Race Wheels

Apr 15, 2012

I need a set of serious race wheels for triathlon. A triathlon specific bike too, but I’d like to consider that separately.

The first question for most people is the eternal “clincher or tubular?” To which I reply Clincher! Definitely. The added weight of clinchers compared to tubulars will almost never have an impact in the kind of races I foresee doing, and the added infrastructure I need and the cost of tubulars will definitely bother me. Besides, clinchers roll faster than tubulars. Bike Tech Review have done the testing to show that, if you don’t believe me (be aware that triathletes will need to glue tubulars lightly, so they can be changed in the field, look for the “Lightly Glued” comment in the Notes column in the BTR data).

It also doesn’t look like fun rolling a tubular.

I need a set of aerodynamic race wheels and a set of training wheels, and I would really like the training wheels to be really heavy, unaerodynamic and bombproof. That way it’ll feel incredibly fast when I get on the race wheels.

So I’m looking at either HED or Zipp wheels. There are other excellent choices, and I especially want to give a shout out to FLO Cycling and their new range of wheels, I really like them, but unfortunately they can’t keep up with demand, and there’s no way I can have the wheels by June, which is what I need, they would’ve been a serious contender otherwise, with their extremely good value.

The finalists are: HED Jet 6 FR front and Jet Disc FR rear wheel (or the cheaper non-FR version), or a set of Zipp 808 Firecrest Carbon Clincher.

Comparison

  Weight Brake track Price Dealer
HED Jet 6 FR/Jet Disc FR 1934 g 23 mm/Aluminium 14646 DKK Ciclismo.co.uk (No DK dealer)
Zipp 808 Firecrest 1759 g 23.48-25.73 mm/Carbon 14999 DKK Fabin, Børkop Cykler & others

There’s a non-FR version of the HED Jet Disc which is around 1800 DKK cheaper and 90 g heavier, but same shape/aerodynamics. Worth considering, but I know I’d feel much better paying more and know that I got the top of the line product.

Aerodynamics

There’s a comparative test made by HED with a nice interactive graph, and I dug up a Zipp graph for the Zipp 808.

As can be seen from the data the fastest wheel depends on the wind, but I think the HED wheels have an edge in really strong cross winds, because discs are fast that way. Otherwise my guess is they’re about equal in both drag and “controllability”, but the latter being based on what I’ve read in tests, but that’s of course just a kind of hearsay.

Practicality

I can’t compare practicality without mentioning my thoughts on trainingwheels.

For the HED solution getting a set of HED Ardennes GP wheels is a nobrainer, the outer dimensions and material of the brake track are exactly the same as the race wheels. It’s the ultimate in plug’n play wheel changes, no brake adjustments or changing to carbon brake pads.

For the Zipp solution the trainingwheels are a different matter.

I have a set of 32 hole Shimano Dura-Ace hubs that are brand spanking new — from 1996. Still great. And I believe they’ll work just fine with modern 10-speed casettes. Build them up with round spokes in 3⨉, brass nipples and something like a Velocity Chukker or Dyad for a bomb-proof, unaerodynamic and heavy set of wheels. Add a set of Zipp quick releases to get used to operating them in training and all the boxes I can think of has been ticked.

Changing from training wheels to race wheels would still involve changing brake pads, and possibly some very minor brake adjustments.

I like the Zipp solution training wheels best, but the brake pad complication makes it a toss between the Zipp and HED solution.

But there’s a 3rd thing to consider.

Non-Triathlon Use

I can use the Zipp solution for non-triathlon races, unlike the HED solution with a Disc rear wheel, which is not allowed outside non-drafting triathlon and cycling time trials.

If I ever want to do something like that.

Changing a Flat in a Race

I’ve had a flat in races twice. It’s one of those super annoying and stressful events that tower in your mind. It’s a few minutes wasted you’d always rather be without. And you want to make it as easy to handle as possible.

To accomplish this my spare tubes will always be butyl, as they’re easier to put in place quickly, but I’ll start on latex tubes for their superior rolling resistance. I will use a CO2 pump and make sure the race tires chosen aren’t too tight on the rim, making it harder and slower to change.

And then there’s valve extenders, which you need for deep aero rims. But not for a disc, then you need an adapter to get to the valve. This complicates things.

So in this, albeit minor point, the Zipp solution wins. You just carry spares with the right length valve extender for the 808’s and you’re good just grabbing a random one in the case of a flat.

And Zipp makes the coolest valve extenders, but they’ll work just as well with other brands’ rims.

Conclusion

All things considered, I think the Zipp solution wins. A little more expensive, a little more involved when changing between training and racing wheels, but I think they’ll perform a little better under fire, and they’re lighter too.

I’ll let it simmer at the back of my mind for a few days before deciding.

And if you’ve come this far and have an opinion, want to question my reasoning, or just think there’s something I’m overlooking, by all means, write a comment.


Last edited: May 1, 2016


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