I'm looking for a new wheelset that will provide a distinct speed advantage for longer road races and sportive rides. I have a budget of around £600-£700 but am fairly flexible since wheels are worth spending the money on.
My main predicament is whether to go for a set of deeper section rim-wheels which are probably going to be a little heavier but are more aerodynamic, or some low/mid section rims which can be superlight and would be great for climbing.
Ideally, one would have different wheels for different situations, but, unfortunately, most of us don't have bottomless wallets or pro team sponsorship, so I've been looking for a wheelset which will handle most race situations. I have read that, despite the extra weight of more material and unpredictable handling in crosswinds, an aerodynamic advantage is preferable even when climbing.
Considering the wheelset I've currently got (Mavic Open Pros laced to 2006 Centaur hubs, 32-hole, 3-cross, Sapim double-butted Race spokes), even though a pair of Ksyrium SLs or Fulcrum Racing 1s weigh only around 150g less, will they be significantly stiffer, and combined with large aero spokes, therefore, noticeably faster?
I've been looking at lighter wheels too, such as Easton EA90 SLX, DT Swiss 1450s or getting a set of Tune Mig/Mag hubs laced to DT rr 1.1 rims. These wheels (apart from Easton) are attractive on top of the lighter weight, as they are more easily serviceable and upgradeable (new rim). The DT wheelset seems fantastic value-for-money, being around £200 cheaper than Ksyrium SLs or Racing 1s (money towards Zipp rims!). Will there be any significant difference in stiffness between, say, the DT 1450s and the Ksyrium SLs? The DT 1450 may be lighter but will it climb and descend better if it isn't as stiff?
Finally, what advantages will deeper section rim wheels such as Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLs, HED Jets or Reynolds Attacks offer? Do they allow higher speed to be sustained more easily compared to low/mid section rim wheels? Will better aerodynamics provide more advantage on hills compared with lighter weight?
Your existing wheels are simple but very good performers; with the low revolving weight of those Mavic Open Pro rims they are a tough act to improve upon. The aerodynamic advantages of deep-section aero carbon wheels will provide an absolute speed advantage on the flat or when descending, but this will be negated by their greater revolving weight on the climbs - and there are plenty of those in sportives.
While you're right in your assertion that wheels make a bigger difference to performance than any other part of the bike, the wheels you mention will not, in my experience, provide you with the improved sense of pace you are looking for. I advise saving up a bit more for a pair of shallow, rather than deep-section, carbon tubular wheels that will make a difference you can really feel when compared to your existing handmade wheels - the new Shimano WH-7850-C24-TU to be precise.
These weigh 1,200g per pair and cost £1,000 and, although we haven't tested them yet, the earlier WH-7801 carbon versions have a significantly greater 'wow factor'than the Easton Ascent 2 or Mavic Ksyrium ES (both costing around £550) and have remained true in our long-term test fleet. For more information visit www.ultimatepursuits.co.uk.