A Road Wheel for All Roads

A Road Wheel for All Roads

The last year of riding has been an education for me. When it comes to riding a bike with drop bars on unpaved roads, I’ve encountered the toughest terrain and road conditions that I’ve experienced in my entire riding life here in Sonoma County. Sure, there were stretches of Dirt Mulholland in LA and one memorable descent in Bakersfield’s Rock Cobbler that were tres dificile, but I’ve encountered stuff here that wasn’t just worse, it was worst case scenario squared.

That’s not meant as a brag—humble or otherwise. I admit this as matter of head-scratching incredulity. I filled a five-gallon bucket with incomprehension.

The upshot is that I’ve damaged wheels at a rate unlike any other period in my life, including when I rode tubulars built with Fiamme red label rims, which were made from an aluminum of such a soft constitution you could use them for driving gloves. I managed to ding a rim on wheels running plus tires. I broke a front spoke on a road wheel. I dented some rims without flatting even though I was running tubes.

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Which leads me to the Ritchey WCS Zeta wheels. They are 24-spoke wheels laced 2x with DT stainless Competition (2.0/1.8) spokes to sealed-bearing hubs. The rims are tubeless and have a 19.5mm inner width. The rear rim features Ritchey’s OCR (Off-Center Rim) design which allows the wheel to be built with less dish for an overall stronger build by reducing the difference in tension between the drive and non-drive spokes. I first encountered a wheel with such a design more than 15 years ago and it was smart then. These rims are disc-specific; they don’t feature a brake track.

The wheels I’ve been riding are the disc model (there’s also a rim-brake model). They are center-lock rather than 6-bolt, which I find handy for travel, but the design offers virtually no other advantages. It’s a bit like buying an SUV because you like Ikea.

The hubs are set up for 9mm quick-release axles, but are easily convertible to 12mm thru-axles. They only come with a Shimano freehub, so while you can run a SRAM cassette, Campagnolo owners will need to buy a Shimano or SRAM cassette (which will work just fine).

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Because they are tubeless ready, I did set them up tubeless, with Panaracer GravelKing SKs. I’ve yet to burp a tire or get a flat, though that has as much to do with the tire as the rim.

A couple of days ago, I pulled these wheels off the bike they’ve been on and put them in my truing stand. They’ve got more than 1000 miles on them. I’ve done some nasty events, including Old Caz, on these. I’ve done a couple of our local dirt crits—the only guy to show up with a drop bar. Of the many things I’ve extended these wheels, kindness hasn’t been among them. I won’t say that I’ve been deliberately abusive to them, but I’ve wanted, in a very deliberate way, to find out if they’ll stand up to rough day-in, day-out use.

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So, that visit to the truing stand … the wheels are still true. Both front and rear. The hubs are still smooth as Barry White’s voice after a couple of draws of Courvoisier. That wouldn’t be so surprising if these wheels weighed 1700 or 1800 grams, but these puppies, surprisingly, come in at only 1564 grams (without rotors). These things are the spoked equivalent to having a climber strong enough to bring back the break on a flat day. Dang, dude.

The WCS Zetas go for $799 for either the disc or the rim brake versions. Considering how well they’ve held up for what they weigh, they are my new favorite wheels for mixed surface riding.

Final thought: ‘Cross season is around the corner; these will help make sure you finish the race every time.

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15 comments


    1. Author
      Padraig

      They’re 24mm. I left it out as it’s not really deep enough to make any aero difference if you’re running bigger tires.

  1. Andrew

    look nice.

    I have been EXTREMELY impressed with the Industry 9 i25TL wheels. I have both disc and rim, and use both on a lot of gravel and rough roads. I did finally manage to kill one, but even badly dented it stayed true enough and solid enough for me to ride an hour of gravel home on it. Super light, super strong wheels. Made in US too.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Yeah, that’s just a lockring. The wheels don’t come with lockrings and the rotors I had didn’t come with them either, so I dropped by a nearby dealer to pick up a set.

  2. Clam Fudge

    Are they available with a 12×142 rear through axle?
    I have been looking for a second set of wheels for my new through axle cross/gravel/road/pudding bike.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Yes, you can convert them from 135mm QR to 142mm thru-axle.

      Pudding bike. I love that. That made me literally LOL.


  3. Author
    Padraig

    A little clarification: originally I wrote “tubeless ready” when I should have just written “tubeless.” Old habits. These wheels need no tape. Just install the valves and mount the tires.

  4. Tim Lane

    Aside from the ease of installation, Centerlock has a lower system weight than 6-bolt. Also, I think the snazzy Freeeza rotors are only available in Centerlock – Freeza improves cooling, which seems like a smart choice for 140mm rotors. I reckon if Centerlock has existed before 6-bolt became the “standard”, 6-bolt might have been laughed out of the room.

  5. Isaac

    I also picked up a set of these for gravel and cross, and have about 2000 km on them and have been really happy. Not too flashy and perform exactly as you’d want/expect.

  6. eric stobin

    looks like a very solid wheelset for cx and gravel. the bontrager lockring surprised me, too. I have always had good luck with Ritchey parts through the years….if it is good enough for Tom then it is good enough for me! nice to see ‘affordable’ wheelsets reviewed and not just the $2500 ones. thank you.

  7. Ron Wheeler

    Have they fixed the annoying thing with the thru axle caps that don’t stay put and it takes three hands to put the wheel into the dropout? Really hoping they do because otherwise they’re great and I’d get another pair.

  8. Håvard Berger

    Not only for CX and gravel, but also for winter road riding. Corrosion free brass nipples are present on this wheelset. That’s highly wanted on salty winter roads.

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