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by Matt Wikstrom
August 29, 2018
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
It has been two years since Chain Reaction Cycles launched its in-house wheel brand, Prime, to sell low-cost wheelsets to the mainstream market. Prime’s first offerings included a suite of carbon wheelsets designed to emulate, rather than directly compete with, more expensive brands. The hope was that enthusiasts would be prepared to forego innovation and brand recognition so long as the price was right.
Needless to say, Prime found a willing market for its wheelsets, and now the brand has taken the next step to keep pace with innovation in this space by updating its carbon clinchers with wider rims. In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a look at two wheelsets from Prime’s new BlackEdition collection, and finds the new rims have a lot to offer buyers.
When Prime launched its carbon wheelsets a couple of years ago, it marked a new phase in the life of composite wheels. The technology responsible for cutting-edge high-end exotica had finally trickled down the market tree to give rise to a new category: the entry-level carbon wheelset. But it was not the relatively low price that was unique to Prime; online shoppers had been enjoying cheap Chinese-made rims for some time. It was the appearance of the wheels in the mainstream market that was most notable.
The 28mm, 38mm, and 50mm carbon rims originally picked by Prime were all open-mould products that were tested in-house and on the road before the new wheels were launched. The company wasn’t just dipping its toe, though, because on top of three rim profiles, there was a choice of tubeless-ready or tubular versions to suit both rim- and disc-brakes. Buyers had almost everything they could ask for at a very competitive price, including home delivery and a two-year warranty.
We reviewed two carbon wheelsets from Prime’s catalogue soon after its launch: the RP-38 carbon clincher road disc wheelset and the RP-50 carbon clinchers for rim brakes. As entry-level offerings, the two wheelsets had plenty of appeal, and they even managed to deliver some of the performance of higher-priced wheelsets.
From the outset, Prime’s carbon rims were obviously narrow in terms of both internal and external width, but given their position in the market, this was something that was easy to forgive. These wheels were never designed to compete at the same level as higher-priced and more aerodynamic products, after all, so there was no great need for a wider rim.
Nevertheless, Prime was obviously well aware of changing consumer expectations, which is why its carbon clincher rims have been re-designed — in-house, no less — to yield the new BlackEdition wheelsets in its catalogue.
There is a choice of five clincher profiles in the BlackEdition range: 28mm, 38mm (right), 50mm (left), 65mm, and 85mm.
The current trend towards wider road rims started about 10 years ago, driven largely by the search for aerodynamic gains. The late wheel aerodynamics guru Steve Hed found that a wider rim bed made for a wider and rounder tyre profile that was better suited to semi-toroidal rim shapes. However, that change in tyre shape also had remarkable benefits for the behaviour of the tyre, allowing for lower inflation pressures, greater compliance and grip, and even less rolling resistance, than the same tyre on a narrower rim.
In the time since then, wider tyres have become de rigueur for road cycling, and even wider rim profiles were needed to maintain clean aerodynamics at the leading edge of the wheel. Comfort and grip were further improved with the new rims without detracting from rolling resistance. So, for the rider, it has been a win-win-win. The only practical drawback is a need for more frame and fork clearance, which traditionally, has been limited for road bikes.
Frame and fork manufacturers have managed to catch up to the growing enthusiasm for wider rims and tyres, helped enormously by the introduction of disc brakes (and to a lesser extent, direct-mount rim callipers). That doesn’t mean all current road bikes are able to accommodate tyres and rims that are 27mm-wide or more, but the proportion has been increasing.
Prime’s carbon clincher rims were originally 25mm-wide with a 16.5mm bed. That was a modest increase compared to the 15mm rim beds that dominated the market at the time, but the industry has moved on, and now the leading carbon wheel brands favour rim beds that are at least 19mm-wide.
Prime’s carbon clinchers are now wider with a 19.5mm rim bed. The branding is more subdued, too.
With an external width of 27.5mm and a 19.5mm rim bed, Prime’s BlackEdition rims now fit comfortably within the new norm. The rims still sport the same U-shaped profile, tubeless-compatibility, and finish, as the originals. According to Prime, the increase in width has improved the aerodynamics of the new wheels, however the brand does not supply any data in support of this, nor are there any specific claims to that effect.
As for the brake track — an important consideration for any carbon wheelset that will be used with rim brakes — that, too, remains unchanged with a wide, staggered design that promises to direct heat away from the tyres and into the rim itself. Two pairs of Prime’s proprietary brakes pads are supplied with each wheelset, and the company strongly recommends buyers make use of them for the best results in both dry and wet conditions.
Ignoring the change in rim width, Prime’s BlackEdition 38 and 50 clinchers are essentially identical to the RP-38 and RP-50 wheelsets that preceded them. The hubs, spoke count, and spoke lacing patterns have all been carried over to the new wheels, and out of the box, they are taped ready for tubeless tyres.
Prime has moved to a new spoke supplier, though. Where once Sapim CX-Ray straight-pull bladed stainless steel spokes were used to build the wheels, every spoke now comes from DT Swiss. The front wheel and non-driveside of the rear wheel make use of DT Swiss’s lightest bladed spoke, the Aerolite, while the thicker and heavier Aero Comp is used for the driveside of the rear wheel.
The Prime-branded hubs continue to be supplied by Novatec. The hub shells are made from 7075 aluminium alloy with cartridge bearings used throughout. The end-caps press onto the front axle and thread onto the rear axle, however there is no pre-load adjustment for the bearings. Pulling down the hubs is quick and easy, and if spares or replacements are ever needed, Prime maintains an online catalogue of spares with convenient links to Chain Reaction Cycles to make a purchase.
The front hub has a small axle and bearings to keep the shell slender.
The axle caps are easy to remove. Just grab one…
… and pull.
The front hub bearings are positioned deep within the shell.
The rear hub has a bigger axle and bearings to contend with more weight and load.
The axle caps thread onto the rear axle. A couple of 5mm hex keys are required to unwind them.
Note the larger hex key fitting that allows the axle to be secured so the cap on the opposite end can be removed.
A weather shield adds an extra layer of protection for the bearing on the left side of the hub.
The right axle cap must be removed before the freehub mechanism can be serviced.
The whole body slides easily off the axle.
The drive ring that sits in the hub body has 26 teeth, which translates to a 13.8° engagement speed.
The freehub body has four pawls with a spring-clip that wraps around them.
The front wheel is laced with 20 spokes in a radial pattern, while the rear wheel has 24 spokes laced in a two-cross pattern. The latter makes no compensation for the offset of the right hub flange, so the spoke tension on the left side of the wheel is significantly lower (~60kgf) than the right (~130kgf). This is quite distinct from those rear wheels that employ triplet lacing (e.g. Fulcrum’s Racing 3 and Racing Zero or Shimano’s new C40-TL) to alleviate (or eliminate) this differential and reduce the rate of spoke fatigue.
In the short term, this is not a feature that pays dividends, and for many users, the quality of the spokes — which in this case, is very high — will be enough to contend with many rounds of loading and unloading without failing. There is still a greater risk that the non-drive spokes will come loose, though, and the wheel may need more attention to keep it true. For the mid-to-long term, heavy loads will take a toll on the spokes, leading to premature breakage.
The BlackEdition wheels live up to their name with a stealthy finish and subtle branding. It’s a pleasing change from Prime’s original branding that will suit a wide range of bikes; better yet, once installed, these wheels will look like an exotic upgrade at a fraction of the cost.
The BlackEdition 38 wheelset sent for review by Wiggle weighed 1,509g (front, 664g; rear, 845g) with rim tape, while the BlackEdition 50 weighed 1,614g (front 716g; rear, 898g), also with tape. For the latter, that’s an extra ~100g compared to the original RP-50 wheelset, demonstrating the impact of the wider rims and the heavier-duty driveside spokes on the total weight.
With that said, both weights are still quite good, especially considering the asking price. In fact, a 1,600g wheelset with a 50mm-tall rim (like Campagnolo’s original Bora) was once considered a technological marvel; now, it’s a relatively affordable mainstream product.
The valve stem hole is moulded so that the lockring for a tubeless valve fits neatly against the rim.
The BlackEdition 38 and 50 clinchers are available in two versions: one to suit rim brakes, and another for disc brakes. There’s also another three rim heights available — 28mm, 65mm and 85mm — making for an impressive suite of clinchers from which to choose. Prime also has another four BlackEdition rim-brake wheelsets for tubular tyres — 38, 50, 65, and 85 — however the external width of those rims remains at 25mm.
In every case, the wheels are supplied with a Shimano/SRAM-compatible freehub body, four spare spokes and nipples, rim tape and tubeless valves, and a two-year warranty. In addition, a pair of quick-release skewers and two pairs of brake pads are included with the rim-brake version of the wheels; the disc-brake version is supplied with a collection of end-caps and axles to suit quick-release skewers, 12mm thru-axles (front and rear), and a 15mm thru-axle (front only).
Wiggle’s (and Chain Reaction Cycles’) current asking price for the BlackEdition 38 is AU$1,305/US$1,035/£945. The BlackEdition 50 wheelset is a little more expensive, selling for AU$1,350/US$1,080/£990. That price does not include delivery, and it may not include local taxes and duties. For Australian buyers at least, there won’t be any extra costs. GST is included in that price, the wheels qualify for free delivery, and Wiggle/Chain Reaction Cycles will pay the local import duty as well.
Finally, it is worth noting that the BlackEdition clinchers have a rider weight limit of 100kg.
Getting to know a new wheelset is not a complicated process, and when it performs exactly as expected, it’s easy to take it for granted after just a few rides. This is exactly what happened with the BlackEdition 38 and 50 clinchers: they were immediately inviting and easy to use, as well as trouble-free from the moment I opened each box.
I’ve been using tubeless tyres for several years, but I still brace myself when it comes to installing them for the first time on unfamiliar wheels. In this instance, I had two pairs of Hutchinson’s 25c Fusion 5 Performance tubeless tyres to install, which meant a fair bit of sloshing sealant and more than enough opportunity to lose time getting the tyres to seat and seal.
Rather than fire up the compressor, I opted to try inflating each tyre with a standard track pump first, and each time, I only needed a few strokes before the tyres started filling with air. Since this was only my second encounter with Hutchinson’s tubeless tyres, I can’t comment with any authority, but I’m really impressed with how easy they are to install. I shouldn’t be surprised, though, since Hutchinson was the first company to manufacture tubeless road tyres.
Prime’s 38mm rim promises to be a versatile performer since it won’t be overly affected by crosswinds.
At 80psi, the 25c tyres measured 27mm-wide, a direct result of Prime’s wider rim bed. It makes for a generous contact patch for road use, yet, as mentioned above, the tyre does not feel slow. I’ve long been a fan of wide rims for this reason: the extra grip and comfort is immediately apparent, and it makes for a very pleasing ride.
My Baum Corretto served as the test mule for the entirety of the review period. Swapping between each wheelset gave me an insight on the relative performance of each, but in truth, there wasn’t much to separate the two.
Side-by-side, the BlackEdition 38 was a fraction more responsive than the BlackEdition 50. Once up to speed, the 50s seemed a little faster than the 38s, but it was a fleeting sensation. It’s only in retrospect that I was able to identify a strength for each wheelset, because at the time I was on them, it wasn’t so clear.
Prime’s 50mm-deep rim offers a little more speed, but it is more easily affected by crosswinds.
What was clearer was the susceptibility to crosswinds. The BlackEdition 38 was rarely, if ever, troubled by the wind. In contrast, the BlackEdition 50 could catch the wind, though it was no better, or worse, than any other wheelset with 50mm rims that I’ve used.
If I ignored the effects of the wind, then I found I could use the two wheelsets interchangeably. There was no difference in ride quality; lateral stiffness was seemingly equivalent; and as I’ve already mentioned, they were both easy to use and equally enjoyable to ride. Over the course of several weeks, I never developed a preference for one over the other, though in retrospect, the 50s were perhaps a little more impressive.
As for the quality of braking, it started out as satisfactory and after a couple of rides, it seemed to improve, suggesting that the rims and/or pads needed some running in. I soon found myself braking with much of the same confidence that I have with alloy wheels, regardless of whether it was wet or dry. With that said, a little more force was required at the lever to get the same response in back-to-back testing with a set of alloy wheels.
Prime’s carbon clinchers are supplied with tubeless tape and valves, but buyers can fit standard tyres with inner tubes, if desired, with no penalty.
That back-to-back testing also provided some perspective on the performance of the BlackEdition 38 and 50. On paper, low-profile alloy rims (in this instance, Hed Belgium C2 Plus) are far from a canny choice when it comes to cheating the wind, but on the road, the distinction is much less obvious. Once again, it was a matter of nuance, and those nuances tended to cancel out when comparing the strengths and weaknesses of each wheelset.
The alloy wheelset was the most versatile of the three because it was untroubled by the wind and offered surer braking with less effort. The extra speed offered by the BlackEdition 50 was welcome, however more caution was required to control the bike when the wind was blowing. The BlackEdition 38 fell somewhere in between, matching the agility and responsiveness of the alloys, but braking required more effort.
I didn’t have any trouble with loose spokes or bearings in either of Prime’s wheelsets during the review period. The tubeless tyres never leaked or burped air, either. All of these are promising signs. Out in the wild, Prime’s original carbon wheelsets have generally performed well, at least according to Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles customer reviews. However, some have had problems with spoke tension or the hub bearings.
Prime continues to offer low-weight skewers with external cams with its wheels, which only go so far when it comes to offering a tight hold and resisting the weather. A couple of wet rides was all that was required for both to deteriorate during the review period, but a smear of grease quickly addressed this issue. As for the amount of noise from the freehub body, it was reasonably quiet, offering a subdued click rather than a loud buzz.
At face value, it might seem like a minor thing, but by increasing the width of its rims by just a few millimetres, Prime has provided a worthy update for its carbon clinchers. Yes, there is the promise of improved aerodynamics when a wider tyre (e.g. 25c) is mounted on these wheels, as demonstrated by other brands, but it’s the change in the comfort and grip of the tyre that is more important. Compared to Prime’s original offerings with narrower rims, the BlackEdition is more enjoyable to ride primarily because of this effect on the tyres.
The other major update concerns the presentation of the new wheels; a change to black-on-black branding sits well with the stealthy aesthetic that has come to define high-end carbon wheelsets. As a result, Prime’s BlackEdition wheelsets look like an exotic upgrade even though the wheels aren’t as light or aerodynamically refined as models that are far more expensive. I suspect many buyers will be happy to compromise on these things given the massive difference in price.
That price puts Prime’s BlackEdition wheelsets in direct competition with high-end alloy wheels, such as Fulcrum’s Racing Zero. As a result, prospective buyers are faced with a difficult decision: Do they opt for the best of what an alloy wheelset has to offer, including high-end hubs and perhaps some weight savings; or, do they compromise on weight and hub quality to enjoy a taste of carbon exotica?
In practical terms, there are no clear distinctions, so in many ways, the matter can be decided on the basis of personal priorities and/or excitement for the product. However, for a bike equipped with rim brakes, there is no strong argument for carbon rims. After all, the marginal gains that are on offer from improved aerodynamics are not so great that the threat from the heat generated by braking can be ignored. At the very least, it makes for a compromise that prospective buyers should be prepared to accept before making a purchase.
Prime’s BlackEdition 38 (right) and 50 (left) carbon clinchers are no more expensive than a set of high-end alloy wheels.
The 50mm rim will appeal to buyers that want to enjoy a little more speed.
Novatec is the company behind Prime’s hubs.
Two-cross lacing is used on each side of the rear wheel.
The BlackEdition 38 is over 100g lighter than the 50, so it feels a little more responsive.
The 38mm rim is marginally aerodynamic yet remains untroubled by crosswinds.
Just one small white logo appears on each side of the rims. The rest are black.
The BlackEdition 38 looks much like any other high-end carbon wheelset.
The BlackEdition 50 is a bolder wheelset.
The 50mm rim provides more room for bigger logos.
Prime’s quick-release skewers are quick to succumb to wet weather. The external cam mechanism will become sticky to use, so regular application of a bit of grease will be needed to keep it moving smoothly.
Every model in the BlackEdition collection has the same stealthy presentation.
The brake track is placed further down on the rim to help keep heat away from the tyres and tubes, but buyers will have to remember to set the pads lower.
The front wheel has 20 spokes laced in a radial pattern.
The rear wheel has 24 spokes, laced in a 2-cross pattern.
Novatec’s “anti-bite guard” is a tougher steel spline positioned at a single point on the freehub body. It promises to stop Shimano/SRAM cassettes from biting into rest of the alloy splines.