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Review – Wheels

Hed's company remains a leader in the bike industry to this day.

Steve Hed has been in the world of triathlon for as long as I can remember. As a new pro back in the mid-80s, I still remember having a conversation with the aerodynamic wizard about radical new bike geometry what was going to change the triathlon world. It seemed crazy to me at the time, but within a few years Hed’s prediction had come true and triathlon-specific bikes became the norm.

Hed’s company remains a leader in the bike industry to this day, offering some of the most aerodynamic wheels and aerobars available. The 2011 version of Hed’s popular Jet wheelset lives up to that reputation.

Back in the days when I was racing, tubular wheels were the norm. Not only were they lighter, tubular tire technology was way ahead of clinchers at that point. Tires were lighter, could handle a lot more pressure, were easier to change and were more durable than most lightweight clinchers at the time. Times have certainly changed – while I might have cringed when I saw the Jet wheelset in the box, once I started riding I was more than pleasantly surprised.

The Flamme Rouge version of the Jet offers some pretty amazing technology. A scandium C2 outer rim combined with 1K carbon aero sections offers an extremely aerodynamic package. The advantage of the scandium outer rim is that you’re braking on metal rather than carbon fibre. That typically provides a bit better braking, especially in wet conditions.

The downside of combining the scandium outer rim and the carbon aero section is that these wheels aren’t quite as light as full carbon wheels might be, but unless you’re a total weight junkie and determined to have the lightest bike in transtion, you’re probably not going to notice those extra few grams as much as you might think.

I took the Jets with me to the Tour of Rimouski, a hilly stage race in Quebec, which gave me a great opportunity to test the wheels out in a variety of conditions. My first ride with these wheels was with a group of national and provincial team coaches, who had a worried look in their eyes when I first appeared on a tri bike, but quickly accepted me once I proved that I could hang with them on the first climb. I had shared some of their skepticism – the 1 km, 13 per cent grade climb we started our ride with that day was going to quickly tell me just how solid the Jet wheelset was.

I shouldn’t have been worried. When it comes to climbing, especially a hill like the one we attacked on our way out of Rimouski, you want your wheels to be laterally stiff. That means that as you stand up and move from side to side on the bike, the wheel doesn’t flex back and forth and lose any of the energy that you’re putting into the pedals. The Jets were excellent when it came to the climb. I certainly didn’t feel like I was lugging any extra weight and also didn’t notice any flex as I jammed on the pedals.

Jet 6 – $750

The review wheels included a Jet 6 (60 mm depth) on the front and a Jet 9 (90 mm) rear, which had me a bit worried about the final 20 or so miles of that first ride. After climbing up into the hills, we then had a high-speed descent followed by a long stretch along the St. Lawrence, with a sharp crosswind. The Jets were rock solid and stable on the descent and the Carbon FR Sonic hubs are both extremely smooth and super-fast. Then came my second pleasant surprise of the ride: the Stability Control Technology that Hed has built into these rims really does work – even with a stiff crosswind, I never felt like I might lose control of the bike.

Jet 9 – $900

I almost hate to say it, but the Jets actually perform more like a tubular wheel than they don’t. The ride on these wheels is extremely comfortable – they managed to be as stiff as they are laterally while absorbing a lot of the road shock you typically might feel with a set of stiff racing wheels. (The rear does such a great job of absorbing shock I kept thinking I had a flat tire.)

The one issue I did experience with the Jet was this: after only a few rides I noticed a few puncture holes in the side of the carbon aero-sectioned rims. The carbon is so thin that flying rocks managed to create a couple of bb-sized holes. For most triathletes, that won’t be an issue – they’ll use these wheels exclusively for racing in triathlons, where there’s less chance of a car or another bike shooting a rock your way. It does serve as a reminder, though, that the Jets probably aren’t a great choice for day-to-day riding, though.

Despite that one glitch, and the slightly heavier weight compared to a full-carbon wheel, there’s a lot to like about these super-speedy wheels.-KM