Ok, reviewing a product is a tiring process, as it requires many things to be carefully explained and have them all well described, so that they are well understood to others. But this time, I felt it was worth going through a review for two main reasons: The first is that I've nearly spent 2 months searching for a new pair of road bike wheels, so this article might save others' time to take a decision or give them a brief guide to wheelset purchase. The second reason is that there are many nice interesting points to be mentioned about this product!
The review, as the title suggests, refers to the Pro Lite Bracciano A42 Alloy Clincher Wheelset (product page: http://www.pro-lite.net/road-wheels/bracciano-a42#page ) . This is Pro-Lite's a new product model on the market. It's a 42mm deep alloy rim (from edge to edge inc. braking surface) and it accommodates clincher type tyres. The comparison below is set against my existing Shimano WH-R500 standard wheels that came with my bike (Orbea's top of the range alloy Aqua T105 road bike). I am also into regular cycling and triathlon training for about 3 years now, so I believe that my experience plays some role too when reviewing this product.
First things first! I am 100kg! Yes, weight plays a role too, as there are wheels out on the market that have rider weight limitations. Heavy weight people, like me, need to read this small print first regardless of what they are buying. Even if the wheels cost 2,000 euros, being a heavy rider means that you won't keep them for a long if they can support say, a weight up to 85kg. Getting a good road bike wheelset means that it will have to sacrifice a good cash from our tight pocket, so we need products that consider big riders too, not just being expensive or super fast.
Secondly, I know that there are million of road wheels to pick up out on the market. It's impossible to go through all of them, so I had to narrow things down and put my own specifications when I was about to purchase a new pair of wheels for my road bike. These are as follows:
1) I am 100kg (220lbs or 15.7 stones), I needed something strong and durable, so I left carbon construction on the side (yes, carbon is light but it's extremely delicate!). For the same reason, I wanted a clincher tyre system instead of a tubular one. It's been several times I've heard tubular tires exploding and it was scary!
2) I wanted a pair of wheels, which I would use both for races AND training, without switching them around with a second pair of wheels. I find it ridiculous to know that I have to use maybe only 10 times a year (as the number of races) a new pair of wheels. I want to enjoy my new wheels all the time!
3) I wanted my new pair of wheels to have some aero-performance too. I was going to use the new wheels mainly for riding fast on flat terrain with some light uphills too (80% flat-20% uphills).
4) I opted to spend around 500-600 euros on new wheels (plus a new cassette), which comes up to about 50% of my bike's new shop-price.
Ok, so I've set for you my requirements and based on these you can get a better picture of the descritions behind this review.
I 've broken down the review in various distinct sections based on the terrain and conditions.
1) Flat course: I start with this firstly, as I was mainly aiming (hoping!) to improve my speed on flat terrain. The wheels felt faster right away from the first moment. I grasped a noticeable improvement on the speed, which becomes pretty obvious when I was locked at about 35kph(~22mph) or more - this is where I felt clearly that I could put less amount of effort and keep the tachometer value at bigger numbers. These alloy wheels 'cut' the air pretty well, I could ride the same speed with less effort now. It was a real pleasure to keep my legs spinning at 40kph or more, I felt as if I had someone pushing me from behind! I gained about maybe 3-4 kph (~2mph) or more on these wheels. Pro-Lite has done pretty well with these wheels on the aero concept, despite the alloy construction.Currently, to the best of my knowledge, this is perhaps the only alloy road performance wheelset on the market with such deep rims. Other option, would lead you to carbon type wheels, which, as I've mentioned above, are less durable and much more expensive, maybe twice as much for a similar deep rim carbon wheel. So, this Bracciano seems to be an excellent al around speed competitor.
2) Uphills: I didn't notice any speed difference on the uphills. I didn't climb faster, but neither slower - I just kept feeling the same. However, these are aero and not climb wheels, so I was not expecting to be the wheels' strong point. I am not a good climber anyway (and pretty heavy), so I am sure that someone else might handle them better on the uphills! They were stiffer though when out of the saddle (see below).
3) Stiffness/riding out of the saddle: I judge the performance of the wheels particularly when I see how they behave when I push hard on the pedals and out of the saddle. This is where the real strength of a component (and the bike as a whole) gets the real test drive. In this case, I was more than satisfied with these Braccianos: There were absolutely quiet, no weird 'noises', frictions or sounds came out of the wheels in any case when pushing the pedal as hard as possible. This showed that the wheels were and felt stiff and solid, despite my 100kg weight. In this regard, the 20/24 (front/rear wheel) spoke number combination must have added some credits to this stiffness. I've contacted Pro-Lite in Taiwan prior to the purchase asking about the 'strength' matter and indeed I was assured that they've tested this pair of wheels with riders up to about 120kg (260pounds). So, no objection about stiffness and durability.
4) Gust/cross winds and general handling: This is the first time I rode with such deep rim wheels. Larger surface means that the wheels are more exposed to side pressure when strong crosswind gusts hits the rim. I noticed this effect on these wheels, but nothing serious or scary. I was still in control during a gust and I realised soon that it was a matter of getting used to this effect. The wheels seem to behave nicely on cross winds and I wasn't slowed down.
5) Rolling resistance/hubs: Simply amazing. I was a bit sceptical when I read on the official Pro-Lite website about the quality construction of these wheelset hubs, thinking that it's another marketing promotion. It wasn't! It was actually a fact: The wheels spin so effortlessly on their hubs, I felt immediately the difference from my previous wheels. Despite being a heavy rider, these wheels rotated very easily on their axis. It is like as if you 'slide on the ice' when you're out there on the road! This saves my energy when riding, especially long distances.
6) Other (cassette installation, box contents, air-tube adapter depth, quality, etc): This pair of wheels comes out in 2 hub versions: (i) Shimano/SRAM and (ii) Campagnolo. In both cases, an included Pro-Lite hub adapter is provided to allow either 10 or 11 speed cassettes to be installed on the rear wheel's hub. If you install a 10 gear cassette (like I did, a 10-gear Shimano 105 12-27 cassette), you will have to use the Pro-Lite's spacer provided within the box, otherwise you won't need this spacer. However, I've noticed that in any case, you won't need the spacer (metallic circular ring) provided with the Shimano cassette - both spacers (that of Pro-Lite and Shimano) are apparently meant to serve the same purpose (Pro-Lite by email), so you won't need to install both.
The wheelset comes with a black pair of Quick Release skewers, too. They lock well, although finding the sweet locking-spot needs a couple of fine trial and error adjustments.
The contents within the original box were carefully packed. There was a seperator cartoon wall between the wheels and there were some temporary plastic cup adapters fitted on the axis of each wheel to add some more protection during the transport. I've ordered these wheels from UK for delivery to Greece, and I had no problem with the received condition of the contents.
The axis of each spoke is specially flat shaped: I believe that this must be giving some extra speed during the rotation too. Pro-Lite claims that their spokes are also 30% stronger than any other spoke construction on the market, thanks to specially engineered composite - very important, especially if you're a heavy rider.
I fitted tubes with 60mm long air adaptor on these 42mm deep rims. It might be possible to fit a 48mm tube adaptor instead too, but it might marginally give access to your air-pump, though I haven't tried it with this shorter length. So better, go for a deep rim air-tube and don't be selfish!
Overall, Pro-Lite has done a great engineering job on this wheels. You can still go for carbon construction wheels, but you will probably pay twice as much. These Braccianos are the ideal upgrade for the 'alloy' type rider who wants to become aero without spending a fortune. The 42mm deep rim is a nice compromise between aero-shape and handlebar control in gusty conditions. The perfect all rounder!
Pro-Lite's idea to introduce for first time on the market such a deep 42mm rim alloy road bike wheels, seems very smart. Of course, it's too early to mention something more on this, but I feel that this pair of wheels will soon become very popular among serious cyclists and triathletes alike, as it combines perfectly the performance, construction quality and budget level, all in one product. The solid and stiff construction, despite the alloy composite, will allow you to use this pair of wheels both for racing and training without concerns. The wheels look cool too! They have a fantastic white colour logo on all surfaces! They feel solid when you push hard on the pedal. You will certainly gain some significant speed when riding out on flat terrain, especially for speeds close to or more than 40kph. I can't wait to try them against carbon based wheels on my next race - I am certain that they won't disappoint me at all! ;)
A last note about becoming an aero.. rider: I was having a quick chat the other day with some experienced podium finish tri-athletes here in Athens, Greece, about the importance of making your bike more aero in order to cut down in your finish time. They stated clearly that getting aero does help you improve your race time, but only if you are particularly a well-trained triathlete. This is of course obvious: You won't make, say, a 5,000 euro bike go fast if you are not trained properly! The conclusion was that, yes, the average/serious cyclist/triathlete can benefit by spending some money to become aero, but becoming super-aero (and super-expensive!) does not make really a sense, especially in short course triathlon races like Sprint or Olympic distances, where training comes into play first after the aero performance (which might save you about 20 seconds or less anyway, even for a super-aero setup..More on Half-Ironmans and Ironmans, but still only podium finishers have benefit with a super-aero style). Obviously, racing with the wrong bike will slow you down significantly, same as having a wrong posture/technique during riding, but spending $$$$ to become aero it won't give you a gold medal necessarily! In this regard, I believe, that this Bracciano Pro-Lite pair of wheels provides an excellent solution for the serious athlete, who wants to become clearly more aero, within an affordable budget and have a pair of wheels that will last for longer in the years to come than other makes out there, before deciding to upgrade into a carbon pair wheels.
The original packaging!
The wheel-set out of the box! (rear wheel on the left, front on the right)
Close look up of rear wheel prior to installation/configuration (from left: bag with QR skewers, PRO-LITE SPACER and white foam protection ring)
Rear Wheel, with various bits and pieces on full display (from left: Rear wheel, cloth bag, 2 skewers, white foam protection ring and hub spacer in plastic bag)
Rear wheel after cassette installation (Shimano 105 10-gear 12-27)
Rear Wheel with Bontrager R2 road tyre, installed on the road bike
Front Wheel with Bontrager R2 road tyre, with tachometer sensor