Road wheels are having a moment. Road riders were slow to embrace carbon wheels, as they were with carbon frames, triathletes the early adopters for both products. I was certainly not anywhere close to the first to ride them but even I was racing on carbon wheels – in triathlons – 25 years before road racers started to use this tech in earnest in their racing.
By 2010 the use of a 30mm or 40mm wheel in the pro peloton was pretty routine but now it’s kind of swung in the other direction. Instead of facepalming because the road community wouldn’t race a wheel of that depth, now I see wheels marketed to road racers up to 80mm in depth. Having ridden 80mm wheels on my road bike I just am not sure about that strategy. The word "peloton" doesn’t simply connote a gaggle of roadies; it means a group in close quarters. Me? I check out on anything deeper than 40mm, maybe 50mm, and it’s in this general depth that, in my opinion, we see the “moment” carbon wheels are having.
Well known are Zipp’s 353 NSW, 303 S, 454 NSW, 404 Firecrest and I don’t know that I’ve ever ridden a better road wheel than the 353 NSW; or seen a better value than the 303 S. But that’s not all. There’s ENVE’s 3.4 and 4.5, the Vision Metron (any wheel that wins Paris Roubaix is a keeper); Shimano’s new Dura Ace 9100 (the tubeless version; I can’t speak for any other version); and a HED Carbon Emporia that I’ll use as a road wheel but I’ve raced gravel with it (more on that wheel in a couple of weeks).
Today I want to talk about the CADEX 50 Ultra, which is about as deep as I’ll ride on a road bike. This is a 1350g race wheelset and there are some features I’d like to talk about not just because of what the wheel is, but because of how it compares to others I just named. (There are some metrics most folks aren’t familiar with but you might find them interesting.)
Beyond the light weight they’re just exceptionally strong, stiff wheels, obviously with aero in mind, but you could say this about all the wheels I listed. Gone are the days when the drive side rear spokes began to snap at the rim. All these wheels are ride-worthy, and stronger than the aluminum wheels I used to ride. Note that my list above consists of tubeless wheels (the only system I’ll ride) and all but the Dura Ace and Vision wheels have hookless rims. Likewise, it’s hookless on the CADEX 50 Ultra I’m writing about today. I’ve got a bunch of miles on CADEX’s wheels and there are 2 sets I like to ride on the road. They both slide into a Cervelo R5 pictured further below.
The first is a CADEX AR (All-Road) wheel (the fatter of the 2 wheels above), which is really CADEX’s gravel wheel, and that brand also has some quite nice 40mm gravel tires pretty much made for that wheel. But I prefer to put 32mm CADEX Classics tires on that wheel and that’s what I use if the road features rideable dirt, cracked asphalt and such.
On this 50 Ultra are a set of CADEX Aero tires. I have one criticism with the lighter, quicker, wheel and tire combo. While the tires are really nice to ride, I’m just off of 25mm tires and the CADEX Aero tires come (so far) only in that 25mm size. Before you start crying about aerodynamics let’s get into the numbers.
The 50 Ultra has an inside bead width of 22.4mm. See the image below for verification. This means, yes, this hookless-beaded wheel can safely accept a 25mm tire. And yes, when I put this tire on the wheel it airs up easily – not always the case on a hookless system when the tire is this narrow and the wheel is this wide. I find that it helps if the rim has a bead hook on the rim shelf, which CADEX’s wheels do. The tire’s beads sit in the well, the air pushes the tire’s beads over the rim shelf and snaps them against the rim wall.
The outer rim width is advertised as 30mm; I get a little more than that with my calipers as you see below.
But here’s the thing: The 25mm tires, inflated, are only about 26.5mm wide. If you’re a Rule of 105 adherent the rim is 115% of the tire at their widest points. If you mount a 28mm tire the width of that wheel is, then, about 105% the width of the inflated tire.
As we see with Zipp’s testing (which I take as valid, in the main, even if there are some outstanding questions I have), the 28mm tire width is a very good performer, especially in rolling resistance and perhaps aerodynamically. That 28mm tire would certainly be worth consideration on a rim this wide.
If you do a little math, you see the delta between the inner and outer rim widths is 8mm, meaning the rim wall ought to be 4mm thick. Indeed that’s what I get with my caliper. This is pretty notable. Zipp’s 404 Firecrest has a rim wall of 2.7mm, and ENVE’s wheels are at about 3.3mm or 3.4mm, and ENVE specifically calls out the thick walls on its hookless beaded rims.
This tells you how thick the rim walls are on CADEX’s wheels, and that should imbue users with confidence as they contemplate how robust these rims might be. This has been part of my hookless narrative: Wheel makers are unshackled from prior designs to make their rim walls as thick and as strong as they want.
As you might guess I have an upgrade coming. Vittoria Corsa N.EXT tires are in the post as I write this, in a 28mm size, and these will replace the CADEX Aero tires on this wheelset for my everyday riding pleasure. However, were CADEX to intro a 28mm width of their aero tire I would put them on these wheels, as I really like that CADEX tire and CADEX does a really good job of mating the profile of its tire bead to the profile of its rim “pocket”, between the bead seat and the rim wall. (This makes that tire almost airtight, with the air escaping out the sidewalls if at all.)
CADEX does a thorough job with hubs and as you see above employs a ratchet style freehub assembly. This is CADEX’s R3-C Aero hub and it’s got a 40-tooth ratchet, with ceramic bearings. The lacing is weird and let’s talk about that.
I am frequently slow on the uptake but a lot of bicycle wheels pass through The Compound and I’m sure I haven’t seen wheels quite like those CADEX makes. And this is the typical CADEX road and gravel lacing system. The rear wheel has 24 spokes, a pretty normal spoke count, but it’s 8 pairs of 2x spokes on the drive side and 4 pairs of 2x spokes on the disc brake side. Which kind of makes sense because the wind-up and other related stresses are felt more on the drive side. But still, that’s not typical.
On the front wheel there’s 21 spokes, weird enough, and it’s 7 pairs of 2x spokes on the disc brake side, and 7 straight (no cross) spoked on the drive side. Very rare to see asymmetric spoke counts on a front wheel. This kind of makes sense if you intuit that the wheel needs to be stronger on the rotor side. But you’ll look long and far for a 21-spoke front bicycle wheel. While odd, I have not had a CADEX wheel failure, or a wheel come out of true or round, or a broken spoke. And these are all bladed spokes (though the blades on the 50 Ultra are deeper than on my other CADEX wheels). There’s every reason for these to be flexy wheels, with bladed spokes and 7 spokes on one side, but lateral stiffness is a hallmark of CADEX wheels, throughout the line.
These wheels sell for $3,500 for the pair, and you can read more about them.
*Note on nomenclature. Above I write the abbreviation 2x and that's usually taken by cyclists and triathletes to mean a (2 by) drivetrain with 2 chainrings instead of the single ring we see on 1x systems. This "code" is also used to describe lacing systems in wheels, but the "x" means "cross" and it's how often a spoke crosses another spoke as it travels from the hub to the rim. in the old days road wheels were almost always 3x (3 cross) or 4x, meaning 1 spoke crossed another spoke 4 times. A 4x lacing system meant a wheel very strongly built, but very comfortable to ride. That 4x lacing pattern would not be an easy one to find among today's ultralight, ultrastrong road wheels.