With prices of bikes and components continually skyrocketing, a big upgrade like wheels can be beyond most riders' budgets. Using a direct-to-consumer approach, Elitewheels has managed to buck the trend and produce a high spec wheelset for half the price of comparable wheels. The Drive 50Ds deliver all that they promise. A fast and responsive lightweight wheelset which is stable in cross-winds and reactive on climbs. With performance like this you wonder why anyone will be spending twice the money (or more) on wheels from a more well-known brand.
Lightweight - 1300g for set
Fast and stable
Direct shipping takes a few weeks
Current lack of worldwide dealers and service centres
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Changing wheels is usually one of the best ways to upgrade your bike. Often bikes come with wheels that are relatively lower spec than the frame / bike itself, in order to meet a price point.
A wheel upgrade can give you loads of benefits like less weight, more stiffness, better aerodynamics, less rolling resistance and being more comfortable. But the best road bike wheels don’t come cheap - or do they...?
Elitewheels is a small, direct to consumer brand based in China. Elitewheels design, manufacture and distribute their own wheels for a fraction of what bigger and better known brands do. And whilst $1,200 / £990 for the Drive 50D wheels is still a lot of money, equivalent wheelsets we’ve found cost more than twice that amount which makes them a bargain in comparison.
Elitewheels Drive 50D: Construction
The Drive 50D are Elitewheel’s carbon road disc brake wheels with a 50mm deep rim. Drives also come with a 65 or 40mm deep rim and there’s a rim brake version too. Wheels are built to order which is usually a five day turn around and then they’re shipped to you direct from the factory which can take a few weeks. Shipping is included in the overall price.
As pretty much all carbon rims, the Drives are constructed from UNI carbon fibre (non-woven, parallel fibres) to be both lightweight and strong. The 50mm deep rim profile has been developed to be both aero but also stable in windy conditions. The rim has a 21mm inner and 28mm (we measured them at 29mm) outer width with hookless beads means they’re tubeless compatible. The internal rim width will allow you to run a 25-38c tyre. Rims come tapped and with tubeless valves installed.
Both the hubs and freehubs are Elitewheel’s own design and build. Hubs are machined from aluminium and designed to increase lateral stiffness of the wheel. If nothing else, aesthetically the hubs are really beautiful things. Inside the hub are S&S mixed ceramic bearings. Our hubs came with centre lock disc mounts but six bolt versions are also available.
The freewheel uses a four-pawl system with a 36 tooth ratchet giving 72 points of engagement, more than plenty for a road wheel. There are Shimano/SRAM 10-12 sp, SRAM XDR and Campagnolo hub options.
Tying the hubs and rims together are Elitewheel’s own carbon aero bladed spokes (in a 2:1 pattern), something usually only found on much more expensive wheels. Carbon spokes not only offer much greater stiffness than steel ones, they also don’t deform over time so your wheel is much less likely to run from true.
And, unlike moulded carbon spokes which mean you have to have your whole wheel repaired or replaced if one snaps, these can easily be replaced using one of the spares that come with the wheels.
Finally, weight; including rim tape and tubeless valves they weighed in at 1310g on our scales. This makes them lighter than many other wheels with the same depth rim.
Elitewheels Drive 50D: The ride
Before the riding bit comes the tyre fitting. I mainly ran these with 28c tyres and both Schwalbe Durano and Bontrager R3s fitted nicely (the Schwalbe needed a bit more oomph behind the tyre lever to get over the bead). I couldn’t get the tyre to seat with a track pump only but they inflated easily using my small DIY tubeless inflator (a reclaimed fire extinguisher). Once the tyres were fitted they’ve not leaked any air in over a month of use.
There’s a chart which recommends tyre pressure according to rider weight and tyre size which is a useful place to start if you’re not familiar with riding tubeless tyres. I didn’t ride these wheels with standard clincher tyres and inner tubes but that’s always an option if you don’t want to go tubeless.
Once out on the road the Drives provided everything I could wish for from a 50mm rim. They were quick to accelerate and once up to speed, rolled brilliantly. Given I’ve tested these wheels over the late autumn / early winter, my form was never in a position to push some PBs but I’ve consistently ridden at around 2mph faster than my usual off-season bimble speed.
Whilst many wouldn’t dream of climbing on a 50mm rim, I haven’t found them at all laboursome. In fact, I’ve (reasonably) comfortably been able to scale climbs on my 1x set up that I normally leave for my 2x bike. I suspect the quick acceleration and overall low weight of the Drives offsets any disadvantage of the wider / heavier rim in comparison to my usual 35mm rim wheels.
Without a wind tunnel it’s hard to quantify how well these wheels perform compared to others in terms of their aerodynamics and in side winds. On the second point I’ve been really amazed by the fact I haven’t noticed any buffeting when riding in some quite strong and blustery conditions, including sudden side winds on open sections like high road bridges. I certainly don’t feel the need to swap them off on a windy day or for an exposed route.
Given their stiffness I haven’t found the Drive 50Ds at all twitchy. In fact, they’ve felt really stable and trustworthy. A lot of this has to do with the ability to run a wider tubeless tyre which gives an incredible amount of grip and a hugely confident feel.
Finally, a very quick point on servicing. One disadvantage on buying Elitewheels is the lack of worldwide distributors and service centres should you need spares or a service (Elitewheels are expanding this provision across Europe and the US in the next year). However, the hubs and freehubs are easily serviceable with online videos to support the home mechanic or your chosen professional.
The wheels come with four spare spokes and you can buy replacements, as well as other parts such as freehubs, if you change your drivetrain brand, direct from Elitewheel’s extremely helpful customer services. Should you need to fix a broken spoke it’s recommended you take to an experienced wheel builder to ensure all is properly tensioned (albeit they’re straight pull spokes which makes rebuilding easier). There’s also a three year warranty on the rim, spokes, nipples and hubs should you have any problems.
Elitewheels Drive 50D: Value and conclusion
In terms of value for money, similarly specced wheels from other brands don’t even get close. A set of Rapide CLX 11s (51mm deep carbon rim, 21mm internal, ceramic bearings, non-carbon spokes) from market leaders Roval will set you back $2,800 / £2,500. The popular British brand Hunt’s 48 Limitless UD Carbon wheelset complete with ceramic bearings and carbon spokes (48mm carbon rim, 22.5mm internal) will cost you £1,800, almost double the price of the Drive wheelset. The Drive 50Ds are also around 200g lighter than each of these competitors.
The Elitewheels 50D have performed outstandingly and have given everything I could have hoped for from a 50mm carbon wheel. Amazingly they retail for half the money (or better) of other wheels in this bracket which really makes them hard to ignore. The only real downside is you will need to wait for a few weeks for your shiny new wheels to be built and shipped from Elitewheels.
Elitewheels Drive 50D: Specs
- Tire Compatibility Clincher/ Tubeless
- Rim Depth 50mm UNI carbon
- Inner Width 21mm
- Outer Width 28mm
- Front Hub Spacing 12x100mm / QR x 100mm
- Rear Hub Spacing 12x142mm / QR x 135mm
- Spoke Type Carbon cs-01
- Nipple Type Alloy Secure Lock
- Bearings S&S Ceramic
- Brake Compatibility Disc (Centre Lock or 6-bolt), rim brake version also available
- Weight (Pair) 1300±30g
- Rider Weight Limit 285lbs/130kg
- Recommended Tire Sizes 700 x 25-38C
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