They're light but not appreciably lighter than the competition at 1,482g per pair (without skewers), the shallow 24mm-deep rims don't come off as particularly aerodynamic, the hubs go about their business free from the hype of hybrid ceramic cartridge bearings, and the subdued silver-and-dark grey aesthetics are typically restrained.
Yet none of that means a thing once you get them out on the road. Ride quality is simply sublime with one of the smoothest overall feels we've encountered in any clincher – a magical combination of the shallow near-box section profile, paper-thin scandium-enhanced aluminium rim extrusion and co-moulded carbon fibre reinforcement.
Road buzz is soundly squelched, medium-sized impacts are nicely muted, and even bigger breaks in the tarmac come through with little more than a modest 'thud'. Add some appropriate Road Tubeless rubber to the compatible rims and the performance metrics go up even higher.
In addition to the extra comfort and traction from the recommended lower pressure relative to tube-type clinchers (we run about 95psi with tubeless in contrast to about 105psi otherwise), ditching the tube also nets improved puncture resistance while maintaining an impressively smooth roll.
Two-cross/two-cross rear spoke lacing and widely spaced front hub flanges yield fantastic torsional and lateral stiffness for outstanding responsiveness, both under power and in hard corners. The Dura-Ace wheels feel lighter than they are (likely on account of having weight concentrated at the hubs) and there's no sense of the twang, pop or wind-up that can often accompany bona fide featherweights.
As extra bonuses, build quality has been superb with no truing required over six months of testing, the aluminium braking surface is more progressive and predictable than carbon, and while the rims aren't particularly slippery, Shimano at least see fit to include bladed spokes.
Aside from the proprietary straight-pull forged aluminium shells, the hubs are based on Shimano's own Dura-Ace 7800 design and include a faster engaging (relative to older Shimano designs) and hard wearing titanium freehub body, oversized alloy axles, and cup-and-cone bearings with high-quality balls and polished races for a silky smooth spin.
Though admittedly not as idiot-proof as cartridge-type designs, the cup-and-cone setup makes for fine preload adjustment and they're easier to properly service when needed with no special tools required. Moreover, loose ceramic bearings are available from outfits such as CeramicSpeed if you simply can't live without.
You'll have to excuse us if this all sounds like a bit too much praise but the Dura-Ace WH-7850-C24-TL wheels are truly outstanding. Custom hand-built sets can come close in several areas but we can't think of one that can go toe-to-toe across the board and also offers proper Road Tubeless compatibility.
Though the Dura-Ace wheels may not be the '-est' of anything, they're a brilliant balance of light weight, stiffness, build quality and ride quality, and should be considered near the top of the list for anyone looking for a single high-end do-all road wheelset. Excellent work, Shimano.