As this past cycling season was approaching, I found myself in need of a set of wheels. I had sold a couple bikes in the off-season, built up a different one, and ultimately ended up a set short. Last season I was primarily on a pair of Shimano Dura Ace WH-9000-C50-CL wheels. While I was generally pleased with them, I ended up deciding that the would look best on my girlfriend’s new bike. The black and silver color scheme matched the frame perfectly, and I was hoping that the aero benefit might make cycling a little easier, and therefore more enjoyable for her (it didn’t work).
When considering what I was looking for in my wheels, I knew that I wanted to go wide. People have been touting the wider rims for a while and I was looking to give them a try. The C50s were my first exposure to the "widening" trend in rim dimensions, but with an internal width of 17mm, they are still quite narrow when compared to the latest crop of rims.
I also wanted to have the option to run tubeless. Again, tubeless is a growing category and I wanted to give it a try. Andrew has had great experience with his set up and manufacturers are always making claims about how they are better in every way (grin).
Obviously, weight was a consideration but strength was more important. These wheels need to be daily drivers, so I want them to be durable enough to handle and roads without worrying about them.
When looking to build a set of custom wheels, the different combinations of rims, spokes (both type and count), and hubs results in a seemingly infinite array of possibilities. Lucky for me, the hubs and spoke count were already decided for me.
I had a pair of DT Swiss 240s hubs laying around from a previous set of wheels. The 240s are not a particularly sexy choice for a custom build, especially when you consider some of the brightly colored options on the market, but they are proven performers and easy to service. Plus, I do enjoy the buzz of the star ratchet freehub. The hubs are 32 hole front and back.
To most riders today, a 32 spoke wheel probably sounds crazy compared to today’s lightweight wheelsets, but they make sense to me. I pretty consistently weigh in at 93kg (205lbs), which is pretty high in the cycling world, and over many models stated weight limit. I have no desire to have a wheel that I am just under the MAX weight limit. I would rather ride a wheel that is designed to easily support my weight, and have a much higher max weight. The weight difference between a 24/28 spoke set vs a 32/32 set is about 85g. Pretty insignificant for the peace of mind that it brings.
I did a bit of research and came up with a short list of rims: Pacenti SL23, H+ Son Archetype, and HED Belgium+. All of them met my requirements, and have similar specifications.
I went to a local shop for the build. Of the rims on my list, he was only able to source the HED Belgium+. While the rims were significantly more expensive than my other options, I wanted to support the local guy. Shipping would have cancelled out much of the savings anyway.
I went with Sapim Race spokes because of their great build characteristics and value. Finally, I also needed to upgrade the freehub body to 11-speed. One of the great things about the DT Swiss hubs is that this is a very easy and straightforward procedure. I went with the steel version both to save a couple bucks and because my 10-speed alloy one was quite notched.
After a few weeks wait, my wheels arrived in all of their glory. They were a little portly for a racing wheel at 1692g, but that is around what I had expected, given the choice in parts. And they are not a racing wheel.
Boy are they wide! It was definitely a little strange to see them in person. I mounted them up with the set of Conti GP4000S that I had been using for the last little while (can't justify getting new tubeless tires until I wear out these ones, grin). The 23mm Conti measured a full 28mm on the wide rim, which is even wider than the 25mm Michelin Pro 4 tires currently on the C50 wheels!
One of the primary selling features of the wider rims is the effect that it has on the shape of the tire. By spreading out the tire, you create a rounder shape and a smoother transition between the rim and tire. Compound that with the trend to wider tires, and it is hard to tell which change is actually having an effect on the ride of the bike. Slowtwitch took a look at the effects of both rim and tire width on the shape of the tire.
Stay tuned for our first season impressions of the HED Belgium + wheels,