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by Matt Wikstrom
June 7, 2017
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Chain Reaction Cycles launched Prime as its in-house wheelset brand last year. Now, in the aftermath of the company’s merger with Wiggle, Prime’s wheelsets are appearing in Wiggle’s catalogue. Having reviewed one of Prime’s road disc wheelsets previously, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom now takes a look at a 50mm tall all-carbon clincher designed for rim brakes.
Twenty years ago, the idea that a bicycle retailer could achieve worldwide recognition and global sales amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars would have seemed impossible. Yet that is what both Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles (CRC) have managed to achieve thanks to the internet and the rise of online shopping.
The two UK-based companies entered the online trading space in the very late ’90s and after a slow start, enjoyed steady growth thereafter. In recent years, both businesses were attracting millions of shoppers every week and reporting annual turnovers in excess of £100 million (AU$170 million).
The branding and identity of each evolved to become quite distinct — Wiggle as a generalist and CRC as a specialist — so the two were able to share the market to some extent by appealing to different kinds of shoppers. Nevertheless, they remained in direct competition, very often stocking and selling the same products.
For most consumers, the announcement of a merger between Wiggle and CRC was completely unexpected. With a considerable debt burden, Wiggle was always looking to strengthen its position in the market, while at CRC, there were indications that the family-run business with principals nearing retirement was looking to cash-in on decades of hard work.
Once the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority gave its blessing for the deal, the stakeholders announced that the merged company would be called WiggleCRC. Some restructuring and rationalisation of resources followed along with the appointment of a new CEO, however the retail spaces have retained separate identities.
As a result, shoppers may not be aware of the merger, though there are some clear signs when browsing through each store’s online catalogues. For example, Wiggle’s in-house clothing brand, dhb, now appears in CRC’s catalogue. Similarly, Wiggle has started selling Vitus bikes, a brand that was resurrected and sold exclusively by CRC.
Yet another example concerns Prime wheels, which can now be found in Wiggle’s online catalogue. CRC established Prime as its in-house wheel brand in 2016, working hard to create an extensive range of road wheelsets at ultra-competitive prices to do battle with the established brands. Wiggle has not only thrown its weight behind the brand, it has discontinued its Cosine wheels in favour of Prime’s products.
There are over two dozen wheelsets in Prime’s catalogue, comprising alloy clinchers, carbon clinchers, and carbon tubular wheelsets. Furthermore, there is a rim- and a disc-brake version of every model of rim with prices starting at AUD$272/US$200/£155 for alloy clinchers and AUD$1,166/US$858/£665 for carbon wheelsets.
For road cyclists that have remained faithful to rim brakes, Prime offers a choice of three rim profiles for its clinchers (28mm/38mm/50mm) and two for tubulars (35mm/50mm). Buyers also get a choice of two builds: the RR series, which makes use of hubs with conventional flanges and j-bend spokes (DT double-butted), and the RP series, which features hubs with straight-pull flanges and spokes (Sapim CX-Ray). The same rims are used for all builds but the difference in hubs and spokes makes for some modest weight savings and adds to the cost of the RP series (~AUD$200/US$150/£115).
I reviewed Prime’s RP-38 carbon road disc wheelset earlier this year, a 38mm all-carbon clincher that was light, agile and versatile with a suite of features and accessories that defied its bargain pricing. It was an impressive debut, so I welcomed the opportunity to take a look at another set of Prime’s wheels. This time, it was the RP-50 carbon clincher wheelset designed for rim brakes, courtesy of Wiggle.
Prime’s RP-50 carbon clincher wheelset shares many of the same features as the RP-38 road disc wheelset including open-mould all-carbon tubeless-compatible clincher rims, Novatec hubs with straight-pull flanges, Sapim CX-ray spokes, and external alloy nipples.
All of Prime’s carbon clincher rims have the same semi-toroidal profile that is 25mm wide with a 16.5mm rim bed (measured hook-hook). The RP-50 features rims that are, unsurprisingly, 50mm tall. The front wheel is laced with 20 spokes in a radial pattern while the rear has 24 spokes laced two-cross pattern.
The brake track comprises 3K carbon fibre and a temperature-resistant resin with a high glass transition. Both are designed to contend with the heat generated by rim brakes, however prospective buyers need to understand that neither eliminates the risk of cooking these rims (or any other carbon rim on the market) with prolonged braking on a long descent.
The surface of the brake track is textured for improved braking and Prime recommends that owners use only its carbon-specific brake pads. Two pairs are supplied with the wheelset, and as a thoughtful touch, they have a thinner profile that is a better match for the extra width of the rims.
As a bargain-priced carbon wheelset, many buyers would be prepared to accept a lesser-known brand of spokes. Prime, however, chooses Sapim’s semi-bladed CX-Ray, one of the lightest spokes on the market with an excellent reputation for strength and durability. This spoke adds a premium feel to the RP-50 that almost defies its asking price. That a set of spare spokes (three in all) and nipples are also included with the wheels is a thoughtful touch that is typically overlooked by bigger and more expensive brands.
Those spare spokes go a long way to addressing what is perhaps the strongest argument against straight-pull hubs and spokes: finding a replacement spoke at short notice can be very difficult since few shops stock the same kind of range of straight-pull spokes as they do j-bend spokes.
Novatec’s hubs are a simple affair: a pair of cartridge bearings support an alloy axle, front and rear. A couple of 5mm hex keys is all that is needed to remove the end caps and service the hubs, however there is no pre-load adjustment for the bearings. It’s nice to see that Prime includes all of the specifications for each hub on its website along with an inventory of replacement parts that should help with maintaining the wheels over the long term.
All of Prime’s carbon clinchers are tubeless-ready straight out of box thanks to pre-installed rim tape and tubeless valves. That doesn’t mean tubeless tyres have to be installed, though, since it is a simple matter to remove the valves and install a standard clincher tyre with an inner tube.
In the world of carbon wheelsets there is a clear dichotomy in thinking on how best to brand and present the products. One camp favours big, bold rim logos while the other exercises a lot more restraint. Prime clearly favours the former for its wheelsets, and the result is, to my eye, a little overdone.
At least there is a choice of two colours for the labels on the rims, bold white or a more subdued grey finish. A coat of hard lacquer protects the water transfers, so for those that object to the strong branding, there’s no easy way to get rid of the labels.
The wheelset sent for review weighed 1,508g (front, 671g; rear, 837g) with rim tape but no valves or skewers. For those hoping for a lighter wheelset, there is a tubular version with a claimed weight of 1,320g, or wheels with lower-profile rims, namely the RP-38 (38mm rim, claimed weight, 1,460g) and the RP-28 (28mm rim, claimed weight, 1,360g).
Wiggle lists the recommended retail price for the RP-50 rim-brake wheelset as AUD$1,357/US$1,036/£845, though regular shoppers are likely to get a discount (e.g. Wiggle Platinum shoppers will automatically save 12%). These prices don’t include shipping or local import duties or taxes, which will amount to an extra ~15% for Australian shoppers.
All of Prime’s wheelsets are supplied with an 11-speed Shimano/SRAM-compatible freehub body. For those using Campagnolo groupsets, a suitable freehub body is available, but only as an after-sales option.
As mentioned above, the wheels are fitted with tubeless-ready rim tape and a pair of tubeless valves is supplied with the wheels. Also included is a pair of quick-release skewers, two pairs of carbon-specific brake pads, spare spokes and nipples, and a two-year warranty.
Finally, it is worth noting that there is a weight limit of 114kg/252lb for all of Prime’s carbon wheelsets and they are rated for a maximum tyre pressure of 110psi/7.5bar. For more information visit Prime and Wiggle.
I spent a total of three weeks riding the RP-50s fitted with a pair of 700x25c Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tyres that were supplied by Wiggle. I know these tyres well — they are typically easy to mount and inflate — and in this instance, I was able to inflate and seat the tyres in a few moments with a track pump and 45ml of Stan’s sealant in each tyre. At 60psi, the tyres measured 26mm wide.
Out on the road, the wheels were smooth, sure, and sturdy. There wasn’t any obvious flex when I was out of the saddle and the wheels were reasonably easy to accelerate. Once they were up to speed, they rolled well, requiring a little less effort than low-profile wheels, which is what I’d expect for any 50mm wheelset. And just like any 50mm wheelset, the RP-50s were susceptible to crosswinds, however they remained reasonably easy to control.
In general terms, therefore, the RP-50s performed essentially as expected. Not quite as agile and versatile as the RP-38s, but under favourable conditions (no strong crosswinds), they were a little quicker. With that said, the magnitude of the differences were quite small, amounting to what might be best described as nuances.
One of those nuances was radial stiffness. The RP-50s were obviously stiff and provided an edge to the feel of the bike. At its best, this translated to extra road feel, and at its worst, excessive buzz and vibration. I wouldn’t describe the wheels as ever being uncomfortable but buyers hoping for a plush ride might not be satisfied with these wheels unless they opt for wider tyres (e.g. 28c).
I didn’t notice the same kind of radial stiffness when riding the lower-profile RP-38s, so I have to presume that it was a product of the taller rim profile. This is not unusual for carbon rims, so the other option for buyers worried about compliance is to consider the RP-38s or RP-28s from Prime’s catalogue.
During the course of this review, I had two other 50mm wheelsets on hand for direct comparison — Campagnolo’s Bora Ultra 50 and Specialized’s Roval CLX 50 — that were a little lighter (100-150g) and a lot more expensive. Swapping between each of these wheelsets proved to be very informative, since the difference in price was far, far greater than the difference in performance. Indeed, the RP-50s largely matched the performance of the Bora 50s and Roval CLX 50s, and once again, the differences were a matter of nuance.
For example, the RP-50s were laterally stiffer, so they always felt more rigid than the Boras or Rovals. For those hoping to add an edge to the feel of their bike, the RP-50s might actually be a better choice, because the Boras and Rovals were very subdued by comparison.
I’ve already mentioned that swapping between the RP-50s and a low-profile wheelset, I consistently found that it was a little easier to travel at high speeds (>35km/hr) on the RP-50s. The same effect could also be felt for the Bora 50s and Roval CLX 50s. Back-to-back, though, I couldn’t separate them from the RP-50s.
The Bora 50s and Roval CLX 50s were a little easier to accelerate and had an edge in responsiveness over the RP-50s. Given that both of these wheelsets were lighter than the RP-50s, this wasn’t surprising, but I have to stress that the difference was quite minor.
While the RP-50s seemed to rival the performance of the Boras and Rovals, I’m not about to argue that they will be a canny choice for any racer hoping to maximise their marginal gains. In terms of pure speed, a taller rim from a proven aerodynamic performer would be my recommendation, but for everybody else wondering about how much they might be giving up by opting for Prime’s RP-50 carbon clinchers, it’s not a lot.
Similarly, I didn’t find that there was any difference in the handling of each wheelset in windy conditions. Strong gusts could catch the front wheel of each wheelset and I had to make sure to keep at least one hand on the handlebars when it was windy. Compared to the forgiving behaviour of a low-profile wheelset, the RP-50s required more effort to control, however they were no more or less demanding than the Boras or Rovals.
I’d put the quality of the braking for the RP-50s somewhere in the middle of the spectrum for a carbon wheelset. The pads offered some bite on the rims with a smooth and predictable feel, but more force was required to achieve the same kind of braking as an alloy rim. By comparison, the Roval CLX 50s were much the same, however the Bora 50s were a class above, offering superior braking that resembled that of an alloy rim.
In wet conditions, there was a noticeable loss in braking for all three wheelsets, requiring extra caution and longer braking distances. This is not something that is unique to carbon wheelsets, since alloy wheels also behave in the same manner. The water on the brake track must be cleared before the pads can start to work, at which point the quality of braking resembles a dry rim.
With a review period amounting to just a few weeks, I cannot comment on the long-term durability of the RP-50s. Nevertheless, I can report that I didn’t have any problems with the wheelset during this period. The hubs did not develop any play, the rims remained round and true, and the tubeless tyres didn’t burp or leak air.
I’ve already commented on Prime’s choice of quick-release skewers for its wheels but I’ll repeat myself anyway. The external cam skewers were satisfactory but I’d rather the ease, security, and long-term weather resistance that a good internal cam skewer provides. In this regard, the Bora 50s and Roval CLX 50s trumped the RP-50s because they have excellent skewers.
With a wide, U-shaped rim profile that is tubeless ready, and a wheelset that is finished with straight-pull Sapim CX-Ray spokes, Prime’s RP-50 wheelset brings a lot of what the rest of the carbon wheel market has to offer to a very low pricepoint. As such, the RP-50s make for a very tempting upgrade.
In the past, riders considering their first carbon wheelset might have opted for a second-hand carbon wheelset, trading an outdated rim profile and/or 11-speed-compatibility for affordability. Such compromises are no longer necessary thanks to Prime’s RP-50. Plus, the wheels come with a two-year warranty.
As tempting as the RP-50s might be, it’s worth stressing that these wheels (and any high-profile carbon wheelset) require more care and skill to ride than low-profile alloy wheels. Aside from the challenges associated with crosswinds and the quality of braking, there is also the intrinsic heat-sensitivity of the rims. For those riders that depend upon frequent braking when descending, a carbon wheelset won’t be a wise choice, no matter how attractive the asking price is.