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Ridden & Reviewed: U.S. Made Aero Wheels Square Off

August 5, 2010

You’ve heard the tip before: “the best upgrade you can make to any bike is to upgrade the wheels.”  And it’s pretty much true.

The more aerodynamic a bike and rider are, the easier time that rider will have propelling the bike and themselves forward as wind drag is decreased.  Similarly, if that rider has less rotational mass to fight, that rider will experience gains in terms of decreased energy required to maintain a given speed, particularly when climbing or accelerating.  As a result, riders often look for gains in aerodynamics and lower weight, particularly when considering new wheels.

There are a host of wheel choices out there.  What most folks are looking at when considering a wheel upgrade is weight, special aerodynamic properties (if any), durability, and cost.  Two of the best in the bunch that do a good job of balancing these sometimes competing factors come from Edge Composites and Zipp.  And each are readily available from the Bicycle Sport Shop rentals department, so I decided to put them to the test!

Edge 45/65s:  The New Kid On The Block.

Edge Composites, located in Ogden, Utah, prides itself on being a new player in the high-tech products category with little marketing hype or tech jargon.  A review of their website shows that Edge doesn’t have too much in the way of product “lingo,” but what they do offer is an interesting take on the full-carbon wheel.  The key to their wheel building is a process whereby the spoke holes in the rim are molded in, rather than drilled into a finished rim.  The theory goes that carbon fibers are at their strongest when they are run in a continuous line.  Drilling spoke holes breaks those fibers and creates weak spots and stress points that require some other carbon wheel builders to use reinforcement material.  Not so with Edge.  And the proof is in the pudding as they say, as the Edge hoops are STRONG–like bounce a road wheel on the floor like a basketball multiple times without a tire and tube installed strong!

Edge 65s

Light and stiff!

Edge offers their carbon clinchers in two rim depths, 45 mm and 65 mm.  (They also offer these same rim depths as tubulars as well as a 25 mm tubular-only rim.)  And they offer pre-built wheels with one of three hubs: DT Swiss 240s, 190s, or Chris King hubs.  Of course the Bicycle Sport Shop Service Department can build your Edge wheels with your favorite hub too!  Stock Edge clincher wheelsets regardless of 45 or 65 mm rim depth and with DT Swiss 240 hubs cost $2,599.

For my first ride, I tried a pair of 65 mm wheels built around the venerable DT Swiss 240 hubs. The terrain and conditions were ripe for a wheel test as I took these beauties to the 2010 Real Ale Ride, where the roads are rolling and rough and the wind was gusty.

The first thing that I noticed as I rolled out was how light the Edge 65s felt under me.  They spun up to cruising speed quick.  Part of that is certainly attributable to their feathery weight.  With Specialized S-Works rubber and standard tubes, the pair weighed a scant 2120 grams without skewers or cassette.  The other thing that likely attributed to the quick feel was the second thing I noticed about the Edges: they are stiff!  The molded spoke holes eliminate an issue that some other carbon wheels may face–spoke pull through (where the spoke literally pulls through the rim).  With stronger rims, Edge can increase spoke tension thereby making a stiffer, snappier wheel.

The overall performance of the wheels was good.  Aside from their quick acceleration, the wheels also gave the sense of holding speed well.  They basically allowed me the use of a higher gear, where 18 miles an hour felt like 16, and 20 miles an hour felt like 18.  Experienced riders of aero rims tell me that sensation is the decreased aerodynamic drag at work.  Whatever the cause, I loved the feel of easier speed!

I did have a couple of concerns with the Edge 65s.  First, with such a tall rim up front on a blustery day I felt like I was getting pushed around a fair bit.  (And I think my riding companion that day was nervous as well!)  I solved that though by switching the front out to a 45 mm wheel.  That switch also took the wheelset weight down to 2060 grams with the same rubber and without skewers or cassette.

The other thing which gave me pause was the braking performance.  These are all carbon wheels, including the brake track.  My first ride produced squeaky braking and more worrisome pulsing.  The first braking issue was solved with some minor pad adjustments, but the pulsing–a sense of brake grab, release, grab, release–was unnerving.  Once I spent some time on the wheels I was able to accommodate for it by modulating speed a bit more and braking a bit sooner than I might otherwise, but it is still an odd sensation.  Again, frequent riders of carbon wheels tell me that this is something nearly every carbon rim suffers from and those who have ridden the Edge wheels say the sensation is less than with other makers’ rims.

Overall, I’d say the 45 mm hoops built around Campy Record hubs or the gossamer-light DT Swiss 190s would be my Edge wheelset of choice!  Strong, lightweight, and snappy wheels are definitely for me!

Zipp 404s: An American Standard!

Like Edge, Zipp does all their work right here in the good ol’ US of A in Speedway, Indiana.  Unlike Edge, there is a bunch of tech talk on the Zipp website!  And it stands to reason, as Zipp says that their wheels are the most technologically advanced.

For my ride I rode the Zipp 404 aluminum clincher.  The 404s come in a variety of flavors: all-carbon clincher or tubular, aluminum clincher, MAX (for larger riders), track, cyclocross–you name it, there’s a 404 for it!

Great braking and proven aerodynamics!

Zipp says that the 404 aluminum clincher is the “Essence of Zipp.”   You’ve likely seen these wheels under many road racers as well as at many triathlons.  The 404 is, by far, the most popular aero wheelset out there.  The reason is the proven performance of these hoops.  Zipp ensures smooth even breaking performance through the use of an aluminum brake track.  Mated to that is their 58 mm toroidal shaped carbon faring via a process Zipp calls M2CM (Multi-Material Co-Molding).  The toroidal shape, together with Zipp’s Advanced Boundary Layer Control (or ABLC referring to the dimpled pattern found on the 404s) smooths airflow across the rim’s surface and keeps things rolling fast!  The fancy hoops are built around Zipp’s own silky-smooth rolling hubset.

My ride on the 404s was another rolling, breezy romp.  The thing that jumped out was that these were not as feathery as the Edge hoops.  The 404s, with Specialized S-Works rubber and standard tubes, and without cassette or skewers, weighed in at 2380 grams, a full 260 grams, or .57 pounds, heavier than the Edge 65s.  For some perspective though, the stock Fulcrum box aluminum clinchers on my bike weigh in at 2560 grams with rubber and without cogs.

Having said that, the 404s felt less jarring, and as a result more comfortable.  This is likely due to the fact that they don’t seem quite as stiff as the Edge wheelset.  It could also be a part of Zipp’s vibration damping technology VCLC (Visco-Elastic Constrained Layer Control) which is Zipp’s use of a vibration-absorbing material between the rim’s layers of carbon in the rim.  Zipp says that the use of this technology means a 10% reduction in vibration.  Either way, the 404s feel smooth.

The 404s also give the sense of speed, but not as easily as the Edge wheels did.  It takes more to get the extra mass moving and that seemed to come through some when riding.  What I didn’t experience though was any negative effect from crosswinds, something I half expected given the relatively deep rim depth.

Zipp riders agree that the 404s I rode are possibly more wheel than is needed for Central Texas and that the 303s, being a bit lighter, would likely be a better choice for Austin-area roads.  The stantdard 404 clinchers with the aluminum brake track run $2,299.

Edge or Zipp, I’m sold on the idea that wheel upgrades are where it is at!  Try it out yourself!  Mention this post when you come in to rent any of our performance wheels or other equipment and get a 10% discount now through August 31st!

*Just a note, for all of my rides I used my stock 2010 Cervelo R3.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 14, 2010 5:11 pm

    Nice review of the Zipp 404 and Edge 65. I can’t imagine bouncing a carbon wheel without a tire on it. It goes against something deep within me. Let alone riding the wheel afterwards.

    That’s pretty cool that the shop rents out the wheels. How much were they to rent? Oh duh, $20/day. I went to your site. That’s hot. It’s like driving around a Ferrari for a day.

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