What goes up must come down, so goes the saying. You climb your favorite hill, you usually come back down the same way you went up. Climbing wheels need to be light enough to give you wings on the ascent without turning into noodles on the way down; they've got to remain a solid, dependable platform that holds together, with guarantees of good braking and reliable handling on high speed corners. Carbon bicycle rims have become more reliable in terms of overheating issues but I still deal with the increasingly rare circumstance where a customer has cooked the rim on a long descent. Sometimes it's due to poor braking etiquette (the rider has dragged the brake for the last ten miles, for instance) and sometimes it's a manufacturing defect that the maker will own up to. Whatever the case, there are well-known gran fondo events where the organizers strongly "encourage" riders to leave the carbon at home and ride metal owing to the relatively safer nature of alloy rims on descents. So, where does this leave those riders who want lightweight climbing wheels? Carbon is always lighter, isn't it? Usually, but not always.
It gives me pleasure to share my enthusiasm for Astral Cycling's Solstice rim; a wonderful 405 gram (yes, you read that right) 22mm deep rim with an acceptably wide 19.5mm internal width. Most wheel builders can name three or four companies who rolled out terrific looking sub 420 gram rims that were quickly returned to the drawing board when they started cracking a few months down the line; however, this isn't some featherweight alloy rim that skimped on the design to save weight.
How can Astral Cycling make a 405 gram rim that doesn't blow through the spoke holes? It's a shallow rim; that saves weight, obviously, but one area where weight ISN'T removed is the spoke bed. Astral Cycling is the sister company to Rolf Prima, famous for their paired spoke wheel design; they are under the same roof in Oregon. Paired spoke designs exert greater stress on a rim because two spokes exert tension at essentially the same point on the rim; if your spoke bed is not sufficiently strong, you'll have warranty headaches up the wazoo with spokes pulling through. Rolf wheels don't have these problems because of a sufficiently robust spoke bed. Now, here's the great thing; The Rolf Elan (paired spoke) rim is called the Astral Solstice when it's drilled with equidistant spoke holes. In other words, it's the same rim. That identical spoke bed thickness in Rolf's Elan rim delivers enhanced durability in the Solstice's traditional wheel/spoke drilling.
I assembled a pair of Solstice rims onto Bitex's excellent 300 gram RAF/RAR12 road hubs, 24 hole front, 28 hole rear using Wheelsmith's 14 gauge double butted spokes and 7000 series alloy nipples. The front wheel came out at 665 grams;
The rear wheel was pretty light, too; 814 grams.
If the wheel had a 20/24 spoke count it would be down at around 1,435 grams. Build it with DT Aerolites and you'll be under the 1,400 gram mark (probably around 1,390 grams). This is a 1,479 gram hand built wheel set that I can supply for a touch over 700 bucks, or a little over 800 bucks if DT Aerolites are the spoke of choice. Bottom line, you don't need to spend two grand to get a lightweight climbing wheel that's also a descending wheel. Imagine that!