Review: Fairwheel Bikes Lightweight Alloy Clinchers

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At $875 per set, Fairwheel offers a competitively priced lightweight wheelset option.

I was looking for a “weight weenie” wheelset that weighed less than 1400 grams. The criteria was: alloy (not carbon), clincher (not tubular), tubed (not tubeless), and, of course, reasonably priced. Unfortunately, consumers these days seem to be focused on carbon clinchers and, as a result, the mainstream companies like Shimano, Mavic, Reynolds, ENVE, and Zipp have responded by focusing their efforts on carbon.

Personally, I am not fully sold on carbon clinchers. I am a very tentative descender and continued reports about carbon clinchers failing under heavy braking have me worried about catastrophes while descending. Additionally, there aren’t that many carbon clinchers in the sub-1400-gram category. So I set out on a search to find the lowest weight clincher wheelset at the lowest price. I spent some time surfing the Internet and came up with the chart below. Obviously, as the chart illustrates, the Fairwheel offering isn’t the lightest wheelset, but it is very competitively priced and that’s why I decided to give them a try.

I ordered the wheelset in time for one of my annual benchmarks: climbing the fabled Old La Honda road here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Old La Honda is a terrific climb that has a 7.3-percent average gradient over its 3.35-mile distance. There is no let up. It’s always going up.

That’s why it been a durable challenge for me for many years. My personal record is 18:25, and my best time for the year thus far was 19:48. With the new wheelset, which put my bike weight at an even 14 pounds, I was hoping to set a new PR for the year.

Unfortunately, UPS had driven a forklift into the box during transit, so when the wheels arrived the rear rim was dinged and had a small but noticeable chunk removed from it. You could feel it with your fingers and the brakes would pulse over it.

Each wheelset comes with a proverbial certificate of authenticity.

I alerted Fairwheel Bikes who asked me to send the rear wheel back at my convenience so they could replace the rim. In the meantime, they said, go ahead and ride on them. It was impressive customer service. Regarding build quality, the hubs are minimalist, the seam of the Kinlin rim is barely perceptible, and the rim strip is translucent.

So how did they perform? Ding and all, I rode a 19:37 on Old La Honda, which was a new PR for 2013. Afterwards, I returned the rear wheel to Fairwheel and they returned the wheel with a new rim in less than a week for no charge. Impressive customer service to say the least.

Rim tape is all but translucent and the joining point of the rim is barley noticeable.

Ride Quality

This wheelset has a very responsive ride. They are vertically very stiff and respond instantly to pedal input, while also lacking any noticeable vertical flex, making them great for out-of-the-saddle climbing. Of course, lighter weight and minimal flex comes with a price. Indeed, you definitely notice road imperfections more so than on more forgiving wheels or wheels with wider rims. I have been running 700×23 tires at 120 PSI. It would be interesting to use 700×25 tires and/or lower inflation pressures. The only other complaint is the noise of the rear hub, which is louder than I’d prefer.

Actual weight is 1334 grams with rim tape, with the front at 612 grams and the rear at 722 grams.

Specifications
  • MSRP: $875/Shimano; $885/Campagnolo
  • Weight: Claimed weight 1325 grams (without rim strips). Actual weight 1334 grams with rim strips. Front: 612 grams. Rear: 722 grams
  • Rim width: 20mm
  • Rim Depth: 21mm
  • Spoke Count: 24 front; 28 rear
  • Rim Strips: Rox Ultralite
Conclusion

It’s remarkable to me that the big name wheel makers don’t really offer an alloy clincher in this weight class. I would venture a guess that they could charge a substantial premium for a sub-1400 gram offering.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to see a bike shop such as Fairwheel offering such a high quality, lightweight wheelset. Additionally, Fairwheel’s customer service provides peace of mind that this was the right choice for me.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

For more information visit fairwheelbikes.com.

Review: Fairwheel Bikes Lightweight Alloy Clinchers Gallery
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Comparison

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Front Hub

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Front Wheel Weight

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Rear Wheel Weight

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Rim Joining Point

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Rim Strip

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Certificate of Authencity

About the author: Twain Mein

Twain Mein has been a fan of mtbr.com & roadbikereview.com since 1996. After meeting Francis, he became fascinated with the technology and gear aspect of cycling and became one of our first product reviewers. Twain has been doing triathlons since 1987 and was ranked in the Top 50 U.S. National Age Group in 2012. He’s recently been learning swimming tips from his 10 year-old daughter who has way more natural talent!


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  • james brandy says:

    Twain – you missed this set in your comparison. Revolution wheelworks rev22 , 22mm wheelset , 1330 grams and 590$. http://www.revolutionwheelworks.com/rev22.html . great wheel set and I’ve put in over 1000 miles on it…with no problems.

  • Jake says:

    Would definitely take a pair of these light handbuilts over something like the crappy, proprietarily-spoked, un-aerodynamic overrated Mavic Kysriums.

    How certain factory wheelsets ever got to be a big deal is beyond me (marketing?). Their performance-to-price ratios certainly don’t justify it.

  • systemr says:

    nobody pays retail for those wheels, i have a set of the DA 9000 C24 that I picked up for $750. just checked pbk and with the 15% coupon they are now down to 700

  • Bill Davis says:

    Don’t Knock the Mavic Kysium wheels. I put over 30,000 miles on the Kysium Elite set that came stock on my bike. They took some big hits over the years with my weight at 180 lbs and they never went out of true. The first bearing went out at 32,000 miles and while waiting for new bearing to come from Ebay I got a deal on a set Easton SLX for under $400. The Eastons coast better and spin up a little faster from being lighter but other then that the ride feels the same.

  • DrSmile says:

    How about Soul S2.0 wheels? They’re 23mm wide and still weigh under 1300 grams, and they’re cheaper than any of the ones listed.

  • Clancy says:

    I’m a bike tech at REI. Had a set of Soul wheels come in. I’ve read about em but never seen a pr. Light for sure but the free hub was shot after only 2k miles. I’ve owned a set of Hed Ardennes for 4 years. Last month the frt hub developed some cracks. I sent the wheel off to Hed, two weeks later I had a rebuilt wheel w a new hub at no charge. Quality cost more but in the end it pays off. I don’t always believe the big companies wheels are that much better then the smaller companies, Byod, Williams, but I’ve come to believe the super cheap Chinese wheels are just that, cheap.

  • Deets says:

    After researching a build based on the same criteria, I built some cracking wheels from the Tune rims
    http://deetsman.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/new_wheels

  • EQ says:

    Here is the deal. If you know how to build your own wheels than one can build a set that is about the same weight or less using Dati hubs, Kinlin rims, sapim c-xray or pillar spokes, and nipples. Based on your weight you can go for a 24 or 28 spoke rear and a 20,24 or 28,spoke front. The price for building your own wheels will be less then half the price of the tune /kinlin build.
    Now if you don not know how to build wheels the next best set of wheel for similar weight but for about half the price is Soul wheels. They make excellent wheels look them up.

  • Arsene says:

    What wheels did you use to set your PR of 18:25?

  • Yo says:

    Can’t beat the bike p0rn of a Tune hub and I’d rather have that but I just got myself a set of these for about $300 less in the same weight range (1350grams)including hybrid ceramic bearings. Maybe removing the stickers would shave a few more grams.
    http://www.williamscycling.com/Wheel-System-19_p_7.html

    But if I had the extra cash, like I said, I’d rather have the Tune wheels though.

    Like 7 years ago I also got a new set of Am Classic 350 that came in around the same weight (1360) on eBay for $350, I was lucky. Back then they retailed for a few hundred bucks less though if I remember correctly. I still use those wheels.

    I guess the point is that sometimes you can find good deals out there without paying full price, but the satisfaction of a custom order in the hands of a good wheel builder goes a long way.

    Enjoy your wheels though, nice build!!

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