Wheels are easily the part of the bike we get the most excited about here at AC. Sure, we get excited over the latest electronic drive trains, carbon handlebars, ceramic bearing upgrades... but nothing has as big of an impact on the ride feel of a bike as the wheels sitting in it's dropouts. It's something we obsess over and we get pretty fanatical over hand building wheels with components deliberately selected for the particular rider we're building them for.
That obsession leaves us on a constant quest to seek out what's out there. Most recently that quest brought us to the Vanquish 4 rims from HED, the latest carbon clincher offering from the legendary American aerodynamic specialists.
HED is a brand that needs little introduction in the world of aero wheels. The HED 3 tri spoke is one of the most iconic wheels in cycling, the alloy Belgiums have been heralded as the best on the market since their introduction, and the brand holds patents for the most aero shapes in the world. Shapes many other big name brands license out from them. Despite their legacy though, they were a little late to the party developing a high end full carbon clincher.
Finally, in 2017 they launched the Vanquish 6 (a 60mm carbon clincher) and last year the Vanquish 4 and 8 (40mm and 80mm depths respectively). Admittedly, we have also been late to the party, seeing as the 40mm rims have been out for almost a year now, but once they caught out attention, we knew we had to try them.
The Vanquish line are a series of high end, full carbon rims. They're all manufactured here in the United States at HED's Minnesota manufacturing plant. HED claims them to have the most aero shape on the market, regardless of what tire size is mounted up. They are tubeless ready and at the moment are only available as disc brake compatible. Andrew Hed explained to us that safety is a top priority for their products, and carbon brake tracks simply don't meet their standards, so disc is all they're offering. That might be a turn off to some, but I personally don't see myself ever going back to rim brakes, so no issues there.
Before any wheel gets our stamp of approval they need to not only perform on the road, but also get a blessing from our service manager, Robert, based on how well they're constructed and how smoothly they build up. Let me tell you, he's not easy to impress.
Much to his delight, the rims come off the line nice and round, and are impressively clean on the inside, with minimal mess or bladder debris on the interior—not always the case with other carbon rims on the market. The rims weighed in at 480g, which is pretty standard for a carbon clincher rim of this depth. In fact, it's an identical weight to a Zipp 303 clincher rim.
Lacing them up, they came into tension nicely and there were no issues getting them round and true. HED does not require metal nipple washers for their rims, something any wheel builder will appreciate. The more perfect the rim is manufactured, the more uniform the spoke tension will be, resulting in a stronger, more stable wheel. The Vanquishes proved themselves respectably here.
I had Robert build our test wheels on a set of White Industries CLD hubs with our go to Sapim CX ray spokes, 24h and 2x front and rear, resulting in a pretty gorgeous set of wheels. I opted to ride the the V4s over the other models as the shallower 40mm profile is the most practical option for the kind of riding I do. A lot of climbing, a lot of technical descending, and here in the San Francisco area, we deal with some pretty extreme winds. 60 and 80 mil rims have their place, but for me 40 is the sweet spot.
I initially wrapped them with a set of Vittoria Corsa 2.0 tires. Specifically the 28c model, and took advantage of their tubeless compatibility. This was also my first time giving tubeless road tires and honest try but we'll save that for a later post. Finally I got them mounted up to my Mosaic RT-1 and it was time to get them out on the road.
Getting rolling, it was immediately apparent how smooth they ride. It's hard to say how much of that was due to the the tubeless tires, but the initial sensations were great riding on the flats away from the shop, and even on our notoriously bumpy Mill Valley bike path.
Another initial observation was how well mannered they were with strong crosswinds. If you've ever crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in the late afternoon, you know how extreme the winds can be. The wheels I had been regularly riding are the shallow section Zipp 30 Course. I could feel no difference at all in getting blown around by the wind. That is definitely not the case with other deep section wheels I've ridden.
Aero performance is great and I'll take an advantage wherever I can, but to me that's just an added bonus. What I really appreciate about aero wheels is the increased stiffness. Responsiveness to hard efforts and tracking when pushing it hard in the corners is where a good wheelset makes the ride experience more fun.
The HEDs aren't feather light, but they're not heavy either. Our test wheels built up came in right around the 1500g mark which is pretty much what you'd expect for this kind of rim. There's definitely a wow factor when getting on a pure climbing wheel like a Lightweight Gipfelsturm or Dura-Ace C24 and heading up a hill, which admittedly these don't have, but by no means do they feel portly. They feel just fine while spinning up a climb in the saddle, and when it get's really steep, they didn't show any flex when paper-boying it out of the saddle.
Descending, the V4s are a blast. It took me a few rides to get over the mental barrier of riding full tilt on tubeless road tires. Once I got comfortable knowing the system was safe, I stared to let them rip. Riding all the twisty descents on our local Mt. Tam, they really held their line pushing into the apex and had plenty of snap powering out. Riding a wide-ish tire mounted to a wide rim bed makes a huge difference in traction performance and the V4s are no exception. Despite having an identical inner rim width to the Zipp 30s, my tires measured up 1-2mm wider on the HEDs. As long as your bike has the clearance, that's always a plus in my book.
After a few weeks riding them strictly on the road, I wanted to test their toughness. I pulled the Vittorias and swapped them for a set of Schwalbe G-One 30c gravel tires (the biggest I could fit in my bike) and give them some off road punishment. After a few good rides on our local fire roads, I was pretty impressed on how well they managed the rougher terrain and figured it was time to put them to the real test, an 80 mile mixed gravel/road race with 8k of climbing, some of the steepest climbing and descending on the California coast, a rocky double track descent, and patches of golf ball sized gravel pits.
Racing really has a way of making you throw out any regard for the well being or limitations of your equipment, especially on a course as demanding as this one. Bombing down the double track descent, I was definitely right on the limit of what these tires could handle and bottomed out on roots and rocks a handful of times. Some, everything held up without flatting before the treacherous gravel pits, which there were quite a few of.
After successfully floating through the first one I pushed through the rest even harder, trying to make up time to the lead group. I was cringing to myself listening to the rocks bounce of the sides of the rims, afraid to see the aftermath post race.
At the end of they day I could find no damage to the rims other than some scratches on the logos, and they were still spinning perfectly true. I've got a track record for cracking a number of carbon rims over the years racing cyclocross, and the fact that the HEDs held up to this kind of abuse with a relatively low volume tire is down right impressive.
In addition to the rocks and gravel, the course had some of the steepest paved descents I'd ever ridden. Barreling down at speeds near 50mph and cornering at nearly the same speed, the V4s were plenty stable and stayed securely mounted, burp free.
I know it sounds like I'm fawning pretty hard over these rims, but I'll be honest and admit that most high end wheels in this category ride pretty similarly. Trying to find any real discernible ride feel difference between these and say Zipp 303s or Enve 3.4s is really splitting hairs. What makes the Vanquish rims stand out to me is how impressive they were in the build process and how durable they proved to be on the (g)road. After a month or so of really riding the Vanquishes into the ground, I've got no hesitation recommending these as a top performing, all around rim and we're proud to now offer them for custom wheel builds here at Above Category. If you've got any questions on a wheel upgrade don't hesitate to give us a ring.