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The Takeaway: The stuff of wheelset dreams
Carbon aero spokes
36mm deep, 22.4mm internal width
Hookless rims compatible with approved tires only
House-brand star ratchet driver system
Price: $3,450 / set ($1,500, front; $1,950, rear)
Weight: 1,311g / set (581g, front; 730g, rear)
In the land of road-racing wheels, aerodynamics wins. Almost all the major players’ sponsored teams are on mid-depth wheels these days, and many ride them even on the high-mountain stages.
You can credit increased awareness of the always-on advantages of aerodynamics, coupled with falling wheel weights. Roval’s Rapide CLX wheelset (51mm/60mm front/rear depth) weighs just 1,416g, while Bontrager’s Aeolus 51 RSL wheelset (51mm deep) comes in at just 1,424 grams (both weights on my scale).
But while aerodynamic benefits and UCI weight limits play a significant role in what equipment the professional racers use, average riders have the freedom to make different choices. Because there’s no arguing against aerodynamic watt savings at the speeds professional racers can hold—even on many climbs—there’s also no arguing that light wheels are the best-feeling wheels.
Treble that when wheels are stiff and smooth as well as light like these new Cadex 36 wheels. They feel so good they’re like MDMA for your bike. Put them on and go for a ride, and you will feel such love you’ll want to hug the world.
But before I get to how they ride, I’m going to run through some key details.
• Aero-shaped carbon spokes These went through eight aerodynamic-shaped iterations before reaching their final shape.
• Protective outer The spokes have a protective outer to ward off damage.
• Ceramic bearings in both hubs This is the first Cadex wheelset with stock ceramic bearings.
• Star ratchet driver system with 30-tooth ratchets It looks and smells like DT-Swiss, but it’s not DT-Swiss: This is a proprietary Cadex design. The company offers Campy 11/12, Shimano, and SRAM XDR drivers. So far, there’s no sign of an N3W driver for Campy’s Ekar.
• Manufacturing and assembly Hub, rim, and spoke manufacturing as well as wheel assembly takes place in “Giant factories.”
• Warranty Two-year warranty and five-year incident protection program. The incident protection program offers a 50 percent discount on a replacement wheel if yours is damaged.
How The Cadex 36 Wheels Ride
Installing tires on these wheels was surprisingly easy. I was able to do it with only my hands, and they aired up without a fuss. I could also remove the tires without tools, which was a pleasant surprise for a tubeless, hookless road wheel (disclaimer: I install and remove tires all the time, and for that reason, my hands are pretty strong.)
I did use a Cadex Classics tire, so perhaps there’s some system advantage here. But this is a tire I want to ride anyway because it feels nice and has excellent grip and, so far, impressive durability.
The key stat of these Cadex wheels is 1,311 grams: That’s really light considering this is a disc-brake, tubeless wheelset.
But it’s not just a light wheelset: It’s stiff too. The stiffness comes from the carbon spokes. Carbon is more resistant to elongation than a steel spoke, so there’s less stretch when the wheel takes a load, and the carbon spokes take higher tensions than a steel spoked wheel also.
Stiff and light results in a 40 percent better “transmission stiffness-to-weight ratio” and a 30 percent superior lateral stiffness to weight ratio than the Zipp 303 Firecrest Tubeless, Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37, and Roval Alpinist CLX, Cadex claims.
In my experience, stats like this often don’t pan out too much in the real world, but I think there’s something to Cadex’s claims here because these wheels feel exceptionally responsive. And it’s not just that they’re light, because I was on the 1,250-gram Roval Alpinist CLX and Zipp’s 1,293 gram 353 NSW wheelset right before getting on the Cadex 36. There is a taut crispness to this wheelset that I haven’t felt in other wheelsets of about the same weight.
Though stiff, these wheels offer a brilliant ride—compliant and very damped, almost too damped in my opinion, but then I prefer a bit more feel and feedback than most. At least some of the 36’s glassy ride comes from tubeless tires and the resulting lower pressures they allow. These are a hookless rim, so they’re compatible with only some tubeless tires. Like Zipp and Enve, Cadex keeps a list of approved tires on its site.
The other key stat is 22.4mm, which is the internal width of the rims. That’s pretty wide: Cadex’s head of product Jeff Schneider says they’re optimized for 25c to 32c tires. That wide internal width helps puff tires up: My calipers say a 25c tire at 70psi measures 28.3mm wide on this wheel.
Final Thoughts on the Cadex 36 Wheels
The Cadex 36 wheels are not aero. They’re not not aero, but you’re getting this wheelset for its low weight, low profile (and crosswind stability), and stiffness, and not saving aero watts.
This wheel is about feelz, and I love the way this wheelset feels and rides. It’s so crisp and reactive feeling, so quick, and so smooth. I put them on a bike that’s just a little too stiff, and it smoothed it out just enough.
Other brands offer lighter wheels for less—the 1,250-gram Roval Alpinist CLX is $2,500—and there are much better carbon-wheel warranties out there too. I’d love to see Cadex offer something like Bontrager’s or Reserve’s excellent warranty.
But if you’re a nerd about wheel feel, I think these might be the most excellent-feeling road wheels around.
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