31 August 2008

bikefix Initial Review: HED Ardennes wheelset

Right or wrong, there's a lot of thinking going on over at HED. The company, who are know for their carbon and carbon-skinned aero wheels, have recently introduced a line of thought that they're calling C2. Their theory is that on a wider (23 vs. 19mm) rim, a standard (23c) road tire takes a different, wider profile. This profile does two things. First, it eases the aerodynamic transition between the tire and rim, changing the overall cross section from that of a lightbulb to a half circle/half ellipse sort of thing, providing smoother airflow and better aerodynamics. The second thing is a bit harder to grasp. Because a given tire is wider when mounted on a wider rim, the contact patch shape changes from longer and skinnier to shorter and wider. Ergo, less of the tire's casing is being deformed at any given time, the thought is that rolling resistance decreases- the company actually claims a not-insignificant 18% reduction over comparable wheelsets.

As I mentioned in my first look at HED's Bastognes, I've been in the market for a new set of wheels. Durability, light(ish) weight and accessible nipples were all criteria. So, too was a price of $800 or so. Of course, the folks at HED convinced me to stretch that or so by a bit and see what the $1,000 Ardennes wheels and their C2 concept were all about, essentially splitting the difference price-wise. Always a sucker for a deal (and weird gear), I bit. A couple of Fridays ago, the postman came by bikefix HQ with a large (but light) cardboard box.

Opening the box, the first thing one sees is the top of the rims. You wouldn't think that 4mm would be all that visible, but the Ardennes' Scandium rims sure look like they belong on a 29er (in fact, I'm running 19mm road rims on mine). The hubs are visibly different and feel smoother than the OEM Bastognes', though they're clearly variations on the same theme. On the scales of injustice, they came in 25g each heavier than advertised, at 615g and 800g (F & R). Not a big deal to me, but worth mentioning. The spokes are bladed Sapim CX-rays on the front and DTs on the rear- all radially laced save those laced 2 cross on the rear drive side. While I'm not a big logo fan, the HEDs' will stay in place thanks to their reflectivity- very nice considering that I'll be using these for commuting as well as road riding. One of the decals' top layer was all scrunched up, but given that the wheels were smooth and perfectly true out of the box, that's a minor complaint and hardly worth mentioning (I'm sure that worse will happen before a year has passed). More annoying was the fact that I had to run to the bike shop for a $4.00 set of rim strips before I could ride the wheels- if ordering online, be sure to add rim strips to your tab. It should be noted that, when mounting the Ardennes, a brake adjustment will be necessary. While anyone entrusted with an Allen wrench should be able to manage this, it means that neutral support wheels in a race will require brake adjustment as well- make sure you've got plenty of room in your barrel adjusters or the first descent on neutral wheels could be a scary one.

Because the tires' (effectively shorter) sidewalls are doing more of the work on a C2 rim, HED recommending decreasing tire pressure by 10% front and rear. For me, this meant I would be riding 80psi in the front, 85 in the rear. Beat after yesterday's technical mountain ride, I decided to try to get in a couple of hours on the road bike. While not dramatically different than the Bastognes, the Ardennes feel a bit more stable, particularly at speed. Coming down a local canyon with a healthy tailwind, I felt more comfortable at 45 than usual. Cornering also felt a bit better, but I was looking for and expecting this. After 2 flats in 2 weeks with Continental's GP4000 tires, I've gone back to my standard (heavier) road tires, so I have a feeling that my overall system weight hasn't changed much (if at all). Still, climbing felt good and my reedy legs weren't able to wring any noticeable flex out of the rear wheel. For such a light wheelset, the Ardennes felt surprisingly solid.

While I'm a light rider, commuting tends to take a toll on equipment. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Ardennes fare over the coming months and years. The first 150 miles or so have been good, but we're just getting started and will let you know how they go...




Anonymous said...

I'm interested in the Ardennes wheels, and a short follow-up of your review would be most useful. How are they holding use? I'd also love to know about the internal rim width, as I'd be interested in using them woth wider tyres (28-35 mm.) Do you have any idea on this? Thanks a lot

bikefix said...


You bet- it's right here: http://www.bikefix.net/2009/04/bikefix-exclusive-review-hed-ardennes.html I'm still riding them and they're still going strong... marc

bikefix said...

You will be able to run wider tires, no problem, but will lose a good deal of the aerodynamic benefit. A 25 will probably feel like a 28, though, so I'd start there.