Reynolds offered a sweet deal to Kona qualifiers who responded quickly enough – to ride a set of their wheels in Kona from their relatively new line of wheels, all under the “AERO” name. The only catch was that you had to be among the first 40 to respond and I managed to squeeze in there. They come in 58, 72, and 90mm depths and I was given the option of 58 or 72mm. Last year, I rode an 88mm rear Chinese carbon clincher (Yishun) and Zipp 404 front clincher (52mm depth) and I was comfortable with that – The Reynolds Aero line has a lot of data (Competitive Cyclist has a good breakdown here, Reynolds aerodynamics “white paper“) showing that these wheels are incredibly aerodynamic and good in crosswinds, so I opted for the 72s.
Out of the box, they look fantastic. I don’t know if this is normal with other brands, but I was impressed they came with rim strips, brake pads, valve extenders, a cassette spacer, and even wheel bags. I also noticed the hole where the valve comes through has a rubber gasket to eliminate noise/vibration on the rim. On my own wheels, I have to use a piece of tape to secure the valve stem to the rim to stop that annoying rattling over bumps.
I got the wheels over a week before the race so I was able to ride them a bit and get a feel for them. My first ride was 3hrs and I immediately noticed they don’t feel like race wheels. I would say they ride and handle like a much more “shallow” rim. With my own race wheels, I know I’m on them as soon as I take my first turn. Not so with these. Beside the sound and the fact that I was able to ride faster than normal for the effort, I wasn’t reminded that I was on deep wheels until an hour into the ride when a semi truck passed me at a high speed. The gust “grabbed” my front wheel pretty good, but it was manageable and I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if it were in a situation where I expected it, like Kona. My next ride involved 4×4:00 at tempo, which ended up being a full 1.5mph faster than any of my Austin tempo rides before that. There are factors that play into this, such as environmental and taper, but I’ve never seen an increase like that – the wheels were a big factor, but it’s hard to say just how much. I personally didn’t expect that much of a boost.
My last ride on them pre-race was just 35 minutes in Kona on the Queen K the Thursday before Saturday’s race. It was point to point, consistent head/crosswind, and no issues or complaints to add to what I’ve already said.
One thing of note is that these wheels are quite wide (26mm, I believe). When I arranged to have them delivered, I asked what width tires are best suited with these wheels, and 23mm was the reply. I opted for Continental GP4000S tires with a Vittoria latex tube in the rear and standard butyl tube up front (I simply didn’t think of ordering another latex tube in time – flatted the front one in Kona last year). Anyway, upon bike check-in, I found that the wheel was even too wide to fit into the wood wheel slots in transition and a volunteer had to use a crow bar to widen the space so the wheel would fit. Crazy!
As many know, Kona this year was a low-wind day as far as typical conditions go. I was looking forward to seeing how these wheels would perform in the notorious crosswinds on the climb up and down from Hawi, but it really wasn’t bad this year. I recall some bad gusts on the Queen K last year as well, but not this year. We certainly had the typical head/crosswind the last 30 or so miles on the Queen K and there wasn’t a single moment that the wind made me feel concerned about being in the aero bars with these wheels. Either way, I was confident on these wheels and being able to ride in the aero bars without concern for getting blown off the road just adds to energy saved for the run – mentally and physically. I rode at a conservative effort, came in at 5:00 (15min faster than last year, including last year’s flat), and backed it up with a 2:58 run.