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VeloElite Carbon Wide 180-50mm Disc wheelset review

2 Oct 2020
Verdict:

Handbuilt carbon wheels that can add stiffness, comfort and speed to their impressive CV, and all at a very competitive price

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Fast • Stiff • Light • Tubeless
Against 
None

Carbon, disc brake, tubeless, 50mm deep, 21mm internal width, 30mm external, 1,429g a pair (claimed). As a wheel spec list goes I don’t think I could ask for much more. Especially given the VeloElite Carbon Wide 50s are handbuilt by a chap called Tom, cost under £1,500 and, apparently, I have never ridden so fast as with them.

Buying considerations

Not so long ago a spec sheet like the VeloElite Carbon Wide 50s wouldn’t have left much change from £2,500, and in some cases, still doesn’t. To pick out two comparable wheelsets, Bontrager’s Aeolus XXX TLR Disc (47mm deep, 21mm internal, 1,455g) costs £1,998; Enve’s 3.4 Disc (38mm/42mm front/rear, 21mm wide, 1,399g) costs £3,100. But it’s not just enough to be cheap – you have to be good. And the VeloElites truly are.

To sum up to save you needing to read any further (we should all be out riding anyway), the VeloElites feel incredibly stiff and light-footed under acceleration, they chop the wind like the best of ‘em, and they roll smoothly. In short, they are an excellent aero wheelset that offers much more than just speed. But to elaborate (as it’s now raining outside), the reasons why are thusly…

The components

A wheel is the embodiment of something being more than the sum of its part, but it needs those parts to be good, and the components here are.

The 24 spokes front and rear are Sapim CX Ray, near-ubiquitous in top-tier wheels, and the hubs are DT Swiss 180s, the lightest in the DT Swiss range at a claimed 91g front, 188g rear. Inside the hubs are ceramic bearings, which help the VeloElites spin effortlessly, and the freehub is the new Ratchet EXP system, providing 36 points of engagement.

For road cycling, I would challenge anyone to detect the difference between a freehub of, say, 24 points of engagement and one of 36, but what is apparent is the lovely purr the rear hub makes when freewheeling. Sound is an important quality in a wheel, or rather, an obnoxious freehub is most disagreeable as your ride buddies will tell you. On that note, the VeloElites, being 50mm deep, possess the lovely whampf, whampf noise of a deep section when sprinting, which is edifying in itself but here is also linked to the speed the rims carry.

VeloElite is clear these are open-mould rims, ‘sourced from a reputable factory in China’, however, while this might sound less desirable to some, this is nothing to be sniffed at.

I say this because time and again Strava presented me with PBs from rides on these wheels, which is quite something in the circumstances – all this pandemic business has not been conducive to fitness. And not only PBs in segments, but PBs on average speeds. On one specific 50km loop I consistently clocked fastest ever averages, in excess of 31kmh where I’d previous struggle to hit 29kmh.

I would tender that the tyres have much to do with this. Average PBs were also up on another non-aero test bike, and the only commonality between it and the Swift RaceVox used here were 28mm tubeless tyres, run at very low pressures.

The industry has been banging the wide-tyre, low-pressure drum for a while, but with 50psi front, 55psi rear in these Continental GP5000s, I am now a serious convert. Not least as the other bike had different tyres and wheels, Vittoria Corsa 2.0s on shallow Zipp 30 Course, so to a degree, I discount the idea it’s down to ‘fast’ tyres (though it stacks up in my mind that the tyres have to be tubeless, not tubed, as inner tubes create friction which is energy lost to heat).

Anyway, I digress. The VeloElites, with tubeless 28mm tubeless Contis, are fast, no mistake, and that tubeless-ness is a big boon. I also have no reason to doubt the quality or design of these rims. The finish is excellent and uniform, and today sourcing rims from China is pretty standard – few companies make their own rims in their own factories. Plus, sad to say, the intellectual property being what it is for wheel rim shapes (ie very hard to defend), one company’s thoroughly researched, CFD-designed, wind-tunnel tested rim shape is another factory’s equally fast, much cheaper copy.

The build

But back to the sum of its parts idea – what makes the VeloElites different from many is they are handbuilt, which means master wheel-builder and company MD Tom Scott-Collins builds them to a customer’s specifics. Thus VeloElite Carbon Wides built for a 90kg rider will be much stiffer than for a 60kg rider – the heavier rider needing something more resistant to flex for efficient power transfer; the lighter rider benefitting from a less stiff wheel for extra comfort.

This very set Scott-Collins built for himself as a test pair, and happily we weigh the same: 80kg. So while I can’t attest to how flexy I’d find a 60kg-designed set, I can say these felt incredibly stiff and hence were superbly rewarding to sprint on. But, thanks to the 28mm tyres, they were also remarkably smooth – comfortable even.
This weight-tuning is achieved through different spoke tensioning, and it’s this Scott-Collins says marks VeloElite wheels out – no mainstream stock producer tensions its wheels to individual customers, only a handbuilder can by nature of the ‘one at a time’ process.

It might sound bobbins, and some people do believe there is little in the idea of specific spoke tensioning, that stiffness, especially for deep-section wheels, is all dictated by the rim. Yet, even in this day and age many pros will still opt for handbuilt wheels for races such as Paris-Roubaix, where strength, stiffness and comfort are tested like no other, and besides, to a degree who cares either way?

Because the takeaway here is that, for whatever reason, the VeloElite Carbon Wide 50s are superb, and I’d wager you too would find the same and would struggle to find a nicer riding set for the money.

And speaking of which, Carbon Wide 50mm wheels with lower-tier DT Swiss 350 hubs come in at £950, with the major concession weight: a still very decent 1,555g. Now that really is a bargain.

Price: 
£1,450

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