About a year ago I had my first look at the brand Prime with the RP-50 tubeless wheelset and this time I have the smaller full-carbon fiber 38mm clinchers in review. It is the day and age where the world of carbon fibre rims and wheels are still a must-have upgrade for any aspiring racer or budget-capable rider. Alloy wheels will always retain their place in the cycling world, but the improving reliability and technology of carbon fibre, along with increasing affordability has made more accessible to cyclists.
Named the ‘BlackEdition’, this are not to be confused with the Black Inc wheelset brand which is connected with Factor bikes. Rather these are the evolution of the Prime RP-50 and RP-38’s. While high end race wheelsets command eye-watering prices, this Prime wheelset from Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles (CRC) sell for $999.99 (AUD).
The current list price is discounted from $1,499 and the price cuts are a bit like the liquidation sale of your favourite oriental carpet store… permanent. Since the removal of the $1000 GST threshold on imports to Australia, the tax is now collected by the retailer and because there is free shipping and it is 1 cent below $1000, there are no customs duties. This means $999.99 is the price you pay to get these delivered to your door (while the discount lasts).
If you are already a disk brake convert, the good news is that there is disc brake version of the wheel available for the same price with the center lock disc mount.
If you were ‘pinning the tail on the donkey’ in the world of carbon fiber wheels, this price point sets the BlackEdition 38mm at just under half the price of your Zipps or Enve’s but still a little above your generic Taiwanese and Chinese ‘direct to customer’ carbon fiber suppliers. In comparison with those super cheap suppliers, Prime is the in-house wheelset brand of CRC / Wiggle lends some peace-of-mind because you are buying from a well known retailer are on the ball with customer support.
Out of the box
The 38mm wheels for review had already seen some action, but judging from the wear of the tyres, it was only a little action. In addition to the two wheels were skewers, two valve extenders, and a set of four carbon-specific brake pads. Also there are 4 spare spokes in the correct sizes for front and rear (one each side). The wheels are 11 speed compatible and Prime also include a spacer to enable you to run 8, 9 or 10 speed cassettes on the hub.
25mm Hutchinson Storm Fusion tubeless tyres were already on board when the wheels arrived, and a quick blast to get them to 75 PSI was all that was needed. This saved me from setting up these tubeless wheels so I can’t comment of the ease of the installation.
One thing I noticed is that the internal and external rim width is larger and checking the specs shows an increase in the external width from 25mm in the RR38’s to 27.5mm in the BlackEdition model. The thinking behind wider rims is well founded and hence wider rims are gaining popularity. My entire experience with wider rims and slightly lower pressures has led me to conclude that school of thought fairly accurate. The ability to run lower pressures leads to a different ride quality. I had these wheels at 75-80PSI for the entire wheelset review duration, never feeling that it was too soft at all.
Being the BlackEdition, the decals are next-level stealth. You really need to get them in the right light on the right angle to see them. Aside from a tiny white Prime logo, these are subtle and black, you really can’t see anything on them unless you look carefully.
On the Road
As with the Prime RP-50s, the sound of the Prime freehub pawls is vocal without being obtrusive. You won’t go incognito on a group ride if you stop pedalling, but you also won’t wake neighbours at 6am as you roll past. The shallower depth of the 38mm wheels also doesn’t lend you quite as much of that carbon-wheel whoosh as you break through the air.
The brake track isn’t set as low on the rim as some other carbon wheels, so the reach for standard brake calipers wasn’t an issue which is good news. Given some of the carbon wheel manufacturers like to set the brake track quite low, reach has been an issue with some wheel brands. While the brake track is close to the tyre bead, the days of wheels overheating and popping tyres off delaminating rims seems to be falling away.
The Prime carbon specific pads gave good braking feel, surprisingly good in comparison to my previous carbon rim usage. You could almost forget that these are not alloy rims, except for the high-pitched whizzing noise they generate. Brake-fade didn’t present itself even coming off the steep North Head descent to Manly in Sydney and to test I employed the ‘poor practice’ technique of dragging the brakes to generate some heat.
I didn’t get a chance to ride these in the wet, so couldn’t compare braking performance in wet conditions. My word of caution is to simply take it easy and get used to the wheels and their braking behaviour in both wet and dry weather before you really push them to the limits.
I fitted a 12-25 cassette, coupled with a standard chain ring up front. My experience with carbon fiber wheels over aluminium is that I always tend to ride a gear up, riding the 23 cog (or even 21 cog) instead of the 25. These were no different. With a listed weight of 1,563 grams for the pair, they easily beat my everyday 23mm wide and 25mm deep aluminium alloy wheels with 32 spoke hubs. These are 20 spokes up front and 24 rear and with less weight to spin-up, in comparison they feels like they help push you up the hills and increase the pace on the flats.
Cross winds? Yes, susceptible. When side-on to a decent wind you will feel a nudge but they don’t catch a lot of wind on an angle. The 25mm tyres on the wider rim felt stable and I didn’t notice turbulence or uneasy handling. ‘Marginal gains’ ahead.
Though I am 6’2” and 90kg and had the brake pads adjusted to 1.5mm from the rim for an early bite and plenty of power at the lever, I couldn’t feel the wheels flexing or hear the pads brushing the rims on climbs or under load. If I was getting sideways-flex then it would mean power is being lost and I would have to look into the spoke count, the spoke strength, spoke tension, lacing pattern and even rim construction and strength… so good news.
As with other Prime wheels, one of the splines on the rear freehub body has a steel strip, bearing the acronym “A.B.G.” This is the Prime Anti Bite Guard, a steel strip on one spline which is intended to stop the cassette biting into the aluminium freehub. Aluminium is cheaper and lighter than steel so this ‘hybrid’ solution counters that ‘unaesthetic’ notching as the cassette naturally bites into the freehub over time. It did stop the notching, but only on the steel strip, the rest of the splines were still notched. To clarify, notching is generally not ‘a concern’ but when a freehub is heavily notched it becomes difficult to change the cassette.
When I received the wheels, they had already been used so there was already some notching and it required a little more shuffling and nudging of the cogs to fit them on. I am riding with a 10-speed cassette so used the provided spacer. At the end of the testing period it took some cajoling with my chain whip to release some of the cogs. So the A.B.G may delay or limit notching, it doesn’t entirely prevent the inevitable.
With the current online pricing of $999 through Wiggle or CRC, the Prime BlackEdition 38mm wheelset could be your ticket to the carbon fiber racing wheel world. It is a sensible price point that gives you most of the carbon fiber performance advantage before pricing moves into the exponential as the gains simultaneously diminish.
For any bike purchases and upgrades most riders also have to balance their own happiness and the happiness of the significant other or family members. The BlackEdition 38mm Carbon Fiber wheelset will be a genuine performance upgrade over most stock-standard wheels without going overboard on the cost. They are tubeless ready but you can still use them as regular clinchers.
While there is a chance that these are ‘gateway wheels’, only if you truly reach the point where you are counting each gram and the tenths of each second can the premium segment carbon fiber wheels deliver gains. From the weekend warrior through to the everyday roadie and competitive club racer, this will fit the bill for a lot of riders.
More info and purchasing: Wiggle – Prime BlackEdition 38 Carbon Wheelset