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DT Swiss has been making its own wheelsets for almost 15 years, steadily refining its designs to improve the performance, weight and durability of the final product. Now the company is in the process of overhauling its road wheelsets and the new ERC 1100 DICUT DB is a sign of things to come. In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a close look at the new wheels.
Long before hubs, rims and wheels, DT Swiss was known for its spokes. There’s an art to drawing wire and the company’s history with it can be traced back to 1634. That was when a physicist by the name of Scharandi took the first steps towards industrialising the process in the small Swiss town of Biel/Bienne.
Biel/Binne is situated on the boundary between the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland, so the company that arose from Scharandi’s efforts took the bilingual name Vereinigte Drahtwerke/Tréfileries réunie, the German/French terms for United Wireworks. Many years later, when its current owners acquired the company, the abbreviation “DT” was chosen to honour this heritage.
It was 1994 when Frank Böckmann, Maurizio D’Alberto and Marco Zingg bought United Wireworks and renamed it DT Swiss AG. By this stage, the company already had 60 years experience manufacturing bicycle components, however the new owners dumped all but the spokes as they set about re-defining DT. Over the next 10 years, the company slowly added new products to its catalogue to become the first to manufacture all of its own wheel components.
DT’s first hubset was unveiled in 1995, a precision-machined creation that was built around Hügi’s Ratchet System. Comprising a pair of spring-loaded star ratchets, the system was robust, reliable, and very easy to service. Hügi soon merged with DT and the Ratchet System would go on to become an important hallmark for DT hubs.
DT started manufacturing nipples in its Biel/Bienne headquarters in 1999 then added rims in 2003. A year later, the company introduced its first wheelsets, and while this collection has grown steadily, DT has never given up on manufacturing the individual components. As a result, DT has the widest range of wheels and wheel components that any manufacturer has to offer.
Every part in DT’s catalogue is engineered and manufactured according to the Swiss stereotype. Biel/Bienne is home to several esteemed watchmakers so the devotion to precision, attention to detail, and an uncompromising manner is understandable. It makes for high quality products but adds significantly to the asking price.
Not all of DT’s products are made in Switzerland, though. The company has manufacturing facilities in Poland, Taiwan, and the USA but every centre uses identical machinery to ensure consistency of the products. Meanwhile, the development of all new products and prototyping remains in the hands of workers at DT’s Swiss headquarters.
In the past, DT’s road wheelsets have been very traditional, often making use of conservative rim profiles and hub shapes. The bulk of the company’s innovation has revolved around its so-called SPLINE and DICUT technologies that achieve greater integration of the spoke with the hub flanges to save weight and improve the lifespan of the wheel.
A major overhaul has been underway though, and a range of new wheelsets will be unveiled later this year for the 2018 catalogue. While the details on the new collection are scant, one model, the ERC 1100 DICUT DB, has been released early to showcase some of the features that will define the new range.
I recently spent a few weeks riding these new wheels, a performance-oriented road disc wheelset, thanks to DT Swiss’s Australian distributor, Apollo Bikes.
Before the ride
DT’s ERC 1100 DICUT DB road disc wheelset comprises an all-carbon tubeless-compatible rim, alloy hubs with straight-pull flanges and Centre Lock mounts for the rotors, bladed spokes, and internal alloy nipples. The wheels are laced with 24 spokes, front and rear, in a two-cross lacing pattern for a final weight of 1,496g (front, 693g; rear, 803g) with rim tape but no skewers.
From the outset, the ERC 1100 DICUT DB was designed as a wheelsystem with refinements introduced at every level. For example, the hubs make use of DT’s SINC ceramic ball bearings while the aerodynamic rim profile was honed in collaboration with Swiss Side. As a result, the wheels continue DT’s reputation for high quality products and have a high-end price to match: AUD$3,599/US$3,117/£2,000/€2,418.
DT Swiss is very enthusiastic about tubeless tyres. All of its latest rims and wheelsets are tubeless-ready, and so it goes with the ERC 1100 DICUT DB. Out of the box, the rims are already taped and a pair of tubeless valves is included with the wheelset.
The all-carbon rim is 47mm tall, 27mm wide and has a bed that is 19mm (measured hook-to-hook). As such, it makes for a relatively wide rim that will enhance the size of any tyre, but most road disc bikes provide plenty of clearance for the rims and tyres.
DT Swiss doesn’t go into any details about the materials used to construct the new rim, preferring instead to present a fair bit of data on the aerodynamic performance of the wheels. In short, after optimising the rim profile using CFD (computational fluid dynamics), the prototypes were tested in a wind tunnel with the help of Swiss Side.
Swiss Side may be a relatively new wheel company, however the company has worked hard over the last five or so years to develop its Hadron range of aerodynamic wheelsets. The company’s engineers have a background in Formula One and have spent a lot of time in wind tunnels to produce wheels that rival the performance of the market leaders.
By contrast, the realm of aerodynamics is not something that DT Swiss has really focussed on, so the collaboration is an honest acknowledgement that it doesn’t have the experience to create a wheel that will compete with market stalwarts such as Zipp, Enve and Reynolds. And judging from the data, it looks as if the partnership is bearing fruit because the ERC 1100 DICUT DB manages to come close to the aerodynamic performance of Zipp’s Firecrest 303 and Reynolds’ Aero 46, even when fitted with a 28c tyre.
DT doesn’t oversell the data though, preferring to argue that there are other considerations that will impact on the performance of the wheels. This is where the company’s data on the steering moment for the wheels comes into play. According to DT, the ERC 1100 DICUT DB is “the best handling wheel in wind situations commonly found on the road.” Those conditions aren’t actually specified, but from the data that is shown, it looks as if the wheel matches Zipp’s Firecrest 303, while Reynolds’ Aero46 exhibits the kind of abrupt changes that makes a wheel feel unpredictable in crosswinds.
With that said, the numbers involved are incredibly small, so in real-world terms, I doubt there is much to separate the steering of the ERC 1100 DICUT DB from any of the other wheels that DT has studied. The same applies for aerodynamic drag, so while the wheels are new and very expensive, they don’t promise to out-perform the competition.
Turning to the hubs, DT has pared away as much material as possible to save weight and drag. Oversized hollow alloy axles are used front and rear and two sets of interchangeable end caps are supplied to suit standard quick-release skewers and 12mm thru-axles. Importantly, a 15mm thru-axle is not compatible with the front hub of the ERC 1100 DICUT DB wheelset.
The hubs can be dismantled for servicing without tools, though an axle vice will make it much easier to remove the end caps. Most of the bearings a buried in the hub to help with weather proofing, with the only exception being the right-side bearing in the front wheel. Here, the axle cap is virtually flush with the bearing, so I expect it will be the first to succumb to wet conditions. A generous smear of grease under the cap should make a difference, but I’d recommend inspecting this bearing regularly.
The hubs make use of Centre Lock mounts for the rotors. Compared to a six-bolt mount, this system is much easier to use and the rotor can be removed in mere seconds. For those that have six-bolt rotors, DT includes an adapter for each wheel.
DT Swiss is well known for its spokes such as the Aerolite, a semi-bladed spoke that is both light and exceptionally strong, and the Revolution, a double-butted spoke that is the company’s lightest offering. Rather than use either of these spokes, DT opted to create a new spoke for the ERC 11000 DICUT DB that melds the Aerolite with the Revolution: the upper-third of the spoke (at the hub) has a round, butted profile that morphs into a semi-bladed shape.
According to DT Swiss, the benefits of the new design are two-fold: the bladed portion improves the aerodynamics of the wheelset while the round portion adds comfort.
The influence of bladed spokes on the aerodynamics of a wheel is well known with a variety of wind tunnel tests demonstrating a small but measurable improvement. By contrast, the influence of spoke shape on the comfort of the wheel has not been documented to the same degree but I can’t imagine the effect is particularly large.
Be that as it may, DT Swiss clearly feels that there is some merit to the notion. Some studies have indicated that a bladed spoke is most important at the periphery of the rim where the spokes are travelling fastest, so there may not be a strict need for a full-length bladed spoke to improve the aerodynamics of the wheel.
I presume the same thinking was responsible for the choice of internal spoke nipples. It makes for another marginal gain, but for buyers opting to use tubeless tyres, they will have to contend with the inconvenience of removing the tyre, cleaning off the sealant and replacing the rim tape in order to true a wheel.
At face value, the new spoke looks like it has a standard straight-pull head, but it actually features DT’s proprietary “Nail Head” shape that has flattened sides. This prevents the spokes from rotating in the hub flange like a typical straight-pull spoke, making it easier to build the wheel and tension the spokes. It does create a problem, though, when a spoke is damaged or breaks since finding a replacement at short notice could be very difficult.
It is for this reason that I would have liked to see a few spare spokes supplied with the wheels. In the absence of these spares, owners will have to contend with the inconvenience of trying to find a local shop that stocks spares, or, order a replacement. Given the low cost of a few spare spokes, I don’t see why this is something that should overlooked by any company using proprietary spokes, more so when the wheels have a high asking price like the ERC 1100 DICUT DB.
A matte-black finish serves the wheels with a mix of bold white logos and stealthy gloss graphics. The combination comes together quite well so that the branding is clearly recognisable without the rest of the graphics overwhelming the eye.
The ERC 1100 DICUT DB is supplied with an 11-speed Shimano/SRAM freehub body, while a Campagnolo body and SRAM XD driver are aftermarket options. The wheels have a recommended total weight limit of 120kg and are backed by a two-year warranty. For more information visit DT Swiss or get in touch with Apollo Bikes.
After the ride
The difference between a high quality wheelset, such as DT’s ERC 1100 DICUT DB, and something that costs a lot less is actually quite small. Most of the extra quality can only be felt in the little things that only connoisseurs will appreciate; things that are otherwise very easy to criticise as unnecessary luxuries.
For example, the ceramic bearings: the smooth and light action of DT’s SINC bearings has nothing to do with the materials employed, it’s a matter of the rigour with which the components are selected and assembled. A fine set of steel bearings can be just as smooth and riders won’t notice the difference.
Likewise, the modular nature of the hub/axle assembly: the axle caps and freehub body all come together with a satisfying click however the benefits are negligible in the short term. It is only over a long period of time that higher quality products will demonstrate their value by enduring the demands placed upon them.
The value of such quality to a factory-built wheelset that makes use of proprietary parts is arguable. A premium is normally attached to these parts, so it often makes more sense to replace the wheels than attempt to repair them. And if the rims/wheels are superseded in the years to come, finding replacement parts is likely to become more difficult and/or expensive.
Be that is it may, the ERC 1100 DICUT DB comes together to create a beautifully functioning package. Anybody handling these wheels will understand the expense. And pondering the price, most will ask: what more do they offer when compared to the rest of the competition?
The brutal truth is, little, if anything. They are as good anything else on the market, but no better. Which is to say that they are stiff and quite light, reasonably responsive for a high-profile wheelset, and once rolling, offer an edge in performance that can add a little extra speed to any rider’s efforts.
I opted to install standard clinchers in the form of Vittoria’s Rubino Pro tyres (28C) for the duration of this review. As a “new era” kind of wheelset, a wider tyre was in order, plus it allowed me to venture off-road to get a feel for the versatility of these wheels.
The ERC 1100 DICUT DB wheelset has a lovely ride quality. Smooth yet sturdy without any harshness, they were a pleasure to ride. Compared to other wheels on the market, and the spectrum of possibilities I’ve experienced, these sit squarely in the middle. Goldilocks would be pleased.
With my tyres inflated to 60psi, I was already set for a reasonably plush ride, so I couldn’t judge the effectiveness of DT’s new spoke design. What I really needed was a second set of wheels with a full-length bladed spoke to rigorously test this notion. Nevertheless, as a wheel system, the ERC 1100 DICUT DB works nicely, whatever the contribution of the spokes.
The responsiveness of any wheelset is largely a matter of weight. Lightweight wheelsets are always easy to accelerate and seem to add an extra kick to any rider’s efforts. At just a little under 1,500g, the ERC 1100 DICUT DB was good but not exceptional. I was able to tackle some long climbs on the wheels without feeling weighed down, but for a day of climbing, I’d prefer a low-profile wheelset.
The ERC 1100 DICUT DB was better suited to rolling terrain. That was when the aerodynamics of the wheels could help my speed — but only by a little — and I could carry that momentum over the next rise. Compared to the other 50mm wheelsets I’ve ridden, the ERC 1100 DICUT DB was an able performer, though the difference between any of these wheels is largely a matter of nuance.
The ERC 1100 DICUT DB wheelset was quite stable and predictable in crosswinds. It wasn’t immune, though, so there were moments when the wind could catch the front wheel, just like any other high-profile wheelset. Compared to 60-70mm rims, the ERC 1100s were easier to control, but I still kept at least one hand on the handlebars in windy conditions for fear I’d suddenly veer off-course with the next gust.
I tackled a few unpaved roads with the ERC 1100 DICUT DB wheelset, including a five-hour loop that comprised a variety of surfaces and a few long ascents. I’ve found that tyre choice is more important for these adventures, where bigger is better, so the 28C Rubino Pros probably deserve much of the credit. Be that as it may, the wheels were flawless performers, especially on the home stretch where the combination of a long flat road, a mild tailwind, and the sweet roll of the wheels inspired me to lift my effort for a strong finish.
Some might be curious about the lateral stiffness of these wheels, but I think the issue is largely irrelevant when disc brakes are involved. Without rim pads to interfere with the wheels, does it really matter? At the very least, I had no way of judging if the wheels were flexing under load.
I’ve been a long-time user of DT’s 240s hubs, which aside from being incredibly robust, are also very easy to service. The hubs of the ERC 1100 have the same internals as the 240s, so I’m sure they will withstand years of use with regular servicing. As for the rest of the wheelset, I didn’t have trouble with any of it, and there was no need to true the wheels at the end of the review period.
Summary and final thoughts
The ERC 1100 DICUT DB adds to a growing list of premium high-profile all-carbon clinchers that have been optimised for road disc brakes and wider tubeless tyres. Other wheelsets in this list include Enve’s SES 4.5 AR, Zipp’s Firecrest 303 Tubeless Disc-brake, and Specialized’s Roval CLX 50 Disc. When placed side-by-side, all share many of the same features, where the ERC 1100 DICUT DB has the narrowest rim and the lowest asking price.
I haven’t ridden the wheels made by Enve, Zipp, or Specialized so I can’t say how all four compare on the road. But having ridden a variety of ~50mm carbon clinchers, I expect the performance differences will be a matter of nuance. As such, I don’t see a clear winner, so other considerations will decide the matter.
For example, I find the proprietary spokes used by DT Swiss a turn-off compared to the standard j-bend spokes employed by Enve; Zipp and Specialized make use of external nipples for extra convenience; and while Specialized trumps all on the basis of weight, Zipp has perhaps the strongest reputation for the quality of its rims.
As a result, road-disc owners now face the same difficulties as traditional (i.e. rim-brake) roadies when deciding on a premium wheelset. DT Swiss deserve congratulations for making that decision harder while buyers are left to weigh up how well each wheelset will meet their specific needs. As I’ve already mentioned, the gaps between each of these wheelsets are really quite small, so in a general sense, shoppers really can’t go wrong.