Review: Bartime BW38 aluminium wheelset
- by James Hutchison
- Published: 10 March 2014
The upper-end aluminium wheelset market is a growing segment in road cycling. Newcomer to the market, Bartime, is a Taiwanese manufacturer who has entered the fray with their BW range of wheels that they offer in three rim depths along with eye catching graphics. With wheels being a common first upgrade for a lot of cyclists, the question that comes to mind is “just how much difference can some flatter bits of metal and an aero-section circle really make?” Read on…
The Bartime BW38s are a deep rim, firmly targeted at upper end aluminium wheel buyers. A 38mm profile is quite deep and makes long valves the order of the day. Like most manufacturers, Bartime probably weigh the wheels without rim tape or skewers to achieve their 1.72kg claimed weight. While not as light as wheels aimed at climbing, the 1.887kg (actual) weight feels nicely balanced. That still brings them in lighter than a lot of OEM wheelsets, so the weight saving alone would be a major advantage over them – but weight isn’t the only reason to upgrade your standard wheels.
Bartime offer aluminium wheels in 22mm, 30mm or 38mm rim depths, with the one I tried being the 38. If you want deeper section rims, Bartime have a 38mm, 50mm, and 65mm model in carbon fibre (BNA will take a look at a carbon model in a future review). The 38mm wheels have a rider weight limit of 114kg, so will suit the majority of riders.
The Bartime hubs are nicely finished in gloss black with the Bartime logo on them; effective, without being flashy, and great for those who don’t think bright red or silver hubs suit their bike, which seem to be the dominant hub colours on the market. The front hub (Bartime FS500 AIR) contains 2 sealed stainless steel bearing sets. Bartime claims the 81mm flange spacing to be one of the most widely-spaced front hubs available. The rear hub (Bartime RS100) contains five bearings in the hub shell and a 3-pawl aluminium freehub. The larger drive side flange on the rear hub assists in evening out spoke tension due to the offsets of modern wheels.
To counter the inevitable notching seen with aluminium freehub bodies, Bartime have used steel “Reinforce Bars®”. These are steel strips, bent at one end to sit in a recess at the back edge of the freehub, and glued into place. While it seems like a good idea and a way to differentiate Bartime wheels in the market (or at least in the marketing), I’ll have more to say on these later in the article.
Bartime on the road
I mounted my Serfas Seca RS tyres, put the Bartime wheels on the bike in the workstand and gave the rear a spin. The buzz was incredible. I like buzz, so this was music to my ears. The front spun easily and for quite a while, with no play in either wheel out of the box. As you’d expect of new wheels, they were straight and true, and I was able to get brake pad clearance down to 1mm without a worry.
I put my “little kid at Christmas” hat to the side and put on my serious cycling product reviewer hat. Rolling out on them for the first time I was thinking “Come on, what difference can these little facts really make to a ride?” After the first ride, I arrived home nodding my head and making the “not bad” face.
Despite pushing my 90kg self hard in my best impersonation of a flat-out sprint, I didn’t get any feel of the wheels flexing. No brushing the brake pads under load, no creaking, no twisting. The word ‘stiff’ came to mind, though I was riding a deeper rim than I usually do, so that’s to be expected.
Spinning up without leaving the saddle seems easier with the Bartime wheels compared to a lot of OEM wheelsets seen on new bikes, and a lot easier than some of the older wheelsets that were great for their time, such as the ones I currently ride on. The power you use pushing the pedals feels like it’s going directly to the road, not bending spokes or twisting rims. Again, ‘stiff’.
I’m not a finely tuned athlete who is in total Zen-like oneness with my gear, but the combination of aero rim and bladed spokes has got to be worth something in terms of performance, however small that percentage gain may be. You’re not going to get on and magically find another 2-3km/h average speed, but you may find them assisting over the course of a ride. Slide off the bike at the end of 60+km and you should notice that difference. The aero profile is not likely to net you any gains going uphill, but descents are perhaps a tad quicker and sharper. Don’t bomb into a corner thinking “Is 18 spokes going to be enough?”, because it sure seems to be. Don’t lose sleep and sweat avoiding every little pothole and rut on the road, cause they won’t deform a deep rim like this in a hurry.
The 38mm profile lends strength to the rim, so even commuting or daily use shouldn’t be a bother to these wheels. The 18 front/24 rear spoke count is about as low as most people would be prepared to go, with bladed section spokes standard. They appear to be an OEM spoke, so replacement should be simple enough with off-the-shelf items, rather than proprietary items. No more stress about having to buy $10 spokes direct from the manufacturer. I live in fear of busting a Mavic or Shimano proprietary spoke.
Though it may sound cliched, these could very well become ‘do it all’ wheels for some users. You may need to spend some time fettling them if you commute daily or do a lot of rough km on them, which is part and parcel of low spoke count wheels. Not everyone can swap gear come Sunday or race day.
There is a widely-held view that exposed cam quick-release skewers don’t give you the same grip as the older enclosed cam models. Those riders putting these on steel bikes with longer dropouts may find slipping, but this is not unique to Bartime. I’ve experienced this myself, having had exposed cam QR’s slip no matter how much you seem to tighten them. Many of these wheels will find their way onto bikes with vertical dropouts, where this won’t really matter.
Even at this level of wheelset, you haven’t quite hit the point of diminishing returns for growing investment. There is a reason why ‘upgrade your wheels’ is becoming a truism of cycling with regards to improving a bicycle. It is certainly one of the more popular, and perhaps one of the easiest ways, to make improvements to your riding as a whole.
Will the Bartimes improve your bike? For the majority of riders on standard wheels, I’d have to say yes, they will.
After a brief (1-2 km) run at BNA House for the photographs, we swapped the cassette over to another wheelset and noticed burring on the freehub body. At the time, I put it down to the lockring not being tight enough, and made a note to double check when I went back onto these wheels.
After 400km of mixed riding, with a far tighter lockring, I struggled to pull the cassette off by hand; there was quite a bit of burring of the freehub. Aluminium freehub bodies are becoming more popular for the weight savings, but judging by this level of burring I would expect a freehub replacement before the life of the entire wheelset is over. The middle 4 cogs, which are individual elements of the cassette, had made quite a foray into the aluminium. The “Reinforce Bars®”, which also showed some burring, all came away during the removal of the cassette. These could easily be lost if you didn’t keep your eye on them and I wonder at their usefulness beyond a marketing novelty.
Not being happy with this result, the review was extended – we put on a fresh freehub body which Bartime provided plus a fresh cassette. More spacers were added with a total thickness of three millimeters and then the BNA team put in another 400km. After this the cassette removal was easy and there was only slight burring on the aluminium freehub (which is normal). The steel stripes, the “Reinforce Bars®” were properly seated and showed virtually no impact. Great news.
After 400km, the front wheel needed a minor tweak with the spoke wrench to two spokes to cure a tiny wobble. The rear remained very close to true and the bearings front and back still felt smooth, as they should. You would expect a long service-free life from sealed bearings. The axles hadn’t unwound, the quick release skewers were still firm, nothing rattled, fell off, or broke. The way the rear spokes cross-over gives them a pronounced kink, but nothing more than a traditional 3-cross lacing pattern would.
Do you or don’t you?
Consider buying the Bartime BW38 wheelset if:
- you follow the common upgrade path with reasonably priced wheels as your first major gear change
- you’re a little on the weighty side and other manufacturers weight limits are too low for you
- you only want to use one set of wheels for commuting, racing, and training
- you really like red, white, and aero
The BBW38 retail for $599 (Aus. RRP) and further details are on the website. For purchasing this is available through Keith Louis Eichmann Innovations (Bartime) and you can call (0)7 32613575 or email.
Bartime have informed BNA that they have a new lighter wheelset that will be 150 grams lighter and included titanium skewers with, as you can imagine, a higher retail price.
“…through your feedback Bartime have further improved the anti-bite guard (ABG) and increased the number of steel strips from 3pcs to 8 pcs (please see below photo) which results in the strips not peeling off and no burring (notching) occurring. This new 8 strip Freehub design will begin with the March 2014 shipments.”
The intention of course is to introduce the durability of steel freehubs and weight savings and cost savings of an aluminium freehub.