Wheel upgrades can be an indulgent customisation for your recently purchased bike or a necessity to revive your favourite steed for a few more years of service. One of the many wheel options open to you these days is tubeless compatibility. New for 2013, Shimano have brought a tubeless wheelset to the market the WH-RS61, an 11 speed tubeless option priced at $500-$550 a pair .Our prototype set turned up just in time to help out with the Maxxis tubeless tyres we also tested in this issue. Weighing in at 1070g for the rear and 759g for the front (1829g) without valves, puts the RS61’s in good company at this price point, especially considering the future proofing of 11 speed compatibility. Adjustable angular contact bearings inside the forged hubs make the wheels strong and durable. The solid outer rim profile also helps in overall strength of the rims and makes the tubeless tyres easy to seal, as opposed to rims that require tape to seal spoke holes inside the rim well, which can be a less reliable option and difficult to manage.
Built with 16 spokes on the front and 20 on the rear, the RS61 wheels are well finished; there are no sharp edges or burrs around spoke holes, the brake track is well machined, there’s no evidence of a joining seam and the paint and decal application is a very smooth job. One difficulty associated with development of wider cassettes—the 11 speed cassette is only marginally wider (2.8mm)—is that the rear wheel needs to be dished further off-centre. So to overcome this, Shimano has fitted an offset rim to allow a more even spoke tension and maintain strength and reliability.
Setting the wheels up was easy, all Shimano 11 speed wheels come with a spacer to convert the freehub to 10 speed if needed.
Mounting tubeless tyres is always a little harder as the added material around the bead, which helps them seal, also gets in the way when installing the tyre. Good quality, smooth plastic tyre levers and some patience are a necessity. If a tyre is damaged on the road and a tube must be installed, you can expect this process to slightly more difficult and also require extra care to ensure the tube is not pinched. A floor pump was all we used to seal the Maxxis tyres on the Shimano rims. Then, out riding we went.
Rolling along on new hotmix, the wheels have very little resistance and feel great. They are quiet, smooth and carry speed well. Climbing, there was very little flex to be felt and they carried speed into the lower section of the hills. By the top, the weight of the wheels was starting to become apparent but these wheels don’t claim to be a climber’s tool. Over the top of the hills the flowing descents became fun due to the combination of the solid wheelset and the added traction of tubeless tyres. The extra grip from running at lower than normal pressure was confidence inspiring, the sensation of higher speed a buzz.
There was initially some vibration felt through both the front and rear brake during very heavy braking. The vibration faded as the brakes bedded in so it was probably due to the new, clean braking surface and existing pads getting to know each other.
The RS61 wheels will suit a range of riders from entry level recreational bikes to Grand Fondo style endurance bikes where reliability was a key factor or even light touring with a set of 25c tubeless tyres running around that sweet spot just below 100psi. This would give the rider a sense of floating along rough country roads or even some dirt sections with style.
Tubeless wheels bring some valuable benefits, allowing you to run lower tyre pressures without increasing the risk of pinch flats. Lower pressure also increases traction and comfort and (theoretically at least) reduces rolling resistance. They’re definitely worth a look.