Zipp’s 303 line has long been a hit amongst cyclists for a balance of weight and aerodynamics, along with storied wins such as Fabian Cancellara’s back to back 2010 Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix victories.
The 303 has since gone on to cement itself to be a versatile all-around wheelset, along with a few updates. The latest addition to the lineup, however, is the arrival of the most affordable 303 to date, the $1,300 303 S.
Zipp’s other affordable full carbon wheelset, the 302, has been around for a few years, and in a way, the 303 S is more of a continuation of the 302’s affordability, plus more tech one would expect from a 303.
The 303 S retains the 45mm rim height but has a new wider disc and tubeless tire only rim measuring at 27mm externally and 23mm internally. It is also hookless which Zipp claims reduces drag and is optimized to be fastest with 28mm tires, along with a max tire width of 50mm for gravel. The new rim profile allows users to run lower air pressure where Zipp actually recommends users not to inflate above 73 psi. Cosmetically, the 303 S sports a new redesigned permanent graphic under its matte clear coat, a subdued departure from its classic removable Zipp decals.
The symmetrical 303 S rim is then laced two cross with 24 Sapim CX-Sprint j-bend spokes front and rear with external brass nipples. The 303 S is thru-axle only (12 x 100 front, 12 x 142 rear) with the same durable Centerlock-only 76/176D hubsets with either SRAM XDR, or Shimano HG free hub bodies, with Campagnolo driver available as a stand-alone aftermarket option. At 1,540 grams, the 303 S is 155 grams lighter than the 302.
Easton has been quietly adding their part into the ever-growing gravel scene as of late, and now, they are adding two new sets of carbon hoops designed specifically for the unique junction between road and dirt: The EC90 and EC70 AX.
The two new wheelsets follow Easton’s existing nomenclature: E for Easton, C for Carbon, 90 for the top of the line stuff, 70 for the more budget-conscious, and now, AX for gravel.
Both optimized for gravel tires 35mm and up, both the Centerlock only EC90 and EC70 AX feature tubeless-ready carbon rims with 24mm internal depth and low 21mm rim height .
The 1,470g, $1,549.99 flagship EC90 wheels have a wider 31mm external rim width, 24 Sapim straight pull double-butted spokes, and Easton’s very own 60-point, six degree Vault hubs.
Meanwhile, the EC70 is a tad heavier at 1,515 grams but with a wallet-friendlier price tag of $1199.99. Compared to the EC90, the EC70 has a slightly narrower 28mm external width rim, four more spokes per wheel and uses the firm’s X5 hubsets. These race-proven wheels are available today.
Living in Northern California the brand Williams Cycling has always been in my peripheral like a good bike shop I’ve heard about but never got around to visiting. I don’t know what makes them stand out at races, but I can always count on seeing a handful of them in my own race group. Maybe it’s the fact everyone is faster than me and, thus, I am slow enough to see what others are rolling.
The wheel business is pretty wild these days. It seems like everyone is making or branding or rebranding a set of their own wheels. There are household names like Mavic, ENVE, DT Swiss, and Shimano. Then there are the halo wheels that are so rare that it feels like a Koenigsegg sighting. At the polar opposite of that spectrum, you can pick up a set of carbon hoops for under $400 on Amazon Prime, if you are feeling reallyadventurous.
And finally you can split the difference and get a set of Williams, such as their System 60 carbon clinchers tested here.
With its 60mm rim height, the System 60 is the middle child of the Stockton, California-based company’s new line up representing a balanced ride between aerodynamics and weight. Measuring 26mm externally and 18.4mm internally, the toroidal-shaped carbon monocoque rim is tubeless compatible and comes with a high temperature resin ceramic fiber composite brake track for consistent performance during heavy uses. The rims are laced to William’s own Virgo 20/24 hole hubset using top of the line Sapim CX-Ray spokes with brass nipples in favor of durability.
The wheels arrived straight and true and setup was relatively straight forward like most high-performance wheels. I did, however, have to toe the brake pads a bit more to get rid of a potentially glass-shattering squeal, but they’ve been effectively silenced since November. I am admittedly a fan of the cork pads that came with my Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3 TLR, but the long-lasting Williams-specific blue brake pads weren’t too shabby and offered a positive, consistent feel.
Weighing in at 853 grams in front and 1,011 grams for the rear with rim tape, the System 60 is a tad heavier than its competitors, but it’s also significantly cheaper at $1,439 per set. The extra grams weren’t that noticeable other than the initial spin-up and the times I did some extended climbing – which, to be fair, is not why one would primarily buy it for anyways. The System 60 excels in rollers and flats where its 60mm rim height shines through with its aero advantage. The toroidal rim shape also handles surprisingly well in crosswind so I never felt as if I was going to get blown off the Golden Gate Bridge.
The System 60 offers a stiff ride but still does an admirable job in soaking up a lot of road imperfections that have been plaguing the Bay Area as of late. They stayed true even after a couple unfortunate encounters with potholes. The skewers, while heavy and gargantuan, were solid and securely held the wheels throughout the test. I did wish the pre-installed rim tape was tubeless compatible though, because why make a tubeless-ready wheel and put away that feature with regular tape?
Overall, the System 60 represents a wonderful option for those looking for a performance upgrade at a budget. It’s the perfect wheel for rolling courses such as the Snelling Road Race and tight office park criteriums. The System is also offered in 45/60 and 60/90 combos for those wanting to mix their rim depths. Lastly, every set of Williams comes standard with a 2-year warranty and a crash replacement program.
The Bontrager Aeolus D3 TLR Carbon Clinchers. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
The Aeolus D3 uses Bontrager hubs with DT Swiss internals throughout and it has been buttery smooth and problem-free this past year. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Subtle AND removable graphics on the rims mean you can go totally stealth if you so choose. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
At 67g front and 70g rear, the included Bontrager skewers are not going to win any weight weenies battle anytime soon, yet they are very comfortable in hand with a smooth and sure-footed cam action that's close to the venerable Shimano Dura-Ace offering. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Still have plenty of cork left after one year of use. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Dried sealant and an inverse-patched tire patch. That's what the inside of the Bontrager R3 TLR Hard Case Lite looks like after one year of riding. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Let me make this clear: I did not expect myself to like tubeless road tires. My tubulars work just fine.
Plus, I have plenty of spare tubulars (intentionally) aging in my garage waiting for their turns.
Unfortunately, their call-ups might take longer now that I find myself enjoying, well, smitten over these Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 carbon clinchers that we’ve been playing with this past year.
But my love for tubeless road tires didn’t begin this way. In fact, it was like that very first shitty first date.
When the box showed up this past spring, I was as excited as kids running to their gifts under the Christmas tree on Christmas day. Coming in at 1,439 grams (644front/795rear) with the tubeless strip pre-installed and with the tire valves, skewers, and brake pads included, the Aeolus 3 was ready to rock straight out of the box. A bit of elbow grease and voila, got some 26mm Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR tubeless tires installed and off we went.
Then I got a flat on the first ride. Boo.
A 2mm cut from a piece of glass went through the tread and I had just enough air to limp back home thanks to a can of Vittoria Pitstop and pumping more air whenever I could.
It wasn’t pretty and the cleanup aftermath was a pain. Nevertheless, I was able to ride home instead of walking home.
Frustrated but undeterred, I repaired the tire following instructions from Stan’s NoTubes and the tire worked like a charm. When I finally replaced the tires about 10 months later with Schwalbe Pro One , the tires had three major repairs and a handful of cuts that would normally spell the end of a clincher tire. But each time I was able to ride home without having to put in a tube (still have to pack a tube and repair kit with tubeless). And in a few instances, I didn’t even know I punctured until I stopped for my mid-ride coffee.
They have won me over since then and they’re now my go-to wheels. Yes, I reckon my tubulars are still lighter and arguably smoother, but I did find the extra peace of mind and the convenience of road tubeless tires pretty hard to beat. I can pick and choose my tires for the ride/weather without worrying about gluing in advance.
But what about the rest of the wheel? Well, one year of abuse did not do anything to the DT-Swiss internals. They’re still smooth and quiet while the wheels remained true the entire time. The 35mm tall OCLV carbon rim also proved to be durable and comfortable throughout the test. One word of caution: the rims on the Aeolus 3 are significantly wider, measuring at 27mm on the outside with a 19.5 mm inner diameter, so make sure your bike has adequate clearance.
In the crosswind, the Aeolus 3 TLR D3 was easy to handle due to its lower rim height and rim shape, but my oh my, these wheels felt just as fast as some of the taller-rim hoops I’ve been on. Regarding the braking department, Bontrager recommends using their own cork brake pad with the wheels. While cork might lack absolute immediate stopping power, it makes up for its shortcoming by providing a very consistent and manageable lever feel that’s not so bad after getting used to it.
I also love the Aeolus’ overall minimalistic graphics. Big enough to show its maker yet not overly obnoxious as if I was a rolling billboard. And for those that want even more stealth, rejoice my friend, the decals on the rims can be easily removed since they are not water transferred decals with a clear coat on top.
If there’s any cleft with the Aeolus 3 TLR, it would be its $2,400 price tag. Pricey, yes, but a worthy prime candidate for those who are looking for those holy grail hoops for both training and racing with the added benefit of being tubeless. This is a set of hoops that could go fast without beating up the rider. I am addicted.