HomeReviews & TechReview: Swiss Side PION Aluminium Wheelset Prioritise Durability and Versatility over Aero

Review: Swiss Side PION Aluminium Wheelset Prioritise Durability and Versatility over Aero

The first teaser for the new Swiss Side wheels was simply “PION”. I thought it was a riddle, short for “CHAMPION”. Against all expectations, the new PION wheelset was a non-aero, lower priced aluminium wheel selling for around $700 AUD for a set. This marks shift… or broadening at Swiss Side who, in recent years, have solely focussed on high-end aerodynamic wheels.

Swiss Side are no stranger to aluminium, in the early days their Franc aluminium wheelsets were for price-conscious road cyclists. It should also be noted that the first generation Swiss Side Hadrons Aero wheels had aluminium rims with a carbon faring.

I asked Swiss Side about the motivation behind their new PION wheelset, “Our goal was to bring a low-cost, affordable all-round wheel set for those customers who don’t want full carbon wheels or aren’t ready to spend the larger sums for the HADRON aero wheels. Customers have also been asking for an everyday training wheel so this wheel set fits that bill.”

heavy rider road cycling wheelset

PION is probably not short for CHAMPION (Road cycling ‘champs’ are more likely to opt for full carbon fiber wheels) if at all… so what does it mean? Swiss Side answered, “PION fits with our quantum-physics, subatomic particle theme. Actually a PION is a member of the ‘HADRON’ family of particles.”

Considering that Swiss Side have been using aerodynamic performance to make their mark on road cycling and triathlon, the question is whether there any Aero benefit for these wheels? The answer is slightly… with the 32mm deep rim profiles, there is little less drag than a more traditional flat profile aluminium rim. However the primary role of the ovalised rim profile is stability and stiffness so that the wheelset suits heavier riders and can be used off-road.

This opens up a few doors as traditional wheelsets can neglect heavier road cyclists and are out of their depth when the tarmac ends and gravel grinding starts. The 18mm internal rim width (22mm outside width) accommodates wider tyres and Swiss Side recommends road tyres up to 30mm and for cyclocross and gravel, up to 33mm wide tyres.

The Tech

One of the curious things I noticed out of the box was that the front wheel had a DT Swiss branded rim tape and the rear wheel a Swiss Side branded rim tape. The two brands have a strong collaboration and the PIONs feature DT Swiss Aero Comp bladed spokes and ‘custom’ DT Swiss 370 hubs which have stickers showing both brands logos. The wheels are manufactured by DT Swiss which is a plus for customer reassurance, not only regarding the quality of the build, but also because Swiss Side wheels can be serviced by DT Swiss dealers. No further details about the DT Swiss 370 hubs are provided such as how they differ / relate to the DT Swiss 370 MTB hubs which used for 1800 and 1900 SPLINE series MTB wheels.

tubeless rim tape dtswiss swiss side

The rim brake and disc brake versions of the PIONs have the same retail price, for this review I tested the rim brake wheels and first to care to swap out my carbon fiber brake pads and install regular brake pads for aluminium brake tracks. The standard aluminium freehub is 10/11-Speed Shimano/SRAM compatible and some freehub kits are available separately for XDR Driver & Campagnolo cassette compatibility. There were no bite-guards or other steel plates on the splines of the aluminium freehub, so I expect notching from the cassette.

dtswiss freehub swissside
dtswiss hub

The front wheel weighed 827 grams and the rear wheel 910 grams which is respectable for aluminium, they are neither a lightweight 1.5kg wheelset or a heavy 2kg wheelset. At 1,737 grams for the set (1,854 grams with skewers) they were under the Swiss Side specified weight of 1,783 grams for the Rim Brake wheelset. Adding tubes and 28mm wide tyres plus a rear cassette gave me a total wheelset weight of 2,987 grams. As a tubeless ready wheelset you can save a few grams if you eliminate the tube and opt for sealant.

swiss side unboxing skewer

Laced with DT Swiss Aero Comp J-bend spokes, the front wheel has 20 spokes (radial) and the rear 24 spokes (3-cross) which are secured with aluminium nipples.

swissside pion 320 aluminium profile wheelset road cycling

Aluminium Wheelset Comparisons

Other wheelsets in a similar price range include the Campagnolo Zonda C17 which are specc’ed at 1.6kg while the Prime Attaquer are specc’ed at 1.4kg. Both share the same 22mm outside rim width though have a slightly smaller rim profile at 30mm each. Both save a decent amount of weight over the PIONs so, on this basis, the Swiss Sides could be easily dismissed. The maximum rider weight limits and riding terrain for the PIONs suggest different strengths.

Both the Campagnolo and Prime wheels exclude heavier riders, all Campagnolo wheels have general warnings against riders over 109kg. Even if you are over 82kg, Campag state “you must be especially vigilant and have your bicycle inspected more frequently”. For the Prime Attaquer wheels, the rider weight limit is lower with 100kg max and both of these brands of rim brake aluminium wheelsets are designated for on-road usage. In contrast, the PIONs have a maximum rider weight up to 130 kg and the wheelset is designed to cross-over and be used for off-road riding like gravel-grinding.

However the PIONs still get a run for their money against the similarly priced HUNT 4Season Aero Wheelset which are also suited to heavier riders and gravel riding. The HUNT wheels are wider, have a lower profile and weigh 1,579 grams (specified) which reduces their aerodynamics whereas the brass nipples lend them all-weather longevity.

The PIONs have a contemporary all-black design, subtle graphics and are fairly low-key, except for the naked brake track. As a result they pair nicely with modern bike frames and provide a look which is more progressive than ‘retro’.

Who are the PIONs for?

We have established that the PIONs are positioned to be more robust and versatile than typical aluminium road wheels. At circa $700 AUD (€326.05 + €109.50 shipping = €435.55) for a set they are neither cheap nor expensive. As an overseas purchase from Swiss Side direct, GST is excluded* though import duty is usually be collected by customs before delivery so is an additional cost.

* The retail value + shipping is under $1000. With an annual threshold below $75,000 in annual exports to Australia, Swiss Side are not required to collect GST from Australian customers.

review pion aluminium swiss side wheels

If you already have an average set of aluminium rims on your road bike which are performing well, it would be hard to justify simply swapping over to the PIONs as it wouldn’t be a significant upgrade. Likewise if you are seeking a significant performance upgrade, quality aerodynamic carbon fiber wheels are the way to go, albeit these come with a higher price tag.

But if your existing aluminium wheels are underwhelming and you keep on popping spokes, the PIONs deliver a very good balance between durability and sporting performance. For competitive riders seeking solid training wheels or everyday riders seeking a versatile all-weather wheelset, the PIONs have an approachable price, backed by the DT Swiss quality.

The Ride

Paired with the ride tyres and right pressure, I found the wheels comfortable and was able to navigate rough surfaces and small potholes gracefully. I was satisfied with the acceleration, and they are not stupidly heavy.

aluminium wheelset comparison

I rode primarily with 28mm wide Pirelli P-Zero tyres and turning was smooth compared to twitchy and edgy handling of nimble carbon fibre wheels. While descending I felt in control even as my top speeds edged towards 80kmh. The wider tyres with a slight lower tyre pressure – 90psi rather than 100 or 110psi – are a real asset. The rim profile is lower than typical carbon fiber rims so the wind has less effect on the handling.

wheelset 10 speed 11 speed cassette

For sprinting and hill-climbing, occasionally there was some brake-rub as the wheels flexed a little. I have my brakes pads set fairly close to the brake track so it is easier to notice these things but still feel that it is acceptable.

Braking was exactly as expected… reliable and more controllable than braking with carbon fiber rims.

road cycling training wheels

Overall the riding comfort is reassuring and pleasant, but I also recognised the trade-off in road cycling performance. This wasn’t a surprise although it still caught me out a few times on familiar routes when I was thinking “I should be faster than this”. To be fair, I am comparing against deeper section carbon fiber wheels such as the beautifully fast Swiss Side 485 Hadrons so it is not a perfectly fair comparison.

In comparison with the performance of traditional aluminium road cycling wheels – though these are robust, I feel that are well on par and assuming that the slight aero profile compensates for the few extra grams. In other words, you are not being penalised for everyday performance.

While testing, I didn’t pushed the PIONs anywhere near the limits for off-road riding but navigated a few less-travelled and unkept paths on the road bike which worked out well. The P-Zero tyres really need to be swapped with all-round tyres that have a bit more grip to get the most out of the unsealed trails and tracks.

Within this price range, I wasn’t expecting elite-level rolling resistance in the hubs and am fairly confident, following my testing, that the hubs are perfectly functional as they performed without issue.

swiss side pion dtswiss wheel review

In Summary

If you are familiar with Swiss Side as leaders in aerodynamics, their new Aluminium PION wheelsets break this mould to accommodate different riding requirements. In comparison with many other aluminium wheelsets in the $700 price category, the Swiss Side PIONs present themselves as a more durable and versatile wheel that will also serve heavier riders without weight and performance penalties. Though they are not full-blooded gravel grinding wheels, they are competent enough to let you dabble and open access to more tracks and trails for your riding pleasure. Aero spokes and a mid-range weight ensure that everyday performance is not ignored.

robust heavy duty aluminium wheels pion

I found that these wheels handled very well on uncertain road surfaces and downhill. What they lack in top speeds, they give back in confident handling. For aspirational cyclists, these are indeed solid training wheels. In my case the Swiss Side PION wheelset is ideal for dropbar road bike for commuting and all-weather cycling where I can maintain a fair pace and still be able to tackle the urban terrain and potholes.

Info and Purchasing:
Swiss Side PION Rim Brake Wheelset

Christopher Jones
Christopher Joneshttps://www.bicycles.net.au
Christopher Jones is a recreational cyclist and runs a design agency, Signale. As the driving force behind Bicycles.net.au he has one of each 'types' of bicycles.
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