Saturday 21 November 2015

Caden Wheels Review

I have been promising to write a review about my Caden wheels for a while now but I have been waiting until I had spent a bit more time with the wheels before I did. However, as of this morning I have now spent quite a bit of time riding on all of them, and so I thought today would be a good time to write a review.

 Before I get into the review I will preface it with my usual disclaimer. I don't have a wind tunnel nor do I have access to other technical testing equipment. I think I know enough about bikes, riding and engineering to understand some of what I am feeling, however, that being said most of what I am commenting on is subjective. It is what I have felt when I have been riding.

So let's being. First up, who is Caden Wheels.

Caden is a wheel builder based over in New South Wales in Australia. It is the brain child of Ben Cawood. There is lots of interesting stuff on the Interweb about Caden and its history so I won't go into heaps of detail here. Probably enough to say that Ben felt he could build a better wheel and so set out to do so. The important thing in that last sentence is that he set out to build a better wheel, not a cheaper wheel. Yes Caden wheels are amazingly good value, but that wasn't the primary goal. The primary goal was to build the best wheel possible. That difference in philosophy shows in the wheels.

One important differentiator between Caden and a lot of other cottage wheel builders around is that Caden actually do build their wheels. They don't just import cheap wheels from China, whack a label on them and call them theirs. Caden designed and produced the moulds for the wheels here in Australia. Yes the rims are laid up in Taiwan, but then the rims are then sent back to Australia to be built up, logos applied and all the finishing touches done.

If you are after a bit more of the history behind their development it is well worth putting Caden in Google and having a read of the results.

So enough history, what about the wheels.

I have a set of 50mm deep wheels and a set of 88mm deep wheels. I use the 50mm deep wheels as training wheels on the Falco and so as such have logged some decent miles on them. The 88mm set I got as race wheels and so they have seen less use, however, I have had them out enough to feel like I can comment.


A lot of the comments I am going to be making here apply equally to both the 50mm set and the 88mm set. Although I will be making some wheel set specific observations too.

Both sets of wheels apply the wide rim, blunt leading edge/trailing edge design that you see in most wheels these days. The wheels are about 26mm across the brake pad and 28mm at their widest point. Certainly wide, but narrow enough that they should fit on most modern bikes. They easily fit on my two bikes.

Trying to take a photo of the blunt leading/trailing edge

Trying again - failing
The rim shape is also such that the bead of a 23mm tyre blends aerodynamically and very pleasingly with the rim.

This smooth transition, combined with the fat shape of the tyre being reflected by the inside edge of the rim is where wide wheels get their advantage in aerodynamics and stability. The Caden wheels appear to achieve this very nicely.

Weight wise the wheels are extremely competitive. I have carbon clinchers and Caden quotes their weights as 1520g for a 50mm set (705g front, 815g rear) and 1750g for the 88mm set (820g front, 930g rear). In comparison a set of Zipp 808 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers is 1810g. I haven't weighed all my wheels, but I did weigh the rear 88mm (it was the only one not on a bike at the time of writing) and it came in at about 980g. This was without a skewer, but with rim tape, and not particularly lightweight rim tape either. Taking that into account it wouldn't be all that much over the quoted 930g. Based on that I would be happy to take the weights given on the website as being accurate, or at least very close.

Speaking of weight, all the Caden rims have a rider weight limit of 110kg.

Over all the quality of the wheels is very good, their light weight is a reflection of that. The wheels look slick, polished and professional. The carbon clincher is very solid and confidence inspiring, which is exactly what it is supposed to be. I am yet to get a flat, but using the 50mm set as regular training wheels I haven't seen any damage to the rims. It is worth noting that if you do damage the wheels, they come with a 3 year warranty, which is very reassuring. To me, offering a 3 year warranty shows just how confident in these wheels Caden are.

Professional, slick looking wheels
On the technical side these wheels have a whole range of impressive sounding features. Things like high TG heat resistant resins, advanced Kevlar anti fracture, true tension 2 to 1 spoke ratios etc. However, if you want to know more details about these items, the best place to look is Caden's website (Caden Wheels) which includes all kinds of lovely technical info, links to some reviews etc.

So that is a bit about the wheels. Now, how do they ride?

When it comes to fast carbon wheels, I usually consider a few things to be vitally important. These are; aerodynamics (that is the point after all), stability and stiffness. I also consider weight, but it is a secondary consideration and besides I have already discussed it.

So first up, aerodynamics. As I have mentioned I don't have a wind tunnel handy. I wish I did, but unfortunately I don't. As well as that, Caden is very forthcoming with the fact that they don't have a wind tunnel either. So there is no aero data for these wheels. I know for a lot of people that will be a big stopping point, but I think those people would be doing themselves a disservice. Whilst there is no aero data for these wheels, a cursory glance at either the 50mm wheels or the 88mm wheels will show that these are aero wheels. A deep rim, whether it is a blunt nose, a pointed V or somewhere in between has inherent aerodynamic advantages over a standard rim. Caden wheels, like any other deep rim, are going to have that advantage. But more than that, the wide shape, the blunt nose, the smooth transition from tyre to rim, all these things point to a very aero wheel. Beyond that I can anecdotally say that from my experience these are quick wheels. I would love to say that the 88mm wheels are 3.2% quicker than my old Zipp 808s, but I can't. I can say though that they are no slower, which counts for a lot.

In the end Ben bench marked the shape of these wheels against most of the other leading wheel manufacturers. The fluid dynamics of how air flows over a moving rim isn''t all that magical, no matter what some wheel manufactures might claim. The air doesn't know what sticker the rim has on it, or whether it cost $1000 or $6000. To air all wheels behave the same way. So given that the Caden wheels look a lot like most of the other aero wheels out there means that it is fairly safe to assume they provide a similar aerodynamic advantage. At the pointy end of aerodynamics there might be a few percent difference here or there, but if there is I can't feel it, and I guarantee you won't either.

So count that as a tick. These wheels are aero.

An area I am willing to be a bit more definitive is stiffness. These wheels are very stiff laterally (which is what you want). Based on the highly scientific 'do these wheels flex under power' test I can say the 88mm rims are stiffer than my old 808s. I would always get brake rub with my 808s, that doesn't happen with these wheels. If you have Googled Caden by now you may have read that Ben seems to have a bit of a passion for wheel building, particularly spoke patterns. This passion shows in the stiffness of these wheels.

So stiffness. Tick.

So that brings me to stability. Typically the deeper your front wheel gets, the trickier they get to handle in the wind. When HED and Zipp came out with their wide rim designs, the increased stability was a big improvement over the old 90mm deep wheels. However, anyone who calls a Zipp 808 or HED 90 stable hasn't ridden them in a big wind. In my experience the Zipps are a bit more stable than the HEDs, but that is relative. In comparison the Caden 88mm wheels don't work miracles. When you have that much carbon attached to your steering mechanism, it is going to act like a bit of a sail and it will always cause some problems. However, one of the reasons I chose to write this review today is because I had my wheels out in some big winds this morning and I was very pleased with how they handled it. Very solid, as stable or perhaps even slightly more stable than the Zipps. I was confident down on my aero bars in all but the worst of the cross wind conditions. I was very happy with it.

Stable. Tick.

For me, those are three of the big things you want to see from your shiny, fast looking, expensive deep carbon rims. Beyond those things, there is of course one other thing they have to do. They have to look totally awesome.

Big, big tick.

So that is about it I think. Of all the various bits of kit I use, these wheels are one of the things I am happiest with. All up, very good wheels. Aero, stiff, light, stable. Great build quality. The list of things in favour for these wheels is a long one. Hmmm, what else is there. Oh yeah price. At the time of writing a set of 88mm wheels is $1500. Yes that is for both wheels. Given the quality of these wheels that is an insanely good price. For that price you also get carbon specific brake pads, titanium skewers and valve extenders.  I know Caden is a bit strapped for stock for the rest of the 2015, but if you are keen I would make contact anyway and see when wheels are going to become available. You never know what they might have lying around.


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  7. Nothing said about the braking.

    1. That is a good point, that was definitely an oversight on my behalf. In long course triathlon I found braking performance to be less of a concern that straight line speed and stability, but it is an important consideration for general cycling.

      For the record, when combined with the correct brake pads, I have always found the braking performance to be fine. I wouldn't say I have put them absolutely through the ringer (I don't ride crits), but for general riding I have never had a problem. With my training wheels I have had good longevity from the brake path too, which can be a problem on carbon wheels.

      Now that we are moving into the modern world of disc brakes this should become less and less of a concern which will be great.

  8. Thanks for this. Still rocking the Caden wheels? I've been aero field testing a 65mm Caden front wheel. More testing needed.

    So many spam/advertising comments in the comment section.

    1. Yep, still riding the Caden wheels. I have a pair of 35mm carbon clinchers as my training wheels and they are still going strong. I would be interested to know how you find the wheels from an aero perspective. There are some interesting tools out there for estimating drag these days that weren't around a few years ago. From a racing perspective I never found the wheels to be slow, but would be great to have some more concrete data.

      Yes, the spam is thing is a pain. Unfortunately something that is very hard to avoid in the blog world.

    2. Thanks for the reply.

      I am not happy with the reliability of the data I captured. Only point that seemed to stand out, is the Caden 30.2mm wide rim performed much better with the 28mm GP5000 compared to the other wheel. But I am not certain yet. More testing to come.

      It looks like you've replied to some of the spam. Oops.

  9. I am sorry to be the dissident voice, but I don’t believe these wheels deserve 5 stars for a sec, nor do I believe his claim that they are UCI tested. Caden has compromised quality and safety for weight gains as this has given him a niche in the market. My story: 50 mm profile tubular wheels bought only last year. Ridden in Belgian (relatively good) roads. Four tubulars have been burst in cracks/potholes in the road - the ones you can find anywhere, and in two occasions the rim was damaged needing repairs. UCI tested wheels should withstand rides in rough roads at times, wouldn’t they? No one riding in my club has experienced that issue. Just ask yourself a question before deciding buying them, why so light and why such amazing price savings on his website? Fellow riders, the only free cheese is in the mousetrap! Hope you learned from my horrible experience. Go for reliable brands. I rode FFWD tubular for 8 years without such issues. I have ordered my new pair of Shimano wheels. I am ditching Caden’s for good.

    1. Sorry to hear that you had that experience. I would agree that is not the sort of performance I would expect and it might be worth raising with Caden if you can be bothered.

      Obviously this review is now almost 8 years old so I can't speak for current versions of the wheels. What I can say though is that I still use a pair of 35mm Caden clinchers on my training bike and they are still going strong. So from my perspective I have been very happy with them.

  10. You're absolutely right, these carbon rims are definitely worth trying out. Of course, you can also consider trying other carbon rims.