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Shimano Dura-Ace C35 review

Shimano Dura Ace C35 wheels review
4 May 2016
Verdict:

The Shimano Dura-Ace C35 are old stalwarts these days, but can they still keep up with the spinning Joneses?

Price: 
£1,500

Buy the Shimano Dura-Ace C35 from Chain Reaction Cycles here

The Dura-Ace family debuted in 1973 as a mid-series update to the Shimano Crane groupset. Initially it was just a friction shifter and front derailleur, but cup and cone Dura-Ace hubs soon followed. Fast forward to 2016 and the rudiments of that cup and cone system endure, only now at the centre of no less than seven Dura-Ace wheelsets, ranging from the £850 C24 alloy/carbon clinchers to the £2,000 C75 carbon tubulars. Somewhere in the middle sit these: the C35s, which, you guessed it, are 35mm deep and cost £1,500. A hefty sum for what is a highly competitive section of the wheel-market: high-end, mid-depth aero. 

Reliability ride

The C35s are described as ‘carbon laminate’ wheels, which means an alloy rim that has been pared down then reinforced with carbon fibre. The result is a wheelset that weighs 1,542g – not bad compared to some of the lightest in class. Campagnolo’s 35mm full-carbon clinchers, for example, weigh a claimed 1,370g and cost £700 more.

My first experience of Shimano wheels – in part, at least – were a pair of Shimano 105 hubs laced to Mavic Open Pro rims, which by the time they were retired had done thousands of miles and were eight years old. By that point the rims needed replacing but the hubs could easily have continued. Since then I’ve only ever been impressed by the reliability and longevity of Shimano hubs, and the C35s have done nothing to change my mind.

Shimano Dura Ace C35 hub

Shimano has stuck with traditional cup and cone bearings, where steel ball bearings are sandwiched between conical ‘cone’ and convex ‘cup’ races. While many rivals lean more towards cartridge bearings (the bearings sandwiched between concentric races), Shimano reckons the angular contact nature of the cup and cone system is better at coping with the twisting forces a hub is subjected to, for example when a bike is being thrown side-to-side or leant over in a corner. 

Hoisted by petards

That hub simplicity and reliability seems to spill over into the rest of the wheel, which for my money errs on the side of proven concepts rather than latest innovations (who said market trends?). The spokes are stainless steel and relatively plentiful (21 rear, 16 front), the rims are narrow (15mm internal, 20.8mm external), the rim profile boxy and the braking surface an untreated alloy.

In many respects all this is fine. What I have always admired about Shimano is how well-engineered its products are. There’s an Ockham’s Razor approach to a lot of its kit, where the simplest solution is the right one, and the C35s encapsulated this. No fuss, just good all-round wheels. Not so deep as to suffer in crosswinds, not too heavy as to pull you back on climbs. They roll smoothly and braking is decent. And yet… the C35s are unremarkable and, in a certain regard, a tad outdated.

Of all the upgrades you can make to a bike I believe wheels (and tyres) have the biggest effect: the most average bike can be transformed into a nimble climber or speed demon with the right set of hoops. Yet the C35s did little to change the ride characteristics of the bike I swapped them into (the Bianchi Specialissima since you ask), save for make it a bit more forgiving, if a little less stiff. Yet they’re nearly £500 more than the wheels subbed out, and for that I think it’s reasonable to expect something special. I’m afraid the C35s weren’t it.

Shimano Dura Ace C35 rim

They clearly have aero pretensions, but I didn’t feel they carried speed any better than a shallower-section wheel, and Shimano could not provide me with any data for comparisons, citing that ‘they weren’t designed with solely aerodynamic considerations in mind, they don’t feature our top aero technology but learning from that will have influenced their development’. Make of that what you will, but the aero programme Shimano set up – Blade – created a rim shape that in no way resembles the C35s, being rounded and smooth instead of blocky.

The other thing conspicuous by its absence is width. Most wheels are getting wider, inside and out. While the merits of wide versus skinny in the aero department are oft debated, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard any manufacturer openly doubt the idea that wider rims don’t make for a better ride.

The extra width means wider tyres – 25 or 28mm – don’t form a bulbous ‘lightbulb’ profile that has a tendency to squirm in corners. The increased volume also means they can be run at lower pressures, and all without detriment to rolling resistance. Crucially, though, my experience and the anecdotal evidence of other riders I speak to is that wider wheels and tyres just ride better: smoother, faster, more comfortable and with more grip. The C35s, as solid as they are, miss this trick.

I levelled this criticism at Shimano, and it replied by saying, ‘The new trend for wider rim beds provides an interesting point of differentiation… our design strategy starts with an extremely light basic rim structure and adds minimal elements necessary to reach exceptional lightness, stiffness and durability. We achieve optimal strength without having to add extra material to widen the rim.’ Wider might mean heavier, but I would take those extra few grams. The pay-off would be worth it.

Buy the Shimano Dura-Ace C35 from Chain Reaction Cycles here

Shimano Dura Ace C35 clincher Front Rear
Weight 688g 854g
Rim Depth 35mm 35mm
Rim Width 15mm 15mm
Spoke Count 16 21
Price £1,500
Contact madison.co.uk

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