last year i unilaterally declared 2008 as the year of the handbuilt wheel; some people took notice and undoubtedly a great deal more ignored me completely. that year hasn't really ended, because i haven't altered my opinion that a pair of artisan-built bicycle wheels is the best choice a rider can make. however, not all wheels are equal, and what you expect of a wheel depends very much on what you are trying to achieve on the bike. so maybe a handbuilt, spoked wheel won't be the ideal choice for every competitive outing. if you are not involved in competition, i refer you to the start of this paragraph.
however, as a self-confessed wheelaholic, anything that you can put 23mm tyres on is pretty much alright by me, though obviously some hoops are more intriguing than others. and while the number of boutique wheels on offer has seemingly increased tenfold in recent years, many of those come from companies that seem to have arrived with the sole purpose of adding to this market, and whom none of us have ever heard of. that is certainly not an accusation that can be levelled at mavic. it may well be that fewer new bicycles arrive with hubs built on to the once ubiquitous mavic rims, but the company has been astute enough to accommodate this in their business strategy, and may indeed have been the originators of the boutique trend with the release of the original ksyrium wheel.
and mavic have been nothing if not pro-active in energising and monitoring the upward mobility of the trend by not resting on their laurels. in recent years i have been fortunate enough to ride deep-flange lightweight carbon wheels from germany's carbonsports, a majority of which run on tubulars; fine for the professionals perhaps, but just a tad less convenient for you or i. and while carbonsports have released a clincher version of their all-carbon wheel, the price of same still keeps it out of reach for many.
mavic have, partially at least, filled the void. with wiggle listing the lighweight clincher wheel at £2899, mavic's cosmic carbone slr is a far more welcoming £865, and who's arguing about a few grams here or there? spokes are unidirectional carbon, running from rim to rim through mavic's own aluminium hubs. the spokes are not bonded in place, but the whole exists as a very rigid structure weighing a not insubstantial 1595 grams per pair, interestingly more than 200g heavier than their very own r-sys wheels.
the cosmics arrived fitted to a focus izalco extreme, a bicycle that i found very stiff to ride (full review here), so i replaced them with a pair of r-sys to find if the wheels were responsible for at least a portion of this harshness. surprisingly, to me at least, the difference was a great deal less than expected. so with 52mm carbon rims, bonded to an aluminium clincher rim and rigid carbon spokes, mavic have at least partially achieved the opposite that reputation would decree. of course you'd likely fit a pair of these wheels either for speed or for pose value; assuming speed is the principal requirement, that extra weight will certainly help rotational acceleration, with added ability to keep it there.
while i would never credit myself with anything like the ability to give these wheels their ultimate workout, i will happily attest to their speed, most definitely with a tailwind, but cunningly enough, also into a headwind. the problem of course, and you could doubtless see this coming, is an islay crosswind, of which there were more than just a few during the test period. i will happily advise that if you're descending in high crosswinds, don't wear white shorts. with the front wheel only above 700g, it doesn't take much to deviate it from its chosen path, and it becomes a case of how well you can anticipate such likely deviation as to your forward or lateral direction. for that reason alone, i really couldn't recommend deep flange wheels if you live in a windy area, unless you're happy to wheel them out only in fine weather.
all in all, these are fairly good value for your money, and you'd almost expect this level of equipment on a bike costing in excess of £4000. personally i'd rather opt for a pair of the r-sys wheels, not really because of their lower weight, but mainly because they are a better all-round option, and for most of us their lack of aerodynamics will be of academic interest. on the other hand, if you're racing, a pair of cosmic carbones might just be the armament you need to move further up the peloton.
posted on wednesday 10 june 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................