Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bontrager Aeolus 5 D3 Carbon Clincher Review

A quick note: Sorry its been so long gang. Life has a funny way of getting in the way. I should be back on here with a little more regularity. Thanks for hanging around. Now, on with the show....

The new Bontrager Aeolus 5 D3 carbon clinchers (Photo credit:Andi)

This last Tuesday I got a chance to take the newly designed Bontrager Aeolus 5 D3 wheelset out for a spin.

Initial Impressions:

They look very nice. In fact at a distant glance (20 yards or so.) I first thought they were Lightwieghts. But once I was closer and saw the white hubs (A nice visual detail in its own right.) it was obvious what they were.

White DT Swiss made hubs.
 It also became very apparent that these were completely redesigned from the two previous wheels under the Aeolus model name.

Instead of taking a box style carbon clincher rim and gluing a thin carbon fairing over the top (Like the later two designs.). The D3 is formed as one whole unit.  Which gave them the ability to use exposed nipples (Huh, huh I said exposed nipples...) instead of the hidden ones that were incorporated in the old design. And if you own a pair of the older models you know they are a pain in the ass they are. Especially if you need to true your wheel and you own the tubular version like me (Fail.).

The new design is a one piece hoop.

 They also are going the same design route as Zipp, HED and several other manufactures and created a much wider wheel than in the past. They went from 21mm to a 27 mm wide rim. I had to widen the brake calipers on my bike substantially to get them to fit. According to the propaganda the new width is supposed to help with aerodynamics as well as cornering.

The aerodynamics of the new design are improved by keeping the leading edge surface of the tire/wheel interface as smooth as possible. I.E. Getting rid of the bumps to cut down on wind turbulence as it flows across the wheel.

The second idea with the wider tire is to have a larger contact patch on the ground while cornering. Larger patch, more grip. More grip, go faster. Pretty simple idea. But the other part about having the wheel wider is that it keeps the tire's sidewall from flexing as much, or as quickly. Effectively making the tire squat down (therefore the sidewall gets smaller.) to bridge the gap between the rim edges.

The Pros:
Even though I've only had a few days to ride on them I must admit I think the new engineering is correct. These D3's are a real pleasure. They gripped the road confidently. Without much hint of lateral wheel flex. The wheels spun up quickly. The bearings were another real pleasant surprise.  DT Swiss hubs laced 18 spokes up front and 24 in the rear. I was amazed at how smoothly the wheels rolled down the road. Compared to my first generation Aeolus (Also with DT Swiss hubs.) these D3's spun shockingly well (Note to self. Check into replacement bearings for my wheels...).

The braking surface was also a great characteristic that was quickly apparent. I've ridden brand new, out of the box carbon wheels that had at least a little brake pulse or chatter when the brakes were applied. These Bontragers were exceptionally smooth. I didn't ride them in the rain. So I couldn't comment about wet braking performance. But I'm sure they're like most other carbon wheels in that respect (Terrifying...).

The D3's are a very competitive weight at 1550 grams for the pair. Which makes them not as light as some aero carbon clinchers on the market. But there are certainly heavier brands out there too. However, almost all other brands have a maximum weight limit on them (usually between 170-185lbs.). Bontrager doesn't have any weight restrictions on any of their wheels. That's a big plus for us "larger" fellas out there. You can ride and race them without having that little voice in the back of your head telling you at any moment you could have a catastrophic failure. Piece of mind is worth a lot. But...

The Cons:

There really are only two things that detract from this wheelset.

The first being the price. At $2700.00 MSRP the D3's are very expensive. In fact, with the exception of a couple "custom" brands. They are the most expensive carbon clinchers on the market (At least as far as my searches took me.) That's a big enough obstacle to be a deal breaker for a lot of people.

The line that's between the spokes isn't completely covered.
 The second is a build quality issue. On the top edge of the wheel (Where the nipples go into the wheel itself.) there is a seem where both sides of the carbon mold meet. If you run your hand along that edge you can feel that the clear coat over the carbon didn't completely cover. In other words it feels a little "fury". Now please understand that I am nit picking here. But for the plethora of US denero that Bontrager is asking people to lay down I think everything should be covered. Both literally and figuratively.

The Overview:

The Bontrager Aeolus 5 D3 wheels are some of the nicest I've ever ridden. They are stiff in the correct parts and forgiving in the others. They're beautiful to look at and give any bicycle that they adorn a certain "dub" bling. They give a noticeable aerodynamic advantage and great cornering ability. 

If you are the sort of person that wants the "best" and price be damned. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend these wheels as one of the sets that you should test ride.

Thanks for reading.

Rubber side down,

Big E

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