RBA Test: Novatec R5 Carbon Clinchers

Novatec has been around for some time now, but it’s their history as a hub maker that they are most known for. ‘The company behind Novatec has been around for over 50 years,’ says North American director of operations Henry Hinojosa. ‘In that time, they’ve been making hubs for the OE [original equipment] market and private-label products for pretty much everybody out there in the bike wheel world at one point or another. Novatec was brought into North America about three and a half years ago.’

THE TECH
As you might expect, the heart and soul of all Novatec wheels are their hubs, and the R5 carbon clinchers are equipped with the brand’s own that feature polished black-anodized bodies housing all of the internals, including stainless steel bearings from Japan. Ceramic bearing options are not available from Novatec, but because the hubs are easily serviced and every piece can be replaced, customers or bike-shop mechanics can swap out the stainless steel numbers for ceramic alternatives. The hubs are laced to carbon clincher rims via black, bladed stainless steel spokes in a radial pattern up front and a 1x (non-drive side) and 2x (drive side) pattern on the rear. On both wheels, two silver spokes and accompanying red nipples help call out the valve holes for a quicker inflation process. Novatec does not manufacture its own rims. ‘We’re currently sourcing our rims from a vendor,’ says Hinojosa. ‘But, we’re working toward producing all of our wheel components in-house and aim to have our entire wheel operation independent within the next five years.’

Both front and rear rims share the same profile and, at 50mm deep and 24mm wide, are, as Hinojosa puts it, ‘A bit on the taller end of what Novatec considers an all-around road wheel. But, you can ride them in all conditions, and they’re becoming a popular option for our crit customers who appreciate stiffness and our triathlete customers who want aerodynamic benefits, even in crosswind conditions.’ The R5 wheels are also available in a tubular version for $1949, and it should be noted that the clinchers are not tubeless-compatible.


THE RIDE

Windy conditions The R5s keep the current trend of ‘wider is better’ alive with their 24mm width and rounded profiles. As such, we found them to be more easily controllable in strong crosswinds than other wheels with similar depths and classic ‘V-shaped’ profiles. Still, the R5s don’t offer quite the same handling prowess as some comparable market-leading options from, say, Zipp and Bontrager, but they have a lower price tag.

Braking
Our Novatec wheels came with a set of familiar-looking blue brake pads, which strikingly resemble those crafted by Reynolds for their own wheels and those that are sourced to other companies. So, it came as no surprise when we discovered the R5’s braking characteristics to be similar to other blue-pad setups. Braking feel isn’t quite as strong as what we’ve experienced from competitors like Zipp, but the R5s served up a very consistent level of power and modulation throughout each and every ride, and we also experienced zero issues with overheating on the brake track.

Road comfort
Medium to deep carbon rims typically produce a harsher ride quality than shallower options, and that’s just the nature of the design in most cases. Novatec’s R5 wheels embody this notion in that they’re noticeably less comfortable over rough sections of tarmac than shallower carbon options, as well as traditional box-aluminum rim designs. But, we wouldn’t call them ‘harsh,’ specifically, because they do serve up some impact-resistance and deflection relative to some other medium depth carbon clinchers we’ve tested.

Performance
The counterpoint to the absence of a silky-smooth ride quality is performance, which we’ll classify here as stiffness. The R5s are quite stiff and would serve a small- to medium-size rider well in flat crit racing. Quick accelerations from slow cruising speeds are about average for this depth of carbon clincher, but shifts from a fast tempo to all-out, leg burning efforts are capably handled by the R5s.

Climbing
While the R5s are plenty stiff, which is a necessary attribute for any set of hoops worth their climbing salt, their 50mm depth begets a heavier wheel than many other options out there, even from Novatec’s own catalog. We wouldn’t call the R5s ‘heavy,’ but there are alternatives out there better suited to climbing specific rides.

Durability
Novatec provides a two-year warranty covering manufacturer’s defects for the R5s, and also ensures that each wheelset comes with four extra spokes and nipples for replacement by your local bike shop if need be. While this may seem to be indicative of easily damaged goods, we never experienced any trouble with  our test set. Likewise, we suspect the carbon clincher rims to be manufactured by a well-known and reputable vendor, a company we’ve become quite familiar with in testing various wheels over the years, so we have no concerns over quality.

THE VERDICT
Novatec’s long history of producing high-quality hubs, along with its relationship with a reputable carbon rim manufacturer, implies that the R5 wheels are a quality product. The R5 wheels, specifically, offer good value for crit racers looking for an affordable set of stiff carbon hoops in a clincher setup that offer the aero benefits of deeper rims, and a tubular option is also available for those seeking a race-day-specific application. If you’re in the market for some climbing wheels, we recommend checking out the rest of Novatec’s line, which features several different depths of carbon clinchers and tubulars, as well as some even more affordable aluminum options.

PUNCH LINES
? Stiff, all-purpose carbon clincher
? Bit rougher ride than comparable alternatives
? Tubulars and other depths available

STATS
Price: $1990
Weight: 1679 grams, plus 52-gram quick releases
Rim depth: 50mm
Rim width: 24mm
Spoke count: F-20/R-24
Spoke type: Stainless steel
Spoke pattern: F-radial/R-1x non-drive side and 2x drive side
Notes: Available for Shimano/SRAM 10-speed, Shimano 11-speed and Campagnolo. Includes brake pads, valve extenders, titanium quick release skewers, four extra spokes and nipples, and two-year warranty.
For more info: Novatec

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