Hed Jet 5 Express Clinchers
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Tested April 7, 2013

Hed Jet 5 Express

  • MSRP: $1,550 for the set. $960 on sale.
  • Claimed weight: 754 grams front, 927 grams rear, 1681 total. Actual: 760 grams front, 950 rear, 1710 total
  • 23mm wide "C2" rims for lower rolling resistance
  • "SCT" U-shaped profile for aerodynamics and stability in cross winds
  • Versatile 54mm rim depth
  • Rider weight limit: 190 lbs

I was in the market to replace my 9-year old Hed Alps wheelset which feature a structural carbon fairing that is 50mm tall. The front wheel was out of true and when my mechanic tried to true it, the first nipple he tried shattered. He advised that it might be a good time to get a new wheelset.

Though I am six feet tall and approximately 155 pounds, unfortunately, my upper body resembles a T-rex more than Hulk Hogan. To this end, I am very "sensitive" to cross winds and I prefer to stick to a rim around 50mm versus anything taller. I was really tempted by the 45mm Zipp 303 which I enjoyed reviewing but the MSRP of $2725 was more money than I wanted to spend. Additionally, the Zipp 303 and 404s are carbon clinchers and, though the Zipps had excellent braking while I tested them, I was still a bit worried about braking on long descents with carbon clinchers as there are still many reports of carbon clincher wheel failures under extreme braking. Ever since having two kids, I've become pretty conservative while descending as a whole, and, as a result I tend to ride the brakes, so this is a real concern for me. A wheel with more traditional and proven aluminum braking surface was more to my liking.

 

So what wheelset to buy? I had narrowed the choice to clinchers with alloy braking surfaces and rim heights around 50mm.

 

Mavic has some really intriguing Carbones, including the SLR, SLE, and SL. However, they have a narrow rim profile and, according to a friend of mine, are very susceptible to cross winds. The SLE and SLR also have their proprietary Exalith treatment which requires special brake pads--an inconvenience if you want to swap the wheels among bikes. The Carbone SL looked interesting with its uncoated aluminum rims but they seemed very heavy. I was also interested in the new Shimano C50 clinchers, which also have an alloy brake track, but they, too, are somewhat heavy and expensive and are reported to be very sensitive to cross winds. Finally, Zipp re-released a derivative of their old rim design with an alloy brake track called the 60, but they are very heavy at 1820 grams for the set.

So I returned to Hed and found the Jet 50 "Express".

 

The Jet 50 features a 23mm wide rim which is meant to be optimized with 23mm wide tires. They call it "C2" technology that, according to Hed, does the following:

 

"Aerodynamically, the narrow 19mm rim and a 23mm tire created a light bulb shaped profile. Needless to say, this is just not very efficient and leads to increased wind drag. Steve simply invented a solution and Hed's C2 technology was born.  C2 technology has its maximum effect on clincher tires by solving the problem of the tires requiring extreme pressure to keep them from flopping over the rim during a turn. This high pressure also leads to deficiencies in cornering performance and comfort. By making the rim edge wider, C2 allows the tire to flow almost perfectly into the rim shape, ushering in a revolutionary step forward in aerodynamic performance. Although, the benefits of C2 design go even further. The wider tire mount also creates a larger contact patch with the road which distributes load better and lowers speed-sapping rolling resistance. All said, C2 technology improves aerodynamics, increases the road/tire contact patch for better cornering grip, decreases rolling resistance, and allows the wheel to be more comfortably ridden at a lower tire pressure. "

 

Hed also claims that the aerodynamics and cross-wind stability are optimized with their "Stability Control Technology", aka "SCT".

 

"Anyone can design a wheel that fast going straight into the wind. Making one that is excellent in all wind conditions, which is what riders deal with most of the time, is quite different. With the newly found aerodynamics that the C2 platform provides, Steve engineered how to tame the stability of a wheel in crosswind situations. After all, what good does superior aerodynamics do for a cyclist if they are not able to control their wheel? The resulting SCT design is yet another Hed-invented technology that has revolutionized overall wheel performance. The knowledge and design technique involved in the SCT design is Hed's most heavily guarded secret."

 

From my research, I believe that what this all means is that Hed has a wide rim followed by a wide fairing that has a blunt taper (versus a sharp V) to smooth airflow from the front of the tire across and past the rim. And the wide rim width allows you to run lower tire pressure (they advise 80-95 PSI) which increases comfort--and, Hed claims, reduces rolling resistance. Time trial phenom, Tony Martin, has won time trials in the TDF and other races using the Hed Jet 60 clincher front wheel which features C2 and SCT technologies, so these features must be more than just marketing hype.

 

Armed with this research, I looked for the Jet Express 50's, and, incredibly, they were just $960 for the set at Competitive Cyclist. This was the most economical wheel and less than half of the Zipp 303's!

 

Installation

My old set of Hed Alps required firm hands and a tire iron to mount a tire. The new Hed Jet 50's were a welcome relief; it was relatively easy to Schwalbe Ultremo ZX tires on them, requiring only thumb (firm but tolerable) pressure.

Design
The rim joint is flawless; there is an extremely smooth integration between both sides of the rim.
Moving on to the carbon fairing, I have to say that it looked like it could have been plastic instead of carbon fiber. This said, I'm not sure if plastic would be heavier or any less aero. What is surprising about this wheelset is the carbon fairing is just that; it's meant for aerodynamics and nothing else; see the picture as I clamp the fairing and you can see it "give".

Performance
The first thing I noticed with these Hed wheels was that the ride was very smooth. This might be explained by tire pressure; I normally run 115psi in my tires on 19mm rims. However, I followed Hed's recommendation and ran 90 PSI. The rationale is that the tire gets spread out over the wider rim, reducing the sidewall height by up to 20%. It follows that the inflation pressure should be reduced along the same lines. 115 PSI with a 19mm rim converted to a 23mm rim would thus equate to 92.0 PSI. Sure enough; reducing to 90 proved to be much more comfortable yet it didn't seem "slow".  I found that I was more relaxed on these wheels. The best part, though? They weren't affected by cross winds. The Zipp 303 Firecrests, as mentioned above and seemed to get buffeted by side winds. And though they were extremely easy to correct, they were not as good as these Heds for providing a smooth and safe-feeling ride.

 

In testing, I ran the Hed Jet 50's over a local time trial course (SF Bay Area locals know this as the Canada Road Time Trial). This course is great for cyclist in that it has little vehicular traffic, some very high speed descents, fast flats, but also, it is also sprinkled with five significant climbs. The "course" is also typically very windy, with prevalent cross- and head-winds. I rode the previous generation Hed Jet 60 which has a wide rim but V-shaped fairing and was blown around -- enough to need to get out of the aero bars. I then rode the Hed Jet 50's repeatedly -- and they seemed virtually unaffected by cross winds.

 

The Hed Jet 50 also makes a fantastic front wheel to pair with a deeper rear wheel such as the Zipp 808, Hed Jet 90 or a disc. I rode the Jet 50 up front with a 90 rear with a wheel cover at the Wildflower 1/2 Ironman in May. The wheels were phenomenal; with the lower inflation pressure, the notoriously bumpy road surface was softened a bit and the bike was rock-stable in the windy conditions. Remarkably, after participating in this race on 11 different occasions, I broke my previous PR of 2:38:41 (set in 1990) with a new PR of 2:36:14. These wheels are awesome!

 

Summary
This wheelset offers excellent aerodynamics, braking with no sacrifice, a smooth ride and stability in the wind. They are a little heavy, but for the price, I don't think there is a better overall wheelset. 

Rating: 5 stars