Ardennes, Bastogne, Kermesse – if you think classic Belgian racing when you hear these words then we named them right. For us, these wheels evoke cobbles, the hard men of the spring classics, hard training, and serious racing. After 15 years of work staying on top of the aero wheel world, we turned our attention to traditional wheels. It seemed like a strange direction to go, but we got tired of looking at alloy wheels and thinking "these could be SO much better". They are, and we actually surprised ourselves by how much better they are.
Lighter? v. Stiffer? Got that one too. We planned for these two, but those two attributes by themselves were simply not enough. They needed more, so we designed a whole new rim to build them around, the Hed C2 rim. By obsessing over design, and with the modern miracle of CAD, the C2 rim is 23mm wide, and only 430g. Finally a rim has caught up to the advances that clincher tires have made in the past 2 decades.
But what makes 23mm better than the ubiquitous 19mm rim? Width. Picture a standard 23mm tire on the C2 rim. Tire and rim width are the same, the sidewalls are fairly straight, and the width of the rim spreads the tread contact patch out. With straighter sidewalls, and more rubber on the road, cornering is an entirely new experience. The sidewalls don’t flop over in a hard corner, and more rubber on the road is, well... better. C2s should be run with lower pressure, since there is more air volume in the wider tire profile. The same tire on a 19mm rim looks more like the profile of a light bulb. The curved sidewalls flop over under hard cornering, there is less rubber on the road, and more air pressure is needed to prevent pinch flats.
All good, but what we’ve described so far could be called "quality of ride" improvements. Very nice, but what else is there? What else is lower rolling resistance. 20% lower. (see our white paper on rolling resistance)
Hed Classics models. Lighter, stiffer, stronger, faster. AND, a pure joy to ride. So good we even surprised ourselves.
Strengths: Very resilient to rough roads
Very comfortable ride
Very aero for 28 spoke wheel
Easy to true with symmetrical spoke lacing
Ultra smooth bearing
HED stickers double as reflectors
Weaknesses: If you are a mashed teeth, crazy eyed, flexed biceps sprinter, these wheels might seem slow to accelerate and difficult to rock.
The Kermesse is a more stout version of the Hed C2 concept. In contrast to the Adrennes and the Bastogne they come with high flanged hubs (relatively speaking), higher spoke count (28 front/28 rear vs 18 front/24 rear), and a symmetrical spoke lacing pattern. I purchased this version of the C2 b/c I wanted a wheel that I felt could handle aggressive sprinting without the constant need for repair. I also wanted the symmetrical spoke lacing pattern b/c it would make truing the wheels simpler.
After a year of at least 10 head to head sprints per week over rough Michigan roads I can confidently say these wheels are tough. I do most of my sprinting out of the saddle and found these wheels to be very stiff and stable laterally. Additionally, they seem capable of surviving any and all road pot holes without the slightest damage. In particular, I head on hit one huge pot hole coming off a lead out that created a terrible ping noise. I was confident the wheels would be trashed but they weren't so much as bent. I hit a similar pot hole using my other pair of Fulcrum 5s and they were badly damaged. The Kermesses are lighter than the fulcrum 5s and more robust...I'll take that anyday!
However, I am a little disappointed with the Kermesses sprint performance. They sprint well but not impeccable. I am not exactly sure why but the bike seems soft during my wind-up and more difficult to rock out of the saddle. I believe the difficulty in rocking the bike results from the C2 rim creating a larger contact area for tire with the road. I think the soft feeling comes from the lower tire pressure you run with the C2 rims. You can raise your tire pressure and the softness disappears but then you lose the low rolling resistance characteristic of these wheels. I guess you have to pick your poison.
Nonetheless, I am still very satisfied with these wheels. These wheels really shine for centuries. The C2, wider rim concept makes for a very comfortable ride. I can ride over chip seal for hours and not notice! Despite having 28 spokes these wheels cut effortlessly through the wind, and don't get spooky in cross winds making them low stress for group rides. The Hed hubs have some of the smoothest bearing I have ever felt and seem to spin forever.
Overall, the reduced rolling resistance, aerodynamics, and ultra smooth bearing make these wheels a great choice for centuries, but their resistance to being rocked during a sprint probably makes them a poor choice for crits. I would highly recommend the HED Kermesses for anyone who is looking for a wheelset that is easily serviceable, indestructible without weighing a ton, and that ride very comfortably.
Strengths: Reasonably light
Good Value, can't beat the performance for the price
C2 rim does exactly what Hed says it will do in their marketing hype.
Weaknesses: None to speak of
Excellent set of wheels at any price. They corner well, spool up nicely, smooth hubs coast forever, reasonably light, and for a clydesdale (245#), the C2 wheel is great. I run the tires at 100 psi and compared to my Ksyrium SL's which I ran at 125 psi to avoid pinch flats, the ride is much more supple. These wheels deserve a high quality set of tires and you will be rewarded with a sweet ride.
Strengths: Inspires confidence when riding, light weight, value
Weaknesses: Most people will balk at the $700.00 price tag and miss out on a great wheel
New addition to the C2 extrusion line of wheels for HED here. This set is a little heavier(Hubs and Spokes) but a whole less expensive than its brother the Ardennes. The wheel set is about 200g heavier than the Ardennes but for $350.00 less I was game to try them. I have been pleasantly surprised by these wheels, hubs are solid and roll smooth. Rims are great and the C2 extrusion is amazing with a 23c tire. Feels like I am riding a 25c.