Zeal Camerig 44 carbon clincher review
The Camerig is a climb in the Netherlands that rises 145m over 3.6km with an average gradient of 4%. It is also the name that Zeal has chosen for its mid-profile (44mm) carbon wheelset.
While the parallels between the two may not be immediately obvious, in the eyes of Zeal, their new wheels are as well suited to puncheurs as that climb (which has appeared in the Amstel Gold in the past). On paper, all of the necessary elements, such as an aerodynamic rim profile and a relatively low weight, appear to be present, so what can buyers expect? Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom shares his thoughts in this in-depth review of the Camerig 44.
- Purpose: Road cycling and racing.
- Highlight: Mid-profile carbon clincher wheelset with a kamm tail-inspired rim profile.
- Key details: 44mm carbon rim, 19.6mm internal width, tubeless-ready, 20 spokes front/24 spokes rear, DT Swiss 240s hubs, Sapim CX-Ray/CX-Sprint straight-pull spokes, SwissStop Black Prince brake pads.
- Price: AU$2,000 | US$NA | €1,299.
- Weight: 1,526g with rim tape and tubeless valves.
- Highs: Distinctive rim design, sound choice of components, performs well on the flats and on short climbs.
- Lows: Unpredictable handling in moderate-strong crosswinds, uneven tension on non-drive-side spokes.
Zeal was founded in the Netherlands by two friends in 2016. The company’s genesis was simple enough: Roland Ten Brinke and Daniel Bley met each other while working in the industry and decided to have a crack at starting a new business.
The two Dutchmen had a lot in common, including a passion for racing and bringing exciting products to market. Both started out working in local shops before they were recruited by companies like SRAM and Canyon, where they were drawn towards sales and marketing roles. At one point, Daniel was the head of marketing and sales at Canyon while Roland was one of the founders of FFWD Wheels.
It was NuVinci’s novel planetary hub that brought Daniel and Roland together in 2013, when they joined Fallbrook International as the directors of marketing and sales, respectively. Both men enjoyed the change of focus, but in time, they started to miss the performance-oriented part of the market.
Some of the discussions that lead to the formation of Zeal took place while Roland and Daniel were riding their bikes. “The decision to start another wheel brand wasn’t an easy one,” explained Ten Brincke. “Daniel and I had long conversations (off and on the bike) about the products we wanted to launch first, and about what Zeal stands for.”
Given their experience with Canyon and FFWD, it’s not really surprising that Roland and Daniel decided to build Zeal around wheels and customer-direct online sales. However, they have big ambitions for Zeal, referring to it as a component brand rather than a wheel brand. “We’re looking into the development of other products as well,” said Ten Brincke, “and this has been the goal right from the beginning.”
For the time being, though, wheels remain front and centre for Zeal. It’s familiar territory for Ten Brincke, of course, but from the outset, he was committed to bringing something new and distinct to the market. “It’s not a big secret that it’s relatively easy to get many models of rims from Asia, stick your brand on it and put them in a nice online shop. We chose to go through the development process of a unique rim profile first and to use our own moulds.”
This is what lead to the creation of the Camerig 44, Zeal’s vision for an aerodynamic road racing wheelset that features a 44mm carbon rim. That alone is nothing new or distinct, but take a closer a look at the rim, and rather than a familiar U-shaped profile, the Camerig 44 sports an unusual kamm tail-inspired shape.
A different take on aerodynamic rim design
A kamm tail, for the uninitiated, is formed by chopping the tail off an airfoil. In its absence, the aerodynamics of the truncated foil are largely preserved, so it’s a good strategy for saving weight. There’s also less surface area that can be affected by crosswinds, while the squared-off section generally stiffens the structure.
While kamm tails have been utilised by the automotive industry since the 1930s, the bike industry has only been experimenting with them for less than ten years. Now, most aero road frames make use of kamm tails. In contrast, aero road rims have adhered to the wide U-shaped (semi-toroidal) profile pioneered by HED and Zipp at the turn of the century.
In developing the Camerig 44, Zeal collaborated with Dave Luycx, a Belgian engineer with eight years experience designing aero frames, forks and handlebars, to see if a kamm tail had anything to offer aero rim design.
The short answer was: perhaps. Having already spent time in this realm, Ten Brinke knew that aerodynamic performance of a wheel generally tracked very closely with the height of the rim. He also understood that it was very difficult to measure a difference between one rim profile and another in the real world. That’s why wind tunnel testing was eschewed in favour of computer-aided simulations.
Luycx performed a variety of simulations with a series of rim shapes, and that was where he found that a kamm tail could behave like a sail to add some speed to the bike. “Our computer simulations and field tests show that our rims are amongst the fastest on the market when looking at this effect, where the rider is basically being pushed forward, just like a sail boat,” said Ten Brincke.
Zeal does not put a number on this effect, which will frustrate aero-weenies, and the company makes no specific claims for its wheels. Aside from the expense required to generate this sort of data, Ten Brincke believes it is often over-emphasised in the name of marketing. “All those tests which have been done in the past by other wheel brands and magazines clearly show that the aerodynamics of all rims with similar depths are very close to each other. Most of them wouldn’t even be published because of the fact that the differences were so small and within the margin of error of each other.”
Thus, potential buyers will have to be content with the vague promise that the Camerig 44 may be as good as any other 45mm rim on the market. As for the argument that a kamm tail will hinder the wheel when it forms the leading edge of the wheel, “In theory that is correct,” said Ten Brincke, “but the airflow behind the frontal part of the wheel has been disturbed so much already by the fork and spokes, that the potential negative effect isn’t really there.”
Zeal places more emphasis on the quality of the leading edge of the wheel where the width of the tyre will have a noticeable impact. “It is important to us that our product is understood as a system of wheel and tyre,” said Daniel Bley, “because the interaction of the components has a great impact on the performance.”
If the tyre overhangs the rim, it will create extra turbulence, drag, and even some instability. Thus, for those looking to maximise the aerodynamic performance of any wheel, the tyre must be ~5% narrower than the rim. In the case of the Camerig 44 clincher rim, which is 25mm wide at the brake track, that limits the width of the tyre to 24mm once it is inflated.
Of course, buyers are free to use wider tyres. Zeal has gone to the trouble of preparing a table of rankings to provide some insight on how different tyres will influence the performance of the Camerig 44, not only in terms of aerodynamics, but comfort, stability, and rolling resistance, too. In absolute terms, the distinctions will be a matter of nuance, but it emphasises how tyre choice can be used to tune the performance of wheels.
More details on the rim
The dimensions of the Camerig 44 rim are quite generous. As mentioned above, the rim is 25mm wide at the tyre interface, which flares out to 28mm near the spoke nipples. When coupled with the squared-off profile, it makes for a very thick and chunky rim that won’t be mistaken for any other brand.
Zeal has created the Camerig 44 rim in two versions, one to suit tubular tyres, and another for tubeless/clincher tyres. For the latter, the rim has an internal width of 19.6mm, a nice broad size that will create a wide contact patch for the tyre, and generally increase the measured width of any road tyre.
The Camerig 44 is also available to suit rim or disc brakes. As has become the norm, the rim brake version has a heat-resistant brake track, and buyers must use Zeal’s brake pad of choice, SwissStop’s Black Prince, for the life of the wheels or void the company’s warranty.
Zeal does not go into any detail on the carbon fibre or the resin that is used to construct the rim. The company promises that the tubular version weighs 370g, while the clincher rim is 450g. Those numbers compare well with established products such as Zipp’s 303, Enve’s SES 4.5 rims, and even Light Bicycle’s U-shaped 45mm clincher rim.
An attractive and hard wearing build
Zeal makes use of DT Swiss 240s hubs, Sapim bladed spokes, and external brass nipples to build the Camerig 44. It’s a pleasing combination of fuss-free components, and the understated branding makes for an attractive and stealthy wheelset.
DT’s 240s hubs are proven performers, and while some may dismiss them as outdated (or just familiar), they are very robust and easy to service. Straight-pull flanges add a modern touch to the hubs, while DT’s modular design makes it easy to swap one freehub body for another.
Sapim straight-pull CX-Ray spokes are used to lace the front wheel and the non-drive side of the rear wheel, while the drive-side is laced with CX-Sprint spokes. The latter has a broader (2.25mm vs 2.20mm) and thicker (1.25mm vs 0.9mm) blade for extra stiffness that adds a little extra weight, too (~1g/spoke).
The spoke count and lacing pattern for the front wheel varies depending upon the braking system: 20 spokes in a radial pattern for rim brake versions compared to 24 spokes and a two-cross pattern for disc brake versions. The back wheel is built with 24 spokes in a two-cross pattern, regardless of the braking system.
Brass nipples round out what can be considered a pretty robust and enduring build. Weight weenies will complain about the extra weight, but brass is less likely to suffer from all-weather use. In this instance, Zeal have opted for Sapim’s brass Polyax nipples with so-called ‘Secure Lock’ to stop them from unwinding.
Options, limits, weight, and price
For those considering the Camerig 44, there is a choice of rim or disc brakes, tubular or tubeless/clincher tyres, and one of three freehub bodies (11-speed Shimano/SRAM; 11/12-speed Campagnolo; and 11/12-speed SRAM XD-R), all for the one price, AU$2,000 | US$NA | €1,399. An upgrade to CeramicSpeed bearings is available for the hubs, which adds an extra €400.
Unsurprisingly, the tubular versions of the Camerig 44 are the lightest, 1,320g and 1,380g for the rim- and disc-brake versions, respectively. By contrast, the clincher versions are claimed to weigh 1,480g/1,499g for rim/disc brakes (without tape or valves). Those numbers seem reliable since the rim brake clincher sent for review weighed 1,526g (front, 692g; rear, 834g) with rim tape and tubeless valves.
Every Camerig 44 wheelset is shipped with a pair of wheel bags along with a 6-year warranty and a 30-day return policy. Rim tape and tubeless valves are included with all clinchers, while rim brake versions are supplied with a pair of skewers and two pairs of SwissStop Black Prince pads.
Buyers are free to use Camerig 44 wheels on the road as well as gravel and cyclocross. There is a weight limit, though; 100kg for rim brake versions and 120kg for disc brake versions. In both instances, that weight includes the rider and the bike as well as any equipment that is being carried.
Finally, the maximum tyre pressure that can be used with the clinchers is 130psi/9bar; tubular versions are restricted to manufacturer recommendations for any chosen tyre.
Out of the box
The simplest test for the quality of any wheel build is to give it a spin to see how round and true it is. It’s a quick and intuitive test, but a round and true wheel can disguise a bigger problem if the spoke tension is uneven. Uneven tension creates uneven loading of the spokes as the wheel is put to use, which over time, will accelerate spoke fatigue leading to premature breakage.
The Camerig 44 wheelset sent for review was round and true, and spoke tension for the front wheel and drive-side of the rear wheel was good, averaging ~95kgf with 10% variation. The non-drive-side tension was lower, as expected, but there was more variation, with values ranging from 40-60kgf.
The extra variation in tension on the non-drive-side spokes is not uncommon, especially when wheels are built quickly with an emphasis on achieving low values for the lateral and radial rollout of the wheel. Striving for even spoke tension on this side of the wheel while keeping the wheel round and true takes extra time – sometimes a lot of time – which can be difficult to justify.
“It’s our experience that it’s best to focus on getting equal tension on all front spokes and the drive-side spokes of the rear wheel,” said Ten Brincke, “to make sure that the forces which are put on the spokes are evenly divided, which will limit the risk of spoke breakage to a minimum. Until today we have had zero spokes breaking and we have some quite large and heavy riders using them in some of the markets here.”
This is where Zeal’s choice of a high quality spoke — Sapim’s CX-Ray — makes a difference, since the non-drive-side spokes will be able to endure more rounds of uneven loading before they break. Be that as it may, the wheel will enjoy a longer life if it is re-tensioned. I needed about 30 min to even out the non-drive-side tension so that the variation was less than 10%.
Up hill and down dale
The Camerig 44 wheelset was put to use after a set of 25mm Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tyres were fitted. These tyres were a tight fit, but that was mostly due to the fresh rim tape that needed bedding in. On the flip side, that tight fit actually helped the tubeless tyres inflate quickly with a floor pump, and there were no issues with leaks from the tyres or the valves.
Once inflated to 55psi, the tyres measured 27mm wide, which as discussed above, had the potential to affect the aerodynamics of the wheel as well as stability in crosswinds. This is something that I will come back to, but for now, it’s worth noting that I spent the majority of the review period using 25mm Pro Ones.
Overall, the Camerig 44 performed as advertised by offering a bit of speed on the flats without ever feeling like a burden on any slope, just like many other mid-profile carbon wheelsets such as Roval’s CLX 50, Campagnolo’s Bora 50, DT Swiss’ ERC 1100 DICUT, Wheelworks Maker 50, and even Prime’s BlackEdition 50. In broad terms, the Camerig 44 compared well with all of these wheels, but there were some nuances in performance worth discussing.
To start with, the Camerig 44s were better in the hills than I expected. A mid-profile wheelset will never be as agile, or offer the same snappy acceleration on a slope, as low-profile wheels, but I never felt like the Camerig 44s were a handicap when climbing. As for smaller, sharper climbs (like its namesake), these wheels were well suited to maintaining high speeds on undulating terrain.
The only thing that can ruin the performance of a mid-profile wheel is the wind. Any wheel with a rim that is 45-50mm tall will suffer some unwanted deflection in crosswinds, so I wasn’t surprised when the Camerig 44 behaved the same way. Crosswinds tugged and pulled at the front wheel, often unpredictably, especially when the wind was coming from the front. I often felt like I was slaloming down the road in moderate-strong winds, such that my arms, and attention, were often completely engaged by the effort to control the bike.
This effect was never so great as to cause me to swerve wildly, but strong gusts were unnerving. I live in a windy area, so there was very little respite until I was surfing along with a tailwind. Even then, the wind could still tug unpredictably at the front wheel, and that ultimately undermined my enjoyment of the wheels.
It was at this point that I swapped out the 25mm tyres for a set of 23mm tyres, to see if that had any effect on the stability of the wheels. In short, there was no great transformation, and while the front wheel might have been, at times, a little easier to control in crosswinds, the unpredictability remained.
That lead me to compare the Camerig 44 back-to-back with Campagnolo’s Bora 50, and on the same day with the same bike, it was clear that Zeal’s wheels were more difficult to handle in crosswinds. That’s not to say that the Bora 50s were unaffected by the wind; rather, they simply required less effort to hold a straight line.
On paper, a 50mm rim should be more susceptible to crosswinds than a 44mm rim, if only by a fraction, so the results of this comparison are a little damning for the Camerig 44. I can only guess at the reason for this. At the same time, not all riders may have the same experience, since other factors, such as position and steering geometry can have an influence on the handling of a wheel.
On those days when the wind wasn’t gusting, the Camerig 44s were a pleasure to use. Aside from the pleasing all-around performance, the wheels were quite welcoming and comfortable, too. There was no undue rigidity or road buzz, nor was there any excess lateral movement under load, and the chunky rim shape produced a throaty rumble on the road.
As for the quality of braking, it was satisfactory, if not quite good, matching much of the market has to offer. Zipp’s ShowStopper and Campagnolo’s AC3 brake tracks continue to shine brightest in this regard, though this is only relevant for riders that prefer rim brakes. Some extra hand force was required compared to alloy rims, but there was plenty of rim bite on offer, albeit with some squealing from the pads.
Summary and final thoughts
Zeal has created a distinctive mid-profile carbon wheelset with an appealing set of parts, however the final product lacks the refinement of a more mature product. In absolute terms, this may only be a matter of nuance, but it can colour a buyer’s experience. This is where established brands have more to offer, though these products are typically more expensive.
For those riders looking for a competitive edge, the extra expense may be easy to justify. For everybody else, it will require a leap of faith, or at the very least, a test ride. Even then, not every edge in performance or point of refinement will be relevant to all buyers. Indeed, other factors, such as brand appeal and product presentation, may carry more weight.
In this regard, the Camerig 44 has its strengths. This wheelset has a unique aesthetic that is bolstered by a 30-day return policy, six-year warranty, and time-proven hubs and spokes. As for the weaknesses — poor crosswind stability and uneven non-drive-side spoke tension — these are not unique to Zeal’s wheels. In fact, there is no guarantee that spending more will eliminate the risk of either. For those that would rather avoid the former, then a far more effective approach is to choose a low-profile rim, which is where Zeal’s Randa 35 has more to offer, including a cheaper asking price.