Tuesday, June 25, 2024
HomeCyclingHED Ardennes RA Black: High-Performance Aluminum Hoops for Rim Brakes

HED Ardennes RA Black: High-Performance Aluminum Hoops for Rim Brakes


While disc brakes may be taking over road cycling, not everyone has given up on rim brakes, myself included. Whether for older rim brake frames or the small handful that are still being produced, rim brakes are still relevant and preferred by many riders who still aren’t convinced that disc brakes are the only way to slow down your road bike. 

That’s where the HED Ardennes RA Black wheelset comes in, which, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of aluminum rim-brake design, and among the best road wheelsets available, regardless of material. With high performance, stunning looks, and a great build, these wheels lack many of the compromises and shortcomings that I feel affect many carbon wheels that can be as much as double the price. 

A close-up look at the textured brake track on the HED Ardennes RA Black road bike wheels
A close look at the textured and anodized brake track on the HED Ardennes RA Black rims. (photo/Bennett Shane)

What sets these wheels apart from other rim brake models and perhaps the most striking feature of the Ardennes RA Black is its namesake – a textured surface with a permanent black coating that is machined and anodized into the brake track. Dubbed Turbine Braking Technology by HED, this patented textured surface aims to reduce both the distance required to stop, and the force required at the lever to do so. HED claims that in dry conditions, the Ardennes RA Black will stop up to 25% faster than other rim-brake wheels, and in wet conditions, a staggering 70% faster. 

For context, these figures represent testing performed against a full-carbon clincher with a carbon braking surface. Just like these stealthy full carbon wheels, HED’s Turbine brake track will remain black, creating a super stealthy look for your road bike. HED engineers did mention that routine riding in dirty and wet conditions may cause the anodization to slowly fade. Also, it’s important to run black brake pads, otherwise, the Turbine track will eventually match the color of the brake pad, as pad material is transferred during hard braking.

Specs and Build

The HED ARdennes RA Black wheels mounted on a steel Speedvagen road bike frame
The HED Ardennes RA Black wheels look undeniably stellar mounted up on my Speedvagen. Don’t worry, I swapped the red pads out for black ones before riding. (photo/Bennett Shane)

The Adrennes RA Black rims are made from aluminum and feature the aforementioned Turbine Braking Technology brake track. The rims have a 24.5mm depth and measure 21mm wide internally and 25mm wide externally. The hooked rims are tubeless-ready once sealed with the included rim tape. HED’s tire pressure chart shows values for tires between 23 and 32c, although we feel the 21mm width is better optimized for use with tires between 23 and 30c. Plus, narrower tires will make it easier to get through the brake calipers when needed.

Moving in from the rim, HED uses Sapim Bladed CX-Ray spokes, which are a benchmark spoke in the industry, renowned for their strength, low weight, and great aerodynamics, but most of all for their ride quality. The front wheel is radially laced using straight-pull spokes while the spokes on the rear wheel are 2-cross with traditional J-bend style, meaning replacements shouldn’t be too hard to source if the need arises. That said, I’ve been riding Ardennes for years, and have never had to true them, let alone replace a spoke. 

The front hub of the HED Ardennes RA Black wheels
HED uses their own hub on the Ardennes RA Black wheels. (photo/Bennett Shane)

HED uses their own hubs in the form of a HU216 front and Sonic 545 rear. The hubs use a super durable 5-pawl freehub body, 12mm axles for added stiffness, and high-quality sealed bearings in steel. Freewheeling sounds aggressive but refined and is useful for passing on the bike path, but not too loud for a conversation with your riding partner. They are available with either Shimano HG or SRAM XDR freehub bodies and are sold as a set for $1,300, or they can be purchased individually at $585 for the front and $715 for the rear. Our test pair weighed in at 1475 grams without tape and valves. All HED wheels are handbuilt in their factory in Minnesota. 

Review of the HED Ardennes RA Black

The HED Ardennes RA Black wheels mounted on a road bike
Looks aside, the HED Ardennes are an excellent set of aluminum road wheels with stopping power that rivals disc brake setups. (photo/Ben Guernsey)

Setting up tires tubeless on the Ardennes rim was a cinch, using a floor pump, with the valve core removed. HED provides tubeless tape in the wheel box to get the rim sealed airtight and offers high-quality tubeless valves separately on the HED website. The Ardennes rim is hooked, so it should work with any tubeless tires and retain compatibility with clincher tires that require an innertube. 

Stopping power is essential and one of the primary highlights of these wheels, but the Ardennes RA Black is just as focused on fun and performance. The ride quality of the Ardennes rim is top-shelf. The design and construction process is tailored to deliver a lively but comfortable feel, and the width of the Ardennes at the brake track means you’ll get the best grip, vibration damping, and aerodynamics, whatever tire volume you choose, from 23-30mm. I found that relative to other rims, I was able to run smaller tires and remain comfortable and confident at all times while enjoying the aero and weight-saving benefits of less rotating mass. 

Climbing on the HED Ardennes RA Black road bike wheels
With a respectable weight and a lively but comfortable feel, the ride quality of the Ardennes RA Black wheels is right up there with more expensive options. (photo/Ben Guernsey)

Compared to deep-section carbon rims, there is surprisingly little difference in how fast the bike feels when equipped with the HED Ardennes RA Black. Super discerning riders might notice a small fall-off in high-speed efficiency compared to a 40-50mm deep rim, but it’s fair to say that 60mm would be where the obvious differences can be felt. Of course, with a rim that deep, those efficiency gains come at the expense of comfort, cross-wind stability, maneuverability, and quick acceleration. So, for recreational riding and even many group rides and racing scenarios, the 24.5mm deep rim with a 23-28c tire is optimal. 

Out on the road, the power of Turbine Braking Technology was verified as a huge upgrade, easily surpassing the stopping power of any rim brake wheelset I’ve ever used, and offering competitive levels of power and modulation to hydraulic disc brake setups. The textured surface does produce an audible but pleasing whirring sound as the bike slows. It took a short time to get used to it and then I stopped noticing it at all. 

Descending on the HED Ardennes RA Black road bike wheels
HED’s Turbine Braking Technology gives the Ardennes RA Black wheels the best stopping power of any rim brake wheels I’ve used. (photo/Ben Guernsey)

As you may have guessed, the textured surface will accelerate the wear of brake pads. The good news is that no special pad is required for Turbine Braking Technology to work at its best and remain black. To preserve the black finish, however, it is critical to replace the brake pads when installing the HED Ardennes RA Black wheels on your bike. It’s also wise to routinely check your pads for harsh debris that has lodged itself in the compound and could scratch the black anodized coating over time. I also found that toe-ing in both pads prevented some vibration and a groaning sound which can be generated by the Turbine track when the pads are set up parallel to the brake surface.

While stopping confidently is nice, riding road bikes is about going fast and enjoying the ride. This is where not only the RA Black, but all HED Ardennes wheels truly shine. In my opinion, the ride quality, responsiveness, handling, and rough road comfort are unbeatable in an aluminum wheelset. Even if you are looking for a less expensive rim brake upgrade like the Ardennes RA Pro or an aluminum disc brake wheel upgrade like the Ardennes RA Performance, great value runs throughout the entire Ardennes wheel line. The Ardennes RA Black are not budget wheels, but when comparing their performance and rugged reliability against carbon wheels at double the cost, this high-quality aluminum wheelset becomes hard to resist. 

Climbing on the HED ARdennes RA Black wheels on a steel Speedvagen road bike frame
If you love rim brakes like I do, the HED Ardennes RA Black is a killer set of wheels that ride well and add a noticeable boost in stopping power. (photo/Ben Guernsey)

Who are the HED Ardennes RA Black for? Well, me, that’s who. And many other people I suspect, who have a rim brake bike that won’t be retired anytime soon. Save the rim brake! It’s impossible to ignore that these wheels are stylish. Black brake tracks look pro, stealthy, and refocus the eye on the frame of the bicycle, by helping the rims sink into the background a bit. It’s hard to imagine going back to a shiny brake track on my Speedvagen after looking at it dressed in these stunning rims for a few months. 

That said, my location in the Pacific Northwest makes stealthy carbon clincher rims a liability from a durability and safety standpoint. I’ve witnessed a few rims delaminate on steep descents, and it’s not something I ever want to experience. Neither is being unable to stop in time when the unexpected happens. Rarely does a technology tangibly improve road cycling these days. I would argue that most new tech nets no real benefit for 99.9% of riders, or even degrades the experience slightly. But, in my opinion, Turbine Braking is legit. It improves the performance of the tried and true rim brake system while also enhancing aesthetics. Packaged into what has long been a benchmark wheelset, I think the HED Ardennes RA Black is a winner.

hedcycling.com

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