When SRAM got into the wheel business we expected big things. After all, this was the company that broke the Pepsi-Coke strangle hold that Shimano and Campagnolo had on the component market. But perhaps the biggest reason we expected to be impressed was how they got into the wheel business, buying a little company, in Speedway, Indiana, called Zipp. With the boys from Indy helping SRAM, they had an enormous head start.
The first wheels to bare the SRAM name certainly looked sexy, but upon closer inspection, appeared to simply be an updated version of Zipp’s discontinued cost conscious Flash Point wheels. Now, the Flash Point wheels were nothing to sneeze at, heavier than the Zipp wheels of equal depth, but the same hybrid toroidal shape of pre-Firecrest Zipp. That made them extremely fast and very attractive, especially to any rider on a less than hilly course.
While the SRAM versions had an updated look, updated hubs and were obviously aerodynamic, they weren’t entirely new. The new wheels that did eventually follow, aluminum clinchers, look great, are priced attractively and provide solid performance, but nothing earth shattering. At first glance they appeared to be wheels SRAM was creating to spec on all those Red, Force and Rival bikes you see at your local shop, and they are. But upon closer inspection one set stood out, one set seemed special. The S30 AL Race.
Hybrids, Axels and the Zenith of the Market
30mm seems to be the go-to depth for an aero aluminum clincher. The reality is they don’t offer much aero benefit and they have a harsh ride quality. Thanks to Zipp’s influence the S30 AL race suffers from none of this. Rather than a typical sharp “V” shape the S30 AL Race uses the hybrid-toroidal shape that made Zipp famous and fast. The brake tracks are parallel, unlike fully toroidal rims, until the rim bulges out before curving back to its interior diameter.
The shape has been proven to beat a “V” shape rim, and even the famous NACA airfoil, in the majority of wind conditions. Those shapes need to go deeper than 30mm to reach the same type of aero savings. The typical side effects of this extra depth are, of course, more wind input in your handling and increased weight.
SRAM S30 AL Race rim uses a fairly standard aluminum, 6061, rather than some of the more exotic alloys out there like Vanadium or Niobium. It’s extremely durable and strong and all of its characteristics are very well understood. The rest of the build is premium from top to bottom.
The heart of the wheels are oversize 17mm axels that create enormous stiffness for the wheels to spin on. The hubs use sealed cartridge bearings with the latest must have feature, adjustable preload, to ensure you waste no energy due to quick release pressure. The next thing you see moving away from the hub is that all-important embossed SAPIM logo on the spokes. In the case of the S30 AL Race they are CX-Ray spokes, bladed and stainless, they are reserved for only the best wheels on the market. Those spokes attach to internal alloy nipples completely out of the wind.
What SRAM did next was up the ante considerably by creating the S30 AL Gold. Not simply a new look, although it does get that, the Gold versions are designed to do battle with any aluminum clincher, from any brand, at the very zenith of the market.
The real change to the wheels happens at the hub. SRAM has fitted ceramic bearings to spin those 17mm axels. Whether or not you are completely on board with the claims of less rolling resistance and longer life, one thing is undeniable, ceramic bearings weigh less. In fact, the weight for a set of S30 AL Gold’s is 1450 grams. A few ticks lighter than the Race and lighter than a Mavic Ksyrium SL. What was perhaps most surprising is, they are lighter, 80 grams lighter, than Zipp’s own fully toroidal 101. Considering the S30 AL Gold’s also get Ti skewers the overall package weight is equally impressive.Ceramic Bearings and the Aero Gap
Rather than a training/racing wheel, we’d class the S30 AL Gold as a racing/training wheel. This doesn’t mean it’s not up to long miles day after day, it is. What we mean is, its race day performance is that good. We don’t own a wind tunnel, and we don’t have all the necessary data, but the S30 AL Gold feel every bit as fast as a Zipp 101, and much faster than a standard box rim. Maybe it’s those ceramic bearings helping close the aero distance to the 101, but any disadvantage to the fully toroidal shape felt small indeed.
A fantastic companion to this aero performance is an incredibly lively feel, something we’ve come to expect from any Sapim CX-Ray equipped wheel in this weight range. When the course calls for you to dig deep, whether to attack a climb or to accelerate out of a corner, the S30 AL Gold’s respond with an encouraging and energetic feel.
For a long day the wheels have a compliant ride, while never feeling sluggish under big power. We associate this with the very stiff axel and quick release interface putting rider input right into the hub, while allowing the rim to dampen and soften a rough road or a stiff frame’s ride. These same characteristics make the wheel very confident on technical descents and demanding courses. The fact that they are easier to handle than a deeper ‘V’ shape rim with similar aerodynamics is a big bonus.
On their own the aesthetics of the wheels are fantastic, the diamond black finish with the painted graphics in gold and white, tied together by the hub’s gold end caps, puts stickered wheels to shame. However, we did find the colors clashed with the blacks and reds that seem to be so popular in the current bike market.
If we sound high on these wheels it’s because we are. They have rocketed right to the top of the class of high-end aluminum. And we wouldn’t expect anything less from a set this expensive, $1,300.00. That is a lot of money for aluminum, equal to a set of Zipp’s 101s. If you’re deciding which set to get, take a look at the races checked off on your calendar. Hilly and punchy? Get the SRAM wheels. Flat and fast? The 101’s are probably the way to go.The 411
SRAM S30 AL Gold
Weight: 1450 Grams (w/o skewers)