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Buyer’s Guide: Everyday Race Wheels

  • By Paul Moore
  • Published December 12, 2011

It’s a shame to spend four figures to upgrade your bike only to have that expensive new toy sit in the garage waiting for race day. Most triathletes who own a pair of the fastest, lightest all-carbon race wheels leave them at home between races while logging training miles on discount clunkers that came stock with their bike. If you’re looking for a fast race wheelset that’s also suited to everyday riding, these aluminum/carbon hybrid wheels—all less than £2,000—fit the mold.

Hed Jet 6
1880 grams, 60mm deep
Hedcycling.com

The Hed Jet 6 combines the smooth-riding, road-clutching feel that wide-rim clinchers are known for with an uncommonly stiff and predictable backbone. Testers said the Jet 6 “felt slightly stiffer both laterally and vertically than the [wide-rim] Bontragers.” This added stiffness let the wheels aggressively lean through tight corners and accelerate without creating a lateral tire-scrubbing sensation. According to one tester, “They transmit a bit more vibration than the Bontragers, although it’s not a dramatic increase.” And they clearly quiet road vibration and inspire confidence when cornering more effectively than the narrow-rim wheels tested. The Hed Jet 6’s combination of grip, vibration dampening and stiffness was unmatched in this review.

Bontrager Aura 5
1740 grams, 50mm deep
Bontrager.com

Testers found the Aura 5 the most supple, comfortable wheelset in this review. Its high-volume tire design helps the Aura 5 swallow irregularities in the road, but the wheel takes rider comfort even further. The Hed Jet 6 has an equally broad rim, but the Aura “subdues road vibration” even more than the Jet, said one tester. This ability to mute road roughness not only makes straight-line riding more comfortable, it also allows the Aura 5 to unfailingly bite into a sweeping corner. This suppleness does, however, translate slightly to sprinting performance. The Aura has a little more lateral flex and the most stopping power of the wheels tested.

Profile Design Altair Semi Carbon Clincher 52
1756 grams, 52mm deep
Profile-design.com

The Altair Semi Carbon Clinchers split the difference between the conventional rim width of the American Classic wheels and the ultra-broad profiles of the Bontragers and Hed wheels. Their 21mm-wide rims increase tire volume and help moderately dampen road vibration on straightaways and through bends. The wheels have a firm, laterally resilient feel, possibly because of the structural carbon rim. Combining the structural rim with the moderately high-volume tyre bed give the Altair 52s an interesting combination of acceleration, ride quality and agility through technical descents.

American Classic Carbon 58 Clincher
1860 grams, 58mm deep
Amclassic.com

The Carbon 58 Clinchers are a strongman’s wheel. They are one of only two wheelsets in this test with a structural carbon rim—the spokes are laced to the inner diameter of the rim rather than through an aerodynamic fairing to a box-section rim—and the wheels’ ride experience reflects this construction style. They transmitted just slightly more road vibration than other wheels we tested, but also resisted lateral flex more robustly. One tester said this side-to-side stiffness “gave me a lot of confidence at speed through tight turns.” These wheels boast a more assertive feel than others we tested.

Mavic Cosmic Carbone SL
1780 grams, 52mm deep
mavic.com

Mavic’s road cycling heritage shines through in the Cosmic Carbone SLs. The storied French company has been building wheels with this rim shape for several years and its design reflects wheel technology of the narrow rim era. It has a narrow brake track and a pointed V-section fairing instead of a bulbous profile. Testers lauded the sensation of forward propulsion when sprinting, but also found the wheels to be more susceptible to skipping off a line when cornering on rough roads.

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Paul Moore

Paul Moore

Paul Moore is the Online Editor for Triathlete Europe. When not glued to a computer he can be found writing books - most recently Ultra Performance: The Psychology of Endurance Sports and The World's Toughest Endurance Challenges. Both are available on Amazon. Paul has also written Ultimate Triathlon: A complete training guide for long-distance triathletes which is also available on Amazon.