Ardennes+ long term review

This is our long-term test of the 2013 Hed Ardennes+ SL. We originally wrote about these wheels in April of this year, when we first caught wind of their existence. Hed started shipping wheels in May, and we received a test pair from the first round of production. Since that time, they have served as my go-to ‘training wheel’, and filled in the gaps between other wheels that we have reviewed this year.

What do we think of the new fat-boy rims? Are they everything we hoped for – and everything that Hed promised? Let’s dig in.

Features, specs, and technology

At first glance, it is hard to tell that the Ardennes have changed at all. Compared to the ‘skinny’ Ardennes, the new Plus rims are only 0.5mm deeper, at 24.5mm.

Once you get a close look, however, you see that the new rim is very wide indeed. While listed at 25mm, I measured my pair at 25.3mm in the center of the braking surfaces. Internal width is 20.6mm (I have also seen 20.7mm listed – close enough).

This image from Hed shows the two rims side-by-side:

Hed sells many different versions of the Ardennes and Ardennes+. We tested the ‘SL’ version, which is their highest seller. Here are the specs:

MSRP: $1,150
Weight: 650g front, 852g rear, 1502/pair
Rim depth: 24.5mm
Rim width: 25.3mm
Internal width: 20.7mm
Spokes: 18 front radial, 24 rear 2x/2x Sapim CX-Ray with DT Prolock nipples
Weight limit: 225lbs
Available with Shimano 9/10/11 or Campagnolo 9/10/11 freehub
Includes: Steel quick release skewers, tubeless rim tape, and 11-speed cassette spacer

What do the other versions of the wheel mean? Here is the quick-and-dirty:

SL: ‘Standard’ version. Features the Sonic hub set (same hubs used on the standard Jets and Stingers).

LT: Has the same hubs as the Jet Express wheels. Internals are the same as the standard Sonic, but with a heavier and less-flashy hub shell. Has same 18/24 spoke count as the SL, but a slightly heavier gauge spoke. This is my overall pick for price/performance.

FR: Flamme Rouge. This is the highest-end version. Upgrades include a titanium ratchet ring, titanium skewers, and a grease port on the rear hub. Otherwise identical to the SL.

FR Disc: Same as above, but with more spokes, 135mm rear hub spacing, and compatibility with Shimano Centerlock disc brake rotors.

CL: ‘Big-and-Tall’ version. 24 spokes front, 28 rear with traditional 2x lacing all around and the same heavier spoke as the LT. Larger bearings inside the hub. Recommended at or above ~220lbs. My pick for a super training wheel and/or monster truck wheel.

All of these wheels feature the same fat rim (the disc version lacks a braking surface, however).

We recently toured the Hed factory in Minnesota (see the gallery linked at the bottom of this page). When your wheel passes through the QC process, it gets the stamp of approval – a smiley face:

All new Hed wheels ship with 11-speed compatible freehubs. The black spacer (seen below) measures 2.8mm and is intended for use with Shimano 10-speed cassettes. If you use the Hed spacer, you do NOT need to use the 1mm spacer that comes with the cassette; only the 2.8mm. Note that SRAM 9/10-speed and Shimano 9-speed cassettes require a 1.8mm spacer (not included).

The front hub features the now-familiar Hed straight-pull design:

My SLs came with a pair of skewers and two rolls of rim tape. This tape allows the use of tubeless tires, but can also be used with standard clincher tires/tubes.

When installing the tape, I recommend two passes around the wheel (Hed provides more than enough for this). It works the exact same as most other tubeless tapes – pull it TIGHT. You want to pull it down a few inches at a time with one hand and smash it down with the other hand.

In the photo below, take a look at the tape on the right side – that is how you want the whole wheel to look when you’re done. Bonus points if you leave your Crocs visible in the photo.

Note that you will need to cut your own valve hole, similar to other tubeless tapes. I use a sharp razor and cut out a little star shape:

Effect on Tire Width

One of the first things I wondered about the new ‘plus’ rim was how much it affects tire width. Does it change the size of the tire I must use?

Hed recommends 22mm and larger tires, although they say they’ve managed to mount tires as narrow as 20mm. At a certain point, the limiter is the fact that tires were not designed for rims this wide; most puncture resistant strips are only about as wide as the tire tread. This has me wondering if tire design will be forced to change over time to accommodate the ever-growing size of average road rims.

The image below shows actual tire sizes on three different rim widths. These are real sizes taken from plaster molds.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to say exactly how much your tire will ‘swell’ due to the wider rim. As we’ve discussed many times in the past, the size listed on your tire label isn’t always accurate to begin with – and they must make that label assuming a given rim size.

If I had to take a guess, I’d say that you gain about 1mm of tire width each time you jump up a rim size. For example, I have used the 650x23c Vittoria Rubino on a standard 19mm rim, and they usually measure about 23mm. On a 23mm wide Jet 6 wheel (with the ‘middle’ size rim in the above graphic), I measure 24.0mm for the same tire. Tires also stretch out a little bit over time, adding to the confusion.

I used two tires with the Ardennes+. My go-to was the Michelin Pro 4 Service course 700x25mm tire. This tire historically runs on the large end of the scale (e.g. 27mm+ on a standard narrow rim). When brand new, my tires measured 28.0mm at 90psi on the Ardennes+.

The other tire I used was the Challenge Paris-Roubaix 700x27mm. I have seen that these run on the large end, similar to the Michelins. Mine measured out to a whopping 30.8mm on the Ardennes+ when brand new. They just fit into my round tube titanium frame. The tightest clearance was actually with the Shimano Dura Ace 9000 front derailleur; I only had about 2mm to spare.

It should go without saying that you can and should lower your pressure with these super-wide rims. I found that with my tire choices, ~75psi felt about right.

It should also go without saying that the ride quality of this setup is outstanding. These wheels and tires brought a new level of confidence to aerobar riding, and made descending an absolute joy. My nickname for the Ardennes+/Michelin combo is – and you can call me a dork - Descender’s Delight. Small bumps disappear, large bumps are muted, and there is more cornering grip than you know what to do with.

Wrap Up

Overall, I think that the Ardennes+ SL are a wonderful wheel set. The build quality of my test pair was fantastic – the hubs are still smooth and the rims are perfectly true after many miles and potholes. At just over 1,500 grams for the pair, they’re astoundingly light given how wide they are. The braking was as-expected for a welded and machined aluminum rim - smooth and predictable. If I was personally going to buy a pair, I would probably go for the LT… but that’s just because I’m cheap.

How wide will clincher rims go? Will narrow rims completely go away? What about the Jet line?

Oh wait. There’s another part to this article.


Hed Jets get wider for 2014

Not long ago, Hed announced that the Jet 4, 6, 9, and disc are all going to the new ‘Plus’ rim for 2014. The name is tricky – Jet+.

The Jet 5 and 7 ‘Express’ models and all 650c Jets will stay with the current 23mm rim.

According to Hed’s Andy Tetmeyer, all of their testing has shown that the wide rims are faster. Rather than offer the ‘plus’ as an option, they are doing away with the 23mm rim altogether for the 6, 9, and disc. Note that some rims will be kept for warranty replacement (e.g. if you crash and break a narrow rim, you can get the same rim as a replacement). They will also phase out the narrower 23mm Ardennes wheels over the next year. Aftermarket sales of the 23mm Belgium rim will continue for the foreseeable future.

Just how fast is the Jet+? Hed provided this graph from the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel:

One thing that is not visible on the graph is stall angle. Tetmeyer tells us that they were unable to stall the new Jet6+ at all. In the past, the Hed3 was the standout in their product line as having the latest stall, but the Jet6+ is the new best-performer.

Tire note for all you rubber nerds: Hed finds that the Continental Attack 22mm tire is faster (e.g. more aerodynamic) than the ever-popular GP4000 S. The 4000 has been praised for its aerodynamic tread pattern and superb overall performance, but it appears that the Attack might kick it off the top step of the podium. If I had to take a stab, the fastest overall setup may be the Attack 22mm on the front wheel and GP4000 S 23mm on the rear – if we want to take aerodynamics, handling, and rolling resistance all into account.

I asked Tetmeyer for more data beyond the small graph above. How about a comparison to the existing 23mm Jets? He obliged:

When looking at the graph above, note that the legend calls out the new 25mm rims with the word ‘Plus’.

The obvious standout is the dark purple line (Jet+ disc) that dive-bombs on the graph. The pink line just above it is the standard 23mm Jet disc. I inquired as to why that wheel was only tested out to 20 degrees yaw.

Tetmeyer responded, “Did not run that one out past 20. I have no idea why, but we're not going to make stuff up in order for the chart to be pretty.”

Of course, we must put in the usual caveats – this is manufacturer-provided data. Is it true? We don’t know. We didn’t do the test. It will certainly be interesting to see independent tests crop up over time to tell us if or how much faster the new wheels are. We have no reason to believe that they're not fast, but third-party test data is always necessary and valuable.

Frame Fit

My only real concern with the 25mm-wide rim is whether or not they – and the necessarily larger tires – will fit in modern triathlon frames. We do see quite a few tubular rims that are 25mm and larger, so I don’t foresee this being a big issue on many frames.

According to Hed, they have done test fitting in a handful of bikes with proprietary aero brakes, such as the Trek Speed Concept. So far, so good. My recommendation is that – when in doubt – err on the narrower side with your tire choice. A tire that says ‘23mm’ on the label will most likely end up being 24 or 25mm actual width on the Jet and Ardennes+ rims.