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BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — It’s no secret that long-established companies like Zipp, Mavic, HED, and Enve have a stronghold on the aero wheel market.
In the past, Shimano wheels have always been strong and reliable, but they lacked the go-fast sex appeal of the other heavy hitters in the 35+ millimeter depth range. Shimano admits that while its wheels are known for their reliability, they’re not the first thing aero wheel buyers will think of.
That, the company hopes, will soon change.
On Fiesta Island outside of San Diego, Calif., Shimano had a small group of journalists test its WH-9000-C50-TU carbon tubular, WH-9000-C50-CL carbon-aluminum clincher, and it’s WH-9000-C75-TU carbon tubular, ostensibly but not actually named after Yozo Shimano’s childhood pet fax machines. The three wheelsets make up most of Shimano’s aero wheel offering, missing only the C35 tubular, a very popular wheel in the cyclocross world.
We spent time on all three wheel designs on the flat, four-mile loop around Fiesta Island, which proved to be an excellent testing ground as the wind swirled from every direction throughout the ride. Our test bike, a 2012 Scott Foil, has been in our stable for a year now. It’s a frame with which we are quite familiar. Strava KOM’s were chased, on the bumper of the car, racing other editors and solo, but no attempts were successful.
The baseline for the test was a pair of Shimano 24mm carbon-aluminum clinchers, the WH-9000-C24-CL. A strong and compliant wheel in its own right, the C24 served as a control in the day’s subjective testing. A couple of laps on the C24 at the beginning and at the end of the ride provided a feel for the loop with a shallow rim.
First Ride on the Shimano C75
The C75 tubulars were the first on the testing block, followed by a C75 rear and C50 front combination, and finally, the C50 clinchers. There’s no denying that the C75s are a fast wheelset. Thankfully, Shimano went with a wide rim on all of its new aero offerings; the tubular models have a 24mm wide brake track and the C50-CL has a 23mm track.
The shores of Fiesta Island offered a feel for every wind direction, and through a cross-head and tail portion we were quickly reminded that these wheels are deep wheels — very deep — and even with this tester’s 6-foot, 165-pound build, the C75s did pull quite a bit, particularly when sprinting out of a corner in a crosswind direction. For less technical courses, such as road races without a lot of elevation gain and long time trials, the C75s would be an excellent wheel choice. They are not for the daily ride, but Shimano makes no claim that they are.
For the next test, the front C75 was swapped out for a C50-TU, making the crit racer in us giddy. The mash-up of the 75mm rear and 50mm front rim depths was an excellent change of pace, as we very rarely get to concurrently test wheels with varying rim depths. In the crosswinds of Fiesta Island, where the Foil had to be fought with the C75 front mounted, we could focus on pedaling rather than keeping the bars straight. The hub engagement is quick and being a Shimano hub, they are durable.
Shimano continues to make aluminum-carbon hybrid clinchers, rather than join the carbon clincher crowd. The company claims that the benefits of a carbon clincher are not large enough to warrant the development of them at this time. Shimano’s durability requirements are very high, the company says, and in order to meet its own impact durability standards engineers would have to use a vast quantity of carbon on the brake track. Such a large amount of carbon and resins would not be able to dissipate heat from braking, leading to tire failure.
The C50 handled extremely similar to their all-carbon brothers, but with slightly improved braking; the wheels were predictable and responsive, much like wheels of similar depth that we’ve tested.
The carbon-brake track of the C50-TU and C75-TU was very good, based on the few stops that were performed, none of which occurred in wet conditions. Shimano ships all of its wheels with their blue carbon brake pads. These pads work with aluminum and carbon wheels, and Shimano’s Wayne Stetina claimed that in dry conditions, the pads — when paired with aluminum brake tracks — perform 90 percent as well as the company’s black pads. The main difference between the two products is their stopping power in the rain.
The C75-TUs take the prize for some of the most expensive wheels recently tested by VeloNews at $3,200. But at a claimed weight of 1,545 grams, they’re lighter than Zipp 808s — by less than 100 grams and with $100 tacked onto the price. It will be an uphill battle for Shimano to swing Zipp fans from the carbon-wheel giant, but the C75 is a quality wheel in its own right and deserves to be considered.
The C50-TUs come in at $2,900 and the C50-CL will set you back $2,200. The wheelsets weigh a claimed 1,449g and 1,672g, respectively. The tubulars are pricy and not exactly on the featherweight side, but for a 50mm wheel, the weight is respectable. Shimano works hard to keep its rim weights low, and much of the weight is at the hub, which we appreciated when kicking the C50-TUs out of corners. Shimano is willing to sacrifice some weight to keep with its heritage of reliability in this area.
The C50-CL is at an excellent price point, and for an aluminum braking surface and 50mm rim, its weight is respectable. With many consumers still not sold on carbon clinchers, the C50-CL could be an excellent buy.
All of Shimano’s 9000 series wheels are 11- and 10-speed compatible and are shipped with a 1.85mm spacer for people wishing to use 10 speed components.
We were not surprised to find that Shimano’s latest wheel offerings are, to put it simply, rather excellent. Shimano rarely makes bad products, especially at the Dura-Ace level — which is not the least bit surprising, given the company’s massive research and development budget. The C50-CL wheelset is heavier than its competition, but offers something most can’t — an aluminum-braking surface. Our wheels of choice would be a C50-TU and C-75-TU combination. That’s certainly a pricey wheelset at $3,050, but it’s an impressive performer.
The C50-TU wheelset is a fantastic all-around product for riders who aren’t as fond of deeper wheels, or those who live in a windy or hilly area.
Bottom line: Shimano’s latest all-arounders are expensive, but the tubular model measures up to the competition and is a serious contender with the giants of Zipp, Mavic, and Enve.