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Pro-Lite Bortola A21W wheelset – review

The current trend for lightweight wheelsets with a low spoke count, radial lacing and wide, aero-profiled rims is ably catered for by Pro Lite with it’s mid-range Bortola A21W wheelset.

Suitable for training but equally capable of being raced on, the Bortolas are a sensible – and sensibly priced – tubeless-ready upgrade for any bike running the manufacturer’s original own-branded wheels.

Regardless of how few spokes are used in a wheel, or how aerodynamic the rim profile may be, the key to high performance is in the quality of the bearings used in the hubs. For the Bortolas, Pro-Lite makes use of EZO bearings sourced from Japan. The front hub gets two sets, and there are four in the rear.

Something that may well divide opinion is Pro-Lite’s freehub. Or, more specifically, how quiet it is. Unlike so many wheelsets on the market, there isn’t a loud clicking when you freewheel. For me, that’s a good thing, as I enjoy the quiet when out riding, but I know there are others who like the ‘tin full of angry wasps’ sound that alerts the world to the fact they’re running fancy wheels.

The rear hub has flanges allowing the use of straight, bladed spokes in a two-cross pattern. Currenty en vogue, straight-bladed spokes remove the weak point in conventional spoke design: the bend at the head where they enter the hub flange. The only problem is replacing straight spokes can sometimes prove tricky as they’re hard to get your hands on. Having said that, they are gaining in popularity and should become easier to source pretty soon.

Should you ever need to replace one of the 24 rear spokes, you’ll need to find someone stocking 2.2mm aero-bladed, double-butted Sandvik stainless steel ones. Fortunately, though, I’ve yet to even manage to make either wheel go slightly off true, let alone break a spoke.

Those same spokes are on the front wheel as well, this time with 20 of them radially laced. But the front hub uses a flangeless design with the spoke heads located inside the hub body.

Both front and rear wheel use the same rim design, a 21mm-deep 6061 aluminium clincher. Finished in black with a machined braking surface, the rim is on-trend width-wise with a 23.2mm outer (17.5mm inner) measurement. The sleeved rim design means, with the included rim tape – a nice touch in itself, the wheels can be run tubeless with the simple addition of tubeless valves, a bottle of sealant and the right set of tyres.

The 21mm rim depth is a good compromise between aerodynamics and weight. Deeper rims, while being more aero, create greater rotating mass, which makes them harder to accelerate. What Pro-Lite have done here is create a rim with a perceived aero advantage in a rim strong enough to allow for a low spoke count without adding unnecessary weight.

The width of the wheels provides advantages, too. Far from just a cosmetic touch, wider rims mean you can run a greater volume of air in the tyre, but a lower overall pressure which manifests itself as greater rider comfort with the added advantage of fewer pinch punctures as well.

The machined braking surface offers excellent stopping power straight out of the box, with a marked improvement in braking power compared to the wheels I was previously running. That was the most obvious difference between these and similar sets I’ve been riding recently. Of more interest, though, is the low weight-to-price ratio these wheels offer. Even if the weights are higher than Pro-Lite claimed (682g front/848g rear compared to the listed 630g/795g), the total is still below that of much higher-priced carbon equivalents.

Conclusion

Pro-Lite’s Bortola A21W wheelset is a great package, which combines light weight, tubeless compatibility and good looks. All of the current trends are covered, including a wider base to mount larger volume tyres, easily converted to tubeless and a choice of freehub bodies with included spacers in order to run 10- or 11-speed cassettes. All of this at such a competitive price point is a really good deal.

Pros

– Light
– Tubeless-ready
– Aero bladed spokes

Cons

– Spokes such as these can be expensive when broken

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