Every so often a product comes along that, perhaps inexplicably, you form some kind of bond with. I have found myself in this position with the latest HED Stinger 3 tubular wheels, kindly supplied by Dawson Sports Group here in Sydney. Allow me to explain…
When it comes to deep carbon rims, I’m not always a fan. I love ripping along a flat, fast section of road and feeling the speed boost that deep rims seem to offer, not to mention the sound they make. However, my regular riding is fairly lumpy so the extra weight often feels like a burden — even if only mentally — when the road tips upwards. Accompanying that, amongst coastal traffic with an on-shore wind, or on a mountain descent, crosswinds on deep rims give me the willies.
This leaves me with a tricky conundrum, though, as I’m a sucker for a bike that looks the goods. On most modern, compact-style frames that box gets ticked as soon as deeper rims are slipped into the dropouts. Deeper rims also tend to feel stronger and more robust — important peace of mind for a gravel diversion (planned or otherwise) or hitting an unsighted pothole when you’re on ‘the wrong side’ of 80kg.
The answer lies in compromise — namely, choosing a rim depth that maintains those devilish good looks backed up with that feeling of extra robustness; but without the crosswind impact or extra weight of a deeper set of rims. In the case of the HED Stinger 3 we’re talking 33mm.
Aesthetically, it helps that the HED Stinger 3s somehow look deeper than that — perhaps enhanced by their 26mm width and the blocky HED logo. Thankfully the latest version of these wheels now comes with that big logo in black (the previous iteration was sold with a big white logo); and that blackness is carried through to the spokes and hubs, both of which featured silver highlights on previous iterations of the Stinger S3.
Those black hubs aren’t just a new color either. The rear hub now uses HED’s updated ‘545’ design — so-called as it now carries 5 pawls with 45 ratchet teeth for a rapid and efficient pick-up. There’s certainly no sense of lag or excess of crank movement before those pawls engage; and the wheels feel spritely as soon as they’re set in motion.
The hubs look fantastic — the carbon center section of the front hub particularly. It helps that this carbon element pairs beautifully with the wide HED rims. These are finished to the highest standard, exhibiting a lovely satin sheen to the uni-directional carbon rim fairing and a glass-smooth finish to the carbon weave braking surface.
The rims on the HED Stinger 3s use external nipples. Whilst this might offend some aero-weenies, it is of particular benefit to this tubular setup, should the wheels ever need to be fine-tuned. This set hasn’t budged from its original build trueness, but it is reassuring to know there would be no need to remove and re-glue a tyre if they did ever need to be tweaked.
As for that glassy braking surface, it offered nothing but solid, dependable braking for the whole review period. Some pulsing and squealing occurred at times, but this was easily resolved with a wipe of the rim — a cleaning and maintenance task that should be done regularly anyway. For reference, no pads were supplied so the excellent Campagnolo/Fulcrum red pads for carbon wheels were used; and all testing was done in dry conditions.
The skewers HED supply have also benefitted from the update to an anodized black finish; and again, look all the better for it – not to mention now being better suited to more bikes. They’re a nicely crafted shape and are well-finished with no sharp edges, which is important for cranking them down without discomfort. They’re well shaped to undo easily even if they have been clamped down tightly, and I like the fact that they have made some consideration towards keeping them lightweight, but without going to unnecessary extremes in this regard.
Talking of light weight, the published weight of the HED Stinger 3s is 1189g. That is 1g lighter than the published weight of Mavic’s Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL tubular wheelset, although the HEDs are 8mm deeper and 3mm wider. That’s impressive; and puts the S3s firmly in the ‘climbing wheel’ ballpark despite their aero profile. At a circa $600 saving (AU$ at the time of writing) over the Mavics to boot, that’s hard to ignore.
The rest of the HED spec for the whole Stinger range is entirely up-to-scratch in terms of comparison to similar wheelsets. Like-for-like, the HEDs come in noticeably cheaper than equivalent spec wheels from big-name brands yet only slightly more expensive than equivalent spec from smaller brands. Given the heritage in the HED name and given that these wheels brought about the wide-rim revolution in the first place, that balance — for me — is where this wheelset perhaps makes the most sense.
So why have I formed such a bond with these wheels? I think, in essence, it’s a combination of everything being absolutely right with them and nothing — and I do mean nothing — is wrong.
Some might balk at the inability to choose your own hub, but the HED hubs are as good as any I have used. Some might consider them expensive compared to some of the alternatives on the market, but what has gone into these wheels actually makes them quite reasonable in that regard. Some might consider them ‘heavy’, but they are far from it for all but the most out-and-out Weight Weenie.
Some might call the skewers ugly and claim they don’t work as well as others, but they work perfectly well and look perfectly good. Some might argue that other rims or wheelsets are somehow ‘better’ for whatever reason; but, in my experience and in real-world use, no marginal gain from any wheels more expensive than these would be enough for me to warrant paying the extra.
These S3s are absolutely bang-on. Sure, there’s no fancy or unique shape, golf ball dimples or ‘latest & greatest’ hype attached to them, but there is nothing about them that gives me cause to complain either — and your wallet takes less of a knock for good measure. Light yet solid, good looking and dependable; and aerodynamic to round out the package. A true all-rounder for the rim brake road market. I’m a big fan.
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