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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
High-performance wheels that are just as at home on your race machine as they are on your gravel hack
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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
Proprietary super light Phantom Flange hubs with hidden J-bend spokes
Brass nipples and DT Competition J-bend spokes
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
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
Rims true and round, spokes well tensioned; this is a well-built pair of wheels.
Under 1,500g is a very acceptable weight for a pair of wheels built the traditional way.
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.
About the tester
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
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!