By Zack Vestal
Carbon mid- and deep-section wheels are all the rage in road racing, and for good reason. A deep aerodynamic profile helps slice through the wind, and using carbon as the rim material helps keep weight to a minimum. Most high-end deep section carbon wheels have that perfect blend of light weight and improved aerodynamics.
However, most of these wheels rely on tubular tires. If you prefer clincher tires, it can be hard to find a full-carbon, deep-section wheel that offers the right blend of aerodynamics and moderate weight. Carbon clinchers present challenges in construction because of brake heat buildup and tire pressure on the rim walls. If the rim walls and the brake track are not strong enough, brake heat can potentially cause them to soften or delaminate, while excessive tire pressure (elevated by heat from braking) can cause them to split.
With its C-50 Lite wheelset, Cole Products takes a unique approach to the carbon-clincher challenge by moving the brake track down the sidewall, away from the tire and toward the spokes. This allows the interior clincher tire bed to help support the brake track while helping dissipate heat by increasing the surface area across which braking heat migrates.
This, combined with some other novel design features, makes the C-50 Lite wheelset an attractive option in a crowded field of carbon wheels.
Installation of tires and a cogset was standard and presented no problems.
Rims on the C-50 wheels include the aforementioned repositioned brake track, on a 50mm deep profile. The material is multi-directional, random-cut, high-modulus carbon fiber.
The repositioned brake track requires brake pads to be adjusted accordingly. On my Trek Madone with Dura-Ace 7800 calipers, I had no problems moving the pads down so that they centered on the brake track. On bikes without the requisite range of adjustment, different brake-pad carriers can be used to drop the pads low enough to correctly contact the rim.
One thing to consider: If you are using these wheels in a race and wind up needing a wheel change, your brake pads will not be correctly adjusted for a replacement wheel with a standard brake track.
Another distinctive aspect to Cole wheels is their use of double-threaded, self-aligning, straight-pull spokes. Instead of using spokes with a J-bend at the hub, Cole uses spokes that thread into a small cylinder, which is captured in the hub flange. The cylinder is free to rotate, permitting the spoke to self-align perfectly with a standard nipple at the rim hole. Combined with the lack of a J-bend, the net result is a stronger spoke that can withstand higher tension, Cole claims. Furthermore, using a threaded cylinder in the hub to anchor the spokes provides for greater distribution of the load in the hub flange.
The spokes are double-butted 2.0/1.8/2.0mm. The nipples, visible at the rim for easy truing, are alloy. The wheels are laced 16 spokes front and 20 rear. The hubs are cold-forged alloy with sealed bearings, available with both Shimano- and Campy-compatible freehub bodies.
One final novel aspect to the wheelset is the hollow titanium quick-release skewer set. The skewer itself is tubular titanium, and the lever is machined and polished alloy.
I rode the C-50 Lite wheels for more than a month without needing to true them. From the beginning, the front hub had a slight amount of bearing play, which I was unable to eliminate. But for the duration of my test, the hubs remained silky smooth and required no service.
At 730 grams for the front, and 930 grams for the rear (for a total wheelset weight of 1660 grams, minus the skewers), the weight is in line with similar products.
I rolled the C-50s for about six weeks on a range of flats, hills, smooth roads, bumpy roads, and even some dirt climbs and descents.
These wheels perform as promised. They feel fast on flat to rolling terrain, and they spin up nicely on climbs and in sprints. Ride quality is quite good, and durability (in my experience) was not an issue.
Tire choice and pressure has a great deal to do with ride quality and perceived stiffness, so any judgment is of course subject to more than just one rider’s opinion. But I found them to be quite stiff out of the saddle, and they felt plenty efficient. While higher spoke tension might typically cause the ride to feel harsh, I didn’t have that sense. I actually felt like I could ride all day and enjoy the C-50s from start to finish.
Braking on all-carbon rims is sometimes an issue, but I had no problems. Using yellow SwissStop pads, braking performance was fine — smooth, not grabby, and plenty powerful.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the wheel skewers. For some reason, the design didn’t provide for easy clamping, due to the way the cam is built. Other than that, they are light at 94 grams and look great.
The Cole C-50 wheels strike me as great, all-around, all-carbon clinchers. If I had one bike and needed one do-everything wheelset that married light, stiff, strong and aero, I would put these on my short list. The C-50s are equally at home in the lunch-ride sprint or on the final climb of a six-hour mountain marathon.
My only reservation is that the location of the brake track precludes interchangeability with other wheels, so races with neutral wheel changes will not be an ideal fit.