A little while ago there was talk on the forum of a new brand of wheels being sold locally. I decided to get in touch with Ben from Caden Wheels to see what the story was.
To be perfectly honest I thought the conversation would go along the lines of him telling me he was importing some “really good wheels” branding them as his own and then selling them on. Since this is nothing new or revolutionary I thought it would be a pretty quick conversation and we would both continue about our business.
An hour or so later we were still talking and Ben had much more to say, all of it very interesting to a bike nerd like myself so we organised to meet up a few weeks later.
Let’s start by learning how Ben got to this point.
How did you get into composites?
I started working for a surf board shaper at 12 sanding and later glassing using polyester resins but the first time I worked with Carbon/Epoxy was in
1989 on a Carbon Angulo Slalom board. While repairing this board I accidently used polyester resin which eats EPS foam, luckily I only damaged a small section but it taught me an early level of respect for resin systems which are the unsung hero of composites.
I then worked with Vacuum Bag Divinycell technology on windsurfers which is where I learnt bladder forming which can save 20-30% weight while still making the part stronger. After this I was lucky enough to be introduced to cavity moulding by my brother in law who is a second generation moulding engineer.
Carbon wheel molds are relatively simple compared to the high volume injection molds Russell normally makes so the CNC process is reasonably easy for prototyping. The layup schedule is the hard part (uni directional fibre is not very drapeable). Expansion/contraction rates are also a technical component in carbon molds as metal contracts while cooling but carbon does not meaning your OD is pretty much set at the hottest time of the curing cycle.
Ben with a selection of his wheels.
When did you start building wheels?
From 1997 to 2000 I worked in a bike shop near the Pyrenees, the owner of the shop was not a fan of my French so he stuck me in the back building wheels. It was a good introduction as it allowed me to work with different spoke patterns, back then it was mostly triple or double cross with only some front wheels being radial but most importantly I learnt triplet rear lacing.
We used Pillar spokes (they make Mavics spokes for example) and I still use them today but I might be moving to Sapim because it's a better know brand and people keep asking for them. Both companies use the same Sandvick Stainless wire just butted differently. I now use light alloy nipples instead of brass but only after injecting each one individually with a galvanic corrosion inhibitor/lube (you can see this on the nipple heads inside if you pull the rim tape off) which means you can still adjust your wheels in five years unlike a lot of the old wheels I'm asked to fix.
Where is Caden headed?
With most of the R&D done we're now sponsoring more athletes and look forward to showing the big boys what an Aussie breakaway looks like.
The current range of Caden wheels
Proudly Australian Made?
So for those who like full transparency, and Ben has nothing to hide, the actual manufacture of the rim only is done in Asia. I assumed this was due to labour costs, however Ben says this is not the driving factor, it is very difficult for a small operator to be able to bring in the required prepreg carbon and make it commercially viable.
So while the manufacture of the rim may be done overseas the rest, and there is lots of other processes are handled locally. The design, layup schedules, manufacture of the moulds, and prototyping are all done locally. Then when the bare rims are returned from Asia, the wheels are then screen printed and hand built locally. The result is a wheelset that is locally made, locally supported and comes with an industry leading warranty.
A bare rim and the mould used to create it.
We asked the forum members what would be the “optimum” combination for a Tri wheelset and the consensus seemed to be a 60-88 clincher combination. So after meeting up with Ben and talking all things carbon for a few more hours he sent me on my way with a freshly spoked pair to test.
Facts up front.
Before I go any further the following facts may decide whether you continue reading or not.
Cost: The 60-88 full carbon clincher set comes in at $1,286.00 (Yes that’s the pair) This includes delivery, titanium skewers, valve extenders, brake pads & rim tape and you can take $50 off if you pick them up from Ben.
Weight: The 60 front is advertised as 720 grams and the rear 88 is advertised at 930 grams mine came in at 680 and 949 respectively which still has them lighter than the “industry leaders”. (Note wheels are weighed without skewers or rim tape, because that’s how everyone does it.)
Aero Data: Ben currently doesn’t have any for his Caden wheelsets. At the current asking price he would need to sell quite a few pairs to be able to afford any time in a wind tunnel anytime soon. I have encouraged Ben to try and get a session with Alex at Aerocoach to see if he can get some comparison data for his wheels so stay tuned.
So what makes Caden wheels special? Ben has approached building these wheels like he was speccing the ultimate wheelset wish list, only difference is that he was determined to put this wish list together and make it happen. Ben has a desk covered in cut up wheels from many other manufacturers to look at why some wheels work and why some wheels fail, and believe me after seeing the samples that have failed price is no guarantee. From carbon types and laying schedules, to spoke choice, and hub design and even skewer and brake pad choice Ben has not overlooked any facet.
Ben's R and D consists in part of seeing what other established brands do well or not so well.
So what makes up Ben’s wheel wish list? Well the rim is a wide full carbon clincher rim as is the current trend in wheels. The Caden wheelset is 28mm wide at its widest point and 26mm wide at the edge of the brake track. The inner edge of the rim (where the spokes attach) is a blunt curve as opposed to the old school sharp edge. This makes the trailing half of the rim, especially on the front wheel much more stable under crosswinds as it presents to the wind as an aero profile.
The width of the rim also means that wider tyres such as 23 or 25 mmm tyres fit the rim almost seamlessly. For the “dinosaurs” (like myself) who have always used the “ride quality” argument to fall back on in the old tubulars versus clinchers debate, the use of some quality 25mm clinchers virtually nullifies this argument.
Braking can be a point of contention for carbon rims and Ben has again looked into this and settled upon having no machined brake surface, believing that the a full smooth contact surface gives the best results for braking efficiency.
For hubs, again Ben looked at the industry leaders and looked at what was being done well and what was being done for marketing’s sake. Ben decided on wide set flanges and J bend spokes to allow the bearings to be set as wide as possible. His hubs come in at 78 grams for the front and 180 grams for the rear and if you think you may need a ceramic option Ben can do these as well adding in ceramic bearings with case hardened races for an additional $95.00.
The icing on the cake is that Ben has even sourced his own skewers and brake pads. The skewers are great looking titanium jobbies that weigh in at 57 grams for a pair and unlike some that are light but barely functional these do a great job and even keep the springs captive in the end caps which could potentially save hours crawling around on a dirty garage floor looking for an errant skewer. The brake pads are modelled on the industry benchmark in brake pads and should perform similary.
Enough talk time to ride.
Actually no!!! Before you ride you may need to adjust a few things like changing out your brake pads and widening the callipers to accommodate the additional width of the Caden wheels but once that is done its time to ride.
The interface between wide rims and wider tyres is much cleaner.
As with any decent carbon wheel the Caden’s hum along nicely. The highly unscientific yet universally accepted “spinning the wheel while holding the hub between your fingers” test sees them roll along effortlessly even with the smallest push. Putting the Cadens on made feel like I was in race mode and made me want to push that little bit harder so the placebo effect was in abundant supply. If you had of told me that I was riding a $2500+ wheelset I would have had no reason to doubt you. The Caden’s spin up to speed well and let you hold that speed. They behave like a quality wheelset should without the exorbitant price tag. The 60mm front wheel still catches a little wind, certainly nothing too surprising or shocking but the aero benefits are worth it.
Now when it comes to quantifying aero benefits the real world is a terrible place to try and test things and not having access to a wind tunnel (I did ask the wife and she said NO! to trying to convert the garage) nor a quiver of expensive wheels to compare against, you are just going to have to trust me when I say these wheels go really bloody well. With 25mm tyres on board they roll fantastically well and have a stiffness and durability that belies their weight.
As with every carbon wheel I have ridden braking is slightly less effective than on aluminium but with modern braking systems and Cadens brake pad compound, braking was still safe, dependable and effective. A minor squeal at low speed was the only real tell that I was riding carbon rims apart from their cool appearance. Just on the appearance, Caden wheels have their logos screen printed as a weight saving feature, the standard design is a matt grey logo that is dusted with reflective powder to make it reflect when light hits it, but the wheels are also available as black on black or sand logo for a full stealth look.
I am led to believe that the laws of aerodynamics don’t recognise brand names so there is no reason to believe that Caden’s wheels will be too much slower than the big brands, if indeed they are at all. Hopefully some testing in the future will give us some answers.
The Transitions Giant looking faster already with the Cadens on.
In the meantime the value proposition is pretty convincing. A great set of wheels, local backup, a 3 year warranty and a crash replacement policy, not to mention you can ring up Ben yourself and talk to the guy who will build your wheels and ask him any questions. Caden are also looking at developing a disc wheel locally too later this year which I am pretty excited about, that would bring every triathletes dream of having a do-all quiver of wheels into the realms of affordable reality.
No aero data
No brand snob factor (yet)
May not fit all frames with all tyre choices.
Price as tested: $1,286.00