Do you want to be fast? Do you want to break that Strava record? You should lose some weight, train more and put a better wheelsetset on your bike. A wheelset upgrade is fastest and easiest way to give your bike a performance boost. Bicycle brands drop their costs supplying new bikes by supplying ‘average’ wheels (did someone say Mavic Ksyriums?) For training they are fine, but when it comes to race day, competitive cyclists swap the heavy and slow training wheels with light and fast ‘race-day’ wheels and this is precisely where the Croder SWC44 carbon fibre wheelset fit in.
If you don’t know much about Croder, it is because they are still a young brand; launched in 2011, they are still striving to tap into the western cycling market. Prior to the launch of Croder, the Taiwanese company behind the brand manufactured bike parts for almost a quarter of a century. While China is the world’s largest manufacturer of bikes, Taiwan produces the mid and high-end bikes so there is a very high chance that your modern sports bicycle was made in Taiwan.
With the global growth in sports cycling, a multitude of Asian bike brands have entered the retail market and are competing with traditional brands using cheaper priced bikes and gear. The SWC44 wheelset from Croder captured my attention because of the $2,300 (Aud) pricetag. The wheelset positions itself with Fulcrum, Vision, Campagnolo and Reynolds, just shy of the premium level Zipp, Enve and specialist high-end European and American wheelsets. In competing against the established brands, Croder have their work cut out for them.
The brand’s catch phrase is “Cycle Your Greatness”, which is rather grand, but is it a question or a statement? “Does the Royal Highness wish to ride his bicycle today?” There is something lost in translation but as this isn’t a marketing analysis, let’s move on and take a closer look at the performance of the road racing wheelset.
Clincher verses Tubular
If you read cycling forum comments and listen to the experts (and the ‘experts’), tubulars are faster than clinchers. But there are also disadvantages; it takes time to clean glue from the rims, it takes time to prepare the tyres, the tyres cost more, and if you get a puncture when you are training or racing, you are screwed unless you have the luxury of a support car. Most of us don’t.
My record for avoiding punctures is good, but I still don’t want to be trailing behind as the bunch crosses the finish line, or the line at the coffee shop. If you want to ride tubulars, go for it (Croder offer these as well), but I am sticking to clinchers. Now we have that out of the way, let’s move on to the technology.
Details & Tech
The SWC44 wheelset weighed in at 1603 grams for the pair (without skewers) which is just under the 1630 grams which are specified on the Croder website. In this price category you can get wheels which are 50 or event 100 grams lighter, such as the Campagnolo Bora One 35’s, Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40 Elite or Fulcrum Speed 40.
The classy white graphics give it flare without going overboard, but look a little closer and you will see that the 44mm profile rims feature a marbled carbon fiber layup. I have seen this effect on wheelsets from URSUS, however there isn’t much information available on this and it appears to be just aesthetic. The rims are 24mm wide at the braking surface and bulge very slightly to 27mm. They are wider than my 20mm aluminium clinchers so I had to adjust my brake’s fit – in addition to swapping over the brake pads with the ones supplied (special ones for carbon rims) and aligning the brakes correctly on the braking surface of the rims.
Croder keep the spoke-count down with 18 up front and 20 on the rear wheel. The Sapim CX-Ray spokes are laced to the Croder branded hub which sports Japanese bearings; details beyond the nationality of the bearings was not provided.
Behind the visuals, Croder promotes two technologies to lend the wheels performance. The first is High TG Carbon Fibre which is a carbon fibre and resin composition where ‘Tg’ refers to Glass Transition Temperature. Tg is the temperature at which the resin softens, and the high Tg means these wheels can withstand much higher temperatures before failing. Poor quality carbon wheelsets have their limit between 125 – 140°C while the Tg point of quality carbon fibre wheels range between 160 – 230°C or even higher.
The reason that this is important is because the high temperatures generated during heavy and prolonged braking can ‘melt’ the resin. The resin binds the carbon fibre layers together and if it softens, the carbon fibre layers separate or delaminate. Delamination of carbon fibre is a recipe for disaster. This problem has lead to carbon rims being banned from some US cyclo sportif events
So how does Croder rate? They responded to my query and said that the Tg point for these wheels is 190°C, which is in line with higher performance wheelset brands. Well done Croder!
The second technology Croder integrate is Vapour Grown Carbon Nanofibre. Sounds complex, but what does it mean? It is well worth reading my article on Graphene and Carbon Nanotubes to provide some context for these new materials in the world of cycling. In a nutshell, it involves burning molecules at high temperature with a catalyst that helps the resulting burnt carbon to form into microscopic hollow strands. And that’s a super simplified version. These Carbon Nanofibres are mixed with the resin and are not for strength, as I assumed, rather Croder say that they help heat dissipation.
Coupled together, these two technologies give you a higher temperature range and better cooling, which is excellent for peace-of-mind when you are hurtling down that massive hill at speed. While we didn’t send the wheels to the lab to confirm this, for the purposes of this review they were very well behaved.
Setup & Ride
My current tyre of choice is the Continental GP4000s II, a great all-rounder, and I used some new 23mm tyres on the wheels. If you prefer to go wider, the 25mm Conti’s are just as good when it comes to aerodynamics. For tubes I used long valve 60mm Continental presta tubes which meant I didn’t need to attach the valve extenders which were provided by Croder. It is always a nice touch when the brand remember to include valve extenders. Getting the wheels on and off the rims was easy to do by hand, tyre levers were not necessary – I really appreciate this as it simply feels better to keep levers away from carbon fibre.
The wheels were true out of the box and didn’t need any adjustments throughout the course of the review. The rear cassette easily slotted onto the freehub and I used the supplied spacer which was included to run my 10-speed Ultegra cassette. A quick fiddle with the limit screws and barrel adjuster to tune the gears and I was ready to roll.
At the start of each ride I face a fast downhill and I’m still trying to get the best Strava time for the descent. Currently I sit behind the leader by 1 second. In my defence, performance on this segment is impacted by weather, the failing road surface, the traffic as well as the traffic lights at the bottom of the hill which can turn from green to red just before you smash the Strave record. Today with new wheels, fast wheels, I was tempted, but thought it smarter to back off on the first ride and get a feel for the wheels and braking performance before going for gold.
The wheels feel solid, stiff but not uncomfortably stiff. The trademarks of a good wheelset are that they are agile and respond to rapid bursts of energy, but are also comfortable while grinding along. Although the wheels are not actually climbing the hills for me, the SWC44’s weren’t moving from side to side as I was climbing and I wasn’t wasting any energy.
As I became confident with the wheels during the course of the review I could begin to edge closer to my limits in cornering and speed on downhills. But I always rode with an element of caution and respect as it takes time to become truly familiar and confident with the handling.
The braking surface on the carbon fibre wheels is smooth and not as abrasive as I expected. I was curious about how well they would brake, particularly in the wet. The brakes worked well… for a while. After a few rides the braking power diminish a little, which in turn made me even more cautious. I inspected the rim, which looked fine, and cleaned it with a fresh rag (to avoid contaminants such as lubricants or greases). I also cleaned the braking surface of the brake pads. A fine powder from braking had built up and once I removed this, braking improved.
Sometimes brakes need some time to ‘bed-in’ and during the review period I wasn’t able to determine if the noted build-up on the brake pads was just part of this bedding-in or if regular cleaning is necessary. I asked Croder who suggest that the pads are checked and cleaned after each ride and that ‘carbonized’ brake pads be changed. They also recognised that the braking on carbon rims is acceptable, but not perfect, which is very forthcoming.
Thanks to Sydney’s late winter weather, I can confirm that wet weather braking was good. I testing in light and medium rain conditions and appreciated that wet-weather braking performance was consistent and without substantial degradation that some riders report with carbon fibre wheels.
Are they fast?
Yes – they certainly are. I felt that I was rolling faster on the downhills in the aero-tuck position. Usually it’s the heavier riders and the ones with super-aero bikes that tend to have that downhill advantage, but the Croder wheels provided me with a noticeable boost. The 44mm deep profile is what I would describe as the perfect size; it gives you enough ‘areo’ without catching too much sidewind. You will still feel strong gusts but you will also remain in control of the steering. In fact, the 44mm profile is a good all-rounder which will suit most riding conditions, not too deep and not too shallow, so they will easily double as your training and racing wheelset.
And what about that downhill Stava record? Well, I didn’t break the record. On my final attempt, I was taunted by the traffic lights which turned red as I approach and I equalled my personal best, 1 elusive second off the fastest time.
Do you or Don’t you?
In practice, the Croder SWC44’s are good wheels that, all other things being equal, will improve your speed. For Australian racing conditions, i.e. criteriums and short road races, which typically don’t have the same braking requirements as Alpine descents, the “acceptable but not perfect” braking won’t be a limiting factor. If you are upgrading from average wheels, the difference in agility and performance will be noticeable – especially for competitive cycling.
However, the landscape of medium profile carbon fibre racing wheels priced between $2000 and $2600 is very busy, and there are a number of established brands who compete in weight and spec. Croder sits amongst the pack and while the super-duper technical attributes are nice, the performance benefits they lend are not obvious enough that they propel this wheelset undeniably ahead of the nearest competitors.
The range of Croder Wheels are available for sale on the online retail website for Cycling Express.