Topolino Clincher Wheelset
By James Sharp
Bicycle wheels have come a long way since the days of wooden rims. These days, the only thing holding back any rider is the size of their wallet. If you have enough money you can buy carbon rims, composite spokes, ceramic bearings and composite hubs. What used to be considered only the realm of aerospace companies is almost commonplace in bicycle manufacturing. Topolino is one of those companies right on the cutting edge of bicycle components. Their wheels are among the lightest in the business and feature unique technology. While at the Interbike show we stopped and talked to them about trying out a set of their clincher road wheels (they also make carbon-rimmed tubular wheels). They agreed and shipped us a set.
Letís be honest, there a quite a number of high end road wheels with more crowding the market every year. It takes something special for a company to stand out; they have to offer something their competitors donít. Often this is merely an exercise in marketing, but in the case of Topolino there is real substance behind the wheels. They use a spoke that is made of aramid and carbon fibers, co-pultruded to form a single spoke. This is then coated with an abrasion resistant coating. The resulting spoke has a semi-aero cross section with carbon in the middle and aramid on the leading and trailing edges. The difficulty with using materials like these for spokes is at the terminating points. Topolino designed the wheel so that the spokes only terminate at the rim. That means that one spoke starts at the rim, goes through the hub and ends at the rim again. From a manufacturing standpoint this makes it simpler; you only have to have a machine to affix one type of end and you only have to stock/make one type of end. The spokes attach to the rim with normal spoke nipples. The glue attaching the terminating end to the spoke was one area that I was concerned about. Topolino assures me that the glue bond is stronger than the threaded steel portion that the nipple threads onto. They have tested the bonds in tensile testing machines to failure. That put my mind at ease.
Having the spokes pass through the hub is unique to Topolino. In order to do this they had to make the hub in two halves. The spokes are molded into the hub; in order to replace a spoke, you have to replace that half of the wheel. Therein lies the biggest drawback to the wheels. A broken spoke is an expensive proposition. It is fairly straightforward to do, however, if you know how to true a wheel. The hub body is also made of carbon composite. The front wheel has 24 spokes. The rear wheel has 30 spokes, 18 drive and 12 non-drive. Like any high quality wheel, the rim is welded and has machined sidewalls. The wheels have cartridge bearing throughout.
All of this adds up to a very lightweight wheel. While the rim is about normal weight, each spoke is only 40% of the weight of a standard 15 gauge steel spoke. The carbon composite hubs are also 45% lighter than traditional 6061 Aluminum hubs. All of this adds up to a wheelset with a weight of 1408 grams; actual weight without skewers for our review sample. This is light enough for all but the most die-hard weight weenies, and there is not much out there that satisfies them!
So, you are saying, "thatís great and all, but how do they ride?" In one word: Amazing. If you ignore the lightning quick acceleration, they donít ride like lightweight wheels, and I mean that in a good way. They are rock solid. Leaning them over in a 10 mph, off-camber corner at near triple the recommended speed didnít flex them at all. Corner them hard and they stick to their line without a hiccup. Stand and mash the pedals and your power goes straight to the pavement. I also found that the Carbon Core spokes transmit slightly less vibration than traditional spoked wheels, though to be honest reducing the pressure in the tires by 5 psi makes a bigger difference.
Not only are the wheels very light, they are very strong. We ran them in commuting situations - you know, potholes, gravel, car dodging - and they are as true as the day we got them. Topolino doesnít officially endorse their use for cyclocross, but I would run them as a race wheelset without thinking twice. If they do need to be trued, they have normal spoke nipples so they can be trued like any normal wheel, provided care is taken not to wind the spoke up too much.
Summary: Topolino has entered the wheel market at the top and knocked one out of the park with their clincher. It is lightweight, strong, and sexy - well, sexy is subjective, but I like 'em! They ride very well, without a hint of speed wobble or flex. At $850 for the wheelset they arenít for the budget conscious, but they are right in line with other top-of-the-line wheels and weigh less than any other pre-built wheels anywhere near that price. If you are looking for a set of race wheels, or even everyday wheels for that chi-chi bike, look no further than Topolino.
James Sharp is a contributing editor for GearReview.com specializing in road and mountain biking.
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