Thursday, June 8, 2017

Best Value Aero Wheels for Ironman Triathlon - HED JET+ 6 Wheels $949

A frequent Ironman question I see is "which triathlon aero wheelset to buy?" The manufacturers are endless: Zipp, HED, Enve, Roval (Specialized), Profile Design, Reynolds, Flo, Knight, SwissSide, Edco, Mavic, Bontrager (Trek) and more.

HED JET 6+ - Best Value Triathlon Wheelset
While all aero wheels will save you time, the reality is picking a wheelset can be quite the process. Tubular vs clincher, aluminum vs full carbon, 60mm vs 90mm/Disc all add to the confusion.

The purpose of this piece is to provide a simple recommendation for an Ironman triathlon wheelset that is: aerodynamic, light, durable, handles well, rides great, comes with a full warranty from a company that has been in business for decades, is safer, easier to maintain, more forward-thinking, and more affordable. It is a wheel that has also been ridden to World Championships.

Whether a beginner or Kona qualifier, the HED JET 6+ wheelset is my personal recommendation as the Best Value Wheelset. Currently it is priced at $949 (42% off) via Competitive Cyclist, but you can save an additional 15% with coupon code: CC15OFF100 expires (8/22/2017). That brings the wheelset down to $807 (50% off). While this is still my choice at a much higher price point, originally when I first wrote this the wheels were priced at $1099 .

Below I discuss in detail some of the benefits of the HED JET 6+. The comparisons focus on what the HED JET+ offers that you don't get from a full carbon clincher rim. I won't discuss tubulars - they have no place in triathlon anymore.


Why HED JET 6+ (in no particular order)


1) Safer - The HED JET+ feature an aluminum brake track that brakes more consistently and faster, in both wet and dry conditions. In addition there isn't the same risk from carbon where under heavy braking the rims melt and potentially lead to catastrophic crashes from tires blowing off the rims. Lastly, for those running latex tubes, some manufacturers of carbon rims, like Enve, suggested not using latex due to possible heat buildup of the carbon rims which can then damage the latex. Latex tubes are fast but if you can't use them safely in the wheel then the wheel is going to be slower. If you don't use latex this isn't a concern.

2) Wide and tubeless ready - The industry has been transitioning to wider rims over the past decade. While 13mm internal diameter used to be standard, now the average is closer to 17-18mm. Zipp is at 16.25mm - 17.25mm, Enve has rims that are 19mm, FLO 19.4mm, while HED and Roval are at 21mm. 

In addition the HED JET+ have the new bead-hook design for tubeless setups where the tires "snap" into place. While Enve and Roval also have tubeless bead-hooks, most of the other manufacturers do not and thus are not truly capable of tubeless if you so desire to run them that way. This is more of a future-proof feature for those not familiar with tubeless.

3) More comfortable - Because HED JET+ have that large 21mm internal diameter your same tires end up being much wider. The reality is the air volume is much larger and you need less pressure. In fact HED has a max PSI of 90. Don't worry if you still think higher pressure is better or faster. In reality too much and too little is slow. PSI is all about balance and with HED you can run lower pressures without risking the same pinch-flats that can happen in other setups.

As an example, I road Zipp Firecrests (16.25mm) in training with 25mm Gatorskins for many years at around 95-100 psi. I have been running the same 25mm tires on HED JET+ at between 75-80 PSI (I am 155lbs). In addition while the 25mm tire will measure a hair over 25mm on the Zipps, it measures closer to 27mm on the HED JET+. The end result of the wider tire at lower pressures is a more comfortable ride.

4) Better handling - Similar to #3, the larger tires and lower pressures provides for better handling in corners. I also find they are also less twitchy in strong crosswinds.

5) Great aerodynamics - The late great Steve HED was a master at aerodynamics with decades of experience. The HED JET 6+ is yet another advancement that continues the long tradition of great aerodynamics that have been independently validated by others. You won't find a significantly faster 60mm deep wheel but you will find slower. 
Hed JET vs HED JET+ Wind Tunnel Data
San Diego Low Speed Tunnel

Some people may want a deeper front rim or a disc on the rear, but the 6+ front and back offer superior versatility in my opinion. If you do want a disc you can always add a wheel cover to the 6+ rear for under $100. Skip the 9+ up front.

6) Lightweight - One knock on aluminum race wheels is that they are quite heavy. For instance, according to Flo's website, their latest Flo 60mm front wheel is 910 grams while a 58mm deep Zipp 404 Firecrest is listed at 755 grams. Meanwhile my own HED JET 6+ with stickers removed weighs 725 grams. When you think about the fact that HED's are also 21mm wide, while the FLO 60s are 19.4mm and the Zipps 16.25mm, that is even more impressive considering how much more material there is for the wider rim. The HED Jet+ series is as light as carbon wheels without the negatives of a carbon brake track.

7) Simpler maintenance. Swapping brake pads when going back and forth between carbon race wheels and aluminum training wheels is a major pain. If all your wheels are aluminum there is no need to swap brake pads.

By the way, if you have carbon wheels you should be swapping out the brake pads. This is for two reasons. One is because carbon rims require a different brake pad to be able to brake effectively on the carbon surface. And two, if you use the same brake pads on both aluminum and carbon rims you will embed tiny bits of aluminum from the rim into the brake pads, which will then eat away at the carbon rims. 

8) Get immediately - Competitive Cyclists offers free 2-day shipping and the same great return policy and customer service as its parent company Backcountry. No waiting for slower retailers/etailers, or even worse, 8 weeks until the next "group buy" just to put in your order.

9) Warranty - buying new wheels from Competitve Cyclist or other retailers/etailers/lbs means you get the full backing of the warranty as the original owner. I myself have bought many used wheels because of the drastic price difference between new and used, however in doing so I know that most wheel companies will not warranty a wheel if I have an issue. It is something to think about if you are looking at used wheels.

10) Price$1099 shipped for the set is about as good as it gets. This includes, skewers, valve extenders and my preferred rim tape as well. I know that this is Competitive Cyclist's carrot to get you in their door so you buy more from them, but the reality is that you can likely ride these for a year or two and resell them and recoup much of your investment if you so choose.

In general HED has excellent resale value as well. You can check prior eBay sales to get a feel for what used wheels go for. As for this deal, it has been about a year since I recognized it. At one time last October it was as low as $799 for a short period but has mostly been bouncing around between $999 and $1099. The sale seems like a permanent sale and loss-leader to me.


My Personal Experience


I have owned a variety of HED wheels over the years including Stinger 9s, Ardennes, H3s, H3+, JET 6+, Jet 9+ (rear), and a Jet Disc+. I have over a year of racing and training on the HED JET+ series, and in that time I have really come to appreciate the superior stopping power of aluminum after many years on carbon. The ride quality with the wider tires at lower pressures is great and riding the JET 6+ in training gives me the opportunity to get comfortable with gusty crosswinds so that on race day I am confident.


Additional Notes


Cheap carbon wheels - there are lots of cheap carbon wheels floating around. You can even gets sets on Amazon shipped via Prime. Personally I would never ride a carbon brake track from anyone but Zipp, Enve, and Roval (Specialized), and Bontrager (Trek). While some people may get away with it, the reality is that wheels are mission critical and I have seen too many failed brake tracks on carbon wheels. You are gambling with your health going with cheap carbon wheels. 

HED JET+  Tire installation - Please not that tires may be slightly more difficult to get on these rims depending on what you have had in the past. While Zipps were always notoriously easy to get the tire on, that isn't exactly what you want when you are bombing down a descent and have a flat. Easy to get on, means easy to fall off as well.

HED JET 6+ vs HED JET 6 or JET 6 C2 - Many people are confused by the differences. The HED JET 6, or C2 as they are also known, are a prior generation. They are narrower and weren't designed with the tubeless bead-hooks. They are 23mm at the brake track instead of 25mm. They are 17.8mm internally versus 21mm. The new HED JET 6+ will perform better aerodynamically with wider tires than a HED JET 6.

HED JET 6+ vs HED JET 6+ Black - The Black series features an all black rim and a specially machined brake surface that according to HED provides 30% improvement in dry conditions and 70% in wet over standard aluminum. Having used Black I can say the brake track does offer even better braking but I haven't attempted to quantify it. The brake surface is very nice but it is twice the price. Some people really like the sleek Black look as well.

Links:

HED JET 6+ on Competitive Cyclist
HED JET 6+ Black on Competitive Cyclist
HED JET completed sales on eBay