Ten years ago, if you rode carbon fibre wheels you were probably sponsored, daring or fiscally irresponsible. In the world of road racing, carbon fibre rims and wheels are the standard upgrade for aspiring racers or budget-capable riders. While alloy wheels will always have their place in the cycling world, the increasing reliability and technology of carbon fibre, coupled with increasingly affordable pricing has made it less daunting prospect for many people. The tales of overheating and blowing-up rims are now few and far between… and carbon is even becoming increasingly viable for mountain biking and daily commuting.
The cost of a wheelset can stretch from the achievable to the stratospheric. Prime is a brand from the online British retailer Chain Reaction Cycles. Following their merger with Wiggle, Prime is available from both websites for the same price. With a heritage of competitive online retailing, you can correctly assume that the RP-50 Carbon fibre wheelset on review is priced very competitively. At
$899.99 $999.95(AUD) with free shipping, it costs less than half the price of big brand name wheels such as the Zipp Firecrest, Campagnolo Bora and Enve 3.4. Those wheels belong to the ‘next’ price bracket which starts at around $1,500 and increases into diminishing returns.
Priced under the $1000 mark (total product value + shipping), the Primes are not subject to Australian GST and customs duty and it also seems that Australians are currently getting a particularly good price as Europeans are actually charged more for this wheelset (plus their local tax).
$900 $1000 delivered, the Prime RP-50 is still priced above the prolific Taiwanese and Chinese in-house and white-label (unbranded) carbon wheelsets which you do need to treat with caution (particularly the unknown quality control and product safety). In contrast, the well-regarded Taiwanese (brand) Token C50 costs more than the Prime RP-50. I think we can probably put the value pricing down to the wholesale buying power of Wiggle which gives them a better price which can then be passed onto the consumer.
The wheel box was dropped-off at the office with murmurs of my colleagues “more bike stuff”. In the box were the wheels, skewers, two valve extenders, and a set of four carbon-specific brake pads. Also contained in the box were 4 spare spokes in the correct sizes for front and rear (one each side). The RP-50 wheels have an 11 speed hub and Prime include a spacer to enable you to also run an 9 or 10 speed SRAM or Shimano cassette.
As this wheel had already been in review, I wasn’t the first in-line so they were already mounted with Schwalbe Pro One 25 tubeless tyres installed. The wheels are tubeless ready so technically you can also use it as a clincher (tyre and tube) but tubeless simply means that there is no innertube required which saves weight. Ensure you get the right type of tyre (tubeless) and the tubeless valves. A sealant is commonly used as well (goes in through the valve) which can give you some puncture protection. In the case of a puncture, take a spare inner tube and pump – the inner tube can go inside the tubeless tyre.
I started with a very comfortable 70psi and during the course of my review over 3 weeks they lost very little pressure and didn’t need topping up. Wider rims and tyres are popular for both recreational and competitive riders – contrary to what you may assume, a wider tire can provide less rolling resistance while increasing ride comfort. A wider rim also lets you ride with lower tyre pressures and tubeless takes that a little further, although go too high or too low and you can pop the bead off the rim.
The Prime wheels are available in a white and black (which is more of a grey) decal version. The white almost shouts at you, while the black version is understated.
Manufacturer weights are sometimes optimistic. This Prime wheelset has a listed weight of
1,530g 1,490 grams. I recorded a total weight with tubeless tyres, valves, skewers and cassette of 2380g. Applying some maths with listed weights of parts (tyres and Dura-Ace 11-23 cassette) brings this back to 1667g with skewers and rim tape so if you did a bit more maths – it would be fairly close to the spec.
To cap it off, the wheel is laced with straight-pull
DT Swiss Sapim CX-Ray aero spokes (24 front and 24 back) and an in-house brand aluminium hub is used
On the Road with Prime RP-50
I find that the freehub noise (the clicking when you are not pedalling) is one of those rider-specific preferences that every cyclist has an opinion on. The Prime freehub is vocal without being obtrusive. You won’t go un-noticed on a group ride if you stop pedalling, but you won’t wake neighbours at 6am either. If you haven’t had any experience with carbon wheels, you will really notice the rolling noise, it sounds more like a pulsing whoosh than a steady noise and is very distinctive… especially when a big bunch of riders on aero-wheels pass.
The rim has a 25mm sectional width. I had to adjust the brake pads out to fit, in fact I let out a bit of brake cable. I should stress, if you switch over from an alloy wheelset to a carbon fibre wheelset, don’t forget to swap over the brake pads and definitely use the pads supplied by the manufacturer because the compounds in the pads do need to suit the wheel. I adjusted the pads to 1mm from the track which is how I like it and this also lets me confirm that the wheels are true.
The brake track is set low on the rim. Not as low as some others so the the pads were not yet bottoming out in the brake calliper to get the correct position. If you have a classic steel road bike and attempt to mount carbon wheels with a low braking track, it is possible that the brake callipers won’t reach far enough.
On the Wiggle website, information provided about the Prime wheels says that the brake track is set away from the tyre bead. If you consider that heat from braking was a major contributor towards wheelset failures in all of those horror stories you have heard about carbon, keeping the heat away from heat susceptible bits sounds like the right way to go. But I was prepared to test it so took a very long downhill and purposely did the wrong thing by braking all the way down to heat the rims, the rims were certainly warm but not untouchable.
As these wheels had already been used before, the brake track was already evident. The carbon specific pads with the slightly roughed in brake track made for predictable stopping. The braking is not as good as alloy rims, there is still a definite drop in braking power compared to alloy, but once the bite point and force is figured out, the braking leaves you with confidence to save you from second-guessing descents or traffic stops.
I hadn’t ridden carbon in the wet for a long time nor was I looking for rain so am afraid I can’t report on braking in the wet. What I can say is that with new wheels you simply have to take it easy in the dry and the wet – get a feel for the braking and play it safe as you learn the limits for braking and cornering.
Typically I use a 12-25 cassette on my alloy wheels coupled with standard 52/39 chain rings. But as I have an 11-23 cassette on my other carbon wheels, this is what I went with. The gearing didn’t really have any impact, even sitting in 39/23 I never missed the 25 at all. For one of my regular rides there is a spot where I have to resort to 39/25 but riding the Prime RP-50 I was able to keep my pace in 39/25 without feeling I was working harder. Was this all down to the wheels or was I just having a great day?
Acceleration on the RP-50’s is swift, as you’d expect from a sub-2kg wheelset. With the aerodynamic 50mm profile, how do they respond to cross winds? You’re certainly going to notice the wind, but the Primes didn’t seem to catch too much unless they were square-on to the breeze. Add to this the wider tyre for less rolling resistance and better suitability for deep profile wheels… it didn’t feel slow.
Climbing did give me some noticeable flex in the wheels. Compliance can mean more better riding comfort, but it can also mean power loss and less efficiency. After the first big hill on my first ride, I opened the brakes slightly to stop the pad rubbing when I was out of the saddle and climbing. From the initial 1mm gap it was now about 1.5mm on the rear and still a faint rub with my powerful climbing. For braking, this translated into pressing the brake lever about half-way until the pads started to grip the wheel.
Keep in mind, I am 6’2” and 89kg so a bit of flex with this weight and power wasn’t unexpected. It was all fixed with a slight turn of the barrel adjustor.
An interesting talking point is the tension of spokes: to soften the harshness you might get from a super-taut wheel, the spoke tensions are sometimes lower than a comparable alloy wheel. This could explain the flex at the brake track. My alloy wheels are hand-built with around 1100N (110kg/f) tension. They flex very little and with my typical 1mm brake pad gap set up, they don’t rub… but they also aren’t aero.
Prime use straight-pull
DT Swiss RP-50 Sapim CX-Ray aero spokes, these are fairly straightforward to replace, should you break or damage one. The ability to repair or replace wheels without proprietary spokes can only be a good thing. Because of the nature of carbon fibre, carbon wheelsets are more prone to the spokes loosening so a thread locking compound is often used. Prime use DT Swiss pro-Lock Sapim Secure Lock nipples, which have a compound pre-applied to avoid loose spokes.
Pulling off the cassette and spacer at the end of the test period revealed some expected notching where the cassette had bitten into the freehub. One of the splines has a steel strip bearing the acronym “A.B.G.” This is Prime’s Anti Bite Guard, and it certainly stopped the cassette biting, but only into that one strip. The popularity of the lightweight aluminium freehub bodies simply leads to more notching as the softer metal sacrifices itself to the watt gods. Steel is durable but heavier.
If you tighten your cassette properly and have the correct spacers, notching is usually nothing to worry about as it is normal wear and tear. I am still curious about the impact of the A.B.G and what the freehub would have looked like without it.
The cheapest performance upgrade you can make on our bike are tyres, but the most significant performance upgrade you can make on your current bike are better wheels. If you are a road cyclists looking a boost, a wheelset upgrade is an effective upgrade.
For the delivered price of
$899.99 $999.95, the Prime RP-50 wheelset is the ticket for aspiring riders into the world of carbon fibre wheelsets. At this price you also get to keep your significant other or family members happy. The Prime RP-50 is an attractively priced carbon fibre wheelset which will deliver most of the benefits you expect of a new wheelset but without the weight weenie factor or having to chase diminishing returns.
More info from the Prime Website or from Wiggle: Prime RP-50 Wheelset
Corrections 6.9.2017: The model name was initially noted as RR-50 instead of the correct RP-50, this required an update to note the correct spokes as Sapim CX-Ray straight-pull and correcting the total brand specified weight down to 1,490 grams. The price has also been corrected, $899.99 is correct for the RR-50 while the RP-50 which was tested is priced at $999.95 delivered.
Disclosure: Wiggle is a long-term advertiser with Bicycles Network Australia. This review is independent of advertising and (like all BNA reviews) is not paid. Advertising is not a requirement for reviews on Bicycles Network Australia.