HED Ardennes - Not Breaking...Making New Rules

Wheels are popular aftermarket items to sell. Few things can so quickly change the look and feel of your bicycle, and there’s no doubt a good wheel set can improve the performance of any bicycle.Then again, there’s a lot of marketing hype out there. Wheels are not magical – the lightest of the light really aren’t going to make you go uphill all that much faster (it’s surprising how little effect they really do have), and even the most aerodynamic $5,000.00 set of wheels won’t make as much difference as a $150.00 Giro Advantage II helmet. Still, they do make a difference and, best of all, they look really, really cool. As many of you know, I’m not always willing to buy into all the marketing hype when it comes to wheels, but I’ve recently discovered a wheel set that is changing the rules, changing how wheels can have an effect on performance, and changing how much you have to pay for…well, change!The HED Ardennes is a great set of hoops that really do make a difference, but do so in a nice, understated way.They look like your average wheel set, but they’re actually quite different, and they’re now my favorites.

The Ardennes (pronounced “are-den”) come from the mind of Steve Hed, a man who is as nice and honest as he is brilliant.Steve is responsible for a good part of what we know about bicycle aerodynamics these days.When you see deep-section aero wheels, tri-spokes, disc wheels, etc., many of the latest development/improvements come from HED Cycling.What I love about his products, besides the advancement of technology, is how he goes about doing everything so subtly and simply.Steve is not about flash – he wants function.No hype, just performance.When Steve Hed makes a statement about whether something truly works, or doesn’t, you can be sure there’s no BS surrounding his claims.The entire company reflects this philosophy, and I think no product says this more than the Ardennes – these wheels may change the way all wheels are made in the future, but you have to look close to know why.Let’s look close!

Not flashy, but they still look good

I’m going to use content from the HED web site quite a bit because I like how they describe certain things.When I do so, the typeface will be in blue, so you know the difference.Of course, you can also tell the difference because what they write is far more comprehensible then what comes from my finger tips.What makes the Ardennes special?Three things…or really four…okay let’s settle on 3.5.The HED Ardennes are simultaneously aerodynamic & lightweight; they also happen to decrease rolling resistance & provide a more comfortable ride (the last to go together and, therefore, equal “1.5”).How do they accomplish this?HED utilizes their new “C2” rim extrusion technique, which creates a wider rim – 23mm instead of the common standard, 19mm.Here’s how HED describes it:

On a 23mm wide rim, the tire beads are farther apart and the tire profile is shorter and rounder. Put a 20mm or (especially) a 23mm tire on a 19mm rim and the resulting profile looks more or less like a lightbulb. Even with an aero rim behind it,the wind still "sees" a bulb at both ends of the wheel. On the C2 wheels, a 20mm tire looks like a bullet, and even a 23 does not hang over the brake surface. The wind "sees" a smoother shape. The result is that you are faster.

C2 has:

  • Lower drag. The airflow is more laminar and less turbulent as it transitions from the tire surface to the rim surface (and from rim to tire on the trailing edge of the wheel).
  • Lower rolling resistance. Widening out the tire improves the shape of the contact patch, making it shorter front to back, and wider. A shorter contact patch means that a smaller section of sidewall deflects at the ground. Less sidewall deflection - lower rolling resistance.
  • Vastly improved cornering, sprinting, and out of the saddle climbing. Cornering is better because there is more rubber in contact with the road, and just as important, the straightened sidewalls don't flex as much under hard cornering. With less sidewall flex, sprinting, and out of the saddle climbing, are both more efficient since less energy is lost to tire flex.

This graphic is a bit overstated, I guess, but you get the picture. Yes, I see the mis-spelling! Get over it.

The cool thing about the Ardennes is that you can feel the difference between how a tire changes it’s shape between a regular rim, and the Ardennes rim, by running your fingers across the casing and rim surface.It’s clearly smoother, and logic tells you that it must be more aerodynamic.Keep in mind the words written above: the wind “sees” the tire/rim interface twice as it passes over the wheel – front and back of each wheel.Mark my words, every manufacturer will soon start creating wider rims based on just the aero advantage the Ardennes provide.If you’d like to feel the difference for yourself, my Felt is equipped with a set of Ardennes’, and you’re more than welcome to run your fingers across them. 

Now for the ride of the Ardennes wheels.I think the best way I can describe it is that’s it’s very similar to the comfort you feel going from a 20mm tire to a 25mm tire.It’s clearly a smoother ride.I still think the Shimano Tubeless wheels are a little smoother, but the Ardennes’ are very close, and given the aero advantage and reduction in rolling resistance, I think this wheel set is really tough to beat.The price? $975.00.In a world of $2200.00+ wheels which provide less advantage, but more fluff, I think the Ardennes are the best thing going right now. Oh, I almost forgot…they weigh 1340 grams out of the box.That’s actually lighter than HED’s claimed weight.Like I said…honest guy that Steve Hed.

Edit: Cyclingnews.com just did a review on these puppies, and called them the best clinchers they've ever ridden!