tension and improve the rigidity of the rear wheel.
The rims are drilled for external nipples, however the rim bed is left undrilled as the nipples are installed with a magnet. As a result, the rims are much easier to glue and there is no concern that the glue will ever interfere with the nipples.
Campagnolo has refined the braking track for the latest version of their Bora rims. The so-called 3Diamant treatment combines specially woven carbon fibres with high-precision machining to render a braking surface that they claim will provide smooth and reliable braking in both wet and dry conditions.
The alloy and carbon hubs both spin on cup and cone bearings, and as mentioned above, the Ultra 35s use ceramic bearings that reduce friction to improve the performance of the hubs. The hubs are readily serviced and can be rebuilt with replacement parts.
Bora Ultra 35 wheels are available with a choice of Campagnolo- or Shimano-compatible freehub bodies and bright (white) or dark (grey) labels. The wheels are supplied with skewers and brake pads, and there is no clincher version.
I normally spend two to three weeks on the wheels that I review, but in this instance I spent much more time on the Bora Ultra 35s. I also rode them in a wider range of conditions as they served a month of cyclocross before I fitted them with road tyres.
In the first instance, I glued Challenge’s Grifo 33 tubulars to the Ultra 35s and hit the dirt using a Specialized Crux Pro. The Ultra 35s proved to be stiff and agile, a perfect complement for the Crux Pro, but better, proved to be extraordinarily robust and resilient. Indeed, the Ultra 35s were brutalised off-road yet they remained round and true despite my best efforts.
For the road, I switched to 23mm Vittoria Corsa CX tubulars and a Colnago C60. The Ultra 35s were a delight. As expected, they were untroubled by crosswinds, and thanks to the low weight, very easy to accelerate. Nothing makes you feel strong like a set of light racing wheels.
The Ultra 35s rolled beautifully on smooth tarmac. And on rougher roads, they rolled almost as well. The rims were stiff enough to resist all of my efforts out of the saddle, but they didn’t transfer (or create) any road buzz. Indeed, the Ultra 35s always felt smooth, fast, and comfortable.
The value of Bora 35 aerodynamics remains to be proven. Campagnolo continues to stand by NACA’s aging recommendations for rim design despite so many wheel manufacturers migrating to wider and rounder profiles. The 50mm Boras have performed reasonably well in wind tunnel tests in the past but they have never challenged wheels like Zipp’s 404. Regardless, I never felt hampered by the Bora 35s: they always felt very easy to ride, but this is more likely a reflection of their low inertia rather than their aerodynamic drag.
Braking was incredibly smooth and proved to be very reliable. On the road, the pads worked well to scrub speed though they lacked the kind of bite that is found with a good set of pads on alloy rims. Some may view this as a distinct weakness, especially if they prefer racing technical criterium circuits, but I never found myself requiring much effort to control my speed on the road, even in the wet.
Off-road, I wanted more bite than the pads and cantilever brakes could offer so I was forced to compensate with a lot more effort, which compromised my handling of the Crux Pro. Interestingly, I found Campagnolo’s dual-pivot road calipers were more powerful than their cantilever brakes, so in this instance, my frustration can be attributed to the brakes rather than the rims or pads.
For most riders, the Bora Ultra 35s are a fantastical product, priced well beyond their means and unlikely to provide a sound return. After all, there is a limit to the gains that can be made with a set of nice wheels even when they are as smooth, fast, and comfortable as the Bora Ultra 35s.
While there is no strong argument for a set of wheels like Bora Ultra 35s, there are those that will be tempted, and they can feel confident they will enjoy a versatile and resilient wheelset.
Since writing this review, Campagnolo has announced they will be using wider rims for their 35mm and 50mm Bora wheelsets in 2015. Rim width increases from 20.5mm to 24.2mm. The wider rim promises to improve the aerodynamics of each Bora wheelset. At the same time, Camapgnolo’s engineers have been able to reduce the weight of each wheelset a little thanks to the extra strength afforded by the wider design. In addition, 3Diamant treatment will be applied to 50mm Bora rims.