19 July 2010 2 Comments

Can any set of wheels be worth £1300?

2 1/2 years ago a shelled out £650 for a pair of Mavic Ksyrium SL Premium wheels. It’s fair to say that these wheels were a revelation. They were stiff and light and transformed my bike’s handling, especially when the ground pointed skyward. After 2 1/2 seasons of solid training, triathlon and sportive riding they were showing distinct signs of wear: the braking surfaces were very worn and grooved, the front wheel bearings were wearing out and the rear freehub was making the occasional disconcerting grinding noise at high speed. Their swansong came a few weeks back when I did the Bala half ironman in a new personal best time.

For some time I’ve been aware of the need to replace these well loved wheels and although I considered a straight like-for-like replacement, I really wanted to try a pair of aero wheels. The problem was, I definitely saw the benefit of the lightweight Mavics on climbs. My brief review of mid-section (up to about 50mm) deep rimmed aero wheels confirmed one thing: for a wheelset coming under the magic 1.5kg mark you need to shell out a lot of wedge: well over the £1,000 mark.

After much soul-searching I decide on on the Reynolds DV3K clincher coming in at an eye-watering £1,300. Unbelievably, this is Reynolds, mid-range offering, they have the Assault at £999 and the DV46C at around £1,800. The main differences between the Assault and the DV3K are a higher modulus carbon, making the wheel lighter, and Reynolds own hubs instead of outsourced Taiwanese ones. The wheels are most definitely objects of beauty and weigh less than 1500g a pair.

The first impression you get of these wheels is the smoothness and the quality of the hubs: they just keep rolling and friction seems to be minimal. Even after a few rides the sensation of smoothness doesn’t diminish. The lack of weight in the rims means that acceleration is good, too and the wheels seem very stiff: no break shoe rubbing when stamping on the pedals. They also climb well, being a lot lighter than cheaper aero wheels.

There were 2 concerns I had about going for deep section carbon rims, one was handling in windy conditions, and the other was braking. Despite being quite a deep section (46mm) I have yet to notice any major problems with wind, passing trucks, gaps in fences etc. The handling seems extremely predictable and they behave themselves at high speeds extremely well. I was quite surprised by this as I’ve heard lots of tales of folk getting moved about by heavy gusts, yet I’ve been out on some quite windy days. The 2nd was, of course, the braking performance. Reynolds supply carbon specific brake pads with the wheels and, once you are used to them, braking is good. That said, it’s noticeably worse than braking on an aluminium braking surface and therefore braking from high speed can be quite an adventure until you are used to it. Braking is, however, nice and progressive and I’ve only managed 1 lock up into a steepening bend on the Ironman course. Performance in the wet is also pretty good. Overall, the main thing about the braking is that it’s predictable, no sudden grabs or squeals, so once you have explored the limits you can ride with confidence.

The entire raison d’etre for aero wheels existence is their performance contre le montre. Unfortunately, just having moved house I can’t ride any of my regular circuits and so do any comparative times. I can say that they feel fast, they are easy to keep at high speed once you’re in your aero tuck, and those super smooth hubs keep everything rolling sweetly. The proof of their performance will be their debut at Ironman UK in 2 weeks.

The main competition to these wheels are the very popular Zipp 404s. Having never ridden these, I can’t do a direct comparison. They’re a little more expensive and over 100g heavier for the pair. The clincher version has an aluminium braking surface instead of the Reynolds’ carbon and I can’t believe that aerodynamic performance will be noticeably different, despite the famous Zipp dimples, so I reckon that the Reynolds might just shade it in the value stakes (if quaint notions of “value” get considered when spending this much on wheels!). The DV3Ks certainly look the part and are a little bit different in transition when lining up with all those Zipps and Mavic Cosmics.

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