Rolf Prima Ares4 ES wheels review£1,499.00

Carbon clinchers square up to Zipp's Firecrests

BikeRadar score4/5

On reflection, taking the Ares4 ES wheelset for its first outing at a road race was a risk – but let’s say it was a calculated success. Rolf Prima made its name in the late 90s with a wheel design pairing opposing spokes at the rim, and although Rolf Dietrich (Rolf’s founder) has retired, his partner Brian Roddy and the spoke pattern continue.

Rolf Prima has now introduced carbon clinchers, with the Ares4 ES aimed squarely at Zipp’s 303 Firecrests, which have just been reduced in price. The carbon rims are constructed to Rolf’s design,with the wheel building done in-house in Eugene, Oregon, USA, using proprietary alloy hubs with an oversized non-driveside flange that’s said to reduce uneven stress on the hub, spokes and rim.

Related: Zipp’s Firecrest gets better – and much cheaper

Just 16 front and 20 rear Sapim CX-Speed bladed spokes keep the overall mass down, and Rolf believes the paired design also has aerodynamic advantages. Including rim tapes, our test set weighed 1562g, 92g heavier than claimed, although the tapes comprise around half of that; quick-release skewers add another 110g.

Rolf’s Delta rim profile is a broad 24.5mm at the braking track, bulging to 27mm at its widest, and 17mm internally, making our 25mm rubber the smart choice. The 42mm deep rim is a good compromise between versatility and weight, and one of our reasons for braving a bunched race.

The Ares4 ES have great pickup from the three-pawl hubs, and excellent lateral rigidity thanks to the wide rims and front hub’s 85mm flange spacing, so sprinting out of corners felt stable and efficient. Some of Rolf’s early alloy wheels exhibited obvious flex due to the amount of unsupported rim, something seemingly solved by carbon, as none was apparent to our 75kg rider.

A breezy evening jostling with 120 riders wouldn’t have been the time to suffer twitchy handling – thankfully the Rolfs proved to be predictable at all wind angles, sustaining speed very well. Braking was also reassuringly reliable, and there was always plenty of power on tap and no grabbing or squealing, even in the wet.

We didn’t bother the line judges, but the new Ares4 ES should ruffle a few feathers among the established names.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Robin Wilmott

Tech Writer, Tech Hub, UK,
Robin began road cycling in 1988, and with mountain bikes in their infancy, mixed experimental off-road adventures with club time trials and road races. Cyclocross soon became a winter staple, and has remained his favourite form of competition. Robin has always loved the technical aspect of building and maintaining bikes, and several years working in a good bike shop only amplified that. Ten years as a Forensic Photographer followed, honing his eye for detail in pictures and words. He has shot at the biggest pro events since the '90s, and now he's here, drawing on all those experiences to figure out what makes a bike or component tick.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 178cm / 5'10"
  • Weight: 75kg / 165lb
  • Discipline: Road, cyclocross, time trials
  • Beer of Choice: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

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