Anyone who has been cycling for a while and spent time looking for upgrade options or a new bike build will have invariably come across the name Token. Bottom brackets, skewers, bidon cages, pulley wheels and numerous anodised aluminium ‘bling’ small parts. They also have wheelsets in their lineup, previously it was predominantly alloy, but now increasingly with carbon fibre. For review on Bicycles Network Australia I received the Token Ventous (rim-brake) which are a full carbon fiber wheelset with a modest 36mm profile height.
Token is a comparatively young brand which was founded in Taiwan in 2002 by James Chung, a Mechanical Engineer. Without overlooking that fact that the world’s biggest brands, Giant Bicycles and Merida are also Taiwanese, you could assume that going straight to the source and opting for a Taiwanese brand would be more cost effective as you are cutting out the middle-men. In the case of the Token Ventous wheels on review, the converted Australian dollar price is ca. $2,200 for the set so price-wise, this is up there with some of the big boys. Like many other brands, Token are not the actual manufacturer rather they take responsibility for Research and Development and work with suppliers.
The Ventous are the lowest profile carbon rim that Token currently produce. They’re available in a disc and rim brake version, both essentially the same rim profile with a different finish on the sides so that the rim brakes version have a suitable brake-track. The Ventous model wheelset belongs to the Zenith family (the Token families are slightly confusing) which encompasses the rim brake wheels while the disc brake wheels are part of the Prime family, together these two families share the catch phrase; ‘lighter, wider, faster’.
The naming is curious, rather than using Ventoux… as in the famous Mont Ventoux (which features regularly in the Tour de France and is popular for road cycling pilgrimages), Token have named it Ventous. It appears that German brand Lightweight already have a wheelset called Ventoux. Token have taken to adjusting the names of their current model wheelsets; instead of Kona (as in Hawaiian Ironman), there is the Konax and instead of D’huez (another famous French alpine climb), Token have the Dhuezz.
Just how wide is ‘wider’?
The most recent insights into cycling aerodynamics suggests that fatter is faster so these days, wheelset brands are gravitating towards wider tyres and rims. The external rim width of the Token Ventous rim brake wheels is 27.4mm and the internal width is 20mm. For some context, you could slip the Mavic Open Pro, a long-standing ‘reference’ rim with an outside width of 19.6mm, inside the tyre well of the Token Ventous rim. The Ventous are wider than the HPlusSon Archetype (23mm) or tubeless ready/disc HPlusSon Hydra (25mm). Velocity don’t make a regular road rim over 21mm wide, you need to get into their Cliffhanger to hit 25mm, which is one of their Clydesdale/touring suggestions. ‘Chunky‘ is what I thought when I got the Token wheels out of the box. But considering how lightweight and fragile carbon fiber wheelsets can appear, the generously wide Ventous simultaneously give me that ‘peace of mind’ feeling as well.
Token recommend 25mm or 28mm tyres for these rims, which is what you would expect of a rim this wide. Fitting a previously used set of Schwalbe Durano Plus 25 was tight but not impossible. The second time around was easier as the tyre stretched a little. Trying to fit a previously mounted 23mm Vittoria Rubino Pro proved impossible, so I can’t even tell you whether a 23mm tyre works on the rim… for aero, stick to the 25’s. The other maximums listed are 115PSI and 100kg rider weight. The Durano Plus at 90-100PSI sat well and felt solid enough to corner as quick as ever.
The 36mm depth gives these a not-insignificant appearance. They don’t look out of place on a narrow-tubed steel bike, but they would be a better aesthetic match with a bike frame with bigger tubes. Never let it be said that style should stop anyone doing what they want with their bike…
For the tubeless crowd, these wheels are tubeless capable. Tubeless-compatible rim tape is installed from the factory, and Token provide tubeless valves for those who want to go that way. You can make your own mind up regarding the advantages or disadvantages of this method, I stuck with tubes for this review.
What do you get?
The box contains a set of Token’s special all-weather compound carbon red brake pads, a spacer to enable fitting 8/9/10-speed cassettes on the 11-speed capable freehub, and a card with the manufacturing information on it; model number, manufacture date, purchase date and serial number.
One nice little bonus is that these wheels come with Token Vigilante skewers, which are an enclosed cam style. For those running these on a steel frame (like myself) these are easy to clamp and stay put. No slipping in the dropouts with these puppies. Plus, they look good. The skewers felt a little dry straight out of the box so a dab of grease on the threads before you put the nuts back on will help.
Fitting cassettes is easy, although the alloy freehub body does have its shortcomings that only become obvious after a few hundred kilometres in use. More on that shortly. Those of you who want to run Campagnolo are out of luck, as Token only seem to make Shimano/SRAM compatible freehub bodies.
The freehub buzz is quite prominent… (the sound of the pawls clicking as the ratchet spins when you are coasting and not pedalling). Whether this will soften over time as it wears in is uncertain. The hubs are essentially tool-less to work on (except perhaps extracting the bearings from the hub shell). Removing the freehub and throwing in some additional grease may quieten the buzz, but generally this rear wheel has a loud freehub so your ride mates will know when you freewheel on a group ride.
Token use what they call “Tiramic” bearings in these wheels, which are a combination of ceramic and stainless steel balls in stainless steel races, machined to ABEC-5 standards. Many manufacturers use both ABEC-3 and ABEC-5 in their various wheels, with aftermarket parts available to higher standards for almost any type of bearing.
The rims are 18H (i.e. 18 spoke holes) front and a 21H rear. Commonly road bikes have 24 spokes on the rear and this means the spoke pattern on the rear wheel is a little unconventional: 14 spokes on the drive side, 7 on the non-drive side. Token calls it ‘diametric’. It feels solid and seems to make sense as a 2:1 ratio.
Looking at the rims the first time, one thing that did raise an eyebrow a little was the level of finishing. Most of the branding and low-key feature stripes were nice and clean. Some stickers however appear to be lifting a little, the golden one with the ‘triple triangle’ had slipped or been repositioned judging by the ghost adhesive marks nearby. The surface finish at the edge of the brake track wavers a little in some places, not perceptible from a few feet away but is certainly evident close up. At this price-point, buyers naturally expect that quality control is vigilant in picking up flaws… however the finishing and aesthetics appear to have a lot more leeway for Token. Picky buyers may be dissuaded and turn to other brands who show more attention to detail.
There is a whole slew of technology that Token have engineered into these wheels. ContiFibre, CRP, DSP, OAD, SwiftEdge, TFT, TgX, Tubeless Ready, WGM…luckily for us, an explanation of all of these Token brand acronyms.
The two-year warranty and UCI Approval are easy to translate. The main technology of interest is the ContiFibre. As Token explain:
CONTI-FIBRE is an innovative carbon rim manufacturing process that we’ve invested in for more than 3 years. The main part of the rim is pre-formed by machine so the structure is uniform and symmetrical. Excess material overlaps and human error are eliminated, so the rim structure has virtually no weak point. This results in not only a lighter, but also a stronger rim. We can even tweak the rim structure in the machine to optimise it for different applications, such as rim brake or disc brake.
Carbon fiber production has come a long way, without suggesting that carbon fiber bikes and parts are always perfect, it is fair to say that the level of quality is much higher – a typical result of experience and time. We see Token giving attention to pre-manufacture analysis and automation in the carbon fiber layup… carbon doesn’t seem quite a fragile these days.
Before I forget to mention, Token also have a customer friendly CRP, crash replacement policy. It is nice to avoid crashing, but in the fast paced world of road cycling, if worse comes to worse, the financial pain can be numbed a little with subsidised rim replacement.
Run them in, run them up…
Token specify a 3mm gap from the rim edge to the brake pad, which was not as straightforward as it seems. The brake pads are quite thick, which doesn’t leave a lot of room. With my Shimano Ultegra brake calipers, I installed and positioned the pads with the release lever in the normal (down) position. The rims are true and stiff enough that this clearance can be set quite close and not rub pads under load. The problem was that this only gave me about half of the release lever movement, in terms of actual brake opening, before the cable went slack against the stops and the pads stopped opening outwards. If your brake calipers don’t have a wide opening, you could well run into the issue of not having any release movement when it is time to change wheels. Or worse, you cannot get the pads far enough away from the rims to avoid contact. The only remedy to this would be shaving the front off the pads or looking for some lower profile pads or holders.
But how do they ride? As I anticipated… very nicely. The aero-argument for wider tyre is now pretty well established and these do nothing to dispel that thinking. When compared directly to the 23c tyres on DT Swiss R450 rims (Aluminium, 19.8mm wide, 22.5mm profile) of my regular wheels, there is no speed penalty. But are they ‘better’? I am sorry to say that I didn’t subject these to private laboratory and wind tunnel testing and instead am relying on my seat of the pants weekend warrior feel. You can sift through technical reports from lab testing till the cows come home, but when you find yourself rolling through familiar areas and looking down to see a 2-3km/h speed increase on parts of a route you’ve done many times before on a very similar setup, the advantage appears to be real. Is it just a lucky breeze? Have you managed to get into a draft behind someone else for a bit? Did you fuel the body better the day before? When the answer to all three is “nothing I don’t normally do” then you start to decisively narrow it down to performance benefits of the wheelset.
My bike has been ridden in tailwinds, headwinds, crosswinds, bright sunshine, heavy cloud, humidity, even some rain. I have made a lot of changes over the years and can confidently say that wheelset changes from aluminium to the deeper carbon fiber, including the Token Ventous give me a perceivable difference in speed.
The wheels behaved predictably on the road. Accelerating, cornering, climbing or descending, I was never second guessing what might happen. To make it easier, the tyres were already broken in and running between 90-100PSI. Sometimes a pressure loss of as little as 10PSI it can be felt on a narrower tyre/rim combo while on the I didn’t notice the pressure differences.
The “Tiramic” bearings do their job and add to the feel as well. A nicely adjusted and quality loose-ball hub is a thing of beauty, but not having to worry if you’ve overtightened them and might be tearing them up prematurely is nice, too. Sadly, once you destroy a cup you have to replace the whole hub. Sealed bearings and press fit hubs remove that to a degree.
The profile is ‘only’ 36mm so for aerodynamics this is better than anything less, but not as good as higher profiles or disc carbon wheels. For a greater Aero advantage, the 52mm Konax and 76mm Konax Tri wheelsets will give you more… but they are also more susceptible to crosswinds and I specifically noticed on the Ventous that I wasn’t easily blown around in windy conditions. I have a set of 50mm carbon wheels and the differences that the 14mm make (or could it also be the wider rims) is noticeable, meaning that the Ventous are far nicer and more versatile in this respect.
A question of worthiness
The purchase price of USD 1,499 RRP from Token (ca. $2,200 AUD) and the value for quality and performance is something we need to talk about.
When you look at purchase prices for wheels of this level, they might seem steep. US$1,499 RRP via Token is getting up there for what people would regard as a significant purchase. Chasing seconds or watts when you’re racing grades comes at a price. Thing is, it comes at a higher price for some of the other manufacturers. You could spend the same money price for custom specification, hand-built alloy wheels and buttery hubs to go along with it, but you’d still have alloy wheels (note: this is not that bad).
For similar full carbon rim profiles, the Zipp 202 Firecrest is a close match, at 25mm wide and 32mm deep. With the recommended retail pricing (RRP) as a reference, you have to spend almost double the cost of the Tokens for a set. The Enve SES 3.4 are roughly $1.5K more. The Mavic Cosmic Pro UST carbon and Swiss Side Hadrons 485 ‘Classics’ (with import taxes and duty) are around the same price point and weight as the Token Ventous. Does this make them an achievable upgrade for those after precious time or power? It would in my book… but they have stiff competition.
My current wheels are a set of hand-built DT Swiss R450 rims on Ultegra 6500 hubs, 28H front and rear. The weight table below shows just how much lighter a set of carbon wheels are over my particularly heavy alloy wheels.
|DT Swiss R450/ Ultegra 6500 28H
Saving just under half a kilogram for the RRP is approaching generic black caviar costs. $4.60/g = $4,600/kg. Depending on your existing wheelset and the tyres you put on you, may not see this much weight saving. Granted, the carbon wheels are also a step-up in stiffness over lightweight aluminium wheels so it is a balance of price, weight, stiffness and aero.
What works and what doesn’t?
Token sent a second set of wheels because of a problem with the first set. The original set quickly developed a significant pulsing on the rear wheel while braking which was so strong that it would almost lock the wheel at two points around the circumference under lower-speed braking. The pulse was also present at high speed though it became more pronounced as the speed dropped and the brakes took more effect. No amount of wiping with clean rags, toe-in of pads or micro-measurements to find a minor bulge solved the issue.
This issue was reported to Token and rather than suggesting a fix (or leaving me to fend for myself), they asked that the pads and wheels were returned for checking and analysis. A replacement set of wheels arrived four days later and on they went. These have not shown any sign of the same pulse issue.
Token provided feedback on the issue:
After analysing with the factory, we think it’s excessive resin staying on the braking track which cause the braking pulse phenomenon.
There’re two related possibilities:
a. The prepreg (carbon fiber woven with pre-applied resin) contains higher amount of resin
b. The rim was not fully pressurised for a long enough period before curing in the mould
The latter is more likely to happen although either of the two is not common. During the moulding process, the heating gradient of the mould should be carefully controlled, as the pressurised raw rim needs some time to lose excessive resin. When the environment temperature is too high (like the hottest days in summer), the actual temperature of the mould could rise quicker than programmed, and that reduces the resin loss rate as the rim cures sooner – which leaves more resin on the rim and changes its property. The factory is aware of this now and will tweak the moulding process to compensate in the future.
Back on the road again, after 200km wanted to swap the cassette over. I undid the lockring and three cogs slid off. The rest didn’t budge. It took a fair bit of twisting and pulling to get the rest off due to the notching on the freehub. Even the top four, which are fixed together, had notched the freehub. Aluminium freehubs by their nature are prone to notching so this is fairly normal and you can use a metal file to bring down the edges.
Another few hundred kilometres and it might prove really difficult to get a cassette off. Freehub bodies are almost becoming a consumable item, but you wouldn’t want to make a habit of it. A steel freehub will solve this, but the weight penalty makes aluminium freehubs a preferred option for most wheelset models. There are no steel strips or sacrificial plates on these freehubs, so at some point in the future you will reach a point of replacement… and these are replaceable parts of the wheelset.
There used to be a time that carbon fiber wheels like this would be race-day only items, removed during training to avoid damage and wear. Not so much now. Especially with the versatile 36mm profile, there should be no reason why you can’t use these as everyday wheels. Compared to common low profile rims, the deeper rim does have some aero advantages and for racers shaving seconds or preserving those few watts for the end of a long race (or commuter cup), it all adds up.
After 600km the brake wear on the brake track is evident, but not obvious. Eventually you would wear out the braking surface, as with all rim brake wheels. Different conditions would mean different wear rates and token suggested that their sponsored riders have over 15,000km provided that the brake pads are regularly cleaned.
Token really sit mid-range in weight, pricing and performance with the 36mm carbon fiber Ventous wheelset. Even at this price I would like to see a little more attention to detail on the aesthetic details, but for performance I have no complaints. The serious issue with the initial wheelset provided was immediately rectified and I expect that all customers would be extended this type of support.
For ca. $2,200 (plus any import duty and GST), the Ventous wheelset will give you the crit-race and onroad racing aero performance that you expect but without going over-the-top on pricing. The wider style rim is also keeping with the times and gives you aerodynamic benefits along with a more comfortable ride and structural benefits (over narrow rims).
Wheelset details and ordering: Token Ventous 36mm Carbon Fiber Wheelset