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On Test: Williams Cycling Wheel System 30, November 27, 2006
Impressively well-built lightweight hoops that won't break the bank
Williams Cycling isn't exactly a household name in cycling (yet?), but its ambitious sales model hopes to put top-quality wheelsets into the hands of riders with just average-sized wallets. Cyclingnews Technical Editor James Huang pounds on a set of all-purpose Wheel System 30 for a couple of months and finds that sometimes you actually get more than you paid for.
Who the heck is Williams Cycling?
Keith Williams is like many of us: having ridden and raced for a number of years, Williams developed a strong affection (or is it an affliction?) for high-end bicycle parts. However, those same years of riding and racing also took their toll on that equipment, and the high-end price tag with which those parts were typically associated left an increasingly bitter aftertaste. Before long, Williams was doing his componentry homework and zeroed in on higher-value options that offered more bang for less buck. After retiring from racing last year, Williams decided to proactively utilize that research and experience in the hotly contested road wheelset market, and thus Williams Cycling was born with the goal of delivering "great wheels at a great value".
Williams' business model is rather straightforward: source quality components directly from overseas manufacturers, have them completely hand built to high standards, and then sell the complete wheels directly to consumers exclusively via his online storefront. It's hardly a new concept, but the results are certainly intriguing nonetheless. Our Williams Cycling Wheel System 30 scored an actual weight of just 1490g for the pair (650g front, 840g rear, without skewers or rim strips) yet retail for just US$479, or roughly half the cost of some of its intended competition.
Inside the Williams Cycling Wheel System 30
The Wheel System 30 starts life with a pair of sealed cartridge bearing hubs that reportedly weigh an impressive 73g for the minimalist front and just 242g for the four-bearing rear. Impressively, both use high-quality EZO brand cartridge bearings sourced from Japan. The rear hub uses an aluminum freehub body with six stainless steel pawls that have two teeth each, all of which engage simultaneously for twelve points of contact under load. Freehub bodies are easily interchangeable between Shimano 8/9spd and 10spd as well as Campagnolo standards using only a pair of 5mm Allen wrenches, and additional bodies cost only US$19.99.
The niobium-reinforced aluminum clincher rims utilize a 30mm deep semi-aero section with pinned (but not welded) seams and a machined brake track. In spite of the medium-depth section profile, Williams Cycling claims its unique alloy produces a rim that weighs just 450g each.
Hub and rims are hand-laced with bladed straight-pull stainless steel spokes and alloy nipples in a radial front, radial/two-cross rear pattern, and hand-trued and finished. A pair of aluminum and chromoly skewers, rim strips, and even a set of cartridge brake pad inserts (sorry, for Shimano-standard holders only quit complaining) are also included in the deal.
Out of the box, on to the road
The Wheel System 30's promising statistics are largely supported by its outstanding performance out on the road. The well-engineered freehub internals, reasonably high-tension build, and lightweight rims deliver very good pedaling response and quick acceleration, and the good aerodynamics helps you maintain your speed once you get up there.
On the whole, the wheels transmit road textures well without undue harshness and possess a solid and fast overall feel that served me well even during an extended test stint on the cyclo-cross bike in less-than-ideal conditions. Speaking of braking, in spite of the non-welded construction used on the rims, the resultant seam was completely unnoticed at the levers and braking was smooth and consistent.
Our test wheels started out straight, true, and evenly tensioned right out of the box, and stayed that way throughout our test period. When truing is eventually required, the exposed nipples will come as a welcome feature.
Sounds all well and good, but
As with most semi-aero and aero wheels, stability in strong crosswinds is less than ideal, particularly at higher speeds. In addition, bigger and/or stronger riders may also have some issues with lateral flex and windup given the Wheel System 30's low spoke count.
To be fair, Williams Cycling suggests a maximum rider weight of 86kg (190lbs) for the Wheel System 30, and does have a pair of additional wheelsets to address these very concerns. The Wheel System 30x is intended for riders up to 102kg (225lbs) and utilizes the same overall construction as the standard 30 but with a higher spoke count (24 rear, 20 front) and heavier gauge spokes for better rigidity at a weight penalty of about 100g. At the end of the spectrum, the shallower-section Wheel System 19 boasts a lighter-weight 19mm deep aluminum rim that should be less susceptible to the errant gust and is also claimed to be a bantamweight 1400g for the pair, but carries the same rider weight limit as on the Wheel System 30.
Lastly, skeptical buyers will no doubt question the use of seemingly 'no name' branded and Taiwanese-made components, but none of the associated bits presented any problems during testing. Granted, time will tell how things hold up over the very long term (our test period was just shy of three months), but initial indications are quite good. Curiously, though, Williams Cycling recommends a maximum tire pressure of 120psi for all of its rims, which suggests that the extrusions may be a bit on the thin side. That shouldn't create an issue for most riders (save for users of Vredestein clinchers), but it probably should make you think twice about using the wheels for a rocky 'cross course where denting could occur.
The Wheel System 30's rather minor caveats are simply steamrolled by its outstanding value. Williams Cycling manages to offer impressive all-around performance at a truly bargain basement asking price coupled with good reliability and solid build quality. What else is there to ask for? Unless you're a label hound or the kind of person that complains that the 2-for-1 deal on cereal at your local grocery store doesn't also include a free gallon of milk, the answer is, not much at all. Simply put, the Wheel System 30 is an absolute screaming deal and deserves serious consideration for anyone looking for a top-quality wheelset.
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Images by James Huang/Cyclingnews.com