Shimano knows hubs, and despite the flurry of competitor's aftermarket wheelsets, the Japanese component maker has not lost a step, so proven by their Dura-Ace and now Ultegra SL lightweight wheelsets.
The 1687g Shimano Ultegra SL clincher wheelset (with skewers) graced two of my test bikes, both times right after deep-section carbon wheels were ridden hard. The 24mm high 6061 aluminium rims feature 16/20 front/rear spoke patterns. The front is radially-laced, while the rear boasts a non-driveside radial lacing and two-cross rear, built on oversized hubs and axles that look like the Ringles I've ridden 10-plus years ago.
The first half of 2007 was spent on lightweight, deep section carbon clinchers, so it was hard not to compare the ride of the Ultegra SLs. Not only do the hoops from Shimano hold their own in the stiff category, they also provided a near-perfect braking sidewall, something I appreciate descending on dew-laden morning rides in the Santa Cruz mountains.
I've been raised on 32-spoke wheels, built up with either standard Shimano or Campagnolo hubs. I've grown accustomed to long, butted and stainless steel spokes, so you could say I'm also a bit sensitive to anything that claims to be "ultra-stiff" or "super-lightweight". With the Shimano wheels, though, I knew I'd feel right at home, given the flat, round nature of the first spin out of the box, and the hearty "clickety-click" of the cassette guts. I've spent thousands of miles on straight-pull spoked wheels, and have been told by many a master wheelbuilder that the weakest point of a spoke is the little j-bend that hooks into the hub flange; Shimano's choice to use straight pulls gave me extra confidence, and has kept me from tweaking the test wheels once since the maiden voyage. True is true, and any maintenance issues only take away from our riding enjoyment, right?
Shimano wheels, much like its non-flashy aluminium cranks, may not look as fast or super-techy as their carbon brethren across the aisle, but from a performance standpoint, the Ultegra SLs may be some of the best on the market. I also appreciate the ease of installing and removing tyres, something I've never taken for granted. The challenge might be finding these wonderful wheels at your favourite stockist, but a top shop can always order them for you; several on-line retailers offer them on both sides of the Atlantic.
© BikeRadar 2007