- by James Hutchison
- Published: 12 August 2013
Better wheels are a simple way to upgrade your ride. When it’s your commuter bike, however, you don’t need to spend big to get good bombproof wheels; there are quite a few wheelsets in the “better than stock wheelset” category. The Garda DS wheels from Pro-Lite are in this category and are worth a look at, and a ride or two on.
While swapping cassettes and tyres at BNA House for the photos, the weight of these wheels was obvious, but then again, so was the build quality. Each Pro-Lite wheel is numbered with a QC inspection sticker – which means their hand-built wheels are trackable right back to assembly on the factory floor. A reassuring touch that should appease picky buyers within this price category should anything go wrong with your new wheels.
“Cheap, Light, Strong…pick two“
As you should expect from a wheelset at this price point, they are fairly portly in the grams department. The wheels weigh in a 2.2 kg (with skewers and rim tapes: 947 gram front, 1264 gram rear – not far from the Pro-Lite claim of 2.124kg), which is going to be felt in some way on the road no matter who you are. Even with the low spoke counts (20 spoke front/24 spoke rear), these are chunky, but Pro-Lite don’t market these as climbers wheels or racing wheels. They are the commuter wheel, the rock-solid do anything wheel, the training wheel. They’re the “if you only have one set of wheels, make it these” wheel.
The rim depth is a comfortable 30mm, so 45mm valves are the minimum you’ll need, perhaps longer. The profile is definitely aero, but gains due to this would probably be marginal. What it does do is lend the rim a lot of guts and strength. Aero spokes are a nice touch, but again, gains would be minimal at best.
The colour scheme is simple and effective. Like all of Pro-Lite’s gear: black, white and grey are all you seem to get.
I threw the Garda’s on two bikes over a period of four weeks. One a lightweight carbon road bike, the other an aluminium flat-bar commuter.
I was able to use the same tyres that I use on a weekly basis for the test, and remove at least one major variable. Rolling resistance, tyre weight and feel remained constant.
The freehub is not noisy, and is almost quiet in comparison to some hubs. The steel freehub body won’t get chewed to pieces in six months. After 200km they don’t even need tweaking with a spoke key, perhaps pointing to the quality control employed. If you watch the video on the Pro-Lite website, you can see the staff checking rim true, wheel round, and spoke tensions before they even think about letting the wheels leave the factory.
Spinning these up requires effort. It’s not something you notice immediately, even after swapping from a sub-2kg wheelset. But put 2 hours in and you notice it. Running them on the ‘Sunday bike’ really highlighted this difference. After pulling up with a 1.5km/h slower average over a 60km circuit, the main factor in the change, I believe, was the wheels. Not a lot, no, but if you train 300-400km per week, then swap to lighter ‘race’ wheels, you should see an advantage when the finish line looms.
So if added weight is great for training, how are they still ideal for commuting? Perhaps the inertia of a heavier rim netts you a smoother, flowing ride over any sort of terrain. Plus you don’t want to go killing $700+ wheels riding to and from work. The wheels I substituted for on the commuter were Miche M707’s, a direct competitor in both price and specification for the Garda’s. These are a very similar rim profile (25mm current vs. 30mm Garda), higher rear spoke count (28 current vs. 24 Garda), aero spokes, and full sealed bearings both ends. These currently sell for between $200-$210, which is very much in line with the Garda. All this similarity ended up in one thing; they felt very similar. So what makes them different? The Garda’s are not even remotely flashy, something you could say about the Miche wheels with their red hubs, and Pro-Lite, with their Australian-based sales office might mean your after-sales service is quicker and easier to deal with should anything go wrong.
Despite the low spoke numbers, hopping driveways, the odd kerb, and some potholes seem to leave the Garda’s untroubled.
Pro-Lite says the Garda is similar to their Como wheels, but with sealed bearings and better water proofing. At only $50 more, this might find sales of the Como wheelset sliding downwards. $150 is getting to rock-bottom for a set of wheels, even budget wheels, so people might spend that little bit more to upgrade.
Do you or don’t you?
Consider buying the Pro-Lite Garda DS wheelset if:
• You want one set of jack-of-all-trades wheels
• You want to build training strength without going to the gym
The Garda’s retail for $199.00 (Australian RRP, reduced from $299) and are available online from Pro-Lite Oz
The Pro-Lite Australia website has just been updaed – so look out for other great deals.
update 24.08.2013 – correction, the spokes are Pro-Lite original.