Bontrager is much more than just a label. While other companies are increasingly turning to making their own brand of components, particularly wheels, by sourcing them from the Far East (nothing wrong with that tbh), Bontrager has been making some fine carbon hoops right here in the States for quite some time. It’s no small feat considering the amount of both physical and financial investment required for domestic manufacturing. But Bontrager/Trek proved that it’s possible.
Bontrager is bringing what the Wisconsin-based company calls their “fastest, lightest and most stable carbon road wheels” with their latest revamp. Okay, just about every company claims that whenever they launch some new wheels, but Bontrager is also releasing a very informative white paper for those who like to dig deep. The short version, however, goes through three years of development and include: 1) An even wider rim shape (21mm interal) that’s as stable in the wind as it is fast; 2) A laser-machined braking surface (for rim brakes) that is said to improve on braking performance in all weather; 3) Is individually handmade with Trek’s own OCLV xxx carbon fiber in Waterloo, Wisconsin; 4) Is tubeless compatible.
Three rim depths will be available: Aeolus XXX 2 (28mm), XXX 4 (47mm), and XXX 6 (60mm) for both rim and disc brakes, as well as clincher and tubular options available now for $2,400.
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.
Stan’s NoTubes has been one of our favorite wheel makers for many reasons: They’re reasonably priced, durable, and oh so tubeless friendly. As matter of fact, we love our set of Avion Disc Pros so much that we made it our benchmark.
Stan’s has been busy lately since launching their Valor, Bravo and Podium SRD wheels last summer.
New for 2018 are three rims plus corresponding wheel builds: A 325 gram 29er only Crest CB7 rim with a 23mm internal width for cross-country racing and the Arch CB7 with a 26mm internal width in both 27.5″ (450 gram) and 29″ (475 gram) made for the all-around trail and enduro crowd.
The heart of the new hoops comes from Stan’s proprietary RiACT lay-up and rim shape featuring a novel high-impact resistant nano-elastomer resin that improves rim strength with the ability to absorb up to 10mm of radial deflection in such Stan believes that it’s not only stronger, but also allows the rim to roll easier while eliminating the dreaded pinch-flats. All three rims feature Stan’s own Bead Socket Technology (BST) where the patented rim geometry secures the bead of the tire (instead of the sidewall) to enable easier tubeless setups, better seal security at lower pressures, and ensure a rounder tire shape for better performance. The low-profile rim is also lighter and stronger too.
As complete stock build, both the Crest and Arch CB7s will come in 28-holes only laced with J-bend (yay!) Sapim Force spokes to Stan’s own Neo hubset with a Durasync six-pawl freehub rolling on triple bearings and a zippy 10° engagement. The precision-machined hubset is compatible with Standard/Boost spacing, all major axles, freehub bodies, and Centerlock/6-bolt.
For better peace of mind, the CB7 rims and wheelsets come with 2-year warranty extendable to 5-years plus lifetime crash replacement after registration.
Both the Crest and Arch CB7 will be available in 28 or 32 hole configurations this February with the price of $600 for one rim and $1,399 for the complete set.
It’s easy to be dismissive about newcomers to the cycling market. We’ve all seen the woeful pitches on Kickstarter. And the endless articles about new gear, offering the perfect solution to a problem that never existed. But every so often, one comes along that deserves some attention.
It could be a new idea like Strava, or a better take on an old product, like Rapha or Wahoo. Then, before you know it, they’re part of the furniture, as much a fixture as companies who’ve been around for decades.
Princeton CarbonWorks looks like one of those success stories. There are a ton of wheel options out there, sure, but this enthusiastic group of friends have started from a blank page, based their work on a firm foundation of science – actual science, not the stuff that marketing men retrofit to sell us stuff – and travelled the globe looking for the best materials and manufacturing location.
Founded in 2012 by a group of rowers turned elite cyclists, the company’s stated aim was simple and just a tad ambitious: create the most groundbreaking wheels imaginable. Five years later, they believe they’ve done just that.
The Wake 6560 is sinusoidal with a varying depth of 60-65mm, putting it squarely in the aerodynamic-obsessed triathlon market. But with serious aero gains to be made without a weight penalty – it’s a claimed 1480gm for the pair – they’d sit comfortably on any road-bike that isn’t planning an alpine excursion, especially given that PCW are claiming industry-leading performance in crosswinds.
So where did it all begin? We caught up with PCW’s Paul Daniels, a World Champion rower and an eight-time member of the US Rowing National Team, who these days can usually be found clocking up serious mileage on his road bike.
Where did the idea for PCW come from?
It started simply. My friend Marty Crotty had rowed for Princeton, Oxford, and the US team, and he started racing triathlons after hanging up the oars. Most elite rowers struggle with the transition from training to exercising, and Marty was no different. So he kept training, but swim/bike/run instead of rowing and lifting. To call him physiologically gifted would be a bruising understatement, Marty is savage, an absolute animal. His engine, retrained for triathlon, quickly translated to success in 70.3 Half Ironman and three consecutive trips to the World Championships. And while all this was happening, Marty was also Head Coach for Princeton University Rowing, so he had a crazy idea: Leverage carbon manufacturing of the rowing shell industry to create aero wheels. It didn’t pan out, turns out layup of racing boat shells is pretty “dumb” compared to rim profile creation, but Princeton CarbonWorks was born.
There are no shortage of wheel options these days, so what did you guys hope to do differently?
Options are abundant, no doubt. But advanced aerospace engineering and next level design and material science uber-nerds from Princeton and Boston University are scarce.
Bradley Werntz and Harrison Macris met while trialling for the U23 United States Rowing Team, and became fast friends, bonding over engineering. In March of 2014, Marty tapped Brad to design a “radically different, undeniable” aerodynamic wheelset. Brad quickly looped in Harrison and PCW’s prototype V1 was delivered in December 2014.
It wasn’t so much “hope,” it was more about the freedom to source design beyond what’s considered possible by the cycling industry. We sourced speed from outside cycling.
What was involved in developing a new wheel from scratch?
Harrison and Brad delivered a killer design. Best-in-class, benchmark, elite, etc. wheel brands are easy to identify from the podium steps at The Tour and Kona. Their three depth approach makes sense in a practical way: shallow to climb, mid to cover distance with control, deep to haul. The three product approach is an easy out, a convenient compromise. They think “light, stable, fast – pick two of the three” and cover the demands of your potential customers with three wheelsets.
Harrison and Brad were just far enough removed from cycling to forego this convenient compromise. They believed they could design an uncompromising wheel profile, optimized across weight, stability and aerodynamics. And the smart kids were right. They utilized aerospace engineering, computational fluid dynamics, material science, finite element analysis, with the elegantly simple trigonometric function “sine” as the special sauce.
This is a bit technical, but sine provided breakthroughs in high frequency vortex shedding for aerodynamics and stability, while simultaneously aligning carbon fibers into optimized tension. All of which yielded a wheelset that’s lighter than the Zipp 303, more stable than the Zipp 454, and faster than the Zipp 858.
The Wake 6560 is tubeless ready, 1480g, and it’s faster and more stable than profiles 25mm deeper. We’re calling it a quiver killer. We think it really is the one wheel that can do it all, but that is actually motivating us to optimize the shallow and deep categories and see what’s possible. So watch this space.
Were there any surprises along the way?
There were a couple! Prior to joining Princeton CarbonWorks, I’d thought manufacturing facility mattered. Now I know manufacturing facility matters. We visited dozens of facilities across China and Taiwan, and simply put, all “carbon manufacturers” are not created equal. In fact, the spectrum is far broader than most cyclists, and even industry people, appreciate.
The second surprise was how industry benchmarks perform in controlled testing environments verses the marketing attached to them. The performance/marketing spin gap is massive – specifically at the top. It has been eye-opening to see the reality, because I think of myself as a discerning cyclist who felt relatively well informed.
Zipp came to market with a similar design just before you launched. Was that frustrating or a vindication of your work?
Zipp launched the NSW 454 while we were roughly 10,000 miles into testing our V2 prototype. It was a double edged sword – we felt they were validating our concept, while simultaneously stealing our thunder. Truth is, they most likely spent 10x our total research and development cost on the NSW 454 media launch. The real vindication came when we tested the Wake 6560 against the Zipp NSW 454 at A2 Wind Tunnel in the heart of NASCAR, Mooresville, North Carolina. And at every single yaw angle the Wake 6560 outperformed the Zipp NSW 454.
You’ve wasted no time in signing up high-profile athletes.
Hamish Bond is the embodiment of Princeton CarbonWorks – former elite rower turned elite cyclist. He podiumed at the New Zealand TT National Championships last year with 10 months on the bike, so he’s living the PCW team dream and applying the legs and lungs engine developed over more than a decade of World Championship/Olympic rowing onto the bike.
He’s racing the Wake 6560 in the NZL National Championship Road Race this year. His team wanted to independently test the wheels against the HED Jet 9+ prior to using it for the TT, which is totally understandable. We know we have a superior product, but it takes time to develop credibility for equipment changes at that level. We look forward to their testing.
What’s next for PCW?
The Wake 6560 is going into the wild. We’re fulfilling Batch 1 end of January and Batch 2 will follow mid February. And custom orders are being accepted for USA hand-builds with Chris King hubsets. Meanwhile, disc testing is complete and production will begin in March, with first retail availability in April. It’s a kick-ass wheelset – you need to ride them!
Since the launch of the Vector Pro in 1997, Rolf Prima has always been known for their paired spoke hoops that quickly went to the Tour De France two years later. So popular even Trek licensed the technology for some time into the early Y2Ks.
It’s been 20 years since and a lot has happened since. Fast forward to 2013, Rolf began the project of bringing aluminum rim manufacturing in-house to their Eugene, Oregon headquarters. Their first house-made aluminum went into production in 2014. In 2016, they doubled down on in-house manufacturing and announced they would be making their own carbon rims. Pretty ambitious for a company that employed just a little over a dozen people, but they successfully pulled it off.
With their new expertise in rim manufacturing, Rolf is planning to bring their aluminum and carbon rims under new brand Astral Cycling. They’re still 100% made in Eugene, but they forgo the synonymous paired spokes layout in favor of traditional lacing patterns. So you can now pair these bad boys with your beloved purple Chris King R45s, or whatever you’d like to lace them to really.
Pricing is pretty competitive starting at $135 for the aluminum Wanderlust all the way to $900 for the carbon Prevail road rims. There are models for road, dirt and gravel, as well as touring/tandem in various spoke holes and 12 color decals to choose from. All Astral rims are tubeless compatible and there’s even a page on the website to help with wheel building, should you decide to build your own.
Astral rims are available now through dealers, builders and directly from the company’s website.
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.