I have a habit of using things until well after they’ve stopped working properly.
Partly this is my profound Yorkshireness (deep pockets/short arms), partly inertia. Unless something gets really annoying, I’m unlikely to do anything about it.
Early in 2018 (yes, this is a long term review!) my rear wheel got so annoying I finally decided to do something about it.
I needed to buy myself some new road bike wheels.
Cue the intro music.
Too Long Didn’t Read
Not everyone wants to read an in-depth description of every ball bearing. Here are the headlines:
- If you’re in the market for spending ~£300/$400 on a new set of road bike wheels, I would recommend the Campagnolo Zonda C17 wheelset.
- They’ve held up well to the significant abuse I’ve given them this past autumn and winter, through puddles and potholes – (as far as I can tell) they remain true and continue to roll smoothly, with that nice clicky sound when freewheelin’.
- Also they look good and are made by Campagnolo, the choice of the component connoisseur (and these things are important…)
And if you really have an aversion to reading, here is this post (with fart-bellishments) in video form (whoopee!):
Now back to the full review, starting with a story…
(And if you just want the links to buy them, they’re at the bottom of this post.)
Ignoring The Advice Of A Cycling Sage
Flashback. Deep in the mists of time.
My rear wheel had been running on borrowed time for months, if not years.
My friendly local bike mechanic (Mark) mentioned that I would soon need a new rear wheel when he fitted my Ultegra front derailleur and undertook a full service and drivetrain health assessment (the bike’s drivetrain…).
(Holy shizzle – this post records that that conversation took place in June 2016!)
The issue with the wheel: a rear hub close to wearing out.
At the time Mark said it wasn’t economic to replace the bearings and re-grease the hub. It would be better to start thinking about buying new wheels.
I listened, agreed, and promptly did absolutely nothing about it.
Thor’s Hammer In My Rear
(Which is apparently not what qualified bike mechanics say to describe a knackered rear hub.)
Flashback. Slightly closer in the mists of time.
The moment that the balance tipped in favour of letting the moths escape from Mont’s wallet was captured in a pleasingly random ride name on Strava:
My rear hub was fully shot and a new wheelset was required.
Since no self respecting sportive cyclist buys only one wheel or misses a glaring opportunity to upgrade something on the bike, a gleaming new wheel set was required.
Cue The Research (Hum The Montage Music In Your Head)
Like most people seeking answers I dug out my well-thumbed-through copy of Mont’s Miscellany.
This turned out not to exist, so I banged the words, “best road bike wheels for under £500,” into Google (yes, £500 – bear with me).
The new wheels would need to be sufficiently resilient to standing up to the rumpled road surface of Derbyshire roads (and beyond) in the winter.
I don’t have the time, or frankly the money, to be swapping out more robust training wheels (‘wheels for training on’ rather than stabilisers) for lighter ‘race wheels’ when the mood takes me.
These wheels, whilst certainly an upgrade, would be going on my main everyday bike … and staying on my main everyday bike. For every day.
They would have to look good. I’m not spending multiple hundreds of pounds not to see at least a little aesthetic improvement on my steed. They wouldn’t need to be aero (for I am not aero) but do like (visually) a wheel with a slightly deeper rim.
They had to be somewhat lighter than what I’d ridden before – I want to feel some performance benefit from the investment.
How Much Should You Spend On New Road Bike Wheels?
Initially I set my new wheelset budget at £500 (about $650 Ameri-folk). This was based on the following A-level maths:
- I’m riding a £2,000 bike (£1,800 at the time, but the equivalent now is a bit more);
- The wheels that came with it (some Bontrager ones) will have been where Trek saved the money in speccing out the new bike, so let’s say they were worth approximately £100;
- I’m looking to spend an amount that makes sense in the overall context of the reasonable frame (carbon Trek Domane) and Shimano 105/Ultegra components (£500/£2,000 = 25% felt sensible);
- I’ve already bought a set of wheels costing £100-£150. I wanted to see what the next step up would be like.
And with this tortured logic bouncing around my brain I set about my quest.
Ever since I heard that Mavic make wheels that are more round than its competitors, I’ve wanted to buy a set.
Actually, the real reason I’ve wanted to buy a set of Mavics for a while is no more logical. I just think they look cool.
They’re the neutral service wheel on the Tour de France, handed out from bright yellow support cars and motorbikes. I even like the names that Mavic uses for its ranges: Ksyrium*, Cosmic, Aksium, Comete…
(*Huh, I liked the names so much that I’ve only just realised in researching this post that this isn’t spelt ‘Krysium’…).
Anyhoo, in looking at the Mavic range, I couldn’t quite get to grips with the different range options.
The wheelsets in my price range, whilst supposedly available, seemed out of stock at most retailers. I wasn’t yet ready to make the jump to tubeless tyres, so it wasn’t helpful that Mavic’s apparent increased focus on their ‘UST Road Tubeless technology’ seems to have reduced the number of their wheels that take inner tubes.
Back to the drawing board. Or Google as it is otherwise known.
Fast Forward (To The Good Bit…)
I don’t think we need to analyse my full Google search history (for obvious reasons). In addition to Mavic, I also considered wheels made by:
- Shimano – the Ultegra RS700 wheels, in line with my (relaxed) strategy of gradually upgrading 105 (or equivalent) components as and when they needed replacing – discounted because they didn’t do it for me in the looks department (so shallow…);
- Hunt – a British wheelmaker that gets very good reviews for wheels with performance on a par with much more expensive competitors – I’d have probably been looking to buy the Sprint Aero Wide wheelset at £399;
- Fulcrum – Campagnolo’s sister company, created in order to produce components for non-Campagnolo drivetrains (without diluting the Campag brand) – I’m pretty sure they make fine wheels (the internet tells me they do), but if I’m going to buy Campagnolo wheels, I’d like them to say so.
I should probably note that the bike receiving the wheels had rim brakes, so I wasn’t looking for some of your new-fangled disc brake wheels.
And since Luddite Montgomery isn’t quite ready to go tubeless, the rims needed to be suitable for clincher tyres and inner tubes.
The Yorkshireman’s Approach To Budgeting…
… is to set out intending to spend £500 on new wheels and end up dropping closer to £300.
Plus ca change.
Having undertaken my research, and looked deep within my cycling soul, I determined that the Campagnolo Zonda C17s were the wheels for me.
New Wheels Make You Go Faster
As long time readers will know (and short time ones will guess), my frame of reference when comparing certain bike components is limited. I don’t have a load of wheels in my, er, wheel house. The following is not based on a comprehensive peer analysis.
Other reviews online describe the Zondas as ‘fast rolling’. I can’t dispute this. They felt good as soon as I put them on my bike. I felt faster (and it’s all about the feelz).
I’m on a different bike right now (my old Dawes, with lower spec Campag wheels) and I’m feeling the difference – though how much of that is due to the wheels, versus the heavier frame, is unclear.
Ready For A Bit Of Rough And Tumble
Reviews also point to the excellent durability of the Zondas. Now I can definitely confirm this.
I’ve had the wheels on the bike for the best part of a year. I’ve ridden primarily on rough country roads that see a lot of farm traffic, and have the pot holes, grit and muck to prove it.
The Zondas have endured this abuse without complaint (anthropomorphism alert!). I’ve filmed some footage of the bike chattering away as it rattles away over some of the rough stuff (maybe for a YouTube version of this review). This is a common occurrence on a ride. As far as I can see the Zondas remain true and without wear, despite all of this.
Durability and longevity (did I mention I’m from Yorkshire?) were my main criteria when selecting the Zondas, so I’m pleased the claims have been borne out in real world conditions.
My only slight caveat is something I discovered when undertaking a recent deep clean of the Trek.
After taking off the cassette, I saw that there appear to be a number of ‘nicks’ on the splines of the free hub.
Now I reckon (ok, admit) that it will have been my dereliction of duties that is the underlying cause.
Prior to my recent chain change, I’d let wear on the old chain get well out of hand before replacing. There have been a few times when it’s come off mid gear change and then the whole drive train has jammed.
Perhaps this has caused the nicks (though as I write it down, this is starting to make less sense as an explanation).
In any event, the damage is there, which is a bit disappointing. I can replace the free hub body for not too money, which I may well do.
Online reviews also point to the firm ride provided by the Zondas.
Now I would imagine that you can’t really get ‘fast rolling’ and ‘durable’ without also ticking the firm ride box (but hell, I’m neither a wheel builder nor an engineer, so what do I know?).
Still, the ‘Mega-G3’ spoke pattern for the back wheel purports to provide lots of stiffness, making sure that all that power you’re throwing down gets translated into forward motion.
Which sounds like a good thing.
(Not) Tubeless Wonders
The Zonda C17s are not ‘tubeless ready’. As someone that doesn’t really understand the risks and merits of the lack of inner tubes, this doesn’t concern me.
If you have a profound fear of butyl rubber (I looked that up), you may have to look elsewhere (or start buying these plastic Tubolito inner tubes).
Although not for tubeless reasons, Zondas don’t require rim tape – the ‘MoMag Technology’ (nope, no idea) means that the spokes attach to the rims in a way that keeps the tyre bed free of spoke holes.
And just so we’re clear (according to the Campag website), the ‘self-locking nipples guarantee performance and reliability’.
I’ll just leave that there.
What Width Wheel?
Apparently the Zondas are optimised for wider tyres – either 25mm or 28mm. Probably something to do with airflow, drag coefficients and … marketing departments.
Anyway, I bought a new set of 25mm tyres as a little treat (the Continental 2 Grand Prix 4000S IIs, in case you’re interested).
And here is a foto of those tyres:
Links in case you want to buy them:
(^ Affiliate links don’tcha’ know ^)
Can You Fit A Shimano Casserole (damn autocorrect) On A Campag Wheel
In short, yes.
Despite being Campagnolo (clearly), the Zondas are available with either a Shimano freehub body (9-, 10- or 11-speed) or a Campagnolo one.
Just make sure you select the right one when you buy.
What Really Matters When You Get A New Set of Road Bike Wheel
Well it’s two things innit:
- the amount of clickiness; and
Desired clickiness – how the wheel sounds as you freewheel along – will come down to personal preference.
For the wheel builder it’s a fine balance (I’d imagine…).
It needs to be loud and clear enough to denote there’s a pro cyclist in the group. But not too loud as to be offensive (no one likes a show off) or to suggest there’s something wrong with them.
For me, the Zondas strike the right balance.
Secondly, looks. The wheels already have a touch of the cool factor through being made by Campagnolo (as we said, the connoisseur’s choice).
Again it’s personal preference. I like the spike pattern (!) on the rear wheel (‘Mega-G3’ remember). I like the black slightly deep section inside the rims. I am not averse to having a massive ‘Campagnolo’ emblazoned on them.
For choice you might prefer a slightly deeper section to tell people you’re #soAero. I’ll probably save that sartorial selection for when I get a proper set of ‘race wheels’.
In short, a fine set of robust, handsome and clicky wheels that, after getting on for a year of riding, I’ve been very happy with.
Where Can You Buy The Zondas?
Well, Wiggle is as good as anywhere (and generally has excellent prices):
As usual these are affiliate links. Buy some wheels (or anything) and the site gets a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Over To You
Do you ride a bike with wheels? LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS!
(Seriously), have you upgraded your original bike wheels, or consciously selected a specific set of wheels when building your new bike? What did you get and would you recommend them?
[Sings softly with a lilting Irish accent] let me know in the comments below.