I’ve built quite a few bikes now. There’s very few tasks I won’t consider doing. Indeed, there are probably only three. One is cutting a carbon fork. I can cut straight, I can measure straight, but if it goes wrong I want to blame someone else. Another is cutting hydraulic hoses, looks simple, but I’m a bit scared by that. The last one is building a wheel. Of these three, it’s the one I’d really like to try. But there’s a tidy investment to be made before you can start. Perhaps one day. It looks fairly straightforward but requires some patience. And a bit more spare time than I have. I’ve fixed a few mind, easy enough if you have the spares. I have spoke keys. I don’t have a tension meter. I have no idea what tension a spoke is or what it should be. So bear all that in mind. This is a wheel test from the perspective of me testing some wheels. As long as they don’t break then much of this should be moot.
I currently own three bikes. Two are disc equipped. I’m half way between a disc evangelist and not. Discs make sense, for me, depending on the use I’m putting the bike to. As I write this piece it has been raining for 3 months. The last time it was dry was the day after Halloween. About 6 weeks before that I’d had solar panels installed on our roof. For those 6 weeks, before Halloween, the panels performed above expectations. The day after Halloween it all went pear shaped. Our front lawn is now a brown mess with some occasional green. Best bike has not been out in an awful long time.
So, if you were to ask me about buying a bike, one bike, to use all year round, I’d tell you to get something with discs. You might as well. It will be as good in the dry, but if you ever use it in the wet, it will probably be better. You can argue all you like about having the best brakes, the best blocks, the best braking surface, but a good set of disc brakes will be as good as them all of the time. A great set of disc brakes will just be better because they’ll perform in all conditions. Yes, there are issues. They can be more difficult to set up, the components do tend to be heavier than their rim counterparts, they can rub annoyingly on occasion, you need to be careful NEVER to get any lubricant near them. These are issues, but not big ones. The biggest issue is that you need different wheels. But that’s if you can only have one bike. If you can have more than one, get a really pretty one for the summer, and get discs on the other one.
But anyway, I have three bikes. If it’s glorious then I’m happy with rim brakes. If it’s wet, snowy or I’m doing cyclocross then it’s discs. If I ever show up in the mountains of France or Italy it will be rim brakes.
My main bike is my commuting bike. It does the most miles because it’s used every (working) day. It has discs, and mudguards. It has MTB hydraulic brakes. You can pull them with a single finger and come to a quick stop. I converted it to flat bar so it was more usable in all conditions. It’s a workhorse. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be relatively lightweight, fast and comfortable. It doesn’t mean it can’t be a bit sexy. So, here it is:
And here’s my Cross Bike wearing the same wheels.
In terms of looks it depends very much on whether you like out there graphics. On these I do. They match the white typeface of each bike. So that’s a plus.
Anyway, this is a tech review. As I alluded to earlier it’s harder to write a tech review as, arguably, you (arguably) need some understanding of how the thing you’re writing about is put together. I think there’s some truth in that. Actually, writing it is easy. What matters is whether you, dear Reader, trust what I say given my admission in relation to technical knowledge. However, I’ve owned a lot of bikes, I’ve ridden a lot of wheels. I do have practical experience of what they were or are all like. Indeed, I’ve often wondered whether many reviews are overdone with the ability to detect minute differences in stiffness or control or some other random variable. Only this week I read a 200 word review of a pair of £2500 carbon MTB wheels which praised their clarity. Clarity, I kid you not. I’m not sure I will be able to tell you that these wheels have clarity, focus or some other transcendental quality. So, my review will be about whether these wheels are any good for the uses I put them to. Will they stand up to commuting, mostly in the wet. Are they good enough for Cross. Will they arrive straight and will they go out of true. They’ll be well used so testing will be comprehensive and destructive. And that, I think, is the test. Are these good wheels for the price and will they last?
Read any forum or bike mag and you’ll come to understand that there are factory wheels and hand built wheels. These are factory wheels. They come from a factory. But Pro Lite claim that they are hand built, in a factory. Indeed, the box exclaims that they are “built the hard way, by hand!” This bike business can be so very confusing.
The basic parts are, naturally, made by robots. But then the wheels are assembled by hand and checked by hand. Let’s call them “hand assembled.” So, what on earth is a hand built wheel? Well, for me, and you may disagree, hand built wheels are the type of wheel where you pick the components and either build them yourself of get someone else to build them for you. So you get your choice of rim, hub, spokes, lacing, nipples etc. Crucially, with handbuilts, you should have a fall back when something goes wrong, it should be easy to get spares because your wheels were built from something commercially available in the first place. So, if it wears out get a new rim, if you fancy a change, replace the hub with something else. Hand built wheels should last you ages if they’ve been well built.
There’s no reason why a good factory or hand assembled wheel should not last for ages either. The only real question is whether it’s economic to replace the parts you break or wear out. I don’t know exactly what hubs these wheels have, or what spokes they are specifically (though I have a guess below). I don’t think you can get a replacement rim, if it wore out (but it’s a disc, it won’t really). And that’s the trade off. And price will have a big bearing here.
Discs have been round for a while now. Actually, a bit longer than you might think. Genesis’s Croix De Fer has always come with disc wheels. It was launched in 2008. It’s perhaps the bike that started it all but other bikes were available. But at the beginning of the disc revolution bikes were running on OEM wheel sets that were difficult to source separately. If you wanted to upgrade or switch your choices were limited. There were hand builts, essentially 700c rims with MTB hubs and the like. But there wasn’t much off the shelf stuff. You couldn’t really pop over to Wiggle to browse what they had. They didn’t have anything.
Discs, on “road” bikes, were still pretty much the preserve of CX bikes. Demand and supply meant there wasn’t a huge call for them. But a change was coming. Whether it was the UCI approving them and us wanting them, or us wanting them and the UCI caving in to progress, the revolution gained pace. The truth is that discs are probably a reaction to our ever changing climate. Today, there’s much more choice. In the hand built world you can choose what you want. Exotic or simple. Mega money or not. But the off the shelf stuff has gone mainstream. We’re not talking about a disc version of every road rim. That’s not necessary. But the market is booming. And, with our current climate, demand is going to increase.
The factory disc wheel market is broadly divided into specific price points. That’s the same as any other wheel market. Cheaper is heavier, expensive is lighter, mega expensive is not going to get me to work any quicker.
By way of example, under £200 and you’re looking at the Fulcrum DB and Mavic Aksium disc, both of which often show up as OE components on fully built bikes. Wiggle have launched a Cosine Disc that is startlingly cheap and appears to be very light. Above £200 and you’re into the Kinesis Crosslight Disc and Fulcrum Racing 5 etc. At the £300 mark the choice starts to peter out a bit. And then, above £400 there’s a bit of a gap until you get into the really rarefied stuff. A decent set of handbuilts will set you back £400 or so. So, perhaps it’s not unusual that the options peter out at about here.
There are a load of adages about wheels. Stiff, light, cheap, pick two. That sort of thing. The theory being you get what you pay for. But there does seem to be a movement towards being able to have all 3 for that little less than once was the case. The Kinesis were a particularly good example of this. £250 for a 1555g 28 spoke wheel. That’s bloody good pricing. Indeed, that’s bloody good pricing for a non disc hub wheel at that weight. The highly rated Fulcrum Racing 3 (non disc) is around that weight and about £50 more. And whilst it’s still the case that a pair of £150 wheels won’t offer the earth, the truth is that they’ll be a hell of an improvement over what used to be available and, crucially, moving up to something lighter isn’t going to cost as much as you might think. The disc wheel has arrived.
Enter the Revo. The technical spec on paper is excellent. It’s a lightweight pair of wheels. I weighed them, they came out at 1665g. The bearings are Japanese EZO sealed bearings. As far as little steel balls go, they are, apparently, very good. The front wheel is 28 spoke and the rear 32 spoke. That’s a pretty good balance, in my view, so you get a slightly lighter front wheel, and a slightly stronger rear one. Perfect for commuting, clearly. But perfect for CX as well. But cast your mind back to that hand built thing. We have two different rims and hubs now (because of their spoke count). It’s something to bear in mind if you were ever needing to replace something.
The spokes are J bend and bladed. They’re made by Sandvik, apparently. I had to google that. They’re a bloody big company. Though I’m not sure that they sell spokes specifically with their name on. I believe that they are Pillar spokes, butted for strength. If I were to guess I reckon they are Pillar (triple) Butted Aero, which are made from T302 Sandvik cold drawn steel. Why did I check? Because, interestingly, Hunt wheels are using that spoke in some of their builds. And they are pretty careful about what they want. They’re supplying wheels to Mason bikes. Both companies are a quality package. I’ve no reason to believe that these spokes are anything other than excellent.
The Revo’s are tubeless ready. That’s a great feature to have and it makes them even better value. There’s already rim tape installed but, from a cursory inspection, I doubt it would maintain a seal so, if you do want to run them tubeless, then you will need to install some tubeless rim tape and, of course, some tubeless valves. If you haven’t tried tubeless you should. My experience of them with CX was great. Though I would warn you it takes some getting used to.
They’ve convertible as well. You can swap the hub between Shimano and Campagnolo very easily. And you can also convert them to thru axles. It’s a piece of cake to do. Pull out the existing axle ends, they come off very easily, and stick the thru axle in. They even supply a pair of thru axles in the box, which is nice, though I don’t need them, and can’t see me needing them anytime soon. But it’s good to be “future proof” if that ever takes off. If you’re using the traditional quick release hubs then they supply the quick release skewers for that as well. They’re the external cam type and, my initial impressions are that they feel “clampy enough.”
The rim height is 21mm. That’s fairly shallow. These are not aero wheels. But they won’t kill you in a cross wind either, despite the presence of bladed spokes. Internal rim width is 19mm and externally they are 23.8mm. Should you care? Well, yes. There’s a trend towards wider rims now, on disc wheels and normal road wheels. The theory is that wider wheels are more aero (accepting that these aren’t really aero wheels), comfier and roll better. How? Why? Google it. I won’t spend ages examining it here or whether it’s true. But I can say that I feel more comfort on wider rims. That’s primarily because wider rims mean wider tyres. They have more air volume, you can run them at lower pressures and they can be as fast as a thinner tyre at lower pressures. That’s the theory. I won’t make any conclusions here as to whether it works or not. But I prefer wider rims. There’s also tyre shape. Think about that for a minute. Your tyre is 23c. Your rim is 19mm wide. That tyre must, by its very definition be smaller at the rim than it is at its rounded section. In essence it will look like a light bulb. Move that rim width to 23 or so and your tyre profile will be more of a uniform U now. A much better shape to contact the road surface.
Frankly, these tick all the boxes. They’re relatively light, well spoked, good width and you can get spares (spokes at least) easily enough. And all this is very lovely. But frankly irrelevant if they don’t work well or ride well.
First things first. Installing the discs was easy. No difficulty in threading the 6 bolts to attach the rotors. Next step, tyres. I’ve tried two pairs so far, Vittoria Hyper Voyager 37c and Vittoria XG Pro 35c. A few people have reported getting tyres on to be difficult. There are a few reviews on Wiggle that confirm this to be the case. I got mine on by hand in both cases. No tyre levers necessary. I’m quite good at getting tyres on by hand and I’d say that these were as easy as most wheels I’ve tried. Tyres are important. The first part of this test will be on 37c tyres. They are big and balloony. And very comfortable indeed. But I’ve used those tyres on a number of different set of wheels and there have been differences in feel accordingly. So using these tyres operates as some sort of control. I’m running them at the same PSI as I always have.
Once I’d installed the Quick Releases and attached the wheels to the bike a bit of fettling was needed with disc brake alignment. That’s not unusual. Both bikes were set up for my old wheels. There will always be slight differences in alignment, one of the reasons why the naysayers claim that disc brakes on pro bikes are problematic. A minute or so with an allen key and all was once again right with the world.
The first test in all these wheel tests is to spin them by hand. Have they come out of the box straight and true. Well, looks very much like it. I cannot perceive any lateral mis- alignment and the wheels appear perfectly round. I am not going to claim to have put them on a jig and tested them. Neither am I going to say I’ve tested the spoke tension. But a quick pluck of the spokes seems to confirm that, audibly at least, they are perfect.
Damn they are fast. On my first commute in I was about 5 minutes faster than any recent commute. And about 10 minutes faster than some of the slower ones. It’s around 20 miles, if you’ve not read any of my other pieces. However, there are some factors at play here. The first is placebo confirmation bias expectation effect (TM). Simply, you think your new thing is awesome so you ride faster. And you are faster. There’s some of that. The second thing is the bike had had a complete clean and overhaul including a new chain. New chains are scientifically proven to increase your speed because they are so damn lovely. The final factor was, in my view, a minor one. Storm Henry. I do not believe that the 50 mph or so tailwind was in any way responsible. Though, clearly, my very pedestrian commute home into the now opposing headwind was all down to the storm. 😉
But they are fast. Ignoring any wind assistance they have a very smooth set of bearings indeed. My commute has a number of sections. In “sprint through the village and up the hill to their lights” it was clear that they spun up well from a standing start and demonstrated absolutely no flex when out of the saddle sprinting up the hill. Though I would say that flex on a disc wheel is a little more difficult to measure than on a rim wheel. On “5 miles till the traffic jam” they coped well with an undulating circuit of long drags and B roads. There’s a nice direct feel to them. They don’t jar over potholes and appear to smooth the surface nicely. The most noticeable effect was on “I really hate this hill.” I really do hate that hill. I wish it weren’t there. But, today, I charged up it, seated, in the fastest time I’ve done it in years. And that section is sheltered so the wind is not really an issue. There may well be factors at play here but my perception is that they are light where it counts, in the rim. The subsequent descent on “I love that hill,” was controlled and comfortable. And then, at the end of the day, home. That was brutal, with constant pedaling on downhill sections, walking pace on flat sections. But I never once thought about my wheels holding me back.
As I say, confirmation bias. It’s very hard to measure whether these are an improvement on what was there before. Actually, they’re very similar, in spec, to what was there before. Perhaps a bit lighter, a little quicker. Built to a similar standard, it seems, so far. And that’s pretty high praise. The chap who built my previous wheels built them very well indeed. They remained true despite the abuse handed out to them. So, if the Revo’s can maintain that, then they will be a very good wheel indeed.
So, they’re good. Really very good. I have no idea if they will last. If they do, then they are a great pair of hand assembled wheels. And the price? Well, that’s the killer, potentially. On Wiggle they’re £308. That’s great value for a pair of wheels at this weight. A bit more than some, but the addition of tubeless ready compensates. If that were the price I’d say they were a good buy, but perhaps not a great one. I paid less, an awful lot less, no point me explaining it, that offer has gone. And at the price I paid they are an absolute steal.
I’ll be updating this review as time goes by, so keep looking in. We’re up to 100 miles or so to date and they are still absolutely true. Their big CX test will come in mid March with Battle on the Beach but I’ll probably get them off road before them. Seems a shame to get them dirty.
UPDATE: 16th February 2016. They are still alive! I’ve been using both pairs in rotation so have racked up perhaps 200 miles on both pairs now, including some off road stuff. They are still completely round and true. And they feel very light on both bikes. There’s no harshness to them. I’ll shortly be trying the ones on my CX tubeless by fitting some 35c Schwalbe G-One gravel tyres. Watch this space!
UPDATE: 27th February 2016. They continue to impress. Zero issues with them at all so far, either on the commuting bike or the CX. They still spin freely and there are no issues at all in relation to truing. The fit between the rear rim and a Schwalbe G-One tubeless is very tight indeed. One of the more difficult tyres I’ve ever tried to get onto a rim but it does go on, in the end. In terms of security though that does contribute to a very good fit onto the rim and very good sealing when running tubeless. Indeed, that combination of tyres and rims has been my first experience where one pump from my track pump saw the rim bead jump into the hooks immediately. I’m still very impressed overall.
UPDATE: 22nd March 2016. So, I used my XLS with these wheels at Battle on the Beach. Around 33 miles over the Saturday and Sunday. My mate’s son used my Bivio with my second pair on for about the same over the 2 days. They’re still true and still running perfectly. As far as bang for your buck is concerned these are brilliant. I did have a small issue with the front skewer on one of them. They’re not the strongest in terms of grip so could be a worthy upgrade. That aside they are fantastic.
UPDATE: 28th March 2016. Small issue with the rear wheel. The cassette had developed a slight side to side movement. Freehub was loose. Took a spanner to the drive side end and a hex key to the other side and re tightened. But took the opportunity to add some grease to the freehub first. There had been a very slight squeak from the freehub area. I’m not alone in having a bit of a squeak going on. There are other reports on bike radar. In my case some grease has solved it. In others some oil on the seals or a tightening of the QR has done it. Watch this space for any updates on that issue. It’s worth bearing in mind. I paid about £160 so it’s a small niggle for now. At the full RRP it would be a bigger one.