Ritchey WCS Apex II 38 carbon clincher wheelset - review - Road Cycling UK

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Ritchey WCS Apex II 38 carbon clincher wheelset – review

Quality top-line, mid-section, tubeless-ready carbon clincher wheelset that generally impresses across the board - but wet weather braking has a little lag

When you go looking for a new wheelset, as we discovered a few months ago, you tend to sit in one or two camps: lightweight or aero. However, sitting right in the middle of the lightest and deepest wheelsets on the market is the mid-section hoop, that – according to our experts – offers a desirable mix of both responsiveness and aero efficiency.

On the face of it, why wouldn’t you want the best of both worlds? Chances are, our bikes are used over a multitude of terrains and roads, so it stands to reason that if you’re investing in a new wheelset, you want it to be capable of dealing with anything the road can throw at you.

– Buyer’s guide: should you buy lightweight or aero wheels? –

That’s where the Ritchey WCS Apex II wheelset sits, arguably erring on the shallower end of the mid-spectrum at 38mm in depth, while featuring a full carbon construction at the rim. Designed to be Ritchey’s most versatile high-performance wheelset, it’s rolling stock that aims to be all things to all people.

Ritchey’s WCS Apex II wheels are solid mid-depth carbon clinchers

Tubeless-ready with quality components

The spec sheet on the WCS Apex IIs certainly sounds up-to-date, as well as high quality. First off, they’re tubeless-ready, which means you’re catered for if you want to take advantage of the benefits of running lower pressures as well as jettisoning the inner tube.

The rims are designed to run best with 25c tyres, with an inner rim diameter of 18.4mm, although the outer rim width measures 26mm, meaning even wider 28c tyres are certainly an option, too – perfect if comfort matched with low rolling resistance is high on your list of desirable ride qualities.

  • Specification

  • Price: £1,429 (Shimano/SRAM), £1,499 (Campagnolo)
  • Weight: 1,560g (685g front; 875g rear – excluding rim tape)
  • Rim depth: 38mm
  • Rim width: 26mm external; 18.4mm internal
  • Website: Ritchey Logic

Hidden under the tubeless rim tape are straight-pull DT Swiss New Aero spokes in a 20/24 layout, which are light as well as bladed to cut through the air, and they attach to Ritchey’s own WCS hubs.

Those hubs are known as ‘Phantom flange’ hubs, which are said to boost the reliability of the whole wheelset. How? By forging in a flange contour into the alloy hub body, while also featuring a machined recess for an increased spoke bracing angle. Supposedly, this results in less material at the hub for a little weight saving, while Ritchey also claims this design actually boosts strength ,too.

That should also result in high levels of stiffness that, in the rear wheel, transfers energy efficiently from the drivetrain. Up front, we can reasonably expect sharp and direct responsiveness, as well as the potential to maximise quick steering input from the frame they’re attached to.

As with many rim-brake carbon clincher hoops, the Apex IIs feature their own proprietary brake track, with a carbon material and resin that supposedly has a higher melting point for increased reliability.

Most manufacturers have spent considerable time developing this area of carbon rim brake wheel design in recent years (both for reliability and braking performance), so it’s important they’re able to stand up to the competition given the £1,429/£1,499 (SRAM & Shimano/Campagnolo) asking price.

Solid performers across the board

My first impressions of the Apex IIs were set against the backdrop of having ridden the excellent (and very expensive) Roval CLX50s, which meant I had to spend some initial time tempering expectations.

On paper, the Rovals outstrip the Ritcheys in weight, rim width and rim depth. However, after a little time acclimatising to the slightly more traditionally-designed Ritcheys, I can say they’re a set a very competent all-rounders. Coming in at 685g for the front wheel and 875g for the rear (for a combined weight of 1,560g), and fitted with a set of lightweight Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance 25c clincher tyres we’ve also recently reviewed, climbing ability is certainly impressive and on a par with what you’d hope for a near-£1.5k wheelset. The rim is certainly light, which helps to keep responses sharp and tight beneath you.

– Should you be using wider tyres on your road bike? –

There’s a real sense of this when you’re out of the saddle and riding up a steep incline with fresh legs. You give it some, and the wheels give you back the same. Sat down, when you eventually tire through lack of strength or it’s just plain easier on a shallower gradient, there’s a feeling of solid composure beneath you. Those 24 spokes in the rear wheel, laced to the Phantom flange hub, present a real bedrock of stiff but smooth performance, with a competent (if unspectacular) ability to mete out road buzz. A similar, consistent feeling prevails from the front wheel too.

The wheels sport a 38mm-deep carbon rim, with an internal width of 18.4mm

Consistency is the name of the game when the wind gets up too. While the early part of summer was particularly warm, it wasn’t without its swirling winds in my west country test area. But the relatively shallow mid-section 38mm rim depth, coupled with profiled rim, means the ride is stable and assured in pretty much any conditions you task the wheels with.

Interestingly, Ritchey don’t make a song and dance about the rim profile, but it’s clearly modeled on the wider, blunter profiles that have emerged over the last few years on practically every major wheel manufacturer’s hoops. In short, the idea is the blunter profile makes the wheel less susceptible to crosswinds and renders it more efficient in those conditions, which are more representative of real-world, everyday riding.

The end result is a wheel that is able to remain aero and effecient when presented with either a headwind or blustery crosswinds. It’s evident while descending, too, providing a predictable platform on which to turn in and lean into a corner. The efficiency of the wheels is also appreciable when rolling up to 40-45km/h, although you’ll obviously get more of a benefit from a deeper set of hoops. Remember, all-round performance is the trump card of the mid-depth wheelset.

The Ritcheys remind me of the Mavic Pro Cosmic SL C wheels I got my hands on last year at their launch. With a similar rim profile and depth, ride behaviour is very much on a par, although the freehubs do sound very different from each other, with the Apex IIs presenting a higher-pitched, louder noise.

Nevertheless, the alloy hubs and bearings do justice to the competency of the rest of the wheel, and momentum is maintained well, if quite not up to the performance spec of premium models offered by the liked of DT Swiss and Roval.

Braking – good in the dry, less so in the wet

Braking performance is reasonable, too – on the whole. Unlike some designs now out there that include a treatment at the brake track for better performance in all conditions, I can’t say I’m overly impressed by the Apex IIs in the wet.

On each application in wet or greasy (damp) weather, it takes a split second for the brake pads to bite into the rims and significantly slow the bike – a few micro-moments that leaves you wondering if you’re going to get the performance you really need. Eventually you do – consistently, actually – and means you can learn to trust the wheels.

I’ve been spoiled by the likes of Mavic’s excellent laser-etched brake track and Roval’s glass scrim layer in recent times when it comes to wet performance and modulation, but the Ritchey’s don’t quite meet these (admittedly, very high) standards.

– Buyer’s guide: everything you need to know about going tubeless –

It’s a different story in the dry though, with good feel and power generated even when things get hot and application prolonged – Ritchey claim as much, stating the high-modulus Japanese carbon fibre and specially-formulated resin is designed specifically to move heat away from the track.

The WCS Apex IIs are tubeless-ready

I found that evidenced in the sheer amount of work I had to put into the brakes and track to cause the pads to glaze.  However, it’s worth bearing in mind the bottom line that they take a little getting used to in the wet.

Conclusion

While Ritchey’s WCS Apex II wheels don’t quite stand up to the very best (and more expensive) in terms of wet weather braking, these are good performers in nearly all scenarios. This means they represent a high-quality access point to the world of tubeless-ready, full carbon clinchers and offer a serious bump up in performance over any stock wheelset.

Pros

  • Solid, dependable performance
  • Tubeless-ready
  • Capable of running 25c and 28c tyres
  • Quality hubs
  • Good price

Cons

  • Slightly weighty for the depth
  • Wet braking performance not up to the best on the market

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