Campagnolo Levante carbon gravel wheelset review: Almost too pretty to ride

Hiding beneath the luxurious looks is superb performance worthy of use and abuse.

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Campagnolo probably isn’t the first brand that comes to mind when you think of gravel wheels (although the success of its Ekar mechanical gravel groupset may be changing that). However, its new Levante carbon gravel wheels are very much worth a closer look. They’re prettier-looking than any dirt-minded carbon wheelset deserves to be. They’re also fantastic to ride, and if history is anything to go by, they should last for ages, too.

More than just numbers on paper

Going purely by the specs, the Levantes are pretty average. The tubeless-compatible carbon rims sport a 25 mm internal width, 30.6 mm outer width, and 30 mm depth – solid numbers, but hardly groundbreaking. Actual weight for the set is 1,477 g (686 g front, 791 g) with a Campagnolo-specific N3W freehub body and without tubeless valves (Shimano and SRAM bodies are available, too). Retail price? Relatively speaking (for Campagnolo, at least), it’s pretty competitive at US$1,900 / £1,350 / €1,575-1,584 (Australian pricing is TBC), although even that won’t blow anyone’s socks off.

Although the numbers might not move everyone’s needle, it’s hard to ignore the Levante’s lustrous aesthetics, a gorgeously glossy finish that Campagnolo calls C-Lux. It isn’t just a shiny clear coat, though; it supposedly comes straight out of the mold looking like this. It’s a genuinely luxurious look well suited to the Campagnolo name (and mystique), and it’s furthered by the classy metallic logos and understated hub designs.

These pictures just don’t do the Levantes justice. They’re quite possibly the most beautiful gravel wheels on the market right now.

Looking a little deeper, things get more interesting.

Unlike most tubeless-compatible rims, the Levantes don’t rely on finicky tape. Instead, the outer wall is completely solid (save for the valve hole, of course) so it’s inherently airtight. Granted, there are some headaches involved at the manufacturing end involving magnets and a lot of patience during the assembly process, but that’s not something you have to deal with.

Campagnolo has also bucked the hookless trend, going with a so-called “mini-hook” that supposedly offers a similarly smooth transition between the tire and rim, but with a wider range of safe operating pressures and a longer list of compatible tires, too. 

Campagnolo’s so-called “mini-hook” design supposedly offers some of the benefits of hookless, but with a wider range of compatible tires.

As far as the spoking pattern is concerned, some long-time Campagnolo fans might be disappointed to see that the Levantes don’t use the company’s proven two-to-one lacing configuration. However, each rim features an offset spoke bed with 24 butted, straight-pull stainless steel spokes, so tensions are still more evenly balanced between either side than usual.

But are the Levantes more than just a pretty face?

It’s packing the goods

Numbers almost never tell the whole story, and it’s no different with the Levante wheels. While I’m sure someone will leave a comment pointing to a consumer-direct competitor with similar (or even better) specs at a much lower price, I’d argue the intangibles still matter, at least in this case.

External spoke nipples make for easy truing when needed, although the build quality suggests that won’t be a regular occurrence.

The ride quality of the Levante wheels is on the stiffer side, feeling more sturdy and solid than cushy and compliant. There’s not much give when you hammer them through a particularly chunky section of unpaved road, yet there’s also the sense that you can do so with impunity. They’re also particularly rewarding to ride on paved surfaces as their overall responsiveness seems more akin to a light-and-stiff aero wheel than something designed to play in the dirt, but without the usual susceptibility to crosswind instability.

Whether that sensation is a good thing will depend on your priorities and wants (and maybe even your size), but it’s something to note nonetheless. Someone specifically seeking a very smooth ride would be better served by something like the Stan’s NoTubes Grail CB7 (or even just some foam inserts and lower tire pressure), but if laser-sharp precision handling is what you’re after, you could certainly do far worse than the Levantes.

“The rims ride stiffer than expected,” said CyclingTips senior tech editor Dave Rome, who’s been testing the functionally identical Fulcrum Rapid Red Carbon. “It can give a handling benefit to a bike coming from a flexier alloy wheelset, however, the trade-off is a little more vibration transfer. Thankfully, the increased tire volume from the wide internal width helps to offset this.”

Dave and I both also found it very easy to set the wheels up tubeless. Most of the tires I tried went on by hand – without levers – and I could even remove some completely by hand. Even better, those tires all readily inflated and seated with a conventional floor pump. Had tubeless been like this all along (instead of the debacle we’re currently in), I dare say the general perception of the format would be very different.

I’m not sure what sort of wizardry Campagnolo employed in tweaking the fairly narrow ETRTO guidelines for road tubeless-compatible rims, but kudos to whoever sold their soul in Vicenza. The fact that you’ll never have to deal with rim tape (or, most likely, sealant seeping into the rim cavity) is icing on the cake.

The outer rim wall is completely solid (aside from the valve hole) so there’s no tubeless tape required.

Then there are the hubs. 

Again, they don’t come across as anything special, what with their fairly typical-looking aluminum shells and average 10º engagement speed on the freehub. However, the bearings spin with a silkiness that many cartridge bearings lack, and while some might find the adjustable, angular-contact, cup-and-cone bearings to be an off-putting throwback, I’d counter that by saying prior experience has shown Campagnolo’s bearings to be about as durable as they come. Granted, that assumes a proper adjustment and semi-regular (which is not the same as “frequent”) maintenance, but the old mechanic in me would take cup-and-cone over cartridge bearings any day. 

And in a refreshing contrast to the litany of buzzy options that are so common these days, the Levante freehub spins with barely a whisper while you’re coasting. I’m not usually too bothered by noisy hubs (I still run Industry Nine hubs on most of my mountain bikes, for example), but the Levante freehub is so quiet that you suddenly remember what the outside sounds like.

The stainless steel, angular-contact, cup-and-cone bearings feature easily adjustable preload.

The hubs do carry one notable quirk, though. Instead of using internally threaded rotor lockings as is the norm, Campagnolo uses its own lockrings with external threading. That’s not just to be different, though, as it provides more room inside the shell for bigger (and more durable) bearings. However, it also makes for slightly trickier rotor installation and removal since both the threads and tool splines are quite shallow. 

Build quality has historically been excellent for Campagnolo wheels, too. Spoke tension was impressively even all around (on Dave’s wheels, as well), and my test wheels stayed pleasantly round and true during testing, with none of the initial pinging and popping that can sometimes characterize wheels that haven’t been properly de-stressed. But even if there was some tweaking required, it’s a straightforward process given the exposed nipples. 

Question marks

As beautiful and well-built as the Levantes seem to be, there are nevertheless some lingering questions, namely revolving around impact durability and Campagnolo’s official repair and replacement policy. 

I asked Campagnolo for specific information on how the Levante rims were engineered to withstand impact – and impacts are a sure thing if you’re going to be doing any proper gravel riding – and the answer wasn’t as clear as I would have preferred. 

“Performance and reliability are two key aspects when it comes to product development,” a representative communicated to me. “Impact absorption is one of the elements we focus on as it impacts all aspects of the wheel’s safety. Depending on the product category, we’ll use different production methods and specific resins to improve this. Due to our design and production methods, the rim bed on most of our wheels remains undrilled which is a big advantage as the impact is spread across more material.”

OK, so let’s just take Campagnolo’s (vague) words at face value and assume the Levantes are built around an appropriately tough rim that can handle some genuine abuse. Even if that were the case, the combination of a relatively small-volume tire, potentially high speeds, and sharp-edged rocks is still a surefire recipe for damage.

Most of the bigger wheel brands now offer subtle variations of a free lifetime repair and/or replacement policy, with the intent of giving buyers some peace of mind that their substantial investment will last more than a season or two. 

But Campagnolo? The “official” policy comes across as a bit of a word salad.

“Campagnolo offers a three-year limited warranty on all their products except for the EPS power unit, which comes with a two-year warranty,” I was told. “Each service or warranty claim is reviewed on an individual basis as each claim is different. In some cases, the rim can be replaced; in other cases, it’s more cost efficient to simply replace an entire wheel. This is often the case with a carbon wheel as the rim makes up for most of the cost of the entire wheel.

“Depending on the price of certain aluminium wheels, it can happen that the labour and required spare parts involved in rebuilding a wheel is sometimes more costly than the replacement of the entire wheel. We’re currently not offering any crash replacement policy but rest assured that we’ll do everything we can to keep our customers satisfied.”

Clear as mud, no?

These wheels are excellent, and deserving of a more comprehensive support policy from Campagnolo.

In comparison, take this from Reserve: “We’ll repair or replace at our option any Reserve rim made by Santa Cruz Bicycles that is damaged or destroyed by riding. The warranty will be in effect for the lifetime of the rim and is available only to the original owner.”

Or Bontrager: “Every set of Bontrager carbon wheels is backed by the Carbon Care Wheel Loyalty Program, which provides free repair or replacement in the unlikely event you structurally damage your wheels while riding within the first two years of ownership (and deeply discounted rebuild or replacement to the original owner regardless of the date of purchase).”

Enve’s program offers three years of no-cost comprehensive coverage: “Enve incidental damage protection is a supplemental coverage program for original owners that protects against accidental damage caused to the product from riding, racing, crashing, dog-ate-your-wheel types of scenarios.”

Zipp? “When you buy new Zipp wheels and components, you are backed by a global lifetime warranty. This includes manufacturing defects, but also any system failure occurring while riding your bike within the intended use of your Zipp product. If your Zipp product fails while riding, we will replace or repair it free of charge.”

And then there’s Roval: “If you damage your Roval product while riding within the first two years of ownership and it’s not covered under warranty, we’ll still replace or repair it for free.”

Granted, many of these policies also include some fine print and caveats, but you get the point.

Treat yourself

At first glance, the Campagnolo Levante wheels are almost too beautiful to risk scratching and scuffing them on gravel, but their underlying performance almost demands that you should. And while the Levantes are hardly the least expensive out there, they’re not nearly as pricey as many might expect with the Campagnolo brand name. 

Simply put, these wheels are fantastic, and any longevity-minded rider that passes on these just because of the numbers is doing themselves a disservice given the proven quality of typically hidden things like bearings.

In other words, the Levantes might be too pretty to ride, but they’re also too good not to. Scars add character, right? But they’re also too good to not have competitive post-purchase support from Campagnolo. Let’s hope that situation is rectified sooner than later.

More information can be found at www.campagnolo.com.

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