The Fall of Discs: Hed offers reliable, affordable ’cross disc wheels in Ardennes FR

In the first installment of our series looking at disc brake tech in cyclocross, we look at Hed's new Ardennes FR wheelset

Editor’s Note: Disc brakes are here for cyclocross in a big way. Nearly every manufacturer is offering at least one disc-ready frame and many of the sport’s heavyweights are adopting the technology for 2012-13. We’ve been proponents of disc technology for ’cross for years and over the coming weeks, contributor Michael Robson will explore the burgeoning arena of ‘cross-specific disc brakes, from the new gear to tips on getting your disc set-up dialed. First up, a look at Hed’s new Ardennes FR wheelset.

Since the UCI approved the use of disc brakes in cyclocross in August of 2010, the adoption rate of the technology has been surprisingly slow. Even now, a full two years later, wheels are a huge stumbling block for the advancement of discs in ’cross, as until very recently there were very few complete ’cross/road-specific wheels available. And if a rider wanted a competitive set of tubular wheels, the only real option was to get a custom set built and pay the associated cost.

That all changes for the 2012-13 season. Like a number of its competitors, Hed has been working on disc brake wheels for cyclocross since the UCI approval ruling and this year is rolling out some of the first ’cross specific disc brake tubular wheelsets available.

The Ardennes FR disc wheelset utilizes the standard 25mm deep Ardennes FR rim that we examined last fall. At 440 grams, this rim is on the heavy side but is bomb-proof and stiff. The 22mm width of the rim combined with a slightly shallower, almost cyclocross-specific rim bed allows for even and excellent tubular adhesion by way of an expanded gluing surface.

But everything else has changed.

For starters, Hed re-engineered the new Sonic Centerlock FR hubs to cater to the stresses of disc brakes. The centerlock interface is proven, reliable and makes changing rotors a breeze. Gone are the days of radial spokes; the Ardennes FR runs 24 Sapim CX Ray J-Bend spokes and alloy nipples front and back in a two-cross pattern all around. This makes for stiff and responsive wheels and addresses the issue of braking stress at the hub.

Then there’s the little things.

Hed has been increasingly adding grease ports to its hubs, and frankly I like it. With the punishment bearings take in cyclocross, it is time-saving and effective to shoot the hubs with grease and wipe off the dirty excess. The Sonic Centerlock hubs have grease ports front and rear, reducing service time and increase bearing life. On top of the Ardennes FR’s serviceability, Hed ships the wheels with titanium skewers that weigh a scant 45 grams each.

At $1,300, the Hed Ardennes FR disc wheelset is in line with similar rim-brake wheelsets and weighs in at 1,560 grams. That’s a weight gain of about 130 grams over the same wheels in a rim brake version. Although not appearing on Hed’s website yet, the Ardennes FR disc wheels are available from dealers. Hed is also offering its Stinger 5 carbon wheels in a disc version, which we’ll be testing soon.