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Verdict: 
High-performance wheels that are just as at home on your race machine as they are on your gravel hack
Weight: 
1,491g
Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset
8 10

Ritchey has managed to build a tough yet lightweight package with its Classic Zeta wheels and they look the part too with their highly polished silver finish. Whether on smooth tarmac, broken back lane or potholed byway, they roll quickly and aren't shy of taking a knock or two.

  • Pros: Impressive weight, smooth running, tough as old boots
  • Cons: Freewheel material a little soft

If you want polished alloy components for your bike, there aren't many options, as I found out a few years ago trying to build up a classic looking steel tubed frameset. Ritchey's Classic range was about the only quality stuff out there and it's part of that selection that these new Zeta wheels fit into.

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What you get for your £569 is a pair of 6061 aluminium alloy rims, Phantom Flange hubs connected by DT Competition j-bend spokes and an all-in weight of 1,491g.

Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset - rim detail.jpg

Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset - rim detail.jpg

The rims have an external width of around 22mm which makes them more suited to larger tyres like 28mm or even Ritchey's own 30mm-wide WCS Alpine JBs, which were used for a lot of the test miles.

Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset - rim bed.jpg

Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset - rim bed.jpg

Fitting tyres to them is simple: I tried a few brands out of the piles of test tyres I have and none were a struggle or faff to fit.

The braking surface has been machined for a true and grippy finish and it works well in the wet and the dry using the SwissStop Green brake pads that were on the test bike.

Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset - rim decal.jpg

Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset - rim decal.jpg

The front wheel uses a radially laced pattern comprising 20 spokes, with the rear being a mix of radial on the non-drive side and two-cross on the drive side, a total of 24 spokes.

Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset - front hub 2.jpg

Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset - front hub 2.jpg

To create a little bit more dishing on the drive side, the rear uses an offset rim bed. The flat central part of the rim where the spokes enter is moved over towards the non-drive side. More dish allows for a stronger wheel.

Performance

Strength is what you need, as well, as Ritchey has specced these Zetas for road, cyclo-cross and light adventure use. It's quite a sparse setup in terms of spokes for that all-round kind of use, but it certainly seems to work as these wheels haven't put a foot wrong.

Whacking a pothole is pretty much inevitable these days and I've smashed through a few on the Ritcheys without issue; they are still running true and the rims have taken the abuse.

They've also seen some pretty hard miles on various sizes of gravel, from the small stuff through to bigger, rockier sections. Again, not a single complaint.

The hubs are quite a large diameter right the way across, doing away with a narrow mid-section and tall flanges at the ends like most. They run beautifully smoothly, with the front being silent while the rear has a subtle click to the freehub without being overly shouty.

Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset - rear hub.jpg

Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset - rear hub.jpg

The freehub uses a 6-pawl, 12-point engagement which is quick to lock in for instant acceleration, and if you like to track stand at the lights you don't get that floating feeling waiting for the pawls to engage as you rock backwards and forwards.

The one thing I will say is that the alloy freehub body is a bit on the soft side, as the cassette has cut into the splines a bit, which required the use of a file when swapping over sprockets. Something like the steel insert added to Hunt's wheels might be a good idea here.

> Buyer's Guide: 27 of the best road bike wheels

Thanks to their low weight, the Zetas perform across the board. Acceleration and climbing feel great as the wheels are just so quick to spin up to speed, and once up there they roll extremely well.

They're comfortable, too, as the handbuilt setup leaves enough give in the spoke tension to keep the wheels stiff for those hard efforts without being an overly harsh ride.

Value

The price is quite high for a set of alloy rims these days, but there are others out there that are similar: Deda's Zero 2 wheels, for instance, at £539.99 and about 130g heavier. Or there's the similar weight American Classic Argent tubeless, which cost a massive £875, not that American Classic is around any more, having closed down in January.

More commonplace wheels like Fulcrum’s Racing 5s (we tested the disc brake version here) weigh in at around 1,600g and have an rrp of £269.99, so you can certainly go cheaper for similar performance.

Overall, though, I think the Ritcheys are a very good showcase for getting what you pay for, with a great all-round feel of quality, durability and performance.

Verdict

High-performance wheels that are just as at home on your race machine as they are on your gravel hack

road.cc test report

Make and model: Ritchey Classic Zeta wheelset

Size tested: (17mm internal width) Rear OCR® (Off Center Rim)

Tell us what the wheel is for

Ritchey says: Tom Ritchey redesigned the critically acclaimed Zeta to be wider, lighter and laterally stiffer, yet still tough enough to endure gravel road rides and cyclocross races that would chew lesser wheels to pieces.

Building upon the legendary wheel-building and -design heritage of Ritchey, the Classic Zeta wheels offer modern features that allow them to perform gracefully in variety of ride settings. Featuring a wider tire profile, the Zeta wheels provide a more comfortable ride while improving handling. And the Phantom Flange hubs offer the sleek profile and direct-drive efficiency of straight-pull spokes, but still uses stronger, more reliable J-bend spokes for maximum performance and reliability.

Other features include:

Hi-polish silver to match our Classic line of components

Extra-wide Ritchey rims with OCR™ rear

Freehub: alloy

6061 alloy

Proprietary super light Phantom Flange hubs with hidden J-bend spokes

Brass nipples and DT Competition J-bend spokes

Tubeless-ready

Build: F=20 radial; R=24 radial/2x

Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo 11 speed compatible

1444 grams (625g front, 819 rear)

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?

CLASSIC ZETA RIMS

Extra-wide rims (17mm internal width) increase lateral stiffness and improve tire profile for a smoother ride and better handling

Proprietary Ritchey extrusion balances ride quality and aerodynamics

Rear OCR® (Off Center Rim) design reduces wheel dish to balance spoke tension for a stronger, stiffer wheel

Precision machined sidewalls

High Polish silver finish

PHANTOM FLANGE HUBS

Superlight forged-and-machined design (70g front, 207g rear)

Phantom Flange™ hidden J-bend design creates the sleek, aero profile and direct-drive efficiency of straight-pull spokes but still uses stronger, more reliable J-bend spokes

Premium quality bearings

Patented 6 pawl, 12-point micro clutch engagement system

Tool-free design allows for quick disassembly - great for packing Break-Away travel bikes or replacing spokes

Staggered drive side flange increases spoke bracing angle and eliminates interference between crossing spokes, resulting in a stiffer, stronger wheel

QUALITY BUILD

Brass nipples and J-bend spokes shave precious grams without skimping on longevity

Each Zeta wheel set is hand built by a qualified Ritchey wheel technician

Rate the wheel for quality of construction:
 
8/10

Rims true and round, spokes well tensioned; this is a well-built pair of wheels.

Rate the wheel for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the wheel for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the wheel for weight
 
8/10

Under 1,500g is a very acceptable weight for a pair of wheels built the traditional way.

Rate the wheel for value:
 
5/10

The category of lightweight wheels around £500 is really competitive. The Classic Zetas are more expensive than some but you do get what you pay for.

Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?

No issues whatsoever, after a fair bit of abuse too.

How easy did you find it to fit tyres?

All the brands I tried went on with just thumb pressure.

How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?

The skewers kept everything clamped up tight while on the rough stuff and everything else worked fine.

Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose

Great across the board. Whether racing on smooth tarmac or threading your way through stony tracks.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel

Impressive weight vs strength.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel

Freewheel might need replacing more regularly than others.

Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes

Would you consider buying the wheel? Yes

Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Yes

Use this box to explain your overall score

The Zetas are an impressive set of wheels and even though they could be seen as quite expensive for an alloy rim-braked model they feel great in use. Light, fast and you don't have to worry about treating them with kid gloves. If you ride on a mix of terrains they are a great option.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 39  Height: 180cm  Weight: 76kg

I usually ride: This month's test bike  My best bike is:

I've been riding for: 10-20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed

Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.

12 comments

Avatar
Nixster [404 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

"the handbuilt setup leaves enough give in the spoke tension "

Really, the spokes are so slack the rim can deflect vertically? 

They won't last long before falling apart then.

Avatar
DrG82 [239 posts] 1 week ago
1 like

Not sure where you get the weights you claim for the fulcrum racing 5s, mine are much heavier at over 1.75 kg with the shimano compatible freehub.

Avatar
fukawitribe [2383 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes
DrG82 wrote:

Not sure where you get the weights you claim for the fulcrum racing 5s, mine are much heavier at over 1.75 kg with the shimano compatible freehub.

The 1.6kg may be related to the 2018 disc brake version they mentioned (tested and weighed Dec'17) - the rim braked version they tested back in 2014 came in at about 1.75kg like yours (claimed was about 150g lighter according to the review, not sure about that..) which is about what the current Racing 5 LG seems to be as well AFAICS.

Avatar
Dicklexic [80 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

Stu you mention the Hunt freehub in your review with its steel bit to stop the cassette biting. Hunt do some wheels that are very similar to these Ritchey ones in style.

https://www.huntbikewheels.com/collections/road-wheels/products/hunt-spr...

Avatar
fukawitribe [2383 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

I can't help wondering how much properly tightening the lock-ring helps - i'm no power monster, but even after years of sprint training on a variety of freehubs I don't get much more than some mild dents at worst. 40+Nm is quite a bit of torque and when i've seen people putting cassettes back on they sure don't look like they are giving it nearly enough (although, granted, it's difficult to tell).

Avatar
bike.owner [127 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes
fukawitribe wrote:

i'm no power monster

I am (and that radial NDS spoked rear wheel would last ten minutes with me. I tear out radials almost instantly).

40Nm is plenty for the locknut, even on Shimano splines. However, I use a torque wrench. Most do not. Beyond some alloy resembling butter, that's their biggest problem.

Avatar
fukawitribe [2383 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes
bike.owner wrote:

40Nm is plenty for the locknut, even on Shimano splines.

Yep - that's what I was getting at. I just highly doubt most of the people i've seen putting a cassette on get anywhere remotely near it.

bike.owner wrote:

However, I use a torque wrench. Most do not. Beyond some alloy resembling butter, that's their biggest problem.

 Yep - and would probably be quite surprised what the proper torque feels like. I also use a nice long bar torque wrench on the hub but I can't remember the last time I saw someone use one online, IRL or otherwise - usually something like a chain whip with a spanner head and a cursory yank when it gets a bit stiff (ooo err).

Avatar
fukawitribe [2383 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes
bike.owner wrote:
fukawitribe wrote:

i'm no power monster

I am (and that radial NDS spoked rear wheel would last ten minutes with me. I tear out radials almost instantly).

Radials stretch and wear on the wind-up - but they're good enough for the strongest elite track and road-race bods i'm not particularly fussed. Hell, Shimano even had radial drive-side spokes on the Dura Ace CXX wheels IIRC and they pretty much go on forever. Surprised you have more problems than them - monster indeed  3

Avatar
IanEdward [181 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

Doubt lock ring torque would prevent the cassette rotating and putting pressure on the splines, mechanically it just doesnt' seem like a small amount of friction between sprockets and spacers would be enough to prevent them twisting when somebody gives it beans on the cranks.

 

Avatar
fukawitribe [2383 posts] 1 week ago
1 like
IanEdward wrote:

Doubt lock ring torque would prevent the cassette rotating and putting pressure on the splines, mechanically it just doesnt' seem like a small amount of friction between sprockets and spacers would be enough to prevent them twisting when somebody gives it beans on the cranks.

Well that's what i'd be curious to see some data on - anecdotally the difference in rotational resistance actually seemed quite noticeable on one wheelset I had, so I was wondering how much in practice it differed and whether the sprocket/spacer to sprocket friction when clamped down properly was enough to make it behave slightly more as a unit. Idle engineering curiosity.

Avatar
bike.owner [127 posts] 1 week ago
1 like
fukawitribe wrote:

Radials stretch and wear on the wind-up - but they're good enough for the strongest elite track and road-race bods

No, they are not. I'm ex track and dump well over 2kW on a quick wind up. I can't do it on a road bike as the chains are simply not strong enough for it (unless replacing every 50 hours or so). Radials break on the track. If you actually knew anything about track riding you would know this. It's just another case of of the fuckwit, or is it the fuckawitribe posting when they know nothing.

Get a clue before posting.

Avatar
fukawitribe [2383 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes
bike.owner wrote:
fukawitribe wrote:

Radials stretch and wear on the wind-up - but they're good enough for the strongest elite track and road-race bods

No, they are not. I'm ex track and dump well over 2kW on a quick wind up. I can't do it on a road bike as the chains are simply not strong enough for it (unless replacing every 50 hours or so). Radials break on the track. If you actually knew anything about track riding you would know this. It's just another case of of the fuckwit, or is it the fuckawitribe posting when they know nothing.

Get a clue before posting.

Well fair play - I had thought that at least Mavic and Edco had had radial rear NDS laced track wheels in the past, but I can't find a thing so cheers for the correction. Just good enough for the road boys, accepted.

 

Edit : Actually, know what, scratch this last bit - i'm not going that low but man you piss me off.