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November 24, 2017
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  • Simon T

    campag are pretty sweet at $$$$ now available BORA ONES are sweet
    and pretty much same pro tour teams
    ride quality roads here are slow bumpy carbon sooo much better ooh – there 50mm so think they have more vibration give on bad roads

    • Brandon

      I will never buy campy again.I took in a cracked zonda for warranty replacement. They received the wheel on 12/20/16 and gave an est. turn around time of 3-5 weeks. I still have no wheel, and they won’t return phone calls or emails. Do yourself a favor and stay away from campy wheels.

      • Simon T

        crash replacement and warranty whole topic in its own –
        I herd of ENVE failing so roll the dice
        mine are sweet so far :)
        I have had all sorts of rims mtb alloy road alloy most split and cracked at eyelets with abuse
        custom road wheels built up tight spokes then split then send back warranty with lighter tension then creak
        sooo I like campy lacing pattern was a skeptic will see in 12months :) just 3 months

      • jules

        who are ‘they’ though?

        • Brandon

          Campagnolo North America is the “they”. The Local certified campy dealer in my town has been pretty great.. They got a RMA number, shipped the wheels out and camp’y shows the wheel as received with a work order and an ETA of 3-5 weeks. That was last updated on the 20th of December. Now they won’t return phone calls or emails from either me or the bike shop. The shop has now sent out request to his sales reps and some campy team mechanics in an effort to try and get somebody in campy’s warranty department to respond..

          • jules

            fair enough

          • EcoRacer

            Could be that Campagnolo North America didn’t have the rim in stock. Since it usually is too expensive to ship one rim from Italy/Romania? to the US, they could be waiting for a bigger shipment. But even then, it shouldn’t really be your problem that they don’t have it in stock.
            But that is how it usually goes. Can’t have everything in stock at all times, even if you try.

          • fignon’s barber

            Don’t buy your Campag wheels in the US. You get much better price AND service by ordering from UK or Europe. I once broke a spoke on a Eurus wheel, and Campy US quoted 8 weeks delivery and $80. They had not one spoke in stock, it was the end of june and they were “vacationing ” for the next 6 weeks!
            I contacted an overseas dealer, and had the spoke 5 days later for $6.

  • jules

    nice article. I would expect carbon rims to grow in popularity as design and manufacturing methods continue to advance, making them more reliable and affordable. for now, I train on aluminium rims and race on carbon ones (unless I leave it too late to change them over, which is often). as you said Matt, the difference in performance is generally minor and for training (or commuting) – there is arguably a performance deficit as you gain nothing from the marginal aero and weight advantage, but lose from the reduced braking performance.

    • Steel

      Agreed. For us non-racers, I reckon there is something to be said for the non-tangible benefits: look and sound from carbon rims. If it gets you out on to the bike, it’s a good thing.

      I’m going to give a shout out for the hybrid approach. I’ve got 6,000 km up on my Shimanos and they’ve not missed a beat. A good compromise for those who don’t race, but want something that performs well up a steep ramp.

    • Rob Davis

      Ride quality of my carbon wheels is far superior to aluminum. I’ve no had my no name rims for 1.5 years and they’ve been phenominal. The best “upgrade” I’ve made aside from carbon bars.

      • Ragtag

        Wider alu rims nowadays are quite comfortable. Easton and Zipp produce wide rims with internal width of 19-21mm. These are going to be as comfortable as carbon rims with less carbon worries.

      • jules

        I’ve got a few sets of carbon and aluminium wheels (all the gear, no idea). I can’t say I’ve noticed much difference in ride quality. Wider tyres (25 vs 23c), lower pressures and tubulars make a difference in ride quality. But to be honest, I’m just not that interested in ride quality – beyond a minimum to avoid pain. A 100km ride is inherently going to involve a level of discomfort, regardless of your wheel option. It’s kind of the point, in a way.

        • Rob Davis

          I had 25mm tires on narrower AL rims and went to tubeless, carbon 21mm ID width rims. Maybe I should the say the system has been phenominal. Nonetheless, the right choices will vary based on rider weight, type of riding, etc.

      • There is a definitely a difference in the sound and feel of carbon rims versus alloy (though it falls into the category of nuance). I prefer the feel of wide alloy rims, and this is where the material trumps carbon, because for any given external width, an alloy rim will always have a wider rim bed (which is where the extra width really counts).

    • jstevez

      Totally agree with everything you said, except braking performance. Today high end carbon wheels are just as good as alloy wheels on braking IMHO. (or maybe my Mavic aluminium training wheels are not good or same braking performance as my NSW 404’s)

  • HamishM

    Hi Matt, you conclude that carbon rims have a lot to offer but I didn’t think you really spelled out what those benefits are. As you said the performance gains are relatively small, while the costs are high and the braking disadvantages real (if smaller than they used to be). What am I missing?

    • Tristan Brown

      I would say there are a lot of performance gains – weight, strength/stiffness, and aero qualities are no doubt a big +. One thing not mentioned (at least I didn’t see it in my skim) is the fact that you rarely have to true a carbon wheel. I’ve gone well over a year, riding rough stuff, without truing wheels. No way I could do that with even a 32 count Alu rim.

    • The only way to create a light yet strong and stiff high-profile rim with great aerodynamics is to use carbon. That’s why I conclude that they have a lot to offer performance-oriented riders. These are the things that are well known for carbon wheels due to the immense marketing effort, so I felt it was important to devote a lot more space to the flip side of the argument.

  • d;

    This blog and test http://www.novemberbicycles.com/blog/2017/2/10/wind-tunnel-testing-the-al33-xr31tfsw3-and-others-part-2.html says how much it is between a Zipp and a couple of ‘new’ alloy hoops and this one http://www.novemberbicycles.com/blog/2017/2/14/meaningful-differentiation.html is an opinion how much. After reading this, I thought if I was really honest with myself ‘Does my Bora feel any faster than my (alloy) Pacenti 26mm high?’.
    The answer is I’ll roll out my 5yr old Bora now and again on sunny days just for the noise and the bling, but I’m not buying another set of carbon wheels and I’m not being taken for a ride.
    So my opinion is marketing can sure sway and bugger what the pros ride (disc-braked and carbon-wheeled).

    • parmijo

      Glad I found this link. I’ve been looking for a test of the Kinlin XR31 rim. The older XR300 did very well per Tour magazine.

    • slowK

      Was going to link to the November blog too, but you beat me to it. I like their blog. I tried to buy some wheels from them, but unfortunately the shipping costs to Australia were prohibitive.

      • d;

        You can get wheel-kits from bikehubstore or bdop, and get your local gun wheel builder to build them up. Much better bang for buck than carbon.

    • Superpilot

      Some great observations including the fact many people say they are faster on their carbon rims than their alloy, when they forget to include the fact the tyres and tubes are different between their training and their race wheels :)

  • cthenn

    Great read, thanks. I’d only ever consider carbon rims if I got a disc road bike (which I do not have). I don’t consider myself a “retro grouch” in terms of thinking disc brakes are stupid and useless, rather I just don’t like the aesthetics of disc brake road bikes. In 5 years or so, I may not have a choice, so when I am forced to embrace disc brakes, that’s the time I may consider carbon rims. But for the relatively minor gains, it’s not worth taking the plunge yet.

    I also appreciate your relative fairness when you discussed generic Chinese rims. So many cycling websites are quick to dismiss these Chinese rims as dangerous junk (buy buy buy from our paying sponsors!!!), but the reality does not reflect this. As you said, many of the smaller brands simply use these Chinese open mould manufacturers and slap a logo on it. So obviously these “legitimate” brands trust the quality of these rims enough to put their name behind them. Like anything else, you just have to do your research into which of these generic wheels have somewhat of a track record.

    Well done, thanks.

  • Dave

    Finally, an honest article on carbon wheels. There are just so many small boutique company’s selling carbon wheels that are just rim bulk buys from Taiwan or China and built up locally. Somehow this warrants a price tag of $2000+ over the Chinese alternatives that are $1000. Or alternatively, for $600-$1000, get a set of bombproof alloy wheels that will last and last. Even a set of alloy custom built wheels will be well priced. For the non racer, I can’t see the point of them apart from the aesthetics. Even for the “racer”, I’d be surprised if they are the difference between winning and not winning, unless it’s a time trial. Again, carbon wheels are great to look at, but just so pricey that unless money was no issue, I can’t see the point.

  • Bob

    Good article. The bathroom shot..that’s superb! “ultimate upgrade that promises to boost the riders power” Careful with that statement, of course a wheel upgrade can’t affected your power output in any way, only make you faster or slower due to drag, weight etc.
    The worst irony IMO is low profile carbon clinchers that should be the climbing dream, but only if you have a mountain top finish and don’t have to ride them down.

  • Mark

    Looks like a lot riders haven’t had the pleasure of riding a well (professionaly) built, hand-assembled wheelset. Quality hubs, spoke count to suit rider weight and style and wider rims like Belgiums or Archetypes and will out-roll most carbon wheel. You don’t have to worry about chewing through specific (read, expensive) pads and brakes actually work. Also, when carbon wheels are referred to for consumers generally that’s carbon clinchers which are really nothing like the tubular wheelsets the pros are racing on.

    • Martin Hayman

      Archetype rims are nice but they wear out quickly if used year-round (leastways in UK conditions), even using SwissStop brake pads iso Shimano OEM pads, which have a more abrasive compound.

  • mrp33p3rs

    “The impressive stiffness-to-weight ratio for composites means that even at a fraction of the weight, carbon wheelsets easily match (and often exceed) the performance of aluminium equivalents in terms of lateral and radial stiffness.”

    A controversial statement to make, no? Isn’t the first order control on stiffness the actual spoke system (tension, count, pattern, length) than the rim itself… the hoop itself and thus its composition plays very little into how stiff a wheel is.

    • Perhaps, but I have a hunch that if the weight of a 45mm alloy rim was reduced to that of a good all-carbon rim, there might be a difference to see. I agree that the spoke system and hub geometry have a larger role to play in determining the stiffness of the wheel, but that doesn’t mean the rim can be ignored.

  • Martin Hayman

    For the general knockabout club rider who doesn’t race, the price-performance yardstick remains the Shimano RS81 wheelset—unless you have made the switch to disc brakes. (I am not a Shimano flack.)

  • Roc

    I think the game changer is disc brakes. They take the main negatives of carbon wheels (historically poor braking and consumption of the expensive rim) out of the equation. In a few years time we may all be on disc braked 30/60mm carbon rims

  • Duane Gran

    For me carbon fibre rims are simply in a no-man’s land of function and value. I race periodically, so I could benefit but I’m far from sponsored so if I break them I own the replacement cost. The braking performance is an issue that I’ve been watching for ten years. Every year they claim it is solved, but it isn’t. Braking is only solved with a full move to disc wheels and from what I can tell will never be solved with rim braking on carbon. For many of us the weight penalty for aluminium rims is more than made up for in the affordability, reliable braking surface and simplicity.

    • Geoff

      The reality is that unless you are raking in prize money and that prize money depends on having the best rims possible, the argument for carbon rims is marginal and mainly a discussion of aesthetics. The average rider will be able to get more performance improvements through better technique and better fitness.
      for the average rider, the weight penalty of alloy rims is marginal. The fact that you race periodically probably indicates that you are faster than most cyclists. I am sure you pass many bikes with carbon rims, and it is nothing to do with the wheels that determines your ability to ride faster.

  • Way too much about carbon has to do with sexy looks rather than any sort of performance. Why else are so many carbon bikes unpainted so the carbon weave shows? Wheels are no exception — carbon clinchers make no sense at all. I’m surprised the consumer protection folks even allow them to be sold unless it’s in disc brake form. Then there’s “AERO” – back in the late ’90’s it was common knowledge that “aero” wheels didn’t do much for performance until 30 mph, a speed that most punters see only now and then going downhill. But as carbon wheel marketing began to warm up, this was somehow revised to 30 KPH. Last time I checked air was still air and the wheel shapes are still pretty similar, but now any punter who can pedal along close to 20 mph will “benefit” from aero wheels? Finally, I always wonder why the guy in the race with the big slab-sided “aero” wheels doesn’t always win and why in the same race on the same day, you see so many variations in wheels if the big slab-sided (well, brand names look good in the photos, right?) I’m happy that cycling “performance” is still in the legs, heart and lungs rather than the equipment as in F1 or MOTOGP. May it ever be so.

    • Alex Borins

      That Aero knowledge from the late 90’s was completely wrong, and pretty much irrelevant now. Rims at the point in time had a “V” shape, which performed really well at zero degress yaw, but was far worse at anything more than 15 degress. Now most rims use a “U” shape profile which performs much better, in terms of drag at A: slower speeds and b: Higher yaw angles, so yes, there was good reason that “30MPH” line was revised. And now, carbon clincher make perfect sense. Braking technology has virtually caught up to the performance of aluminum. Try wet braking on the new Enve clinchers or the new mavic cosmic 40C SLR clinchers. Use the right pads, and you’d be hard pressed to tell it apart from aluminum. Both of the aforementioned companies and many more have done extensive testing and consider their offering more than safe enough to dissipate heat and prevent the tire blowouts of yesteryear.

      • George Darroch

        Agree with your statements about aerodynamics. The great majority of time is spent at effective angles of less than 15 degrees however, so optimising for the right angles is important.

        A dirty brake surface and track is still going to do damage to your expensive rims.

      • OK, so – back in the late ’90’s one had to pedal at 30 mph to get any benefit from a “irrelevant” and “completely wrong” design, but one that you say “performed really well at zero degrees yaw” but now the punters can get those same benefits pedaling at only 30 kph?
        Even if that were true, you won’t find me bombing down the Passo Stelvio any time soon on a carbon clincher wheel rim. My fun would be ruined thinking about melting, delaminating or simply blowing up.
        On the other hand, I can understand the carbon tubular rim concept – if you want light weight (and don’t care about the hassles) the tubular rim design works fairly well in carbon, with little fear of the tire blowing off since it’s simply glued on. Braking heat melting the glue is another subject of course – which was why BigMig was quietly switched from tubular to clincher rims (both in aluminum of course) back-in-the-day when long fast descents were on the race profile. To me carbon clincher wheels to me will remain an answer to a question nobody (except marketing-mavens) asked.
        But people used to buy those SPINERGY things too, despite their tendency to, uh, well….you know.

        • d;

          But the Spinergy Rev looks so COOL. If I were more hipster I’d totally die for a set on my fixie. Life can’t be simpler.

          • You laugh, but I had a rather heated conversation with a customer at a shop I once worked at – a guy with his SECOND failed set of Spinergy wheels. He took great offense at my suggestion that he sell off the replacements he would get in favor of something that wouldn’t fail, especially since his first two sets failed non-catastrophically. That sexy look seemed way more important than even his own safety! I believe carbon-clincher wheels sell for the same reason. Are ANY pro teams using these things? If I was a pro team manager I wouldn’t risk any of my riders on this marketing-maven driven “technology”.

  • paul ainsworth

    I’ve two pairs of carbon wheels. I have a set of Roval CL 40s on my Diverge, and a set of Stan’s Avions on my Salsa Colossal Ti. I have been extremely happy with both, though the internal nipples on the Rovals are a pain in the ass. The Stan’s wheels are fantastic. Nothing I would change about them. BTW, these are both discs equipped bikes, so breaking is perfect.

  • Allez Rouleur

    A lot of good information here, so thank you!

    Having said that…with an 8 month old, I dream only of having more time to ride my bikes, not of gear upgrades. And, by the time I have more opportunities to ride, the little fella will probably be soaking up any spare bike money…gotta love kids!

    At some point I do see a Ti road/off-road bike with disc brakes and carbon wheels, maybe when I’m in my 40s:)

  • Mike Jacoubowsky

    Not mentioned in the article is the extraordinary lifespan of some carbon wheels, when used with appropriate brake pads. My first set of Bontrager XXX carbon wheels went somewhere between 33-36,000 miles before retirement, and not once did I need to adjust a spoke. I would have gone through at least two, perhaps three sets of alloy rims during that same time, due to brake track wear. Using the cork-style Bontrager pads with those rims was a great combination; pad life was 15,000 miles, and brake power very good. This is from use almost entirely climbing & descending (you can look me up in Strava for proof of that). Hopefully I’ll see similar results from my Bontrager D3s. The original rims were retired because I could see some discoloration in the brake track and my goodness, how much life could I expect?

  • Lawrence Falk

    I had a pair of the original carbon Reynolds Attack (circa 2008). They rode very well, but brake squeal developed and it couldn’t be defeated. I tried different pads, cleaned the rims with acetone (as recommended), but nothing worked so I sold them. Are the carbon rims better now regarding squeaking? Are disk brakes quieter? Until this issue is resolved, I’ll stick with Alu (but carbon really rides better).

    • I think it might be. That’s not to say that squealing brakes won’t happen, but brake pad compounds have improved along with the quality of the brake tracks on the rims. In contrast, disc brakes have always squealed, and it can be very loud, yet none of the development in pads and rotors has been able to address that issue.

  • George Darroch

    For those of us without disc frames on our light/aero/weekend bike, there’s not much point buying into carbon wheels right now. I’d consider a hybrid wheelset, but I would simply have to replace it when I got the next frame. There’s also the question of resale – are non-disc carbon wheels going to become the equivalent of 650c? And moving up from 10x to 11x cogs adds further complication.

    The other thing is that the big aero gains (and they are quite large) come in at about 60+mm, and if you’re not going fast in the first place you can look a little ridiculous on those.

    As for value, FLO appear to be among the best of the independents who design and manufacture their own hoops. Zipp and ENVE and Campy charge like Sydney real-estate agents.

  • dllm

    I’m sold on the SES 4.5 AR Disc.

    Aero for 28c tires.
    Fat for better shaped tire-rim profile.
    Tubeless for less rolling resistance.

    It hits all boxes… okay… sans weight… and don’t mention the price….

  • 2wheelsandme

    I haven’t made the jump to carbon yet but the future looks promising. For the time being I will rely on my tried and true: Stans ZTR 340’s laced up to a light set of hubs 28/24 = 1,300 grams with skewers! They usually last a season and a half before spokes pull through on rear drive side. It will be nice when the right weight/price point on a prebuilt carbon set comes my way…

    • Mark

      Consider using HM PolyAxe nipple washers on DS

      • 2wheelsandme

        I did use washers… its likely do to my typical fat butt after a winter of indulgence’s…

  • pervertt

    Just completed a new build and made a very deliberate decision NOT to use carbon wheels with my rim brakes. I opted instead for a pair of low profile aloominum wheels weighing just under 1500g. The bike shop recommended carbon wheels (“everybody rides carbon these days”) but I wasn’t convinced after doing my homework. Higher cost, tyre blow outs at higher temps, delamination due to rim wear, inadequate wet weather braking, galvanic corrosion where metal meets carbon – all this to save a few grams and for dubious aero gains. No thanks.

    • jstevez

      I used to have the old Zipp 404, (60’s?) which I bought used. Those wheels went to hell and back. never any of the issues you mentioned. Maybe entry level carbon rims do suffer those issues. But again; to get to the reliability point of a cheap alloy set you have to spent some serious money on carbon, for most people is not worthy.

    • George Darroch

      Sounds like you would have done well with disc-equipped wheels.

      Aero is real and measurable.

  • Wayne


    I’m considering ENVE 3.4 discs. I can get them at a reduced price (1800.00USD), BUT, no warrantee, they are new, but I’d be 2nd owner. Do you feel it’s worth taking the risk of no warrantee to save 35%? I know, I know it’s a subjective call. I can’t afford them at full price, but the thought of getting a bad wheel, or damaging these without a warrantee scares me. Another option would be new Zipp 303 discs, or perhaps a good alloy wheel set. thoughts?

  • 13gunsalute

    Hey I’m the first guy to say carbon tubulars are nice and they’re fast and I “get” them, but I never (or rarely) see the acknowledgement that in real-world use, I’d guess perhaps 3/4 of the advantage of aero rims, (and frame, etc) are a wash when you’re drafting – would love to see some actual wind tunnel numbers to see how things look drafting one guy, or mid-pack, but I’d also guess no manufacturer is going to spend money to scientifically prove that their massive claims aren’t massive under many common conditions. So if you’re talking race or big group ride, sure they’re nice to have, but unless you’re on the front (or off the front) for long stretches, if you can’t afford carbon, don’t worry, you can win or kick a$$ on 32 spoke box section rims if you bring the fitness and tactics.

  • Hans Roeger

    Wiggle is no longer selling Cosine full carbon wheels. What happened?

  • Chris Edington

    NOVA2 also producing high quality performance rims with high heat resistance braking track, take a look – http://www.ridenova2.com

  • Pax

    The carbon wheels on the 2016 Giant TCR Advanced pro 1 that I returned were rubbish. Multiple cracks within 600 miles, particulary the rear wheel.


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