Over the past few months Mavic has quietly introduced their newest wheel technology to the cycling world. Among the latest and greatest from the French company comes the R-SYS wheel set. A carbon/al-u-min-e-um dream team intended to relieve the aging Ksyrium from its duties atop the pre-built, hub/rim kingdom. Le Tour provided the most prominent display of the R-SYS wheels carrying Soler to a win in Stage 9. Soler opted for a Cosmic Carbone Ultimate on the rear and the R-SYS on the front. The R-SYS wheels have received rave reviews from PROs and journalists alike: accolades for their stiffness, comfort, and claimed 1355 gram weight. But is this wheel set the next generation wheel? Is this wheel technology vastly improved and in a world of desirable cycling goodies are they worthy of the top spot?
I have ridden every generation of the Ksyrium wheels, ranging from the all-black, first generation wheels in 2000 to the most recent, ode to the Helium, ES model. The Ksyrium is a staple in the pre-built wheel market and performs flawlessly for roadies and cross racers alike. The Ksyrium was the first wheel tough enough to provide large riders with a light, fast, durable wheel option. Mavic claims the Ksyrium range will shuffle in 2008, losing the top spot to the R-SYS. In 2000, when the Ksyrium was introduced, it was immediately evident that the wheel market as we knew it was about to change.
I thought it would be interesting to compare the R-SYS wheels to the Ksyrium SLs based on my ride experience alone. No weight comparisons, no technological marketing mumbo-jumbo, just wheel against wheel. After 200 miles on each, here are my thoughts:
The first thing I noticed about the R-SYS wheels were the aesthetics. I hated the look. Art commented that the R-SYS wheels look like wagon wheels and, honestly, I think that is the best description I’ve heard. The hubs are chiseled down to the absolute minimum (they barely cover the bearings and axle) and the hubs define the look of "2008," the “chiseled” look that both Mavic and Shimano have embraced. In 2005-06, this minima style was reserved for less expensive products from Mavic and I can’t help but initially view the hubs on the R-SYS as something reserved for the entry-level components. In time, I am sure that I’ll adjust to the new style and my aesthetic tastes will be re-programmed. But hey, I had a difficult time when the Oakley Factory Pilots disappeared. With the tiny hubs, the spokes look very long and their round profile is reminiscent of Udon noodles.
The nipples are similar to those used in the Ksyriums, although they are now in a lime (citron) color. The graphics are tough to read. After a long hard look, I was able to spot the R-SYS logos, which are created from a series of lines that look more like a DNA sequence than a rim graphic. (Honestly, if I stared at them for much longer, I was certain I would have seen a schooner.) The rim profile is low, like the newer style ES wheels, which I personally feel make the ESs slightly more compliant than the SLs. I am sure some testing equipment in France would say I am wrong, but my reviews are based on my perception in the real world and not statistical data or static load tests.
The rear wheel has a similarly minimal appearance and the rim profile matches the front. However, the non-drive side spokes are Zircal (aluminum) like the previous generation Ksyriums. The aluminum spokes allow for greater clearance on the drive side allowing the dish of the wheel to favor a stiffer build. The spokes are all black and this makes it hard to detect the difference in materials and spoke thickness.
As I installed the wheels into my bike, the initial ugliness dissolved and what revealed itself was a new and unique appearance to my bike. My standard SL3s are all silver and I preferred them when they were all black. Somehow the mix of black spokes with the silver rim added a dimension that all black simply can’t. When on the bike, the wheels look awesome!
So, how did they ride? Well, first let me say that I rode them back-to-back on the same bike with the same tubes/tires as my SL3s to try to minimize the differences between wheels sets. I tried to be as scientific as possible in a completely unscientific study. Here’s the scoop. They were marginally better than my SL3s. I was simply not floored by these wheels in the same way I was when I first switched from the Heliums to the Kysriums or from the SLs to the ESs. The R-SYSs feel laterally stiffer than the SLs and where I felt I could detect a discernable difference was in the lack of rear wheel wind-up that is so common in other wheels during a hard acceleration (a downside to the previous generation Ksyriums). When I threw the R-SYSs hard into a corner, the wheels tracked nicely, providing a stable feeling while cutting in at the last moment. Then again, I never felt the SL3s were short in this category. Additionally, I can't say the comfort was any less or more than with the SL3s. The Colnago is a great bike and comfort is one of its strong suits. I have yet to ride a wheel that the Colnago couldn't tame. In a group setting, where acceleration is key to closing gaps, both the SLs and the R-SYSs feel great and the difference is hardly detectable. In fact, it’s tough to justify the difference in price between these two wheel sets.
So, what would prompt me to buy the R-SYS wheels?
1. If weight were a major concern to me, they would be a great place to start. 1300 grams and change is light, especially for a wheel that rides like a wheel that is 200 grams heavier. The dollar to gram ratio favors the upgrade in wheels as opposed to spending it on boutique German components.
2. If I were searching for a light, tight set of clinchers to pimp, this would be it. They look cool and I am severely loyal to Mavic.
In my opinion, the R-SYS wheels are a tiny bit stiffer than previous Ksyriums. I think this wheel set differs most from the Ksyriums in appearance and less in ride characteristics. If you have a set of Ksyriums and you are thinking of upgrading, I would recommend investing in a bike fitting or a top level tune-up, one that replaces all your cables and housing and installs some PRO white tape. These areas will increase your speed, make your bike fun to ride, and pay dividends in other areas. If you are searching for some lightweight, bad-ass wheels the R-SYS and Ksyriums will both do the job very well.
Plus, you get one of the cleanest magnet arrangements out there.