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First Ride: Campagnolo Shamal Ultra wheels

Price: $1,401
Weight: 1,505 grams 2-way fit version; 1,495 grams clincher version
Rim depth: 26mm front/30mm rear
Spoke count: 16 front/21 rear
Overall score: 9/10

Yes, it’s a bit against the grain to release an aluminum race wheelset in the era of carbon everything, but Campagnolo does not offer up the Shamal Ultra race wheels as a compromise. They’re light at 1,505 grams (2-way fit version; more on that below), stiff, and feature a wider rim than previous iterations of the Shamal.

And after a 40-mile ride in the mountains of Gran Canaria, we can honestly say we really like them. To write the Shamal off as just another aluminum wheelset would be a mistake because Campy certainly made an alloy wheel that’s not just good — it is competitive with the best carbon race wheels out there.

For starters, Campy went wide. Well, wider, anyway, than the older version that had a 15mm internal width. The Shamal Ultras are designed to take full advantage of 25mm and 28mm tires, allowing riders to get a bigger contact patch and better traction, with a 17mm internal width (compare that to a 17.25mm inner width on Zipp’s 303 Firecrests, and 18.5mm on Enve’s SES 2.2 wheels). Narrower rims, combined with wide tires, lead to a lightbulb-shaped tire profile. A wider rim essentially balloons the tire outward for a more stable contact point with the pavement. It’s not the widest inner rim width we’ve encountered, but the wheel certainly feels wider than it is.

Speaking of faster-rolling: Campagnolo does something called Toroidal milling, which is a fancy way of saying it mills away excess material to reduce the peripheral weight of the rim, where it’s most logical to reduce weight, since rotational weight has perhaps the biggest effect on how much energy it takes the rider to get those wheels up to speed.

While we didn’t have the opportunity to send them to the lab, the Shamal Ultras felt quite stiff on the climbs — no brake rub, no flex on the steep pitches. That speaks volumes about the low-profile rims that don’t rely on rim depth for rigidity (the front rim is 26mm and the rear is 30mm deep). Instead, Campy employs its G3 spoke pattern — essentially three spokes grouped together to cut down on overall spoke count while providing strength where it’s needed. The rear wheel uses a Mega G3 pattern, which means there are more spokes on the drive side than on the non-drive side.

The hubs have carbon fiber bodies to cut down on weight, and both feature USB sealed bearings for smooth rolling. Campy has added an adjusting lock ring with micro-settings for easier bearing preload, a nice touch for the home mechanic. The rear hub has an oversize flange for increased stiffness.

And racers will find it hard to complain about an aluminum brake track after fighting with brake fade and inconsistent power on long descents with carbon rims. Campy’s new brake pad compound improves stopping power further, which shortens braking distance and certainly lent some confidence in the sharp switchbacks descending Gran Canaria’s intimidating mountains. (We also noted the great braking performance in a long-term test of Campagnolo’s Shamal Mille wheels.)

Now, about that 2-way Fit: The internal of the rim does not have any spoke holes, which means it’s sealed by design — no tubeless conversion kit to contend with, and no extra parts. That means you can run the rim with a regular clincher or a tubeless clincher pretty easily. Campagnolo offers a clincher-only (non-tubeless) version of the Shamal Ultra, which shaves about 10 grams off the overall wheelset.

The Shamal Ultras were stiff going up, stable coming down in tight switchbacks, and priced well for a racer who’s not ready to plunk down coin on top of the line carbon. For days in the mountains, the Shamal Ultras are worth it for the aluminum brake track alone (coupled with Campy’s new brake pads). The Italians aimed for the top of every category in race wheels, except for price. Campagnolo largely hit its mark.