Swiss Side have a strong Australian connection, while it is a Swiss Company, the owners George Cant and Jean-Paul Ballard have an Australian background and George still calls Sydney home. Jean-Paul is an Aeronautical Engineer and George an Industrial Designer, in creating Swiss Side, you will notice their attention to detail right through to branding to packaging and presentation of their wheelsets.
They enter the market with three models, the St Bernard, the Heidi and the Franc, and on these names alone they are already setting the stage for being a little different. Ranged between (AUS) $329 for the St Bernard and $879 for the Franc, they are targetting entry to mid-range budgets, though are aiming to provide better value for money compared with the more well known and established brands. Particularly for the Heidi (retail $594) the value for money was quite apparent when BNA’s secret test rider (lets call him Cycling Stig), was surprised at the price, considering the weight of 1.5 kg and performance in both training and racing.
Overall, the wheelsets tick the boxes when it comes to price, quality and performance. The top model Francs also come with soft bags for transporting the wheelsets and have Swiss Side skewers. As with most of the cycling gear manufactured in this age, these wheelsets are made in Taiwan. George assures me that after years of experience with Taiwanese manufacturers, they have chosen both an experienced and qualified manufacturing partner and the development of these wheelsets means that they are very much an individual product and not stock standard. Each wheelset, including the entry level St Bernards, are hand built and this gives them a point of difference with mass produced wheels.
So that all sounds good… BUT…
Swiss Side wheelsets may not appeal to everyone, in particular the seasoned cyclist who would automatically tend towards a more well known product as well as a product that fits better with their own visual expectations. Technically the wheels feel good, the names and the artwork design of the wheelsets however, particularly the St Bernard and the Heidi, are out of the ordinary. Purely on this basis, the wheels can loose some appeal to the really serious cyclists where a sense of union and conformity is important to their cycling lifestyle.
The St Bernard (pictured) features a faux wood pattern. While this reminds me of the Swiss Alps with wooden chateau’s dotted through the valleys, and is enforced with the Old European style typography contrasting with the sleek red, black and white styling of Swiss Side, this could also throw off a lot of people who are after a simpler, modern and less conflicting look.
Jean-Paul comments, “With regards to the styling of road bike wheels currently on the market, we find the general state of affairs very bland and uninspiring. Therefore we have invested a lot of time and effort in developing wheels with character. The engineering design and the intended use for each wheel set model, has been coupled with developing a distinct character and graphic design artwork to go with it.
“In this way we strive to give the customer more than just a set of wheels but a story behind each one which has been created and developed with the particular wheel model from grass roots concept stage onwards. If the rave reviews from the circles of the graphic design industry and customers alike are anything to go by, then we believe we are onto something special!”
One of the striking features through the range of wheelsets are the black spokes broken by two red and one single white spoke, in the Swiss national colour. Particularly on the Francs, this is a lovely detail.
If you remember the extravagent Rock Racing team who’s team kit featured skulls and artwork more likely to be found in a tattoo parlour – the Heidi Wheelset with lime green typography on red is also a different look and suited to a rider who appreciates the puns and kitch of the Swiss Heidi. If you have a frame with dominantly red, white and black, the lime green is an attractive accent though this is not for the weak. If other cyclists in your bunch break into spontaneous yodeling, you will know why.
The top model 27mm deep aluminium Francs with aero spokes and seemless welding weigh in at 1,533 grams (excl. skewers).
“The Franc wheel set has been designed to challenge the Mavic Ksyrium SL, the Fulcrum Racing 1 and the Campagnolo Eurus” says Jean-Paul. “These wheels typically focus purely on stiffness with a large compromise to the aerodynamics. With the Franc wheel set we have put a much heavier focus on the aerodynamics and in particular drag reduction, without compromising the stiffness. We have achieved this through the rim profile design, the ‘clean connect’ spoke to rim interface, and the tapered bladed aluminum spoke. In this way we believe to have produced a more rounded wheel design which offers a more than competitive stiffness to weight ratio without compromising the aerodynamic performance.”
One interesting things about Swiss Side is a non-traditional approach to delivering their wheels. Instead of importing and working through distributers, a process that takes years to set up, they are utilising the internet and sending wheels from overseas directly to the customer. This significantly reduces overheads though for Australian customers they are still able to offer local support and warranty fulfillment.
While these wheels may not be for everyone – if you buy a complete bike and are looking to upgrade your wheels, or have a reliable second set, it could be worth your while to see what Swiss Side wheels offer.