By today's wheel standards, the Mavic Classics are yesterday's news. The Classics are 32-hole, standard rims much like the Reflex or Open Pro, steel eyelet reinforcements and a ceramic braking surface weighing in around 1,600 grams for the set.
The Classics have an interesting history and even more interesting future. In 1996, Mavic introduced the Helium, the famous bright red, annodized wheelset that kicked off the pre-built wheel boom and put many of the cycling industry's best wheel builders out to pasture. The Heliums were expensive then (~$800) and on the heels of the Helium's sucess, Mavic felt it was a good time to continue adding to the pre-built wheel line-up. Along came the Classic Pros, which were 32-hole wheels with a standard rim and unique Mavic hub. This wheelset was inexpensive and offered a reliable option for dealers. They required no additional labor to build and they rode beautifully out of the box.
Mavic later refined the wheelset to include a ceramic braking surface and they simplified the name to "Classics." The Classics became the choice for professional cyclists who earned their living on the slippery cobbles of the Spring Classics. The Classics came in two versions, a clincher version and a "very PRO" tubular version.
According to Mavic, the Classics were never popular among the recreational cyclist crowd and became a product that was mostly routed to the professional peloton. This is where the allure of the Classics begin. Years later, it is impossible to turn a spoke key in March or April without tensioning a Classic spoke. Many of the pro peloton's biggest names rely on the Classics to get them into the decisive moves. Often you can see the bright yellow decals forming a yellow streak across the top section of the all black wheelset. Mavic no longer produces this wheelset, and according to a few Mavic reps, the wheelset is one of Mavic's most desireable and difficult-to-find wheelsets.
I searched for two years to find a pair in decent shape, scouring eBay and Craigslist. While on a spring ride in 2004, I even offered some guy on a group ride my Ksyrium SLs for his Classics. The SLs were easily replaced.
Thanksgiving 2004 I found my Classics. They were sitting on an older Moots cross bike at a bike shop in Boston. The bike had been sent to the shop's bargain basement. When I asked an employee if I could buy "just the wheels," he asked, "why would you want those?" Clearly, he was unaware of the thousands of cobbled miles ridden by pros on those wheels, carrying them through the toughest of Spring conditions. One man's trash is another man's treasure.
My Classics are clinchers, they came with a Shimano freehub and zero miles. I paid $200 for the set, no tax and they remain one of my most prized cycling possesions. The Classics continue to become harder to locate and serve as a membership card for those who are knowledgeable about the details that make up a passion for all things PRO. Today, I have thousands of miles on my Classics and I have ridden everything from the Vittoria Pave Evo to Michelin cross tires on them. The ceramic continues to provide impressive grip in the coldest and wettest of conditions and they have never required service.