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Campagnolo Bora Ultra 35 review

Campagnolo Bora Ultra 35 review
19 Oct 2015
Verdict:

Campagnolo has turned its top-end tubular wheel into a clincher - but has the Bora Ultra 35 lost anything in the translation?

Price: 
£2,238

Campagnolo lays claim to many innovations in cycling – the quick release and the parallelogram derailleur among them – but the brand also holds fast to some cycling traditions, one of which being the old rule that racers ride on tubular tyres. So until now, Campag has never offered a clincher option for its top tier of carbon wheels.

The Bora has become something of an icon in pro racing. It’s been a staple since its introduction in 1994, when it was a trendsetter as a deep profile carbon rim. Its appearance hasn’t changed a great deal, but that’s not to suggest the wheels haven’t progressed. Boras were an early proponent of ceramic bearings, and recent years have seen some dramatic changes in the detail. Campag developed what I consider to be the most elegant solution to the problem of the poor braking performance of carbon fibre wheels by shaving off the smooth layer of resin to leave the exposed carbon fibre. The advantage is greater friction at the surface, an ability to create a more consistently parallel brake track and a solution to the problem of water collection on the resin exterior. It may sound like a gimmick, but it works.

‘Maintaining a structure that was as resistant to braking forces, both in regards to heat dissipation as well as flex is more complex when taking into account the “hooked” or “lipped” structure of a clincher wheel,’ says Campagnolo’s Joshua Riddle. ‘Where a tubular is one solid complete structure, the clincher has two “beads” that must be supported on each side.’ Thankfully, though, there seems to have been no sacrifice in braking. In contrast to the unpredictable performance of cheaper carbon clincher rims, the Bora’s consistent bite as brake pads meet the rim was a delight. It felt virtually identical to tubulars. But there certainly are some other differences between this and the tubular wheelset. 

Weighing up

Campagnolo Bora Ultra 35 hub

This year has seen a shift to a wider profile for the Bora rims, both for the tubulars and this new clincher. Rather than exulting the newfound aero benefits, though, Campagnolo argues the change offers two very different advantages: a wider rim bed to improve the overall profile of a wider tyre, and a reduced weight. ‘Structurally, having the wider rim actually allows the engineers to employ less material than in the narrower version,’ says Riddle. ‘The result is a stiffer rim that actually weighs less.’

That said, this clincher wheel does carry a weight penalty, coming in at 1,370g for the pair compared to the tubular weight of 1,160g. They’re not the lightest clincher wheels on the market, but are still impressively light given the medium aero profile – 200g lighter than the similarly shaped Zipp 303.

More importantly, the Boras feel light once clamped into a bike. The wheels spin up to speed quickly and seem to suffer no flex in side-to-side sprint efforts (usually detectable by the gentle rub of brake pads). Their lightness and stiffness becomes really noticeable when flying up inclines. While Campagnolo doesn’t scream about the aerodynamics, the wheels did seem to carry speed well, and I noticed slight improvements in my top speeds on descents compared to standard box-section rims. The more impressive characteristic, though, was stability. Where middling aero profile wheels can often be blown around in strong crosswinds, the Boras were stable in all conditions – offering heaps of handling confidence.

Inevitably, there are performance sacrifices from the conversion to clincher, but also some benefits. While the tubular’s responsive feel makes it a favourite for racers, clinchers consistently show lower rolling resistance and often better aerodynamics in industry testing. And I was reminded of the practical superiority of clinchers on my very first ride on the Boras, when a shard of glass went through the tyre and a quick inner tube change saved me from a three-mile walk to the train station.

Bargains galore

Campagnolo Bora Ultra 35 rim

Mad as it may sound, at £2,238 the Boras are actually reasonably priced. They are, after all, from a company that prides itself on being unashamedly more expense than everyone else. In fact the Bora Ultra is cheaper than the top shallow-profile offerings from Zipp, Shimano and Reynolds. What’s more, at £1,526 the Bora One alternatives are right at the midpoint of the market for fully carbon clincher wheels, with only a slight sacrifice in weight and a more basic set of bearings.

Perhaps a true evaluation of the wheelset will be possible only after several years of use, when the longevity of the carbon brake surface and the overall wheel package will be more evident. Historically, though, the Boras have performed well and there’s no reason to doubt that these will hold up to all but the harshest of year-round weather. In my time testing them I put them through some rotten conditions (and serious potholes) and they showed no sign of weakness.

While the Boras may lack the claims of aerospace R&D being boasted by other big wheel brands, they have a distinctive character, and even a distinctive sound, that resonates with my inner racer. It’s a consistent quality of many Italian cycling brands, and it has proven to be very much to the tastes of WorldTour pros. To have that same seamless and smooth ride quality without the need of a support car is certainly an exciting prospect.

Campagnolo Bora Ultra 35 Clincher Front Rear
Weight 575g 785g
Rim depth 35mm 35mm
Rim width 24mm 24mm
Spokes 18 21
Contact campagnolo.com

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