Review: HED’s bombproof 1,415g Ardennes FR wheels


We all know that high-end gear should last a long time.  After all, it’s often made of the best materials available, draws on the most up-to-date engineering, and costs a lot of money.  That said, we can all cite examples of exotic gear that is outperformed by less exciting kit even before the new gear smell has faded.

Back in the summer of 2008, I purchased the set of HED Ardennes wheels shown here.  At a shade over 1,400g (615g F, 800g R), they were some of the lighter aluminum clinchers available at the time- and competitive with many carbon setups.  When their then-novel 23mm wide “C2″ rims were introduced, few believed HED’s claims of improved aerodynamics, a tubular-like ride, or an 18% reduction in rolling resistance when compared to the 19mm standard.  Pass the break for one of our longest-term reviews yet…

Four years on, the Ardennes have proved themselves- and then some.  Steve Hed’s wider-is-better approach has become mainstream, with countless companies approaching wheels and tires as an aerodynamic unit.    This eases the transition between the tire and rim, changing the overall cross section from that of a lightbulb to a half circle/half ellipse, providing smoother airflow and improving aerodynamics under a wider variety of wind conditions.  Because a given tire is wider when mounted on a wider rim, the contact patch shape changes from longer and skinnier to shorter and wider. As a result, less of the tire’s casing is being deformed at any given time, the thought being that this decreases rolling resistance.  While it once seemed outlandish, even Pro Tour teams are turning to fatter tires for improved cornering, reduced rolling resistance, and decreased rider fatigue.

Because the tires’ (effectively shorter) sidewalls are doing more of the work on a C2 rim, HED recommending decreasing tire pressure by 10% front and rear. For me, this meant I would be riding about 80psi in the front, 85 in the rear when compared to narrower wheels.  For simplicity’s sake, I tend to aim for 90/100 and can let the tires the tires run down to about 70/80 before noticing any negative effects.  Though the comparison with tubulars may not be entirely fair to glue lovers, every tire I have tried on both the Ardennes and narrower wheels has felt a whole lot better on the HEDs.

As I was reminded on a recent group ride, the Ardennes roll far better than their non-ceramic bearings and shallow profile should alow.  Though it’s hard to attribute too much to the wheels, at 145lb and on a non-aero frame, I regularly find myself out-coasting bigger, smaller, and more experienced riders.  The original bearings are still quiet and smooth- and it’s not because they’ve been babied.  After three years on my road bike (which also suffers the indignity of a 17mi year-round commute), freehub wear could only be felt through play when trackstanding at stoplights.  After 42 months, I’d worn clean through the rear rim’s brake track.  Following a week at HED, the Ardennes were back in the game- with new stickers to boot.

These wheels have been beat on.  There are no two ways about it.  Commuting in the dark means hitting things–hard–and the HEDs have taken the abuse like champs.  Before the replacement rim, they’d been on a truing stand twice.  The lower tire pressures encouraged by HED and the wheels’ comfortable ride makes them a great choice for dirt roads as well as paved. Semi-regular gravel riding hasn’t hurt them at all- though I am a relatively light rider.  Despite my size, what I have noticed is a bit of flex while out of the saddle.  Outside of occasional rub when my brakes are out of adjustment it’s not distracting- but HED have made a number of changes to up stiffness since 2008.

Since my wheels left Indiana, HED have expanded the Ardennes wheel range to five models- and those reviewed here are equivalent to the range-topping Ardennes FRs.  Now $1,300, the Ardennes FR have gone to front- and rear-specific rims (lighter and heavier/stiffer, respectively).  The front is still Scandium, but the rears are now built of aluminum, which can withstand higher spoke tensions over time (resulting in a stiffer wheel and better longevity).  The updated Sonic hubs now use larger ball bearings, which improve lateral rigidity.  At pro team request, a rear hub grease port has been added, to allow easier injection of fresh grease on frequently-washed bikes (or those ridden regularly in the rain).  These changes are a wash weight-wise, with 2012 Ardennes FRs weighing in at 1,413g.

Addressing a little niggle with my wheels, the Ardennes are now shipping with (nonstandard width) rim tape.  The quick release skewers now feature Ti skewers and the front hub a bling carbon fiber shell.  The much-appreciated reflective labels remain.  The Ardennes’ $1,300 asking price is a lot of money for a non-aero wheelset, and makes them a bit less competitive than they were a few years back and there are a several newer options in the 1,300-1,400g range.   Still, the HEDs’ competitive weight, predictable braking, and performance in crosswinds have a lot to recommend them.  Should anything happen to mine, there’s nothing else that I can think of to replace them with.

marc

hedcycling.com

Comments

Gunnstein - 05/31/12 - 8:55am

23 mm is the inside rim width, right? What tire width are you using with these?

Meta - 05/31/12 - 9:10am

Too heavy and overpriced! I had a pair of their first generation and they were 95g lighter! No way near any tubular in ride quality , not even the cheapest tubular tires. But better than narrow rims. You can get the same thing now from Boyd for about $550. Also you can get cheaper custom build with Velocity A23 rims. But the best wide clincher rim right now is Archetype H PLUS SON.

Bill - 05/31/12 - 9:41am

Mine lasted nowhere near as long as yours. I found the hubs to be shot inside a year, and the other big downside to scandium is it wears much quicker than aluminum. Might be fine for commuting and group rides, but I did not enjoy racing on them. However, I am a larger rider than you I am guessing just by tire pressure, at 175 pounds.

For the price they are costing I think the time when factory built wheels made sense is nearing it’s end. (Not just with Hed, but look at Mavic and Easton’s high end aluminum prices too) As “Meta” above me mentioned, you can buy hand build rims from Velocity and others and add in much higher quality hubs like a white industries and come in around the 6-7 hundred dollar mark for something in the 1300 gram range. Why pay so much for something so heavy, that wears so fast?

RC - 05/31/12 - 10:43am

I too bought a pair of these 3 years ago. What a pile of “not nice comment inserted here”. All I can say to your review is you must weigh about 140#. Put a regular sized rider on these, even the Stallion build-which is what I had(I was 195)- and they don’t go up hill, they don’t roll very well, and sprints? HAH! I have never bought anything I regretted more. High end? I don’t think so. And contacting the manufacturer to see if anything may be wrong? Again, what a joke. No help at that end at all. Worst wheels ever. Period.

Chris - 05/31/12 - 11:11am

I’ll take a middle-of-the-road approach to this… I weigh around 165-170 lbs, commute 18 miles each way 3-4 days a week, and put in 75-150 miles on the weekends. I bought a 1st gen set of the Ardennes way back in ’08 and absolutely loved them. The ride and handling is better than almost any other clincher out there, they are/were reasonably light, and while not stiff, they were no wet noodles either.

HOWEVER… after only about 3500 miles, the rear wheel sort of imploded. The roads around here are neither the best nor worst, but there’s no way that a wheel at this price point should have had cracks at the hub flange and cracks – nearly complete pull through – at *every* spoke hole after only 3500 miles. Fortunately, HED replaced the rim n.q.a. as I was still within a year or so of purchase. Since then, I had to replace the freehub body twice due to excessive notching from a SRAM OG1090 cassette *AND* from an Ultegra cassette. And finally at around 7500 miles, the front rim gave way at the spokes.

Since my experience, I know that HED has addressed some of these issues: heavier extrusion of the rims and an AL rear rim instead of SC; steel inserts in the freehub splines to combat notching; and a switch to 2xNDS on the rear rim for better stiffness and reliability. Also since then, as the author notes, other manufacturers have released wider clinchers. I’m currently using 32 spoke H Plus Son TB14′s laced 3X to Shimano 105 hubs as commuter wheels and a set of Rolf Prima Vigor Alphas as “fast ‘n fun” wheels. And as @Meta mentioned, H Plus Son has recently released a rim called the Archetype which is a virtual clone of the HED C2, but costs about half as much and is anodized after machining to improve brake track longevity.

At this point, I know for certain I would not drop the coin required for another set of the Ardennes, as a set of comparable (just as light and probably more durable) wheels can be hand-built for just around half the price. I’m not going to disparage HED, which has always been a great company to deal with and has always been an innovator. I’ll agree with @Bill though: the days of factory wheels are drawing to a close.

Matt - 05/31/12 - 11:17am

@Gunnstein
The HED C2 rim has a 23mm is the outside width, the inside width is 17.6mm

Standard rims have a 19mm outside width, the inside width is 14mm

John - 05/31/12 - 12:19pm

My rear hub went bad on the latest model within 6 months of riding. You shouldn’t get crappy pressed in cartridge bearings for wheels this expensive why aren’t more companies sticking with cup and cone bearing designs like Dura-Ace?

CHris - 05/31/12 - 12:22pm

Too expensive in this market. There are a lot of companies making 23mm wide rims or wheels, so there are a lot more options now for those that want wide and light. It’s hard to justify that cost for the HEDs over any of the others.

Danno - 05/31/12 - 12:55pm

I’ve been interested in the Ardennes for a while, but I’m not sure a 145 pound rider can make the claim that they’re “bombproof”. I’m 190 pounds and HED says I should order their “stallion” build, which takes them out of the lightweight category and into the overpriced realm. Maybe they’re being honest & safe with their weight limit recommendations, but I went to Easton and Fulcrum and have been riding mid-1400g wheels for years with no issues. I like the idea of the wider rim, tho’

Chris - 05/31/12 - 1:07pm

IMO, $1300 for a set of wheels is idiotic unless you’re racing at a pretty competitive level. I still find it hard to beat a good quality alloy rim, reliable set of hubs and double butted spokes. I have a set of wheels nuilt up with Sun A23 rims, Sapim X-Ray spokes and DuraAce hubs. The rims are reliable and built up easy, the spokes are readily available on the off chance one should break, and the loose bearing hubs roll as smooth as more expensive ceramic bearings. Yeah, it’s not the lightest set of wheels but if you think a 100-200 grams really matters you’re either completely delusional or your last name is Schleck, Basso, etc.

Bubbrubb - 05/31/12 - 7:42pm

I hope they did a proper job bringing this to market…

I have customers with HED wheels who, when needing new bearings, will have to send them back to HED every damn time… why? Because the “engineers” at HED designed a hub that puts the spoke heads (straight-pull) inside the hub, BLOCKING ACCESS TO THE BEARINGS!

So, when I want to replace their crap bearings, my customer has to wait 2+ weeks to ship the wheel there, have them unlace, replace the bearing, and then relace the wheel, and mail it back.
I won’t sell them anymore…

plum - 06/01/12 - 9:08am

END BOMBPROOF ADJECTIVE USE IN OUR LIFETIME

Collin - 06/01/12 - 3:53pm

@plum

agreed. well at least as far as 145lb riders go. I think the re should be a weight limit on the use of the term. If you are over 200 and call something bombproof- I’m more likely to believe you.

Psi - 06/01/12 - 5:17pm

Uhm, please use “scandium” correctly. The wheels are not scandium wheels. They are wheels made from an aluminum-scandium alloy, with the alloy being less than 0.5% or so scandium by weight. They are an aluminum alloy just as other wheels are made from aluminum alloys.

While ending the use of “bombproof”, we should also strive to end writers and bloggers from repeating what manufacturers tell them verbatim. There should be an “Educate a Blogger or Writer Week” to help end the recycling of marketing kack by writers and bloggers.

Marc - 06/01/12 - 6:51pm

Psi,
Yes, you are correct that the rims (or, on current models) are scandium-aluminum alloy. That said, “carbon fiber” and “carbon” frames and components are consist of more than just piles of thread or black dust that the shorthand would imply nor are “aluminum” bits made from the unalloyed element. As far as “repeating what manufacturers tell them verbatim,” we do our best to ensure that manufacturers’ claims are identified as such- and balanced with observations based on our experience with the products.

To anyone whose experiences with the Ardennes have been different from mine,
Thank you for contributing to the discussion. My experience with these wheels has been excellent, but it sounds as though heavier riders might want to look elsewhere.

marc

Pete - 06/03/12 - 10:27pm

I sell a ton of Ardennes at the shop. Everyone who rides them, loves them. Even 210lb+ riders. They last forever and I have a set I use as my everyday wheel. They have thousands of miles and are in perfect condition. What I have found is that most people who respond to articles and posts are only those who feel the need to complain. If you are looking for a great all around wheelset then the Ardenne is a great choice.

Tommy Mac - 06/05/12 - 1:55pm

I too have a set of 3 year old Ardennes and love them. I’d like to point out that HED wheels are built by hand, not machine. Every HED wheel has the builders name on the rim bed.

Adrian - 06/07/12 - 1:58am

Are you sure these are 2008 models? They look like 2010 models. I may be wrong.

Marc - 06/07/12 - 7:59am

Adrian,

HED sent updated decals when I replaced the rear rim- that’s why they look like a newer model. The second photo shows the original decals.

marc

lachlan - 06/29/12 - 2:14am

Thanks for the review. I have a set of the same model HED Ardennes wheels purchased in 2009. These have not had particularly heavy use – around 10000 km (6000 miles) max and I weigh 68kg (150lbs). The rear rim now needs replacement due to cracks around the spoke holes. As HED have now changed the construction of the rear rims it would appear that there is an issue with the durability (or lack thereof) of the original HED Ardennes rear rim.

Tim B - 10/12/12 - 6:46pm

Several years ago I purchased a set of HED Jets for my TT bike. HED was the first wheel manufacturer that developed a wider 23mm rim. The wider rim allowed for smoother more responsive handling with lower rolling resistance than the standard 21mm rim. The difference in ride was noticeable right off the bat. Running the wheels at 90psi, the clinchers felt like a nice set of tubulars, cornered without hesitation and stuck to the road like glue. They were light, responsive and comfortable.

I was so impressed with the ride, the cornering and the feel of the wheel set that I saved up and convinced my wife to let me purchase a set of HED Ardennes for my road bike with the same rim.

I have been riding the HED Ardennes for a little over 2 years now, and just like the Jets I have been impressed with the ride quality and handling. Weighing a mere 1440 grams, the wheels are one of the lightest clincher wheels on the market.

While the wheels have been great, this past month I noticed my rear wheel was out of true and when I went to fix it, I noticed a crack/split in the rim on both sides right at the spoke. I am only 140 lbs and the bike has never been crashed. When I Googled ‘split rim Ardennes’ I noticed many others had the same issue with the Ardennes. It seems crazy that a rim would just split like that, especially when I spent good money for the wheels and they had been babied.

I took the wheel into my local shop here in San Diego and was told that the wheel was 8 months out of warranty. While it seemed like a defect in quality from the manufacturer I sent the wheel back into HED. Instead of owning up to a rim that split after only 10,000 miles of riding, HED charged me $230 to replace the rim, which was just less than 1/2 of a brand new wheel. For a wheel to only last this long, I think HED needs to go back to the drawing board, and at the very least offer better customer service.

After the bad experience with HED customer service, I will have a tough time recommending these wheels to anyone else that asks. For the $1300 you will drop on a set of these, I’d look around for something that is a little more durable and a company that will stand behind its product longer than 24 months.

PROS:
-Great Ride
-Responsive
-Light

CONS:
-Poor quality
-Expensive for the quality
-Poor customer service

Tim - 12/05/12 - 11:51pm

Dura ace c24′s – 1400 grams, 23 mm, no weight limit (I’m 220 lbs)…got them for $950. Superior wheel. no issues. Very fast

RodS - 12/12/12 - 8:40am

Most critics blame the tool for their own inability to maintain the tool correctly. HED Ardennes are racing wheels which will require the occasional “tweak” on the spokes or the hub to keep them ‘just right” and so do all wheels. If you don’t maintain they will implode just like every other human invention. Having just read these comments I can say this, I am no lightweight at 240lbs and I don’t treat my bikes wheels with kid gloves, they are supposed to hold up so they get punished, on any type of road surface and the Ardennes are the best wheels I have used, period. They roll faster, a minimum 5% increased speed, handle hits better and stay truer than any wheel out there. And before all you naysayers start bleating about how far he rides, I have covered at least 6,000km on these wheels, on the same roads that saw a Shimano Dura Ace rim split length ways and a set of Ultegra wheels simply lose their tension and require a re-tensioning every week!
Without doubt, the best value for money wheels out there!

Len - 07/05/13 - 6:41am

@RodS – “A minimum 5% increased speed”?? O RLY?

Yeah… no. Even a dragless set of wheels wouldn’t do that. Derp. =D

RollOn - 07/21/13 - 2:34am

Got a pair of Ardennes LT 2013 model 4 months ago and really like them – better cornering is the standout fr me plus they are a bit more comfortable and accelerate and roll very well. I weigh 190 lbs which is right on the weight limit but my LBS checked with HED and they said non-stallions would be fine. They have done 3000 km and have been perfect until a spoke broke on rear wheel. Its been replaced and trued and runs perfect again, so I hope nothing more than one bad spoke. I run rear at 100 and front at 95. I would recommend them.

richnet - 08/27/13 - 11:15am

I got a set back in 2009 for a custom built bike after reading a few rave reviews. At the time they were 1000 but I talked my LBS, Glory Cycles, down to 800. They have been pretty great performance-wise, but maybe not so great in reliability.

I do speed skating as well so I only ride about 2500 miles a year and weigh 160. After 2 years the front hub developed cracks at several spoke holes. Glory cycles handled it and sent them back to HED who replaced the hub for free. I only paid shipping 1 way to Glory, who by then had moved out of state. So kudos to Glory Cycles and HED for doing the right thing in this case even though I was out of warranty.

A year later I was doing an easy recovery ride when the rear flatted. I went to change the tube, but immediately noticed the wheel was WAY out of true. Then I noticed several large cracks at the spoke holes, so the rear rim was trash. I replaced the rear with a DT Swiss RR465/Powertap. The front HED Ardennes is still OK since the repair.

Would I buy HED again? Probably not, as other have posted, there are better/cheaper options out there now I believe.

Kenster - 03/09/14 - 12:42pm

I have a set of Ardennes I bought in late 2009. The rear rim developed cracks in it, on the drive side, near the spoke holes (about half way to the braking surface). Hed replaced it, probably with a heavier, more durable one, as it was two years later. I recently got a set of Ardennes SLs as part of a bike package, and they are a lot heavier than the first generation. I measured a 90-gram difference on just the front wheel. Still, they do climb and roll fast, so I’m pretty happy with them, as long as that added weight means I won’t develop any cracks or other such problems.

Peter - 06/12/14 - 3:58pm

I have a set of 2010 Ardennes SL’s that I have ridden and raced the heck out of them. I would guess about 15,000 km. Love the width, cornering , the way they roll, and the consistent braking, which I can’t say for my carbons. I find the wheels to be predictable in all situations. Also climb great! Last week started to get a bit of rattle in the rear hub so I’m going to rebuild it. I have had no problems with spokes or cracked rims of any sort. I weigh 175 pounds. I just ordered a set of the Fr’s plus. You are right I could get a set of customs for less but I am just use to the feel of the Hed’s and while I have tried other wheels, some even more pricier,these wheels just work well for me.

Alex SP - 12/11/14 - 3:29pm

I´ve had a set of 2008 Ardennes which after some serious mileage and punishment showed the typical problems: a cracked rear flange and cracks on the rim holes. HED replaced both but only through the shop, they wouldn´t even respond to my emails. Whatever, my LBS got me all the parts plus new stickers and I assembled then myself. These were sold second-hand to a friend after some more use, and he´s still riding it today.

I got a new pair for myself just before selling those, newer model SLs but not the Plus. 1450g on the scale, pretty fair. So far so good. Thousands of miles on them, not even a touch needed. I´m always afraid they´ll start cracking on the rims but the riding is so good and they´re so reliable, I could never get such confidence and consistence from any of my previous carbon rims (assorted Zipps, Reynolds and Enves). Other than that, excellent ride quality, I can´t conceive going back to 19mm width rims anymore after riding many yrs on wides, whether carbon or alu.

Of course some riders have different opinions and experiences, I´m just satisfied with them. I´d also reccomend the C24´s, about the same price, weight and they ride great too, perhaps slightly more reliable overall. They sure feel “Dura Ace” tough and ride extremelly well. I won´t say I´ll never go back to carbon rims, but I ditched tubulars altogether and after 30 years of intense riding, I just want something reasonably light, at a reasonable cost, but realiable and easy to maintain and use daily. Lightweight alu rim wheels are all that, no hassle = more time to ride = more fun.

Thanks for the review and the reading.

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