You can break wheel makers downheck, you can break life downinto different categories, but the two categories that we'll choose, for wheel purposes, are those who create, and those who imitate.
In the case of Hed you've got a company that spans the spectrum. Certainly Hed has been an innovator. The concept of deep-dish wheels was barely considered when Hed came out with its CX. It is still the only company to take rims to the depth of its Hed Deepa wheel which is still considered by some to be the best non-disc wheel made. (Is Hed really the only company to ever make a rim this deep? An exception to the above statement might be a now-defunct, so far as we know, company that used to put a permanent plastic cover on an already-built wheel sent to them by the customer. That does not qualify as a rim, though, so we're comfortable with our statement).
A further testament to Hed's innovative bent is its intellectual propertya patent with only two legal users, Hed and Zippwhich allows for a rim to be an oval shape. (The patent was originally Hed's.)
While Hed is certainly an innovator, Hed's 3-spoke wheel is more than just an imitation of the old Specialized wheel. It is the old Specialized wheel. Whenever wind tunnel tests on aero wheels were performed, Hed's wheels were predictably fast. But the Specialized wheel was always right with it, neck and neck. So, when Hed got the opportunity to buy all the Specialized wheel technology and property, it jumped at the chance.
This begs the question, which is the best wheel to buy? Let's say you've decided to make a brand decision, and the nod you've made is in Hed's direction. Do you buy a Deep, a disc, a Stinger, a Jet, or a Hed3? Some of these questions are answered in John Cobb's recent article on the subject of which wheel to buy.
We suspect that all things being equal, if you want a proven aero wheel and you're just not sure, the Hed3 is the well-reasoned selection. At the same time, one must realize that nothing is as fast as a disc. But, a disc is not legal in every race. So, decisions must be made.
The nice thing about the Hed3 is that there is a plethora of wind tunnel data all proving its worth. Half that data was generated before Hed ever owned the technology: tests performed by Chet Kyle, by Steve Hed and John Cobb themselves before the wheel became Hed's property, by a couple of UK-based researchers, and elsewhere. While the reader may not easily find such data, as most of these tests were done from 1991-1995, when it was not common to publish data on the internet, the tests are out there if you are motivated enough to search.
At this point, most of Hed's wheels are built around Hugi hubs. This a Swiss company that makes a well-regarded hub that can accept either a Campy or Shimano cassette assembly. This is a nice feature, since one can inexpensively change the hub out from one "platform" to another, should you at some point convert to the other religion.
Here is how Hed's lineup of wheels breaks out:
These are great wheels. If you like light weight, they're especially great wheels (they're Hed's only all-carbon wheel, braking surface included).
Like Hed's Jet, the Stinger comes in different depths. How light can they be made? Let's put it this way. I once held a front Stinger that weighed less than 400 grams. The whole wheel I'm talking about. That's lighter than most bare rims!
The problem is that Steve Hed makes theseby himselfwith about the same care that Harrison made his marine chronometers. And, it takes him about as long. So, if you're just starting out in triathlon, go ahead and place your order. By the time you qualify for Hawaiiin about 5 yearsyour Stingers might be finished.
Okay, I'm exaggerating. Hed says its now 2 - 4 weeks out on Stinger orders. These wheels are anywhere from $1000 per pair to $1200 per pair depending on depth, and are sew-up only.
You'll occasionally find wheel companies that advertise that their wheels are as fast or faster than discs. These are spurious claims. We've never seen a test, never seen a wheel, that equals a disc. You've pretty-much got to repudiate the whole concept of wind tunnel testing in order to say that your wheel is faster than a disc... unless your wheel is a disc.
So, you the customer must make a wager. Has the rest of the industry smoked too much weed? Are they all a bunch of granola heads who're believing too much of their own hype?
If you choose to say yes, you've also got to say the same of a lot of other folks who've got other aerodynamic specialties and who happen to have a side-interest in bikes. Plenty of aerodynamicists who inhabit different specialtiescar racing, aeronautics, or simply those in academia who have a wind tunnel at their disposalhave taken a stab at wheel testing and have come up with the same conclusion. Discs are fastest. So, if you want the very fastest wheel you can buy, there really is no question what sort of wheel you ought to have. The only decision is, which brand?
If the aforesaid is true, why do so many people buy wheels other than discs? First, discs make a bit of noise, and that is disconcerting to come. Second, discs are disallowed in a few races, notably Ironman Hawaii, and some people don't want a wheel that they can't use in every race. Third, they've just fallen out of favor. We're pretty sure they'll eventually fall back in. But it's just a function of where the pendulum sits at the moment. Some people don't choose a disc because it is appears a garish choice. They don't feel they deserve a disc. They are afraid of riding a disc in a race while getting passed by those who've chosen a "lesser" wheel. And finally, some people are gullible or naive enough to believe that other wheels are the equal of a disc.
Hed Discs will sell for $525 to $600 each depending on the version (one is slightly lighter). The Superlight only comes in tubular, the standard comes in either tubular or clincher).
Jets come in a variety of depths. You can get the regular garden-variety Jet, or the shallowest version, on the right above, which is called J2. These are probably a good idea for a featherweight female who is concerned about getting blown around too much in a big wind. Well, not a rear J2. I cant think of any reason to buy that wheel. But perhaps a front.
On the other end of the spectrum is the Jet Deep, which is, well, deep. Lots of surface area there, and surface area means both speed and, in the front, steering torqueso you've got to be a decent bike handler to use a Deep on the front on a windy day. The Jet Deep is a good wheel if you want to speed of a deep Stinger but you don't want to pay that money, or if you want it in a clincher.
The Jet in all its variations is a lightweight wheel, and you can true it. In order to do so you've got to deflate and dismount the tire (you true it via a hex wrench through the spoke holes in the outside of the rim). The Alps, which we'll cover below, trues the same way. The Stinger, by contrast, trues with a spoke wrench, just like a standard rim.
Hed Jets can cost up to $625/pr., if you want the deep variety, and a J2 front-only can be had for about $275.
This is a very nice wheel. Let's face it, DuPont spent a zillion dollars making it, and Specialized spent a zillion dollars on rider testing, wind tunnel testing, and in getting DuPont to come out with a 650c version (and, subsequently, clincher versions). So, everybody else's loss is Hed's, and your, gain. You can't true this wheel. On the other hand, you shouldn't need to. It's reasonably light, quite strong, more or less true (as these kinds of wheels go), and is spectacularly (and provably) aerodynamic. It is also reasonably priced at about $850 a pair.
If you take a Hed3 and cut out the spokes and drill little holes around the edge of the remaining rim and spoke it up with traditional spokes and hub, you've got an Alps. Hed's reasoning? The technology Hed uses to make its Hed3 wheels is better able to make this sort of reasonably lightweight stiff carbon rims the technology Hed was using to make its CX. So, Hed abandoned its older way of manufacturing such wheels and replaced it with the newer. The resulting wheel is the Alps. If you were a fan of the CX, and many were, the Alps is for you.
The Alps is sort of a hybrid between the Jet and the Stinger. It has a stiff carbon section like the Stinger, yet it has an aluminum braking surface like the Jet. Its rim is 50mm deepwhether you choose a 650c or 700cand the wheel is light. The rim is 420 grams. A pair of these built into wheels will set you back about $850, and that is with titanium spokes. The resulting wheelset is very light, you can true them, and very durable.
Out of all this bunch, which are our favorites? We're torn between the Hed3 and the Alps if you want a wheel for the many and varied uses of a triathlete. Both are very, very hard wheelsets to beat, when you look at value, aerodynamics, weight, durability, and the ability to use your wheel regardless of the race.
But one also must consider Hed's disc. Not many companies make discs anymore, and Hed's disc remains lightweight, true, and value priced. When you absolutely positively have to get to the finish line as fast as you canand so long as you're in a race that allows discs (and most do, the notable exception being Ironman Hawaii)the disc is your logical choice.
All these wheels come in both 650c and 700c, and with only two exceptionsthe Stinger and the Superlight disccan be had in both clincher and sew-up.
Hed's website can be found here. It's wheels can be ordered directly via the website, or via calling Hed (651-653-0202). Its wheels can also be purchased through selected dealers, the largest of which is Bicycle Sports.