Torelli Bormio Ceramic Ultra-Lite Wheels

The wheel market has exploded with the vengeance of the mosquito population at a stagnant pond in the Deep South during a drought-plagued summer. We’ve been overrun with wheels, much the way I just overran my good sense and your patience in that last sentence.

Doubt that? Nearly every company that used to offer wheel components—DT, Campagnolo, Mavic, Shimano, American Classic, Chris King and Ambrosio for starters—now offers complete wheels. There are some notable exceptions, such as Wheelsmith and Sapim, who have elected to stick with spokes and nipples, and Phil Wood (hubs), but the vast majority of companies that produced components that I used to build wheels from now offer complete wheelsets.

By a certain sort of math, you could make an argument that expansion brought about a tripling of the wheel market. The result has changed what it means to purchase a high-end wheelset. Given the incredible number of poorly built handmade wheels I saw over the years (How many racers did I see not finish a race because their wheels didn’t hold up?), this isn’t a bad thing … on one level. On another, it can be terrible at times.

Get the freehub right and the rest of the wheel can be a cinch.

Gone is the conversation between the budding racer and the sage mechanic. I’ve been on both sides of that conversation and the chance to learn about or to teach lacing patterns or the value of equal spoke tension is a chance for someone to become a more knowledgeable, more engaged cyclist. Those conversations and choices were substantive. Clydesdales need to be steered away from alloy nipples just as bantam weight climbers ought to be steered to butted spokes. On group rides these days, so often I hear guys discussing wheel choices based on color.

Recently overheard: “I went with the American Classics because the white matched my frame.”

Really?

I’ve tried a number of aftermarket wheelsets with Campy freehubs. In both 10- and 11-speed configurations a great many of them have a problem that I consider colossal, but I rarely hear anyone complain.

That problem? Rear derailleur spoke clearance.

If I hear the rear derailleur cage tick, tick, ticking against the spokes when I’m climbing, I’m concerned. It is the bicycle equivalent of driving to Dubuque with the idiot light on. And the people who do complain about this? They are the ones who had exactly this problem—undiagnosed by their shop mechanic—stood up and flexed the wheel enough to catch the cage, sheer the carbon fiber scissors through wrapping paper and destroy the rear derailleur, the wheel and the derailleur hanger, if not the frame along the way.

Bladed spokes increase aerodynamic efficiency and decrease the chance of the derailleur rubbing spokes.

I’ve encountered this problem on more wheels than I ought. A healthy supply of 1mm spacers hasn’t corrected the problem for most of the wheels, either. One can ask the question of whether the problem is with the wheels or the derailleur, but because Campagnolo and Fulcrum wheels never have this problem—proving that it is possible to make wheels that don’t suffer this incompatibility—I lay the blame with the wheel makers.

A good review of a set of wheels really ought to be based on qualities of superior distinction, such as multiplying your power output or a freehub that dispenses cash when you hit 500 watts. Congratulating a set of wheels for competency is a bit like giving a kid AP credit for reading Harry Potter.

Regardless, the starting point for this review is the fact that the spokes of the Torelli Bormio Ceramic Ultra-Lites don’t rub on a Campy rear derailleur cage. This one feature makes them worth considering if you’re looking for a set of Campy-compatible wheels. Is that enough to warrant purchasing them? Not by a long shot.

In fact, my biggest single wheel pet peeve is trueness—actually lack thereof. I monitor wheels as I review them to see how they are holding up. Within the first 200 miles of riding these wheels I had to perform a slight truing of the rear wheel, tightening two spokes that had de-tensioned slightly. I’ve done nothing since.

This lightweight rim offers remarkable stiffness and industry-standard braking performance.

Last fall I rode Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo. For those of you who recall my ride report of the event, you may recall some grumbling about a record number of flats I experienced that day. These were the wheels I was using. The reason for the trouble was a rim strip issue.

When I returned from the ride I e-mailed Todd, the owner at Torelli, and told him about the trouble. He was on the phone to me within the minute I hit the ‘send’ button. When I saw the “Torelli” on the caller ID, I thought it was just a weird coincidence.

He asked me what color the rim strips were. When I told him they were yellow, he told me to throw them in the trash, that those were early production and had caused problems and had been since replaced with different rim strips that wouldn’t move. I’d have some new ones the next day. And I did.

Every dealer that received wheels with the yellow rim strips have been shipped the red rim strips I received.

Since receiving the new rim strips, I haven’t had a single flat and that’s even while running the paper-thin Specialized open tubulars (whose ride continues to grow on me). I remain deeply suspicious of mylar, plastic and all manner of rim strips that are anything other than Velox for one simple reason: Velox rim strips have adhesive on the bottom. Granted, it doesn’t have the sticky factor of Chinese rice, but it really doesn’t need much to just not move.

Okay, so lets move on to the bullet points featured in the marketing literature. The rims have a claimed weight of 380 grams. The front wheel has 20 spokes, the rear 24 spokes. The front is radially laced, the rear features radial lacing on the non-drive side and two-cross on the drive side. The stainless steel J-bend Sandvik spokes are bladed (0.9mm x 2.2mm) for increased aerodynamic efficiency and easy replacement.

This minimal hub keeps weight down, if at the expense of some flex due to especially long spokes.

Torelli claims they weigh 1380g for the pair—that’s with rim strips and a Shimano freehub. I have yet to review a set of wheels that weighs within 10g of the advertised weight, but these were pretty close; they came in at 1412g. I attribute the difference to the Campy freehub, but that’s just a wild assertion of the same general vicinity as most stories in the National Enquirer. I haven’t weighed the two freehub bodies. I really don’t know. At all.

The rear wheel contains six ceramic bearings and inside the freehub is a needle bearing to reduce freehub drag while descending, of which, it does an admirable job. Spin the rear wheel up with the bike in the stand and once you let go of the pedal it moves no further. It’s also remarkably quiet when freewheeling, which is a quality I associate with low drag and stealthy approaches, both of which I find handy.

Compared to many wheels in this weight range the Bormio Ceramic Ultra-Lites are surprisingly stiff laterally. Certainly there are stiffer wheels out there, but stiff isn’t really the selling point on these wheels. Their weight, incredibly low rolling resistance due to the ceramic bearings and machined aluminum braking surfaces, all for a suggested retail of $650 is why you buy these wheels.

Who doesn’t want raceable weight and low-drag bearings in an everyday wheelset?

Torelli does suggest a 180-lb. weight limit for users, but I suspect that at that weight (or more) you would be inclined to seek out a stiffer wheel regardless.

A great set of wheels really isn’t about the graphics (which on these aren’t exactly going to win any design awards—but can’t anyone get graphics right on a set of wheels anymore without sacrificing function?); it ought to be about bringing the various elements together to make a wheel set perfectly suited to its intended purpose.

In the last year I’ve tried six different aftermarket (non-Campy/Fulcrum) wheel sets meant to work with Campy. Considering functionality, weight and price, these are the best of the bunch.

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17 comments

  1. Souleur

    Hi, my name is Souleur, and I admit, I have a wheel problem. I like them, and yes, I like them alot. I am one as you mentioned, ‘sage’ when it comes to wheels. I think about them conceptually, I was taught by a journeyman wheelbuilder how to. I cannot have enough in the shed. I build them. I ride them. I am always looking for another, and thank you Padraig for showing my another not in my collection.

    These wheels sound like a nearly perfect set for all the right reasons. Light, which is necessary for a responsive wheel. Maintains trueness, as you mention, it does. Thoughtfully detailed, as the bearings are precisely placed and w/free bearings where indicated. As pictured, a drive side cross (I can’t quite tell, but i am guessing 2x) and radially laced non-drive is quite good. Spoke choice, elegant.

    What can I say, only that my only question would is whether the rim has reinforced nipples, as i find that a necessary ingredient for most rims.

    I am glad you made the point that many people don’t realize much about wheels, but the fact always remains that a proper wheel for the proper occassion will always perform better than one of random chance or ‘it matches the color of my frame’.

    Price, is actually better than competitive, it stomps out most other wheel builds.

    Great review Padraig and thanks!
    addiction: check, done.

    PS: question, got soldereds??? tis spring season and pave’ you know?? I have been dreaming of a set.

  2. Lachlan

    My name is Lachlan and I definitely have a wheel problem. (and borderline weightweenie tendancies at times too I should confess)

    As such, I do love that these are “ultra-lites” by name, but clearly not ultra LIGHT by actual weight : o ) Gotta love the names the marketing guys sometimes give when they get over ambitious.

    1400+ is a perfectly reasonable weight for a clincher wheel set, especially at the price. But ultra? hmmm Pretty sure lots of deep section clinchers come in around this weight.

    +one on nice review, thanks P. Glad to see more and more of the equipment experience coming up on the site.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Thanks guys for the good words. I do agree that these are “Ultra-Lite” in title though not practice. I’ve got a weight classification system that I should probably have shared before now:

      >1600g: You’d better have a very good reason, such as being as inexpensive as Neuvation.
      1500-1599g: Whatever.
      1400-1499g: Truly, a wheel set that is reasonably light in weight.
      <1400g: Now I'm impressed. Tell me more.

      Re: tie and solder. Unless you are a PRO and racing the cobbles at speeds upwards of 35kph, that old technology, though unspeakably cool, just isn't necessary.

      Years ago I lined up for a race that was known for some dirt roads. By "known" I mean it was pinch-flat city for anyone running clinchers. The guy who rolled up next to me on the start line had wheels with tied and soldered spokes. I remember wondering what he knew that I didn't.

  3. eddy

    Neuvation and williams are currently not compatible with campy 11 fwiw. Williams is coming out with a new hub that is soon.

  4. mark

    Thanks for the review. I’d be inclined to buy a set if I didn’t already have a lightweight clincher that I love, the Revolution Rev-22. Claimed weight is 1350g, and they weigh each set before sending them out the door to ensure they’re within 10 grams of that. Mine have held up very well, and the bearings are silky smooth. Lightweights can get away with the Rev-22L, which is a 20/24 spoke configuration under 1300 grams.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Andrew: Yes, the decals say “Light” not “Lite” but the web site says “Lite.” Hard to know just which to use.

      Mark: I ran across Revolution recently and traded some delightful e-mails with Jonathan there. I’ll be reviewing a set of their wheels in the coming months. Rode them just this morning, in fact.

  5. rich_mutt

    it’s hard to get much lighter than 1400g on a clincher without spending $1,400+ on carbon rims. can anyone name a lighter aluminum clincher under a thousand dollars?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Rich Mutt: So true. That’s why you’ll want to stay tuned to your second or third favorite (cycling) blog for our review of the Revolution wheels. I’m not even riding the lightest wheels they make.

  6. Souleur

    @rich mutt: some wheels that come to mind to me that were $1000 and less for <1400gm are:
    -zipp 101
    -ksyrium anniversary ES
    -I am not sure, but check on DT swiss 240s, since they are essentially re-named zipp 101's
    -Dura ace 7850's tubeless/scandium

    -lastly, nearly any custom laced up hoops can come in ~1300-1400 pretty easy without being exotic if the parts are picked right and usually they will be in the $600-$800 range

    The torelli sits respectably in a nice crowd here, and w/ceramic, perhaps sits at the helm?

  7. rich_mutt

    the zipps aren’t even out yet, are they? the specs i saw were 1450g and $1,200. you’re right about custom, but to get to sub 1,400g you need to use sapim x-rays at 16/20, the lightest kinlin, and tune hubs. that’s well over 1g. maybe i’m wrong… i hope so.

  8. MM

    Find a set of Ksyriums that weigh less than 1400g and I’ll show you a wheel that’s missing half it’s spokes. Mavic wheels NEVER come in with 5% or so of claimed weight.

    You can build a wheelset that weighs >1400g and costs >$1000, without resorting to carbon hoops, pretty easily.

    Nio19 hoops, a light hubset and CX-Rays will come in under 1400g everytime.

    Hell, I have a set of Nio19/White Industries H1/CxRay wheels that are 32h/3x and they weigh 1400g. Bulletproof and light…$700-ish

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