More Power, No Disc: Boyd Altamont Wheels

More Power, No Disc: Boyd Altamont Wheels

There was a time when Mavic was the undisputed leader in advancing wheel technology. No other company was introducing as many fresh ideas that work as they did. And if they had taken a bit more time to get their electronics right, Zap and Mektronik would have us laughing at the late-to-the-party Di2 and eTap. However. That’s not how it went. While some of Mavic’s innovations caught on with the virulence of an Ebola outbreak—like welded seams and machined brake tracks—other ideas got lost in the shuffle.

Case in point: rims with a ceramic coating on the brake track. When I first learned Mavic intended to increase brake performance by putting a layer of ceramic on the rim to give the brake pads something with more grab, I wondered why. I figured we were all stopping our bikes without any great difficulty, so why shorten stopping distance.

This would be the point at which I have to admit that I have been guilty of not always appreciating a new technical development.

Then I rode some of the wheels and realized, “Oh, hey, this is kinda handy.” I began to appreciate that better braking meant better control.

Something like 20 years passed with me wondering, occasionally, “Why hasn’t anyone else tried to ceramic-coat rims?”

Boyd Cycling has brought back ceramic coatings on their Altamont Wheelset. The Altamont comes in four different configurations: standard and lite, and with the ceramics and without. The wheelset, without the ceramic layer goes for $750, both in the standard and lite versions, while the upgraded brake track runs $900.

The choices aren’t quite as basic as that, though. The front wheel comes in 20-, 24- and 28-spoke versions, while the rear comes in 24-, 28- and 32-spoke configurations. All of the wheels, thankfully, use brass nipples. The front wheel is radially laced while the rear is 2x on the drive side and radial on the non-drive side. You can choose between hubs from Boyd or White Industries. Freehub choices include Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM XD driver. They also include a 3mm washer in case you’re still running 10-speed.

The wheels I’ve been riding have 24 spokes front and 28-spokes rear. Boyd reports these wheels have a weight of 1555 grams; I got 1657g on my scale before removing the rim strips and 10-sp. washer. I chose this spoke count because I wanted wheels that would remain stiff in tough conditions without undue flex in cornering. Had I gone to a 20-spoke front, 24-spoke rear, I’d only have saved 40g. And for those with more mass than I possess, going to 28 front/32 rear has only a 55g penalty.

The stainless steel, black-anodized spokes are bladed, making them faster aerodynamically, not to mention easier to true.

The hubs roll on sealed bearings—two in front and two in rear, plus two more in the six-pawl, 5-degree engagement freehub. The rims, at only 30mm of depth, aren’t particularly aerodynamic, but because they have an inner width of 20mm, they do make great wheels for larger-width tires.

Buying a set of wheels from Boyd is one of the rare joys in online shopping. They communicate clearly that they include rim strips, skewers and the Swisstop BXP brake pads that give maximum bite on the ceramic rims. With Boyd’s Ready 2 Ride package, you can add a pair of tires ($150) or a cassette ($70-75) so that when you open the box, you have a set of wheels ready to install on your bike.

I’ve been interested in these wheels ever since I heard about them for the simple reason that so many readers have expressed not just little interest in purchasing a bike with disc brakes, but a vehement disinterest in them. I’m not a fan of rampant consumerism, but I am a fan of anything that can improve the quality of my cycling experience, and invariably that includes anything that increases my control of the bike.

I’ve been riding the Altamonts on my DiNucci, which is equipped with the Velo Orange long-reach calipers and Yokozuna compressionless brake housing. This setup is an answer to the question of how good braking can be if you want/need to stick to rim calipers.

And how good is it? Well, this isn’t disc brakes, but no other rim-brake bike I’ve ridden is as easily controlled. My concerns in riding these wheels were stiffness in cornering; if the wheels flex out of plane that translates to me in a lack of confidence. I feel like I don’t have enough control and I slow down. A wheel that remains in plane with the fork as I corner allows me to feel more certain about what the bike is doing, so I go faster.

In braking, the response seems less linear, more on a curve, so that the harder I brake, the more sharply brake power increases. It’s not hard to lock up the wheels on dirt, but it’s easy enough to avoid.

Final thought: You don’t normally buy wheels to improve your braking, but the Altamonts are a two-for-one purchase.


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  1. MattC

    I don’t get the vehemence against Disc brakes…they’re AWESOME! But maybe I’m biased cuz I’ve had them on mtb’s for SO LONG now, and they just keep getting better. My new gravel bike is disc (of course), and it’s so amazing that I retired my older (lighter) road bike as I won’t be riding it any more (aluminum frame…yes it was light, but jeez, you felt every grain of sand). On the new bike I put on 28’s for road, 35’s for gravel/bad road, and 45 to 50’s for all out dirt. It does it all, and is pretty fantastic (and OH so smooth and comfy). I personally wouldn’t buy any bike w/ out discs in this day and age. But hey….I’m a fan of freedom of choice…vote with your $.

  2. Neil Winkelmann

    The PED rims (Mavic’s Exalith and Campag/Fulcrum’s eqivalent) provide the best rim braking out there. My caliper-braked bike with PED rims has more powerful braking (ratio of stopping force to lever force) than does my DA disc winter/commuter bike. Pads last WAY longer, too. Modulation near the limit is not as good, but it isn’t night and day. This is all in the dry.

    In the wet, for the first second of a hard stop, the discs win by a mile. The rim brakes do come good, but that second or so that it takes could literally be life or death. So I’ll take discs in the wet (in spite of their propensity to deafening squealing). Lack of rim grinding is an added benefit.

    Bottom line. Modern rim brakes are truly great, especially with PED rims and if you don’t have to ride them in the hills when it rains. (Like if you have a second disc-brake bike; or if you live somewhere without hills and/or rain; or if you waste your life on a trainer when it rains)

  3. Jeff

    How is the breaking in the wet? I have owned one set of carbon wheels and they were OK in the dry but once a bit of rain and I was worried I’d never stop in time for things I knew, let alone for unexpected breaking events.

    1. Author

      I haven’t had a chance to ride these in rain yet, so I can’t speak to direct experience. That said, the Mavic rims way back when braked better than standard aluminum rims, which tend to be better than carbon in the wet. I expect these will be good and I suppose I’ll find out this winter.

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