Bicycle Accelerator: Swiss Side Hadrons in Review
- by John Hawkins
- Published: 30 June 2014
I know I shouldn’t be so surprised, but it is hard to deny. A good set of aero wheels makes a difference even at modest speeds, and the faster you go the better it gets.
When I was asked to review these wheels, my first response was “I’m not sure what I can bring to the table, I’ve been riding road bikes less than a year,” but Christopher of BNA was insistent saying that I represent the perfect ‘wheelset upgrade’ customer. I’m glad he was insistent, because it was an eye opener. And I have to confess, whether road or MTB, I like trying out new things and broadening my experience.
The Swiss Side Hadrons have had a fairly public gestation. The first wheelsets out of production will go out to customers of all shapes and sizes, ability and experience around the world who signed up for the VIP test program, this includes ten from Australia. It’s an impressive commitment by Swiss Side and shows that they have confidence both in their product and in their ability to resolve issues under the public eye and keep customers satisfied. And from a business perspective it makes profound common sense. Our Hadron wheelset on review was a pre-production version and around mid-July, the wheels for the VIP-tester and pre-orders will be shipped.
From a reliability perspective, full-carbon road bike wheels still have some distance to travel. Even the high end brands out of the US and Europe have been prone to heat-related failures, where braking down long steep descents in locations such as the Victorian Alps and the mountains west of Brisbane has led to deformation (delamination) of the braking track and the development of high spots. This is despite the use of exotic resins and new fibres such as basalt in the brake track in an attempt to mitigate the issues. The high spots cause a pulsing action in the brakes that is unpleasant, uncomfortable and potentially dangerous when operating close to the limits of traction.
Swiss Side have taken on community feedback during the development and have chosen to sidestep these problems by retaining the trusted braking surface construction; rather than going the full-carbon fibre route, they have instead elected to keep aluminium as the primary structural material for the rim, bonding a super light carbon fibre aerodynamic fairing to the lightweight alloy box section.
Swiss Side include warnings against attempting to secure your bike to your roof rack using straps over the wheels or hanging your bike from the wheels claiming the carbon is not structural. However, despite this I found the wheels were much less flexy than you would expect from low height alloy rims, so I am confident the carbon aero fairing does provide substantial, structural strength and stiffness to the ride despite the carbon being quite springy under pressure from your fingers. In fact, Swiss Side commented that the wheels are strong enough but insist that as the carbon fibre is for the aerodynamic profile and is not structural they ask that they are handled appropriately… so best to follow the advice.
The front wheel uses 18 spokes laced radially, and the rear 24 laced 2-cross on the drive side, radial on the other. The hubs are elegantly small and light weight, using sealed cartridge bearings, and are well finished. Sapim CX-Ray straight pull spokes are used throughout, with internal nipples. This means that tyres, tubes and rim-strips need to come off to true the wheel, but there is no tubeless sealing tape involved, so it’s not a big issue. Acommpanying the wheelset in for all customers who pre-order is a very nice padded wheel bag (it will be an optional extra in the future) and of course, the lightweight steel skewers with aluminium hardware are standard.
The cassette freehub body is 6061 T6 alloy to save weight, but is reasonably resistant to notching, unlike some of the mid-to-high hubs I have had on my mountain bike wheels. Speed of engagement was good, and the freehub was relatively quiet. The Shimano/SRAM version tested will accept 8-11 speed cassettes, using a thin spacer for 8, 9 and 10 speed.
Claimed weight excluding skewers and rim tape is 1686g, which is very competitive with much more expensive full carbon clincher wheels of similar depth.
So how do they ride?
The first word that springs to mind is “fast”. Even at 20km/hr or so, comparing them back to back with my Pro Lite Braccianos there is a noticeable reduction in pedalling effort. And the more you crank it up the better they get.
Descending one of my usual routes on Sydney’s northern beaches I was on the brakes a lot earlier into the curves because I was carrying more speed. Coming home from work travelling north along Spit Road I didn’t have to work as hard to keep up with traffic, and instead of dropping off the back going up the slight grade reversal before the “luge” S-bends like I usually do, I didn’t need a tailwind to keep up. It feels that they have much more “top end” than my regular wheels.
How much exactly? Without a controlled test with a power meter it’s impossible to say with any precision. I have a number of 5-7km/hr in my head, and on the steeper descending parts of one of my routes it has been as much as 10km/hr. Some of that could be influenced by wind conditions and I could be wildly out. It’s probably best just to say that I was surprised by the amount of difference the wheels made to bike speed, especially since the spoke count is the same as my usual, which have a rounded 27mm deep profile and aren’t what you’d call un-aerodynamic. I found I seemed to be able to keep accelerating for longer, with less effort.
The second word that springs to mind is “loud”. Most deep profile carbon wheels make a noise similar to a car pushing its way through the air, but these are the loudest I’ve come across in the wilds of northern Sydney’s national park roads. The noise is nothing more than the sound of the tyre on the road being amplified by the hollow soundbox of the fairing, but the number of riders nervously glancing over their shoulders and then moving left before discovering it was just another bike rider was a source of mutual laughter and comment on several occasions. One forum member described me as sounding like a jet aircraft. If only I was as quick!
They spin up well a result of the light weight. Initial off-the-mark acceleration is not as good as light climbing wheels, naturally, but mid-range to top end just gets better as the aero advantage kicks in.
In normal still-air to light breeze conditions their handling was excellent, with no hint at all of aero-driven instability or unusual tracking when suddenly changing direction, even with my off-road influenced tendency to lean the bike in first. The wider rim (23mm) provided improved sidewall support to the tyre, reducing tyre squirm when changing direction and cornering. While not as stiff as some 30mm deep-V profile alloy rims I’ve trialled, they were nevertheless solid, a pleasure to ride and confidence inspiring.
The only time I had any concerns was at over 60km/hr in blustery wind conditions, where swirling crosswinds and the turbulent bow wave off the large 4WDs and buses I was passing resulted in my opting to keep both hands on the bars and forgo signalling a lane change. There was a sense of high speed “flutter” coming up through the steering, but it was not enough for me to consider sitting up or touching the brakes. Although my lack of experience with such deep profile road wheels shows up here, any high profile rims with a greater surface area can catch you off-guard in gusty conditions.
Swiss Side’s response to my query about the handing in wind was interesting. “We actually chose a rim profile which had 1% more drag than our best option but with 20% less steering moment. This paid off significantly on the final production wheel. The magnitude of steering moment generated by the front wheel in cross wind is so minimal that it does not bother the rider and they do not need to correct steering in gusty conditions,” said company found Jean-Paul Ballard.
“Yes you can feel some feedback but the magnitude is small. This has been one of the great positive feedback [notes] from all our test riders who are used to riding deep section wheels. This is a very important feature because we have to remember that over 75% of the drag on a bike is the rider. If a gust of wind unsettles them and they have to lift out of their tuck / aero position to correct their steering or balance, then the drag penalty in this moment is huge. This is perfect example of how we go about maximising ‘real world performance’ rather than focusing purely on achieving the lowest possible drag on a graph.”
On the Hadrons I experienced an occasional creaking noise when cornering hard over rough surfaces and this has been isolated as the valve stem extender rattling in the rear wheel. This is a common issue for deep profile wheelsets and when Swiss Side release the Hadrons, in addition to a set of valve extenders (a nice gesture for customers), there will be information on the valve rattle. A small piece of electrical tape wrapped around the extender where it passes through the carbon fairing is an easy fix. It is worth adding that it is best not to use a valve nut as they have the tendency to tighten over time with the road vibration.
I particularly appreciated the braking qualities of the alloy rim, and not having to change pads when swapping wheels is an additional convenience. This may raise eyebrows among dedicated road bike riders, but coming from an entry into cycling via the mountain bike side, I remain unimpressed with road bike calliper brake performance so any measure that prevents further reduction in braking power – especially in the wet – is a worth commending. (I can’t wait for disc brakes to be standard on road bikes).
The Hadrons were very comfortable on longer rides, with none of the harshness normally associated with deep section wheels. My first 100km cruise on these wheels was completed without any thoughts of wishing for my usual hoops creeping in at any stage. I did experience a small about of brake rub while mashing and pedalling squares out of the saddle, but I believe this is mostly due to frame flex and pad setup on my CAAD9 as Christopher specifically mentioned it was not an issue when fitting these exact same wheels to his Giant TCR Advanced.
While I had only a few hundred kilometres on these wheels, I did not hold back and subjected them to my usual rough backstreets commute for a couple of weeks to see how they would deal with it. I’ve broken spokes and flat-spotted wheels on these roads previously. No problems. The wheels stayed perfectly true and the spoke key stayed in the bag.
The SwissSide Hadrons offer race competitive aero performance for a training wheel price. They are not the uber-stiff and uncomfortable rocks that you would normally expect from a full carbon or deep V alloy rim of comparable depth. If you are looking for wheelsets that gives that instant acceleration response to every breath you take in the final bunch sprint… at the expense of feeling every single grain of sand that passes under your tyres for every preceding kilometre, they may not be for you.
However, if you are looking for a high performance aero wheelset that is still comfortable enough to churn out the kilometres, these should be at the top of your short list.
Aero performance – impressive
Alloy brake track braking performance
Value for money
Not an everyday, all-conditions wheelset. But then, how many $1k+ aero wheelsets are?
Could be stiffer, but at the price of comfort.
For customers who have pre-ordered, the Swiss Side Hadrons are due to ship around mid-July. The price is linked to the Euro price (minus VAT) and including shipping to Australia is $1,050 at the time of publishing. Australian import duty and tax is applicable.
You can find further details about the Swiss Side Hadron and purchase options here: www.swissside.com/shop/hadron-wheelset
Swiss Side took part in the Australian Cycling Forums answering community questions and taking on community input during the development of the wheels. Swiss Side Hadron Thread in the Forums
This dialogue and community and company input has been summarised:
A Rare Insight into Wheelset Design: Swiss Side Hadron