Monday, June 2, 2008
Neuvation C50 Carbon Tubular Wheels
Neuvation’s reputation for wheels is at the inexpensive end of the market. Known for wheels that can rival the performance of costly imports, Neuvation seems more memorable for the cost of its wheels rather than the quality.
Anecdotally, there are reports of spoke breakage among riders, but to be fair, there are similar reports for Mavic and American Classic. At a certain point, all wheels fail.
Let’s be honest, that you can get a set of wheels with skewers for $350 may be the most remarkable thing you remember about Neuvation wheels. Were you to ride some, that would change.
In addition to receiving a set of the R28 Aero4s to review, we also received a set of C50 tubulars to review. These are the wheels on which Neuvation’s reputation should be based. Our test wheels weighed in a measly 5g over the advertised weight of 1480g. They were easy to prep for gluing and with a low spoke count (20 front and 24 rear) it was easy to hook my toes over the rim for that last bit of stretching the tire on.
The 50mm carbon rims come from the same mold as another high profile rim maker. The hubs use precision cartridge bearings and stainless steel Sapim double-butted spokes are used to lace the wheels up. Brass nipples are used on the drive side rear while everywhere else alloy nipples are used. And while everyone knows carbon is fragile, Neuvation takes the unusually proactive stance of offering replacement rims for only $250. Not a bad deal, especially considering that these wheels list for an unbelievable $1000. Better yet, it seems like they are always on special on the Neuvation web site for only $668 per set, not per wheel.
The rotational mass of these wheels when paired with a lightweight tubular is very low, making them very easy to accelerate. And while the wheels were very stiff, my favorite ride quality they exhibited was the ability to lend a feeling of greater responsiveness when accelerating out-of-the-saddle.
Honestly, the wheel offers one of the best combinations of all-around performance that I’ve ever run across. They lend an aerodynamic advantage on the flats once your speed is above about 26 mph—as you near 30 mph, it is even more pronounced. Due to their light weight and low rotational mass they still climb well and are a real asset on climbs with a changing gradient. Finally, in hard cornering they help transmit enough road feedback to give you a good sense of the road conditions and your traction even when you choose to run lower tire pressures.
My only issues with these wheels are issues I’ve had with all similar wheels: The carbon brake track is somewhat uneven in braking response, so braking can give a funny pulsating sensation which can be of some concern under fairly hard braking. The other issue is in strong crosswinds. Deep section wheels in a crosswind can be as hard to handle as a bear on jet fuel. As both of those issues are category concerns and not brand concerns, I won’t penalize them for that.
I’ve often heard cutting remarks about guys who ride $2000 wheelsets on training rides. It may seem silly to drive a Ferrari to the market, but when you’ve got great equipment, shouldn’t it get ridden? Conversely, I certainly wouldn’t take a $6000 bike to a criterium. The C50s completely sidestep the issue of what the proper use of spendy wheelsets is. At less than $700, you can ride these any time you want and your only concern is flatting a tubular tire. And for those who won’t even consider tubular wheels (you just don’t know what you’re missing), a clincher is offered for another $340.
When it comes to wheels in the $500-$1000 range—a category I used to consider dangerous territory because I always considered wheels consumables—the C50s are simply unbeatable. If another set of wheels exists that offer the same aerodynamic benefit on the flat, the low weight for the hills and don’t cost a mint, I’d love to know what they are. I haven’t found one and I’ve been looking. Put another way, the performance is PRO, even if the pricetag isn't.