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303 Killer? Hed’s new Stinger 4 Flamme Rouge wheels reviewed

  • By Michael Robson
  • Published Aug. 8, 2011
  • Updated Aug. 8, 2011 at 4:24 PM EST

The rear hub sports nice touches like a reinforced freehub body spline and two-cross spokes both sides. Photo: Michael Robson

BOULDER, Colo. (VN) — You could be forgiven for thinking that Zipp started the wide-aero rim revolution but the reality is that cycling icon Steve Hed has been working on them since the late 80’s.

Hed’s research has been the driving force in wheel design since the 1989 introduction of the CX or ‘Jet’ style. These were the first wheels to incorporate bladed spokes, deep rims and aerodynamic toroidal shapes and was the predecessor of all the fastest and lightest wheels you see today.

In 1991 Hed was granted the patent for the toroidal and hybri-toroidal rim design that allows the tire to form the leading edge of a bulged or oval-shaped aerodynamic profile. Hed now shares this patent with Zipp. I rode two different sets of Stinger 4 wheels in both cyclocross and road races in the last nine months and have been thoroughly impressed with the experience.

At 1,338 grams the Stinger 4’s are heavier than their Zipp counterpart (1,198 grams when I tested them) but that might well be the only downside. The wheels are slicker than cow slobber and don’t so much slice through the wind, its more like the wind doesn’t even know they’re there. In one particular road race with howling crosswinds I found them to be amazingly stable and predictable and found myself coasting more than the other guys in our breakaway of four. The same race (the dreaded Mead-Roubaix near Boulder) was also 60 percent dirt roads with loose gravel and eyeball-rattling ruts. Glued up with the gorgeous new Vittoria Pave’ 27’s I put these puppies through the wringer and they performed flawlessly.

Hed Stinger 4 Flamme Rouge

MSRP: $2,100, w/QR skewers
Weight: 1,338 grams
Rim: 44mm carbon tubular
Spokes: Stainless bladed. 18 front straight-pull, 24 rear, J-bend. Exposed nipples.
The scoop: Carbon aero tubulars for road racing or cyclocross, excellent in gusty conditions. A bit heavier, but less expensive, than the comparable Zipp 303.
Web site: www.hedcycling.com/

Speaking in aerodynamic terms the rims, as usual, are where the magic happens. Hed has been working on its SCT (Stability Control Technology) since 2006 and by the 2011 model year the company had perfected the concept enough to give it a name. SCT is a proprietary process in which the width and shape of each rim profile is specifically tuned to aerodynamically match the rim depth. According to Hed’s research the Stinger 4, and the even-faster Stinger 6 rims show a steady reduction in drag up to a yaw (crosswind) angle of 12.5 degrees, which is powerful stuff considering how rare it is to actually ride into a perfectly straight headwind. This technology has produced a selection of rims that are fast, slippery and surprisingly stable. In the case of the Stinger 4, the 44mm deep rim section is 27mm wide at its widest point and right at 26mm at the edge of the rim bed. Hed has patents pending on the new designs and shapes.

But all this aero hooey is pretty much moot once you slap on a set of ‘cross knobbies and hit the dirt. The Stingers are more than capable off-piste though. The wide rim is tough and stiff and when coupled with 24 Sapim CX-ray spokes, two cross on both sides, the result is a very rigid rear wheel. Even when I did this (among other things) they stayed perfectly true. Acceleration and power transfer coming out of turns is positive and snappy. Hed’s Sonic hubs are simple and elegant. The front hub sports nice, wide-set(76mm) straight-pull spoke flanges, but the bearings are set slightly more inboard at a 70mm spacing, which could help to reduce bearing contamination.

The axle is a respectable 12mm in diameter and servicing is a snap with two 5mm allen wrenches. The rear hubs are equally well made and have nice little touches like a reinforced spline on the freehub body to prevent notching, titanium ratchet ring and a grease port. Yep, you heard right, a grease port. For ‘cross I think this is invaluable.

I can’t count how many cartridge bearings I’ve blown up, so the ability to shoot the hub full of grease and then wipe off the excess is bloody brilliant. And finally: these wheels ship with skewers. Pretty, well made titanium skewers that only weight 86 grams per pair. I have long wondered why wheels often don’t ship with skewers. They’re not an optional accessory, you need them to hold the wheels on, so they should come with the wheels. Once again two 5mm allens will get you pretty much all the way inside the rear hub for servicing the bearings and ratchet stystem.

I don’t know why more people aren’t buying these wheels, they are on par in many ways with 303s but cost around $200 less. They are tough, fast, stiff and reasonably light as well as being serviceable. I feel like the Stinger 4‘s are more ‘cross-proof than 303‘s and should stand up to the rigors of cyclocross much better. Hed wheels are everywhere in the pro peloton and many pros and pro teams will forego official wheel sponsorship to ride Heds or ride them with the stickers removed. A new set of 2011 Stinger 4 Flamme Rouge will set you back about $2,100. Includes valve extenders and titanium skewers.

Editor’s note: Australian native Michael Robson grew up racing dirt bikes and flat-track and in his teens progressed to BMX. He first came to race in the U.S. in the early nineties and ended up in Europe as a workaday roadie. Now a professional photographer and rabid cyclocrosser, Robson is reliving his youth ripping it up in master’s ‘cross, making great photos for a living and testing gear for VeloNews.

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