Mavic Open Pro/Shimano 105 Wheelset
After a couple years of road riding and commuting, I needed new wheels. Ok, maybe “wanted” is a better word, since I could have just replaced my damaged rear wheel’s rim. In truth, I was eager to upgrade the LeMond’s stock wheelset.
I was more interested in dependability than light weight, but I didn’t want anything too much heavier than necessary. If time and money were no object I might have chosen a slightly different setup—or built them myself—as my initial notion was to get 32 spoke, three cross wheels with butted spokes and aluminum nipples. But the opportunity to get some sweet hoops on closeout from Iron City Bikes came up and I couldn’t refuse. I spent my money on 36-spoke Mavic Open Pro’s laced to a Shimano 105 wheelset with DT Swiss 14g spokes and brass nipples. Handbuilt deep in gator-country, these wheels are built to go fast and last a long time. Probably intended for touring or race-training, they’re also great for everyday commuting.
Both of the most respected books on bicycle wheels, The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt and The Art of Wheelbuilding by Gerd Schraner, agree that a high spoke count and a three-cross lacing pattern are the way to go. The theory is that because the spokes share the workload, with more spokes each one has to do less work. Plus the rim flexes less and the whole wheel ends up being stronger.
Mavic’s Open Pro rims are made in France and feature welded joints, double eyelets and a machined braking surface. Some sources, including Jobst Brandt and Grant Peterson argue that welded joints aren’t significantly better than pinned joints, and that a milled braking surface makes for a weaker rim, however both remain industry standards for high end rims. Brandt further postulates that silver rims are stronger than anodized rims, which bodes well for my purchase, though I’ve never had a black rim fail in over seven years of serious cycling. Some online reviews claim that Open Pro’s are prone to making strange noises and outright failure, but I’ve experienced neither. And consider that I’ve got a penchant for dropping off curbs, bunny hopping potholes and taking 25mm tires where they really don’t belong.
Shimano hubs buck convention in favor of sound mechanical engineering. What’s that? Most modern hubs use “sealed cartridge bearings” which are disposable instead of serviceable, and built to withstand strong radial forces, but not much more. Cup and cone bearings, which are featured in all Shimano hubs, are easily serviceable and angular contact by design. Angular contact bearings can withstand strong radial forces, as well as lateral forces. In real world riding conditions, angular contact bearings are superior at cornering and stronger in rough riding conditions. The only real downside to cup and cone bearings is that they require proper adjustment, but home mechanics like myself tend to enjoy the seasonal repacking of our bearings.
DT Swiss spokes and nipples are appropriately regarded as the best available. Though the present day company was formed in 1994, the “Drahtwerke Tréfileries” or “wireworks” originated in 1650. They’ve been making spokes and accessories since the 1940’s, which has given them plenty of time to perfect their unique manufacturing process. The Art of Wheelbuilding (which happens to be published by DT Swiss) describes the process in detail, but the important things are that their spokes are forged and cold-worked for greater strength, and the threads are rolled instead of cut, making them harder to strip.
Theoretically, double-butted spokes flex easier and as a result perform better and last longer. In practice, they’re mostly just lighter and more expensive. I could certainly have made do with lighter spokes and aluminum nipples instead of brass, but cost was a concern and brass nipples are more durable in every way.
After several months of commuting, these wheels have stayed true and roll smooth and fast. If anything changes, I’ll update this post. And if you’ve ridden these, or similar wheels, feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below.
Approximate weight and retail prices:
Shimano 105 FH5600 36-hole Rear Hub / $68 / 350g (+62g skewer)
Shimano 105 HB5600 36-hole Front Hub / $39 / 148g (+58g skewer)
DT Swiss Champion 14g Silver Spokes (36 per wheel) / $20 / 143g
DT Swiss Brass Nipples (36 per wheel) / $5 / 36g
Mavic Open Pro 36-hole Rim / $65 / 425g
Complete rear wheel / $158 / 1016g
Complete front wheel / $129 / 810g
Complete wheelset / $287 / 1826g