On Sunday 22nd July I was given a set of Darkhorse 50mm Clinchers to take for a test ride. I had previously used them for an extremely short period, but was excited about giving them an extended test over varied terrain. Unfortunately, Cape Town had been extremely wet for several days before the ride, and although the forecasts had been for clear skies, we were rained on during the first hour which meant that almost the entire ride was on wet roads and in a light (but annoying) North Westerly wind. The route we settled on took us from the Northern suburbs into town, then out along the Atlantic seaboard, over Suikerbossie and Chapmans Peak, before returning the same way for a total of 111km.
Test Bike: Scott Addict R3
Tyres: Vittoria Rubino Pro
Brake Pads: Standard as supplied with Darkhorse wheels
The Darkhorse wheels certainly look the part on the bike. The combination of carbon twill finish and deep section profile certainly makes the bike look that bit “more pro”. In addition, the fact that the 50mm rims tested shaved around 250grams off the weight of my day-to-day Mavics meant that as well as looking more pro, they really helped to make the bike feel significantly more pro as well. With an already (relatively) light bike, a 250gram saving is a massive difference in the overall scheme of things. The light weight of these wheels must surely be a significant selling point for the brand as it puts them at a significant advantage over most wheel manufacturers. I was not as impressed by the style of the hubs; they do not look as good as many other brands out there, however, I was told that the hubs on the wheelset I tested were the lightest in the range and that other options were available. They also felt exceptionally free when doing a simple test spin of either wheel. The freehub was also one of the loudest of any I have come across, but the wheel retained excellent freewheel characteristics. The standard skewers as supplied are very small and look the part, however they do require strong fingers in order to get enough positive tension on them. I must admit that I am quite particular about this as I have in the past suffered from creaks originating from the rear skewer on my bike.
Contrary to my initial expectation with the rims, the 50mm profile does not seem excessively large. I am sure that a serious Ironman or triathlete would prefer a deeper and more aggressive section but for a roadie, I think that these are a fantastic combination of lightweight and aerodynamic ability. The 38mm rims will certainly be interesting to see in action, but could potentially move into mountain goat territory. While I would still be somewhat scared of taking the 50mm’s out in a serious South-Easterly, I did not notice the effect of the wind on the handling at any point during the ride. Due to the light weight of the wheels, there is certainly a noticeable “lightness” of handling which is felt directly through your hands on the bars. The front end definitely felt much sharper, almost as if the bike is just resting more lightly on the ground.
Unfortunately our ride did not get off to a wonderful start as around 20kms in, one of our party got it wrong going over a set of wet railway lines and hit the deck. Fortunately, the damage wasn’t too significant and he was able to continue the ride with us. Riding over the railway tracks, as well as some of the damaged tar, the sound reverberating through the carbon sections certainly makes a noticeable noise which can be disconcerting, but can also be seen as proof of the stiffness of the wheel structure. The Vittorias’ on the wheels are also harsh on rough road surfaces, and so certainly quite a rude combination for feel through the bike.
Once through town, we were able to give the wheels a serious push heading out along the false flat towards Suikerbossie, and then ramp up the pace as we got onto the climb. There is not much to say along here other than that the wheels just feel good. When you look at the numbers (weight, section profile) this suggests that the wheels should be fast, and riding hard like this simply confirmed that expectation. It is a hard thing to quantify, but once we hit the climb properly, I was pushed way into the red by the mountain goat in our group, but then that is the expected outcome for me when I ride up any significant bump with him. The light weight of the wheels means that you are certainly not impeded in your climbing endeavours with them like is the case with many of the heavier deep section wheelsets on the market. Indeed, it is quite telling that the 50mm rims tested are so much lighter than my regular wheelset. Having gone up the climb at a brisk rate, we regrouped at the top and then headed through to Chappies which we managed to ride at a more reasonable pace.
The descent from Chappies into Noordhoek was always going to be the section of this ride that would be most suited to testing the handling, as well as the braking ability of the rims. While this is no Pyrenean descent, it is still among the best that we have on offer. Unfortunately, the road surface was absolutely sopping wet, with rain water pouring off the mountain and the roof structures. This meant that we were descending very conservatively. With the short descent, cold temperature, and wet roads, there was never going to be any problem with heating the rims and testing the effects of the dreaded brake fade notorious in carbon rims. In this regard, the manufacturer’s claims about the effectiveness of the basalt braking surfaces will have to be tested by someone at another time. What I could tell was that under consistent braking in extremely wet conditions, there was almost no discernible difference between braking with the Darkhorse wheels and my usual aluminium wheels. Any small amount of brake shudder was exactly in line with what I would have expected when riding in such conditions.
Over a cup of coffee and muffin in Noordhoek, we discussed the wheels and my thoughts on them before we headed out for the 55 odd kms home. It is difficult (and I think irrelevant) to put any score on this review, or on different aspects of the wheels as any scale is relative. You will not find Darkhorse making any claims about saving xxWatts when riding at 38kmh in X, Y or Z wind conditions. What they will claim is that the wheels are an improved aerodynamic profile over most conventional rim shapes. A bit of standard aerodynamic knowledge will show that this is the case.
In addition, the more important claim is that they supply one of the lightest aero wheelsets available on the market. The simple fact is that people talk about the biggest performance upgrade on a bike being possible through the wheels, and this is truly the case. Shaving 250grams off the weight of a reasonable aluminium wheelset simply transforms the feeling of the bike. It just does. My bike felt noticeably lighter and more responsive with the 50mm Darkhorse wheelset, and there is no negative connotation to this. The final selling point of these wheels has to be the competitive pricing which to my mind sets a high performance wheelset among inferior quality product from the traditional big cycling brands. For the fashion conscious among us, the colour customisation available means there is also no excuse for thinking that they won’t fit in with your frame or cycling kit colour coding. The way I see it, is if you are in the market for a speed upgrade, then you would need to give these some serious consideration. Wheels that feel good, look good, and are available at an extremely low price.
Edited by s_elliott, 16 August 2012 - 08:29 .