For a time I held the view that premium wheels were an endangered species – that wheel manufacturing processes were becoming more commoditized and carbon wheels would become more like, well, seat posts, in terms of how much currency consumers placed on the brand. I was wrong.
It’s not just that the premium wheel brands continue to sell, but also continue to outperform commodity wheels, at least in my own riding. I’ve been testing a pair of wheelsets over the last few weeks on a new road bike I’ve built up, and they are certainly the two best road wheelsets I’ve ever ridden. One is this new CADEX 36 I’m writing about here (the other is a Zipp I’ll write about soon). One thing notable to me is how much these wheels have in common with each other.
Before I go further, let me place this in perspective. These CADEX wheels cost $3,450 for the pair, so I won’t be buying them. I don’t care how good a wheelset is: I can’t prudently spend $100,000 on cars; nor $15,000 on bikes; nor this money on a wheelset. Not out of protest, I just don’t live in that economic world. But many do. This wheel is right at home in the Santa Monica Mountains, the playground for cyclists in West L.A., both its performance and the cost you pay to enjoy it.
Adjacent to The (Slowtwitch) Compound is my own mountain range, and this is where I’ve spent the last few weeks with this wheelset. I’ve previously written about 65mm and 42mm CADEX wheels, similarly made, but I believe I like these wheels the best of the 3 sets because on the windy and twisty fast descents I’ve been riding this spring I find that 30mm (or a slight bit more) is a nice front wheel depth. That and the other features, which are…
This rim features a hookless bead with a 22.4mm inner bead width and let’s talk about this for a moment. What are recommended are tire sizes from 25mm to 32mm and I find that’s about right. I’ve decided to invest a lot of time and patience (that I mostly lack) testing what feels to me the proper tire pressure for each tire width on these (and other, similar) wheels. In my road riding, I spend a lot of time climbing and descending, in areas with inclement weather. Nearer the tops of these climbs there a lot of regular horizontal expansion cranks caused by freeze-and-thaw, and when you descend it’s like riding on railroad tracks.
For this kind of riding, and for comfort while seated climbing, for chatterless descents, surer cornering, I just don’t like rock hard tire pressures. I find that for these kinds of wheels, that have 22.5mm to 24mm inner bead widths and a reasonably deep rim well – that is to say, road wheels where there’ll be a lot of volume of air – the sweet spot when a 32mm tire is mounted is about 55psi; for a 28mm tire about 65psi; and for a 25mm tire about 75psi.
In the two pics above what you see are these CADEX 36 wheels with a Schwalbe Pro One TT in 25mm and a CADEX road tire in 32mm. Both systems are pretty seamless in the transition from tire to rim, and most of the (minor) leakdown with the Schwalbe is through the skinwall of the tire. The fitment, once the tire inflates and sits up on the rim shelf, is superb (if the tire is built to mate with wheels following current ETRTO spec). When you dismount these tires it feels like the tire bead is suctioned to the rim shelf. This is why CADEX tires and wheels suffer almost zero leakdown, even without sealant installed, which is pretty much unheard of.
But these tire pressures I list, while they seem low, this pretty much describes what the practical limit is for tubeless tires on a hookless bead rim. Once you get above 75psi, you’re really outside of the optimized pressure range of hookless tech.
There is one additional technical element I have to tell you about, that makes perfect sense except when you’re faced with real life. I feel that the one piece of tech that solves any problem; answers any question; sticks in the fork in the heart of any objection to tubeless (and hookless) is the foam liner. Get a flat, ride it in. But I tried mightily to install a Vittoria Airliner in this wheel and… no go. Unless I hit on a better technique. Let me explain.
There is some height to these rim walls, and the tire needs to scale the rim wall to mount. Once you get the initial tire bead over the wall, that bead must sit in the well of the rim (see above). If that bead doesn’t sit in the well, good luck getting the other tire bead over the rim wall. Installing Vittoria’s road foam liner is like putting a tube in a tire; except it’s like putting a 650c tube on a 700c wheel. The liner hoop is elastic, and is on significant stretch when it’s on the rim. This means the tire bead is fighting for space in the well of the rim that the foam liner sits in. Imagine one dog walking over to the dog bed, and the other dog is curled up on that dog bed giving the first dog stinkeye. That foam liner is giving stinkeye to the tire. It wants that well.
I could not get a tire bead to sit in the well while mounting when the foam liner was also sitting in that well. I could not negotiate a way around this problem, at least with this wheel (and, I presume, other hookless bead rims).
Back to the wheel. This is a 1300 gram product, which is about the bottom current lightweight limit for road wheels, especially a wheelset that’s appears gravel ready, as long as we’re talking the kind of gravel rideable by a 32mm tire. It’s got ceramic bearings, and carbon aero spokes.
The CADEX 36 wheel is very stiff. I shudder to wonder how much tension these spokes are under. One element to the premium wheels these days, they just don’t come out of true. In the old days of light aluminum rims hand built around stainless steel spokes, keeping them round and true was a bear. We used to experience what was called “wind-up” in wheels, which is, the wheel had to catch up to what the rider produced at the crank. Wheels that are this stiff, this round and this true are a luxury to me, but I suppose they are just delivering the expectations of today’s customers. And, for $3,450, probably rightly so.
I mentioned that the Zipp I’ve been riding (the new 353) and this CADEX 36 have a lot in common, and I mean everything down to the color and transluscence of the tubeless tape. They’re both sent to the user with tape and valve installed; they both use 30mm to 36mm rim depth; both use hookless bead tech; both use an inner bead with of 22.5mm to 23.5mm; there are similarities in the hubs (in each case you just pull off the driver body and slap another on, as I’m doing in the pic above with this wheel).
When I see premium wheel makers arriving at the same place, with so much similar tech, features, spec and look, it gives me confidence that they’re onto something. One hopes that what these companies learn from building wheels like these will trickle down into wheels I can afford! Until then, at least they're a pleasure to ride.
You can read more about the CADEX 36, which is due out this summer.