As we all know, there is no shortage of consumer choices when it comes to buying a new set of wheels. Alumium or carbon, deep wall or shallow, tubular or clincher, there's all that plus a whole lot more. Today we look at two different types of wheels, both with impressive Europan pedigree not to compare as much as to contrast. The French made Mavic meets up with the Italian made Miche.
MAVIC R-SYS SLR CLINCHER
When Mavic introduced the first aluminum bicycle rim at the 1934 Tour de France, it was revolutionary, to say the least. Over the next 75 years, Mavic has been a leader in wheel technology, having popularized the pre-built wheel with the Helium and then the Ksyrium. But with the popularity of full-carbon clincher wheels hitting critical mass, an arena Mavic has yet to enter, can Mavic’s newest aluminum technology compete?
The three-model R-Sys wheel line makes up Mavic’s premium alloy catalog in terms of weight and ride quality. With the Cosmic Carbone as Mavic’s aerodynamic wheel option, the R-Sys use shallower 22mm front and 25mm rear rims to help achieve their low weight. Like all three models of the R-Sys wheels, the SLRs that we tested uses tubular carbon Tracomp spokes (16 front and 20 rear). Unlike standard stainless spokes, Tracomps are made of multidirectional carbon that is designed and weaved in a specific tubular pattern to attain strength, low weight and compliance. The rear wheel is split between 10 Tracomp spokes on the non-driveside and Zicral alloy spokes on the driveside.
What sets the SLRs apart from the other R-Sys wheels is something Mavic is quite excited about: Exalith, a hard coating that penetrates the alloy to add durability to the rim and braking surface. Other than the faux-carbon look the anthracite finish gives the wheels, the obvious difference with the Exalith coating is the brake track itself, which has hundreds of tiny scallops machined into the rim. The scallop braking design has a cheese-grater effect on the brake pads in terms of initial wear, but there is also increased friction between pad and rim, resulting in better braking performance. Exalith-specific pads utilize a denser rubber and are included with the wheels. Due to the brake track’s surface, standard brake pads would last about one ride.
The R-Sys SLRs come complete with Mavic tires and tubes. A Yksion GripLink dual-compound tire is on the front and Yksion PowerLink on the rear. The 127 TPI tires weigh just over 200 grams apiece and are also available from aftermarket sources for $60 each.
The SLRs use tubular carbon Tracomp spokes on the nondriveside, and Zircal alloy aero spokes on the driveside.
They’re lighter than just about any other alloy clincher on the market, and most full-carbon clinchers to boot. These are great climbing wheels that accelerate at ease and are very responsive when sprinting over a roller or attacking the summit of a berg.
The SLRs do a good job of reducing the jarring of a big hit, like a pothole; it’s still there but defused. Smaller bumps are damped better than with most carbon or alloy wheels on the market.
Cornering is probably the SLR’s best attribute, and credit has to be given to the Tracomp spokes. The laterally stiffest wheels always hold a tight line and have a quick feel in corners, but when hitting uneven road surfaces, they can chatter or skip sideways when leaned into a turn. In comparison, the SLR wheels are stiff but still have some allowance of give to keep them tracking where you’re steering.
Braking quality is superb — if you can stand the noise for the first few hundred miles until they “settle in.” Once that happens, the squealing becomes a singing noise, which was music to our ears. The brake pads lost about half of their rubber in the initial 200 miles, but have since been wearing at a normal rate. Although Mavic doesn’t advertise that the Exalith treatment will increase braking power, it is evident that it does when grabbing a handful of brake— especially in comparison to an all-carbon rim.
We hardly ever test wheels less than 30mm deep these days, so when we had some wind to buck, which happens just about every lunch ride, the SLRs weren’t bothered in the least. They were confidence-inspiring on fast canyon descents, where the wind often swirls around, pushing deep-profile rims askew.
We have had only good experiences with the Tracomp spokes during this test and previous bike tests that had R-Sys wheels. Even though the Exalith treatment penetrates the alloy rim, it is still a coating, and one could wonder about the possibility of longer-term cosmetic issues. But, during the six months we’ve been riding them, there’s not a scratch on them, and they remain as true as the day we pulled them out of the box.
There’s no denying the fact that we like the SLR wheels. On the most superficial level, we love the blacked-out look. They’re laterally stiff with a nice ride quality at a more-than-respectable weight. But, the potential benefits of the Exalith coating were the source of more discussions than we’ve ever had about any other wheelset. The 200- to 300- mile “break-in” noise period is a little hard to swallow, especially for the riders who are only getting in 80–100 miles a week. That means they have to live with a wailing shriek every time they hit the brakes for up to a month.
However, once the ear-bleeding squeal went away, we didn’t have any complaints, other than that you’re still stuck having to use a proprietary brake pad on the alloy rims. But, it wasn’t until one of the testers used the wheels during Levi’s Gran Fondo that he was sold on the merits of the Exalith.
“The steep technical descent off King Ridge was made worse by light rain, but the Exalith coating gave me a huge advantage in braking power going into the switchback turns, which not only made me faster, but, more importantly, safer,” said the tester. If you’re not sold on the Exalith, you can get the R-Sys SL, which forgoes the coating and comes in around 100 grams less due to the use of titanium in the rear hub. Or, the least expensive option is the basic 1400-gram R-Sys model, which comes with tires, and sells for $1500.
Weight: 1372 grams, plus 109-gram quick releases
Rim depth: F-22mm/R-25mm
Rim width: 20mm
Spoke count: F-18/R-20
Spoke type: F-Tracomp tubular carbon/R-Tracomp non-driveside, Zicral alloy driveside
Spoke pattern: F-radial/R-radial non-driveside, 2x driveside
Notes: Available for Shimano/SRAM and Campagnolo. Includes wheel bags, brake pads, wheel magnet, quick releases and hub-adjusting tool.
MICHE SUPERTYPE 358 TUBULAR
The Miche name may not be well known among American cyclists, but the Italian company, founded by Ferdinando Michelin, first opened its doors in 1919 during the post-WWI European industrial boom. Curiously, this was about 30 years after his French namesake counterparts, Edouard and Andre Michelin, invented the first bicycle tire. In the typical tradition of so many other Italian cycling companies, Miche remains a family-run business today. And although Miche products have been available in the U.S. for decades, the company is making a new push with an extensive catalog of high-performance components and accessories—which include their homegrown carbon wheels.
Once we ripped the box open that contained our latest test wheelset—our first hands-on experience with Miche wheels—we were pleased with what we saw. While many of the iconic Italian brands have had to outsource much of the manufacturing of their traditionally homegrown products to Asia, Miche has kept their entire production within Italy—and the quality of workmanship stands out.
Probably the most striking aspect of the Supertype 358 wheels is their hubs, which are comprised of a carbon shell that is sandwiched between anodized red, CNCmachined, aluminum flanges. The front hub has a low flange, and both the front and rear hubs use straight-pull stainless steel spokes. Also, both hubs use bearings made by the 100-year-old Swedish bearing maker SKF.
The full-carbon tubular rims are 20mm wide at the brake track, and narrow down to a sharp point at the nose; this is in sharp contrast to the now-popular design of the wider noses of Zipp and HED, among others. The front rim features a depth of 38mm, while the rear uses a deeper 58mm rim. Miche isn’t the only one offering a wheelset with a shallower-depth front wheel; Reynolds, ENVE and Mad Fiber do as well. The idea is that a shallower wheel in the front makes handling better in windy conditions when compared to the same depth for the rear wheel. Since the rear wheel doesn’t affect handling as dramatically as the front wheel, a deeper rim is used for aerodynamics.
We glued and mounted a pair of Continental Sprinter tires on the Supertypes. The installation was about as easy as a tubular gets; the tires went on the rims straight and without any excess mess or hassle.
The Supertype’s hubs display their Italian craftsmanship with carbon shells that are sandwiched between CNC-machined flanges.
At 1334 grams, the Supertypes aren’t in the ultra-light wheel category, which includes, among others, the sub-1200-gram Zipp 303, Mad Fiber and Mavic Carbone Ultimate, but by no means are they gravitationally challenged. With a good balance between weight and stiffness, they accelerated well and felt light even on the steepest pitches of road.
The thin, butted stainless steel spokes provide a slight amount of damping—enough to keep them from feeling harsh when encountering less-than-ideal road conditions.
The front wheel had noticeably more lateral flex than the rear when we were hitting tight corners at speed. However, on sweeping turns they felt stable without any noticeable flex.
Stopping performance was just about average for a carbon wheel. The rims were perfectly straight, with a great brake surface that provided smooth braking without any grabby spots. The Italian-made wheels come with their own carbon-specific pads, but they don’t rely on a proprietary pad material.
The 20mm difference in depth between the front and rear rims may not seem like much on paper, but in real-world conditions, it’s noticeable on windy days. Although you do sacrifice some aerodynamic benefit with a shallower front rim, the payoff is much-improved handling due to it being less affected by the wind.
Small things, such as the SKF bearings, show Miche’s attention to detail in creating a wheelset that will not just perform, but satisfy for years to come. The external nipples make any necessary wheel truing a much easier task than nipples hidden within the rim, which would require tire removal.
There’s no shortage of carbon tubular wheel options to choose from, but if craftsmanship and individuality are as important as performance to you, then the Miche Supertypes should be considered. The hubs are the standout features in the wheelset. Their quality and uniqueness help set them apart from the cookie-cutter wheels that have flooded the market recently. For the rider that doesn’t want to give up any aerodynamics in exchange for handling benefits, Miche offers the 558 wheelset that features matching 58mm-depth rims. Miche also offers clincer wheels in both alloy and co-molded alloy/carbon.
Weight: 1334 grams, plus 95-gram quick-releases
Rim depth: F-38mm/R-58mm
Rim width: 20mm
Spoke count: F-18/R-24
Spoke type: Round double-butted stainless steel
Spoke pattern: F-radial/R-radial non-driveside, 2x driveside
Notes: Available for Shimano/SRAM and Campagnolo. Included are quick releases, brake pads, valve extenders and wheel bags.