Over the last couple of years the giant of the bike components industry Shimano has been working to significantly enhance their road wheel offerings.
The 2013 model year sees a number of steps forward and new model releases that I think it’s worth being aware of if you’re at all interested in wheels.
There is of course the evolution of the model range to the new 11 speed compatibility for firstly, Dura Ace 9000 (http://girodilento.com/shimano-dura-ace-9000-mechanical-and-di2-first-ride/) and the soon to launch Ultegra 6800 (http://girodilento.com/shimano-ultegra-6800-11-speed-announced-first-thoughts/) . This will cascade through the wheel range so that ultimately from the entry level to the highest end wheels made by Shimano there will be an 11 speed compatible offering. Quite a few of these 11 speed wheels are already available to buy.
For me the real news with respect to wheels is the beginning of Shimano getting far more serious about aero dynamics in their range.
With the C24 CL rim and wheels like the Ultegra 6700 Tubeless and the C50 Dura Ace clinchers, Shimano have already earned a reputation for performance and durability over the last few years and lightness with the C24 CL (if perhaps not the other two). Aero represents the next part of the evolution to being a leading all round contender with respect to wheels and they’re chipping away at the weights too.
The key wheelset in this development for recreational riders is the new Dura Ace 9000 C50. It features a number of important development steps: Wide rims, CFD and wind tunnel tested D2 rim shape and a new 2:1 spoking pattern at the rear named Opti-Balance. When you add in reduced weight but still with a full alloy braking surface for all round ease of use and particularly wet weather braking, I think they get very interesting very quickly. They also weigh in at a brochure weight of 1672gms per pair which is very reasonable.
The Dura Ace 9000 C50 is Shimano’s first properly aero wheel at the sort of price point that makes it a relatively affordable choice for the average rider. These wheels retail in the UK at £1399 a pair which is considerably less than say a set of Zipp 303 Firecrest carbon clinchers at £2,300 a pair. Sure the Zipps are lighter by about 200gms a pair and probably a bit more aero but it’s a big chunk more for what maybe marginal gains for you or I. Once you start googling you’ll also see the C50’s being fairly aggressively discounted here and there bringing the price down quite a bit more.
I think you’ll find it hard to find a more up to date aerodynamic wide rim and wind tunnel tested wheelset for the money (please correct me if I’m wrong). This is a wheelset that I genuinely think is an exciting product for recreational and sportive riders (or racers or time trialists, who can’t or don’t want to spend £2k+ on their wheels). It’s also the wheel in the Shimano range – I’d be most tempted to buy myself.
If you’re thinking aero and light, you may also want to take a look at the Dura Ace 9000 C35 clincher. They also feature the Opti-Balance 2:1 spoking on the rear, they’re officially under 1500gms a pair and have a 35mm rim depth. However they’re not wide rims like the C50 (20.8mm width versus 23mm for the D2 C50 CL wheelset) nor are they using the D2 rim design. So whilst running a 35mm rim will give you some aero benefit, these are not a true aero wheels (such as say a Zipp 202 Firecrest). You are still however getting Dura Ace quality – including hubs at a good weight and at a reasonable price of £1349 retail (again searching online can see these come down to around £1,000). However I think it’s a tougher sell for a non aero wheelset with plenty of competitors not least including the Reynolds Attack’s that I’m currently riding: http://girodilento.com/2013-reynolds-attack-first-ride-review/. However there’s no question the C35 clincher will be a fine wheelset if you do decide to take the plunge.
Later in the year both of these new rims will also be available with Ultegra level hubs, which will bring the price down again (whilst pushing up the weight a touch in the hubs). This will give us all a lower price point again and particularly the C50 D2 rim should fly off the shelves at a lower price point. The old version of the 50mm rim was called the RS80 C50 but the new D2 Rim should represent a big step up in performance for these wheels. These will be worth keeping an eye out for – affordable cutting edge design and aero performance. Potentially a Mavic Cosmic SL smasher in my humble opinion (and they are fine wheels as I’ve written about before: http://girodilento.com/2011-mavic-cosmic-carbone-sl-first-thoughts/).
Another wheel I want to mention is a training wheel – tough, reliable, versatile and that’s the Ultegra 6700 (soon to be 6800) tubeless wheelset – it features a very strong and reliable rim, perfect for winter, or all season use. Ultegra level hubs and a low price point for a reasonable weight. I personally think if you’re running Shimano/SRAM and want an affordable but high quality all round wheelset – these should be on your shortlist.
Shimano wheel fans will have noticed that I haven’t really mentioned the UK’s favourite the Dura Ace C24 CL wheelset. In a way there’s no need to. This rim has been a big hit here in the UK and will no doubt remain so for people looking for a light and comfortable performance alloy wheelset. Available in either Dura Ace or Ultegra level hubs and in tubeless compatible as well as the normal clincher rims. These have a reputation for being light, fast and comfortable. A great climbing wheelset but not an aero wheel at 24mm deep. I’ve heard plenty of people talking about them being relatively aero but having spoken to Shimano, they definitely don’t position them in this way. In fact they see these wheels are wheels for acceleration and attacking rather than being able to hold their speed like true aero wheels will.
With this new push into aero, if you ride Shimano groupsets, there is no reason now not to look at Shimano wheels to match your gruppo. Interestingly, part of this whole evolution was due to the fact that whilst pro teams were keen to take Shimano’s groupsets, they were much less keen to take the wheels. Shimano have worked hard with their teams including Team Sky and these wheels represent some of this development coming to fruition. When I spoke to CJ Sutton of Team Sky a month or so back we did speak about wheels (more on CJ soon) and he echoed what Shimano had told me by saying that the quality of Shimano’s wheels had come on in leaps and bounds of the last year or two and he was very happy on them now having once been less so. From what I gather Team Sky were quite clear about their issues with the wheels and what improvements they wanted. The outcome of this process are these new wheels listed and the fact that Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 on Shimano wheels.
Thanks for reading.