- by John Hawkins
- Published: 7 January 2014
I’m not easy on wheels, especially when they’re shod with skinny tyres. On my commuter bike I’ve managed to destroy a supposedly bulletproof 32-spoke Mavic Open Pro rim and, much to my embarrassment, I even dented the bead on its CXP33 replacement after hitting potholes hidden in the shadows on a bright sunny day at Akuna Bay.
When I needed to source a set of wheels for a reasonably priced road bike build, I asked lots of pointed questions on the BNA forums. I was after a wheelset tough enough to survive my exertion-fogged ineptitude during training rides, but they shouldn’t be boat anchors during group rides should I decide to go down that path in the future.
The Pro-Lite Bracciano came up as a consistent recommendation. After some email conversation with the Australian agent Deon Attard at Pro-Lite OZ about their suitability for my 80kg weight, a set arrived by courier in a robust box.
The 50/50 black and white colour scheme was attractive and eye-catching, nicely setting off the silver and black of the Cannondale Six13 frame to which they were being fitted. At 27mm deep, the flash-welded 6061 alloy rims are moderately aero, connected to the hubs by 2.2mm bladed and butted black Sandvik stainless steel spokes.
A nice touch was the brass washers behind the spoke heads at the hubs of both wheels, something I haven’t seen before on a wheel build. It may seem like stating the obvious to say that the spokes were straight and taut. On other J-spoke wheel builds I’ve seen or owned, there has often been a slight curve remaining in the spokes between where they exit the hub and the point where they cross the first spoke. I’ve come to learn this is common on machine-built wheels, and is a result of failure to stress-relieve the spokes adequately when building.This results in a need to take it easy for the first half-dozen rides and then return to the bike shop for re-tensioning and truing.The Braccianos, like all Pro-Lite wheels, are hand built and looked the part – there are no such lax building practices here.
The wheels are impressively light, sub-1500g, which is outstanding for a $420 wheelset. Similar weight products from the likes of Shimano, Mavic, Fulcrum, and local wheelsmith TWE are significantly more expensive and can easily run to twice the Bracciano’s price.
The front wheel uses 20 spokes laced radially from an elegantly small front hub with two angular-contact sealed Japanese EZO bearings. The beefier looking rear has 24 spokes laced 2-cross on both sides to a hub with 5 angular-contact sealed Japanese EZO bearings.
Unique to Pro-Lite are six nylon spoke braces on the non-drive side rear wheel. These are meant to mimic the effect of the old-school practice of tying and soldering spokes on track racing wheels to improve stiffness and power transfer, without the weight. There is a small amount of slippage, so it doesn’t replicate the effect of soldering completely, but it does seem to provide some bracing effect against drive torque loads on the wheel.
The hub is not as raucously loud as some hubs I’ve had, but it’s not silent either and makes a noticeable buzz when freewheeling. For those like myself who are still on on 10-speed transmissions, the good news is that they will accept 11-speed cassettes simply by leaving out the thin cassette spacer provided with the 2014 wheelsets.
How do they ride?
Immediate first impressions were of zippy acceleration compared to the borrowed wheels I’d been using in a similar price bracket, and a smooth, quiet ride. I was very impressed with how comfortable the ride was, and how stiff and light they made the bike feel. Stomping on the pedals up steep climbs, the bike just felt planted and responsive.
Unfortunately, partway through the test period, disaster struck. One of my training routes (General Liberator San Martin Drive at Akuna Bay) was so rough after heavy rains wrecked the pavement on the steepest descents, that my pretty semi-retro 2006 Cannondale Six13 needed to be retired. The head-to-top-tube join started to protest loudly the following day and so, sadly, it was time to look for a replacement. Fortunately a CAAD9 frame and fork set came up at a good price the following week in exactly the right size, so testing was able to continue after a morning spent swapping over parts.
While I wouldn’t recommend abusing road wheels (or road bikes) in this way, it was reassuring to know the wheels showed no ill-effects from the pummeling my bike and I received. Roads and Maritime Services has since repaired and resurfaced the worst sections, so I no longer need fear wrecking any more bikes.
I’ve now put about a thousand kilometres on the Bracciano A27s, including regular commuting over bus-damaged and pothole-strewn urban streets, and my positive first impressions have not changed. They are still as true as the day they were unboxed which, considering what I’ve subjected them to over the past few months, was definitely hoped for, but nevertheless exceeded my expectations. Nor has there been any sign of brake rub under load while pedalling out of the saddle up any of the steeper climbs around Seaforth or West Head. While not particularly scientific, I have to say they leave a strong impression of rolling extremely well.
My only quibbles are minor. I would have preferred the use of brass nipples rather than the few grams saved by using alloy, but then I’ve not had to touch them with a spoke key so maybe that’s not a concern. Also, the alloy freehub does notch up very slightly, but is harder than other, more expensive alloy hubs I’ve owned such as DT Swiss and Sun Ringle. Using a quality cassette where the cogs are mounted on alloy spiders will mitigate this issue. While not as aero as deeper rims, they are still great performers and, for the money, I just can’t find any serious faults with them.
This is a wheelset that fills multiple roles. Tough enough for use as a commuting and training wheelset, they roll well and are light enough to race on. Stiff, light, responsive yet comfortable to ride, there’s a lot to like about these wheels and the outstanding price is the icing on the cake.
• Inexpensive, light and strong: choose all three. Definitely not “cheap”.
• Roll very well indeed
• Attractive finish
• Excellent attention to detail on the build.
• Would have preferred brass nipples instead of alloy.
Bracciano A27 Wheels are available online from Pro-Lite OZ for $419. Deon from Pro-Lite OZ also regularly answers questions about all of the Pro-Lite gear in the Australian Cycling Forums – look out for Jacks1071. Buying from Pro-Lite OZ means you’ll get the after sales service you want, and the local warranty backup you won’t need.