Here’s an aggressive wheel company trying to shoehorn its way into the industry and onto your bike. You might’ve heard of these guys. Who are they? What is this wheel about? Is it worthy of your attention?
I rode this company’s WAKE 6560 a fair bit, and the name of the wheel describes the profile: alternating depths of 65mm and 60mm. It was among a few wheels I took up to Inspiration Point, at 7,400 feet above sea level, separating the Mojave Desert from the Los Angeles Basin, to see whether I could ride it down a twisty, windy, high speed descent without soiling my drawers. (A couple of pics down is my Andean with a WAKE 6560 front wheel aboard, getting ready for a whoop! whoop! whoop! run down a windy, twisty mountain road.)
The point of this wheel – based on my intuition and observation – is to give you as close as possible the aerodynamics of a deeper section wheel (say, 65mm) with the handling of a less deep wheel. I didn’t soil my drawers, though I was prepared to. I road this wheel expecting to bail out of the aero position and that need never came. Was this wheel substantially better than other 60mm wheels? Hard to say. Only that it’s among the wheels I’d ride with guarded confidence in most races, though I don’t know that I’d ride it in Kona (which says more about me than about the wheel).
This Princeton Carbonworks wheel comes in both a rim and disc brake configuration. I have no opinion of the rim brake version because I haven’t seen it personally or, obviously, ridden it. The disc brake version does not use the same rim-brake-ready rim. Thankfully. Whenever I see a rim brake wheel built into a disc hub I can’t help but wonder what optimization was left on the table.
These wheels are made in Taiwan. Whoa! You say. Here’s a thread on our forum ongoing right now about Chinese wheels, but Chinese in this context typically means either Taiwan or China and almost always the phantom-brand or brandless wheels that have little or no U.S. presence, and where the construction, QC, engineering, materials, are open to reasonable question.
Let’s be clear. Your frame is likely made in China, and perhaps your wheels. HED wheels? Nope. Made in Minnesota. But plenty of name brand wheels are made in Asia. This VeloNews review of Roval’s carbon wheels states they’re made and assembled in Taiwan, and I’ve been told – though I haven’t confirmed – that the same factory is used for both Roval and Princeton Carbonworks.
Why am I even mentioning the place this wheel is made? I’ve noticed something very anecdotally, and I don’t have enough evidence to draw a conclusion, but it has been simply an observation of mine that the brand-challenged Asian wheels that purport to be tubeless or tubeless-ready may be built on the large side, that is, to (perhaps) be extra certain of the tire not blowing off the carbon rim. They appear to be just very slightly larger than the typical tubed-rim diameter. Even a very slight addition in diameter – a millimeter – makes a difference in how easy it is to mount a tire. Just changing to a thinner rim strip – Velox cloth to Continental plastic in the old days – made tubed tires easier to mount.
I’ve made no secret of my belief that tubeless is where the market is going. As with disc brakes two or three years ago, I didn’t say then (and don't now) that this is where the market necessarily should go, but where it will go. With tubeless (as with disc brake) the industry decision to move means the entire state of that motif will improve.
Therefore, I didn’t want to waste my time even testing these wheels unless they were tubeless ready. They came to me very tubeless ready, which is to say, with a double wrap of tubeless tape as the rim strip, with a tubeless tire mounted, but with a tube installed.
I shot a video above showing me taking this Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless tire off and then mounting that tire back onto the rim with the tube out. What I found – as you’d see in the video – is that this was an untenable process with the tube in, but quite fine if used as tubeless. Let’s be fair, though. Did twice winding tubeless tape create what amounts to a thicker rim strip, causing this tire to dismount with such difficulty? Maybe. I don’t know. Was it more the profile of the tubeless bead? What I conclude in the video is that I like this rim if used tubeless, so far I like it less if used with a tube.
To me, the gold standard in how a tubeless tire can mount to a tubeless rim is Zipp on Zipp (tire and tube), which I illustrate in a video. As you’d see, the Schwalbe mounts just about as easily onto this Princeton Composites wheel.
I’ve found scant mention of this wheel in the aero literature and that’s to be expected. It’s new. There is a test extant from the A2 tunnel, with a lot of massaged data (drag x speed x yaw x time spent at yaw). I’m not going to display a graphic representation of that data (or even a chart of the data) because there is too much missing. For example, the Princeton Carbonworks wheel “wins” the test with a 23mm tire, but finishes in the middle of the field with a 25mm tire. I don’t see any mention of the tire used on the other wheels, are those wheels tested with tires optimized for them? Don’t know.
I’m glad that the company is conducting comparative testing, just, it seems to me more fair to start throwing graphs up when the shoe is on the other foot and Zipp, HED, Enve and others start using this wheel as a foil in their tests (and that would be a victory of sorts – if Princeton Carbonworks is considered worthy of inclusion in those tests).
Speaking of Zipp, you may’ve noticed the shape of this wheel, and how it looks pretty similar to the sawtooth design on Zipp’s NSW wheels (though Zipp’s is an asymmetrical whalehump shape). I asked Zipp about its patents. I asked Princeton Carbonworks about Zipp’s patents. Both are somewhat guarded and opaque. I guess the best you can say is maybe great minds think alike. I don’t know. As to who owns any intellectual property I don’t know. But, hey, look what I found. Which may mean there is even more endorsement for the concept; but may also mean the intellectual ownership question gets even thornier.
The point of this shape, as well as I can tell, is to grant you a bike more stable in crosswinds or changing winds or on roads where trucks whoosh by you while you’re riding. Here’s the thinking: I love me some 90mm wheels, but those wheels don’t really benefit me (over, say, 40mm or 60mm wheels) until they’re subjected to a significant yaw, but when the wind is hitting the wheel at that yaw I can’t ride the wheel. So what good is the wheel?
Can I get sexy yaw numbers in a wheel that does not suffer from the steering torque applied to a deep wheel in funky winds? That’s the play here. And to be clear, it seems what happens when I ride deep wheels that is so disconcerting is wheel stall. I’m sailing along – literally – enjoying a push, as in a broad reach, and then… the wheel capitulates. Stalls. And then I have to normalize through a quick reweighting, giving my old and weary heart a little jump. The notion here – as I understand it, whether with this wheel or Zipp’s NSW wheels – is to delay or mitigate the stall. There, I’ve exhausted my knowledge. My knowledge has stalled.
As I wrote right at the beginning, this is a nice wheel. I like the wheel in breezy conditions. But I need more data, more experience, more miles before I write anything definitive. Cam Wurf is riding these wheels or, at least, did ride them at Ironman France. Mind, Cam is known for choosing a less aggressive front wheel for the reasons I stated above, and rode a – what? 30mm? 40mm? – front wheel in setting the bike record in Kona last year so that he could focus on pushing down on the pedals rather than keeping the bike upright. Yet, he rode a pair of 6560 wheels in France unless I am mistaken, which features some pretty technical up and down, twisty riding.
I think it’ll be telling what Cam rides in Kona this year. Princeton Carbonworks is expected come out with a less aggressive wheel, something like a 4540, next. Which wheel would Cam likely ride in Kona, if he had the choice, the 6560 or a conceptual 4540? That would be interesting to know.
I’ve got HED and Zipp wheels that I have put through the ringer, and they’ve remained true and round. What I don’t know, yet, about this wheel is whether it’ll perform similarly over the long haul. These are expensive wheels, and I don’t want them going out of true. It’s hard to just whip out your spoke wrench and give wheels a touch-up these days with rims this exotic.
I asked these folks whether their wheels would stand up under the stress of a Spring Classic, which is to say, are they gravel ready? They were reportedly ridden in Dirty Kanza (with 42mm tires!), and were ridden over some pave sections by Summer Cook and Kevin McDowell this summer in ITU racing. These are 16-spoke wheels. If they hold up in gravel, that’s big. Mind, I think gravel and tri (and road) are converging. I could easily see myself putting a gravel wheel on my tri bike. Why not? I’m riding a Zipp 303 for gravel right now.
You might counter that bead width is the limiter here – that gravel bikes need a wider spacing between the beads. This wheel advertises 18mm of gap between the beads. It also, as noted above, wants a 23mm tire. If you’re riding your tri bike with 25mm or 28mm tires, that wheel probably wants more like a 20mm gap and HED seems to me to favor 20mm or 21mm, which is fine for anything up to a 38mm gravel tire, as well as I can tell. The one knock I have on this wheel is I wish it were built to 20mm or 20.5mm, because I’d rather ride those wider road tires.
We’ll see how these wheels stand up over time. It’s a new wheel company and we just don’t know how the wheels will do, and how the company will respond when there is a trueness question.
Claimed weight of these wheels, in the disc brake config, is 1555g. That’s in the same territory as Zipp’s 454 NSW. It’s a very fair weight. The hubs are fine though nothing special. Someone needs to explain to me the Chris King hub option I keep seeing from wheel companies, adding $800 to the wheelset. (I don’t mean to pick on Princeton Carbonworks, a number of wheel companies do this, I just don’t get it. Making a good hub used to not be that difficult. To me, offering a Chris King hub is an advertisement that your hub isn’t up to snuff.) That may be unfair; that’s just me. If you don’t make a wheel with a good enough hub, make a better hub. What the hell?!
Oh, and get off my lawn.
Cost and Distribution
The 6560 WAKE is a consumer direct product. These wheels arrived packed well, and when it was time to send them back I was emailed a Bikeflights label. Just realize – as with FLO or any other direct or mail order purchase – you’ll need to keep hold of wheel boxes for return freight in case you need that.
These wheels cost $2,400 for rim brake or $2,600 for the disc brake version I rode. That’s for the pair. I would say that’s on the high end of acceptable for a new entry into the market. I don’t get the sense this company is set up to be a budget wheel company, as in, we think wheels cost too much! More like Harry’s, where there’s some combo of a better razor and a fair price.
The Princeton Carbonworks brand earns a space in this category. Wheels were starting to look like a commodity. But then the wheel brands struck back, giving us reasons to dig a little deeper into our wallets. The one hub I’d like to see this wheel feature is a Powertap hub, because then I can ride the pedals I want and still get a power meter. This company does offer custom builds, done by Bill Mould, including with Powertap if that floats your boat.
Read more about Princeton Carbonworks.