Mavic R-Sys Wheelset
We’ve stockpiled countless wheelsets over the years. Strong ones, fast ones, light ones. Ones we’d happily destroy, one’s we’d cry over if they were damaged. We even found our eyes moistening over the first scratch our new favorite wheels endured. It’s a scar we wish we could polish away. And when we had to take our new babies over a rutted dirt road, we winced with every sharp bump. As ridiculous as we felt, the racers with us were doing the same on their fancy wheels, too.
Mavic has some kind of Manchurian Candidate-like hold on the collective cycling imagination. Cosmic, Helium, Carbone, Ksyrium. Queen of hearts. Everyone knows these names and studied the products intensely when we first saw them under racers. No one who was around when they first came out can forget Helium Red. Or the first-generation Ksyrium’s that appeared under Lance Armstrong after Postal ditched their Rolf’s at the ’99 Tour. These wheels had the IT factor cubed.
This year saw the debut of two new top-of-the-line wheel sets from the French hoop masters. One is the Cosmic Carbone Ultimate. The other is the R-Sys. The wheels are markedly different, yet were often used for the same application. The CCU is an ultra-light, aero, all-carbon tubular. The R-Sys is a more conventional wheel that has an aluminum rim and can be spec’d as a tubular or clincher. Competitive Cyclist has already detailed both wheels; we’ll save the rest of the review for detail and commentary that can’t be found in those write-ups.
Before you start wondering about the name, stop. Mavic doesn’t reveal the thinking behind their wheels and certainly didn’t when we specifically asked. Don’t look for meaning either. Even though Ksyrium has no meaning, people were claiming it was named for a Japanese trade wind.
Name aside, one of the odd things about Mavic-sponsored racers this year is that several mountain goats have been using both the R-Sys and CCU at the same time. Both Saunier-Duval’s Gilberto Simoni and Barloworld’s Mauricio Soler have paired an R-Sys front to a CCU rear in climbing stages. We saw this and were surprised. The CCU should be lighter and more aero than the R-Sys, and yet they chose the R-Sys. Our contacts at Mavic tell us that these riders prefer the R-Sys in front for its prowess in tacking technical descents. The racers can move it around better going fast and setting up for corners.
When we got the wheels, the first thing we did was weigh them. Our test front wheel weighed 595g. That’s with a shallow 395g rim drilled on only one side. Light. The rear weighed in at 795g, close to the advertised weight of 570g and 785g. The skewers weighed in a 52g for the front and 57g for the rear.
Mavic components are known for being mechanic-friendly. These wheels are no different. The rear hub came apart with two 5mm Allen keys, and the front came apart with a 5mm hex and a Mavic dust cap tool. The snap ring holding the spokes in place is right there and easy to pull out. And the ring needs to come out if you try to true the wheels because the spoke nipple is bonded to the spoke as is the T-head end.
We shod these wheels with Continental tires. The tires went on easy. We could push the bead onto the rim and off with our hands. Interestingly, when we flatted on the road and pulled off the tire, there was a snapping noise as we unseated the tire bead. It felt like it was sealed into place, possibly a predecessor to tubeless?
The Mavic BR601 quick releases come with the wheels. Unlike the progressive feel of many qr’s, this has an on/off feel. We’re used to the former, but we can see the genius in the latter. Even though the lever throw is shorter, it seems to clear a greater distance, which means it’s easy to get the wheel in and out once the lever is open.
After putting the wheels on the bike, it was time to play with the speedometer magnet. Because the spokes can’t fit a conventional wheel magnet, one front spokes comes with an adjustable wheel magnet permanently embedded on the spoke. Setting it up was easy; just push it up or down until the computer recognizes some speed. We noticed something good about the wheel when we were playing with the magnet position. The wheel is well balanced. Most wheels are weighted toward the plug that joins the rim and if you hand spin a wheel, it will eventually slow down to the point that it goes back and forth like a pendulum and settles with the joint at the bottom. This never happened with the R-Sys. It would just slow down and eventually stop without any rocking. This could mean that the wheel is more stable at high speeds; we’ve seen too many people get front-end shimmies at 50+ mph and if this eliminates one culprit, we’re all for it.
On the road, the wheels spin up easily from a stop. Considering the low rim weight, this is where the lightness should be most noticeable. It should also come in handy on climbs — they felt good going up — but despite plenty of climbing on these wheels, it was hard to detect a specific advantage. It’s got to be there, we just had a hard time isolating the advantage. Part of it is that we don’t time every hill we climb. Going down tricky descents, the wheels were good. No problem going fast or leaning hard. The machined braking surface braked well and predictably.
Bigger riders have been telling us that this could be a great criterium wheel for them. With the carbon fiber rod spokes, the spokes won’t stretch or compress and the rim won’t deform when getting out of the saddle exiting a hard corner. The wheels are being compared to wagon wheels, where wooden spokes worked in compression. We never put wooden wheels on any of our bikes, so we’ll have to take their word. We think that an aluminum rim is lighter and has more give than a wooden one. The wheels cornered fine, no different seeming than any of our conventional wheels, but we’re not big and have learned to be smooth. When sprinting out of the saddle, the wheels were definitely stiffer than conventionally-spoked wheels. We had an easier time taking both front and rear wheels off the ground in the first few strokes of a big gear sprint.
The wheel stiffness felt similar to the stiffness of the Lightweight set we tested last year. Bigger riders might not have the same issue. They can probably keep the wheels on the ground easier to begin with. We tried changing our out of saddle form a bit and that seemed to help. The good thing about the stiffness is that it should mean more energy goes into propelling the rear wheel that should make it faster.
Having noticed how stiff the wheels were out of the saddle, we got concerned this might mean a harsh ride on rough roads. When we took the Lightweights on cobblestones, the ride was almost painful. We brought the R-Sys to the same stretch of pavé and did a few runs to see. The ride was pretty comfortable, though stiffer than our 28-hole box section clinchers. The difference could be attributed to the extra 2mm of diameter on the tires (21mm vs. 23), but we think it’s probably a little extra vertical deflection between the 16 spokes in front and 20 in the rear.
The one thing about the wheels that gives us pause couldn’t be determined in a conventional riding test. That is, the aerodynamics of the spokes. The rods are 4mm in diameter whereas a Mavic Zicral spoke presents 2mm to the wind and a conventional 14-gauge spoke measured 2mm (though it should be 1.63mm to be a true 14g). The low spoke count certainly minimizes the frontal area spokes present to the wind, but we haven’t found a way to measure what kind of resistance the spokes present.
We like the way the wheel rides. It is a great all-purpose wheel for many, particularly those hard on equipment. Mavic builds stuff to withstand everyday abuse, and this wheel will seemingly go for a long, long time with few problems. We also think this could be great in cyclocross, where low speeds and lots of accelerations would mean the rims and spokes could give a marked advantage to the rider using them. Whether or not this wheel is good for crits or racing depends on the user. Big riders could benefit from the wheel in crits and climbing if they have found conventional wheels flex too much for their comfort. For others, we’re not so sanguine. Aerodynamics being what they are, we want to know more before strongly recommending it as a race wheel.
Racers don’t always make the fastest choices. Many choose comfort first. Take a look at the old saddles many in the pro peloton ride. The Selle San Marco Rolls is at over a decade old, but it’s Tom Boonen’s choice. Lance rode the Concor Light for most of his career and had his saddle sponsor apply fresh leather each year. Simoni is known for conservative choices, favoring light weight over aero in most cases. Some argue that it cost him the 2005 Giro, others point to his many victories and say he can’t be that wrong.
These debates are one of the many reasons we love wheels. Lots of science, but the science can be trumped by comfort and elusive feel. This is probably why we have so many wheels.
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