“Lets face it, deep carbon wheels are just the business, they look great and sound terrific. I don’t actually care if they improve my performance or not, as I’ll be too busy looking good.” I nicked that from Drlodge on bike radar. I hope he doesn’t mind. I thought we should start with that cos, well, yep. The contrary view, of course, is that they look pretty, cost a bit and offer less/the same/marginal gains (delete as applicable).
We’ll return to the above. And we’ll do some science. Most of it unverifiable by me as I’m not a scientist. There’s going to be anecdote a plenty but remember that the plural of anecdote is not data. So take of what you read as you will. But I’ll start by telling you that I was surprised. Not only that deep section wheels were faster but that they were faster across the board, in a range of conditions and that there were very few drawbacks. Oh, and, the looks. Pretty. It’s fair to say that deep section wheels make your bike look more than a bit serious. One forum poster remarked that they looked fantastic even if they were rubbish. These things can be important.
The science of aero is pretty bewildering. Most of the assumptions you make are true and some are not. There’s an interplay between many things such as outright weight, rotational mass, width (and therefore frontal area), tyre size and wheel shape. It’s hard to draw any real generalisations or conclusions because of the variety of factors at play. And in the absence of my own wind tunnel I have to draw on experience and the stuff that I read on the internet. And we’ll discuss some of that.
From my point of view there has to be a reference point in my own testing regime. I’ve had plenty of wheels from lightweight “climbing ones” to expensive Fast Forward F4r carbon ones (40mm alu brake track). But most of them were on different bikes so I have to use my Supersix as my testing reference point. As you may know I swapped out my original Mavic Aksium wheels on the Six and replaced them with Fulcrum Quattro. As far as reference points go that’s a good one. The Mavic were a 1700g shallow wheel with an internal width of 15mm and an external of 20.2mm. Narrow and old fashioned but a good quality wheel nevertheless. They are good wheels but they are resolutely not aero wheels.
The Quattro were a good reference point to test aero claims because they were pretty much the same weight give or take a few grams. They were wider as well coming in at 17mm internal and 23.2mm external. Crucially they were 35mm deep which is where wheels, arguably, start to have aero claims. You’ll see from my previous review that I found them faster than the shallow Aksium and, certainly, my Strava data pretty much bears that out. But that data is itself based on anecdote and makes little concession to fitness, weather etc. My view is that they are faster wheels and that is likely due to their aero nature. But, would I be faster with 1400g climbing wheels for example? There’s a load going on here. And, arguably, for most riders we are talking about wheelsets which occupy a particularly narrow weight range, say 1500g to 1800g or so if you’ve upgraded from your stock wheels. So, perhaps, for most riders this simply comes down to whether an aero wheel is faster than a non aero one as the margins in relation to weight might be said to be statistically or, at least, relatively insignificant.
Enter the Bax Carbon 60mm clinchers. That’s a deep rim. We’ll return to whether it’s too deep a bit later. But, for now, let’s just do stats. These are 25mm wide external (17mm internal) and, of course, 60mm deep. That’s almost three times as deep as my original Aksium. But the important point is weight. They aren’t lightweight (but then they aren’t expensive either) and come in at about 1830g. That’s helpful in terms of drawing conclusions from my own experience as that’s a mere 100g heavier than the Quattro. So, weight theory suggests they might be slower (but come on, it’s just 100g) whereas aero theory suggests that they should be quicker. Indeed, they should be a lot quicker. In terms of relative weight this wheel is lighter than most stock wheels and considerably so in relation to many.
So, before I rode (confirmation bias alert) I had a google and stumbled across this: Aero v Lightweight Rims and it’s an interesting one.
To condense it, weight variations have to vary quite widely for the aero rim to lose out to the lightweight rim even when there’s climbing involved. And that’s probably surprising because we expect that every gram counts when going up hills and, it seems, that’s not necessarily the case. Indeed, the article is useful because it deals with extremes comparing, for example, a 1200g lightweight climbing wheel with an aero wheel over half a kilogram heavier. The aero’s won out. Not by a massive amount. But it challenges perceptions, they’re not just for the flat road it seems.
Anyway, back to it. Let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of the Bax Carbon range before we get back to whether they work in practice. But before we do, this is what Jon, founder of Bax Carbon has to say about the business.
“The Company was officially set up late last year, but the idea for the business model was conceived quite a while before that. There comes a time as a cycling enthusiast, when you feel ready to invest in your first set of carbon, deep section wheels. When the time came for me to purchase my first set I struggled to find two important things. A source that I trusted who could offer me a wheelset at the price point I could afford. All the well known brands were out of my price range and all of the relatively unknown brands, I knew nothing about and were mostly based in the Far East which I saw as an issue with regards to warranty and returns if any problems were encountered. This led us to start investigating how we could start up a company that could offer a great carbon wheelset at a very competitive price based in the UK and able to offer the sort of reliable customer service, warranty terms and piece of mind that I was after on my quest to purchase my first set of carbon wheels. As you know, we currently have a range of Full Carbon Clincher, 25mm wide U-Shaped profile wheelsets but we do have plans to develop a disc brake compatible range and a track wheel range of carbon wheelsets.”
Bax currently offer 4 wheelset sizes, 38, 50, 60 and 88mm. You can choose between Shimano or Campagnolo freehubs. Top tip mind, it doesn’t matter too much! If you’re running 11 speed groupsets then a Shimano cassette will work well enough with a Campag system and vice versa.
Obviously the price changes depending on depth! So the 38mm are £459 and the 88mm are £599. The ones I have been testing are a very reasonable £529 and come with a 21 day no quibble return policy and a one year warranty.
They are supplied with everything you need so skewers, quality rim tape, valve extenders and carbon brake pads. A few thoughts on the design before I crack on. Clearly these are sourced overseas rather than being UK built. But then, so are the well known ones. What I liked about these is that they’re not just a plain matte import, the “stickers” are actually printed onto the surface. It marks them out as being specific to Bax and that’s a bit different to the generic built up rims out there. You can also see that there’s a design in the carbon rather than them being plain. It’s nice, it works and it’s good to see a brand being built up.
The rims are, of course, full carbon. The braking surface is basalt. I read a comment about that being “very 2009.” I appreciate that new fangled tech such as Mavic’s exalith is all very nice but even the well respected guys like Hunt Wheels are still using basalt surfaces. If it ain’t broke. The hubs are taiwanese and are the Novatec A271SB/372SB model. They’re compatible with 10 and 11 speed cassettes. A spacer is supplied for 10 speed. And, despite their relatively modest cost, they are excellent and proven hubs. The bearings are cartridge based so swapping out any worn ones is a piece of cake.
I’d go as far to say that the front hub is a quite lovely thing. Spokes are supplied by Pillar and are made by Sandvik. It’s not the first set of Sandvik/Pillar spokes I’ve tested this year as they are the spokes on my (two pairs) Pro Lite Revo. You can find details of the spokes here. I’ve never had any issue with pillar spokes and they are good quality items.
The wheels arrived perfectly true and round. I’ve had the spoke tension checked and they’re all bang on. I won’t rehearse the old hand built v machine built discussion that I dealt with in my Pro Lite review. These are essentially hand built by their very nature.
In terms of weight they’re bang on as advertised coming in at just over 1kg for the rear and 830g for the front. That’s without skewers. Perhaps hefty by wheel standards but still lighter than many OEM wheels. As I’ve discussed it also calls into question weight generally. Most riders have wheels within the 1500-1600g range. These are a mere 200 odd grams more. Is it noticeable uphills? Is it noticeable from a standing start? I’ll talk more about that later but, briefly, no.
The rim tape isn’t installed but that takes seconds. And it’s a good idea for it not to be installed because these are also tubeless compatible. So, if that’s the route you’re going down then you’ll be wanting tubeless tape on there. In terms of tyres I opted for 25c Schwalbe One partnered with some Conti inner tubes. These were of the 42mm variety so I had to use the valve extenders. There are two types of these. One is a simple extender which you screw over the top of an open valve and then rely on air pressure to ensure a seal. The other is the type where you remove the valve core, extend the valve using the extenders and then reinsert the valve core into the extender. The ones supplied, in a natty red anodised form, are the former. They work well. I prefer the security of the latter and had some knocking around so am using those. There’s a guide here.
Fitting the tyres and tubes was about as easy as any wheel I’ve ever used and that bodes well for tubeless. It really is a fingers only operation. The final step is to install the supplied carbon brake blocks. Since my setup is Shimano Ultegra that’s simply a matter of sliding out the old blocks and sliding in the new. I used the tried and tested business card approach to creating some toe in on the pads as, initially, they were a bit squealy. Not an uncommon thing in carbon rims it seem.
Quality wise then, all good. No issues out of the box. And onto the roads we went. The first day I used them was the hottest day of the year. Or summer as it’s called in Wales. Despite the warmth there was some wind around. So it’s not a bad time to be testing what these wheels are like in a crosswind. Bear in mind that this is a U shaped wheel and therefore pretty much like many other newer carbon rims out there. Better than V shaped by all accounts and especially so where there are crosswinds. I’ll ignore talk of toroidal, hybri toroidal, dimples and yaw if that’s ok with you. I’ll stick to the easy stuff, are they comfy, do they roll and spin up well (more of that in a bit) and are they fast, for that, really, is pretty much what we’re looking for here.
Let’s deal with the important stuff then. The first thing is that the bearings are good and the freehub is noisy. Short of Hope and King standards but a great alternative to needing a bell. You will be heard coming up from behind. I don’t mind noisy hubs. The wheels spin nicely with the bike on the stand and they keep going and going. That bodes well. Given the potential imbalance caused by the longer stem (marginal grams) there is simply no bounce at all on the bike stand further evidencing the good build quality of the wheels.
My testing has focused on a number of areas. As I’ve explained before I don’t have a power meter and the weather is often variable so conclusions drawn may well be described as anecdotal. But I’ve cycled enough to know how different things feel. So I’ve not yet focused on average speed over distance, mostly because running did my legs in this week, instead choosing to deal with comfort, climbing, speed for effort and some Strava segments. Let’s take the last first. Three KOM’s on one ride. All three were short sharp uphill sections. On one of them I averaged 30 mph uphill over 20 ish seconds. 1 of 3000 odd. Was I better? Was the bike better? Were the wheels the answer? Perhaps all of these things but in the time I’ve been trying to bag the segment I couldn’t do it. This time I nailed it with seconds to spare. Confirmation bias or new toys? Maybe. But the point really was that these heavier wheels appeared to be faster than my existing ones and, crucially, uphill. If they can do it there, then what about the flat?
Well, essentially, maintaining speeds above 20 mph is much easier. So the opportunity to set average speed bests becomes easier as well. And that’s all very well and good but what about the all important things. Are they comfy? Can you actually pootle uphill on them? What are they like over really bad road sections? Could you live with them everyday.
Well. Isn’t that the million dollar question? There needs to be some context. Let’s look at what they’re on. A Supersix Evo. You add 60mm clinchers to that bike and there are only two reasons to do so, the first is to make it look good, on that these wheels succeed. The second is to make it go fast, and they do that too. Would I use them in the Autumn in the wind and the rain? Well, no, mostly because that would be more than a little masochistic. Why sully the good weather race bike? Why not take the disc equipped bike instead (Bax are working on a carbon disc by the way). So it’s not really all that appropriate to determine whether you could live with them everyday because I don’t really think that’s what they are for.
But in terms of the nice summer day, riding to the Cafe stop, coming back through the back lanes and hitting some Roubaix like surfaces. Yep, they do that as well with zero fuss or drama. They go uphill like any other wheel (ignoring any aero benefit for the time being). They go downhill very fast indeed. They’re stiff out of the saddle with zero flex that I can detect, indeed those uphill KOM’s demanded some real out of the saddle power and there was zero rub despite the fact that I run pads very close. They deal with rough road surfaces very well. And, of course, they are just so easy to move.
Any issues? Well, the brakes work perfectly well. Once I’d toed them in any squealing went away and in the dry they were as good as my Shimano block equipped Ultegra brakes but a little shy of my Swiss Stop pads. In the wet they do take a little longer to scrub speed off but they’re not particularly alarming. I look on the pads as a bonus to get you going but I’d probably invest in some Swiss Stop carbon ones nevertheless.
Quality wise I’ve put about 500 miles into them now and they’re as good as out of the box. I’ve used them in some light drizzle and while they’re a world away from my RS685 hydraulic discs in that respect, they’re not far off an alu clincher. Add some better pads and they’ll be fine. But wet weather riding is really besides the point here.
In terms of comfort they’re very good. Because of their width there’s a good volume to be had from a 25c tyre so you can get a nice shape and a decent amount of comfort. They were pretty close to the comfort of my alu Fulcrum wheels as far as I could detect.
As far as I’m concerned so far so good. For the price of mid range wheel you get the full on effect of aero, good comfort, excellent built quality and, for me, little or no real effect on climbing. Are they worth the money? Yes, I think that they are. Would I buy the 60mm? Maybe. It’s all rather interesting. The 50mm give away 10mm of aeroness but are almost 100g lighter. I don’t know where the ideal cross over is. The 38mm are almost 200g lighter. They might be the happiest medium of all. You pay your money and you make your choice. But what you get is a very good quality wheel that looks like a million bucks.
Consider this stage 1 of the review. It’s a bit wet this week for averages but, next week, I’ll update with a few challenges. Can I break my 10 mile TT record and can I put in the fastest commute ever. I’m confident, because these wheels are very good indeed. Oh, and how fast can I climb the Bwlch? That’s a pretty good test as well. Stay tuned.
Update 1: that climbing test. How did that go? Well, great as it happened. My best time for the Bwlch was set on the Dragon Ride in 2011. To be honest I was feeling it that day and caned the second ascent. Not great by all riders standards but great by mine. So I gave it a bash despite being 5 years older and probably slightly heavier. The result? Whichever way you carve it up I was faster up, by quite some margin in fact. Was it the wheels? That’s not REALLY the test we’re going for here, we know they are faster on the flat etc, it’s just a measure of whether they hold you back on the ascent due to the increased weight and not once did I wish for a lighter wheel.
The descent was very good as well with very good braking from the pads and no obvious heating (this is not the Galibier). There was some cross wind on parts and I think that 60mm for descending is probably not the way to go but the wheels rolled well and cornered well. If I was climbing all day long and doing general purpose stuff I’d probably opt for the 38mm because they’d be that bit better for that sort of thing. If I was doing speed and more speed then the 60 or 88. You can mix and match wheels as well if you ask nicely! Final update coming later in the week when I tackle that 10 mile TT.
Update 2: and the final one before they go back. I did the TT again. Not formally I am afraid, family commitments. But I did the course. My reference point was the last occasion with the Quattro versus this time with the Bax. Getting to the TT course requires a 8 mile ride so there was an opportunity for a warm up at least. But given the hugely gusting westerly it was much more of a slog. Conditions were poor for proper TT testing but good for crosswind testing given that much of the course was side on to the westerly breeze. The wind was a steady 20 mph or so with gusts of up to 40.
The out leg was great and I set an average of around 25mph. The back leg much harder given the wind position and ascending. Nevertheless I averaged 22.1 mph and finished in 26.30 seconds knocking almost 30 seconds off my PR. A still day would, in my opinion, have seen more gains. I should also add that there was little other concession to aero such as skinsuits, overshoes and the likes, just me in normal kit.
Once again the Bax were brilliant. So easy to hold at speed and while there was clearly an effect in crosswinds I am alive to write this. It was far less than I’d expect but, obviously, more noticeable than a shallower rim such as the Quattro. I’ve no experience of hugely toroidal rims or Zipp golf ball dimpling so can’t comment about how much better those wheels are. But these were fine. I’d not take them out in a gale as I’ve said before and to repeat it may well be that the 50’s occupy the real sweet spot.
I’ve really enjoyed my time with these wheels and I think that they’re well priced with good backup from Bax as well. I’ll be sad to see them go.