Reynolds gave me the opportunity to review its new carbon clinchers, the Aero series, and write a review for Competitive Cyclist for them. Have a sneak peek at it below, after the jump…and yes, these wheels really ARE legit.
It’s official: The relatively new marketplace battleground of the carbon clincher wheelset just went nuclear with Reynolds’ new entrants into the fray, their Aero wheel lineup. This is the Wasatch Front-based firm’s first attempt at building a carbon wheel strictly as a clincher, and it’s truly a stunning effort.
The Aero series is the brainchild of legendary industry aerodynamics engineer and former triathlete Paul Lew (who also happens to design stealth drones for the military). Lew designed them from the ground up in a radical departure from Reynolds current standard-spoked wheels, starting at the hubs. They’re all new DT Swiss-made units based on the venerable lightweight and durable 240 design, utilizing straight pull DT Swiss Aerolite bladed spokes that anchor in the rim through cutouts, keeping those dastardly un-aero nipples out of the wind. Fancy hub and spokes aside, the rims is where Reynolds has really brought the thunder. Something of a derivative of the hoops that the RZR 92 roll on, Reynolds $4500 “halo” TT and triathalon monster wheelset, the Aero rims are rather unique in a market littered with deep carbon wheels moving towards the fat-and-bulbous toroidal shaping popularized by Zipp. Whilst maintaining the wide-rim mantra sweeping the rim design landscape at a massive 26.2mm outside diameter, the shaping of the foil behind the tire bed comes to a rather unorthodox razor-sharp point.
Diving into the pure techno-mumbo-jumbo of why, in scientific terms, these wheels are a phenomenal buy, is a realm that I’ll let your average chain bookseller rag dive into. Let’s dig into the true meat and potatoes of why these wheels are possibly the best carbon clincher (nee, clinchers period) wheel I’ve had the pleasure of turning ‘round. I opted to put them through the ringer - first a few mountainous, windy rides around the Competitive Cyclist lair in Park City, UT, and then a hellish regional stage race outside of Laramie, Wyoming called the Dead Dog Classic. The Dead Dog is one of the more brutal typical two-day, three-stage affairs so common in American racing: A road race featuring nearly 8,000 vertical feet of climbing (topping out around 11,000 feet) and 85 miles of summer slogging, along with a standard 20k TT and downtown crit in gale-force Wyoming winds. Add in some of the best of the Front Range’s elite racer offerings, and you have the makings of a seriously taxing weekend.
In any case, the time I spent aboard them was anything but easy, and most wheels (especially deep wheels like these) would show their inherent design flaws at some point in the journey. However, the Aeros pleasantly surprised, time and time again. Most notably, their behavior in brutal crosswinds was not only controlled, but I might even deign to describe it as “mellow”. Most high-profile wheels, even the latest-and-greatest with excessive accompanying marketing jargon and wind-tunnel testing, are still a compromise in wind. You’ll still fight them like a tiger trying to turn you into lunch, albeit a slightly smaller tiger. Maybe a jaguar. Or a puma. But the Aeros? They’re in a class of their own. There are no compromises here. If I hadn’t seen the gorgeous unidirectional carbon fairing slicing through the air beneath me, I could’ve sworn I was riding a run-of-the-mill shallow OEM rim. They’re that good. There are no surprise jumps into the opposing lane of traffic when a 40mph gust comes out of nowhere in the last 10k of a long road race, no attempts to send you into a drainage ditch when you take your hands off the bars while trying to fish that last energy bar out of your jersey mid-bonk. They’re predictable, stable, and incredibly confidence-inspiring, something I can’t say about another deep wheel on the market today.
Expounding on their behavior like a wheel a quarter the depth, these wheels don’t ride like any other deep wheel I’ve been subjected to, either. You know the feeling - that bouncy, jarring ride in exchange for cutting through wind with excessive efficiency and seductive carbon fashion. The sensation of skittering out of a corner in a criterium because your wheels are so harsh is absent aboard the Aeros, perhaps partly owing to the larger tire profile afforded by the massive rim width. They absorb bumps like a standard alloy rim, yet accelerate with the thrill-inducing thrust reminiscent of your favorite sports car (or maybe just the old wheels you put on that ubiquitous auction site after riding the Aeros). Yet again, Reynolds and Lew managed to knock it out of the park with these wheels in an unexpected area.
Braking performance was another bright spot for the Reynolds. While still not in the realm of a standard alloy setup with a good pad, the modulation afforded by the newly reformulated supplied Reynolds blue brake pads was surprising for a carbon wheel. The long, 4000-foot 50 mph descents during the Dead Dog would cause many carbon wheel/pad combinations to suffer more fade faster than your typical Disney Channel pop starlet, but the Aeros maintained predictability with a solid dose of confidence. Sadly, the late-June test timeframe afforded by our window of opportunity kept me from giving them a true wet-weather braking test, but Reynolds assures me of superior performance, especially compared to past iterations of their pads. With these wheels doing everything else so well, I’m inclined to believe them.
While a week-long test isn’t a great indicator of a product’s long-term durability, I found the Aeros to be up to the abuse we dished out on a repeated basis. Even with our 23mm tires inflated to a comfortable 80psi, jarring railroad crossings and kiddie-pool sized criterium potholes left them unfazed. The rims remained intact without a hint of damage, and the wheels remained as true as the day I received them.
My only noticeable (and extremely minor) complaint with the wheels came from what initially seemed like an ingenious design feature: a rubber grommet that fits around the valvestem to prevent the oft-present rattle on a carbon wheel during riding. However, when changing a flat after an errant chunk of glass interrupted a ride, I found it nigh-impossible to slip back into its in-rim housing fully. Again, a rather minor mark, especially measured against all of the Aero’s positives.
With the typical obstacles of the deep carbon clincher surmounted, you might be asking “…but are they fast?”. In short, yes. While it’s tough to quantify from simply riding, they definitely lend that feeling of deep carbon zippiness (no pun intended) when rocketing along the flats and descents. Again, I’ll let others go on about wind-tunnel data, but the wheels are definitely not in the “slow” camp. Reynolds recommends running a 23mm tire to maximize the aero benefits from the wide-rim setup, but I’d imagine that a 25mm tire would ride like a dream mounted to the fat wheel. As far as weight is concerned, the 1570g weight of the Aero 58 is definitely respectable, and on par with its competitors. While not the most svelte setup for going uphill, as far as clinchers are concerned it’s more than within acceptable weight limits.
This latest offering from Reynolds, with its phenomenal performance and lack of typical deep carbon wheel flaws might be the answer to the race wheel conundrum that I often find myself in. Truly a do-it-all wheelset, the Aero 58s might be the wheels to buy if your bank account, significant other, or kid’s college fund gets in the way of a separate race-day only setup.