High performance racing bicycle technology and technique
Wheels & tyres - Pro-Lite Bortola A21W Review
Thursday, August 20th, 2015

 

Pro-Lite Bortola A21W Review

 

Paul Horta-Hopkins

 

A review of the Pro-Lite Bortola A21W wheelset.

 

I took delivery of a set of Pro-Lite Bortola A21W wheels back in February of 2015 and have been riding them consistently ever since. I originally intended to use them as fast training wheels, but have grown to like them so much, that they have stayed on my bike for all kinds of riding.

 

The Pro-Lite Bortola A21W, fast, light and tough

The Pro-Lite Bortola A21W, fast, light and tough

 

Pro-Lite are a Taiwanese company that pride themselves on their hand-built wheels. They’ve been building by hand for over thirty years and pride themselves on their quality. I was brought up in the days when your ‘proper’ racing wheels had to be hand-built. Ready made, factory built wheels were looked down on. Fine for training, but you would never race on them. The pendulum has swung the other way in recent years and now we happily ride factory built wheels without batting an eye, indeed how many of us are actually aware of who, or what built our wheels?

 

So as you can imagine I was more than happy to try out Pro-Lite’s Bortola A21W wheels, which are previewed here. The other big attraction for me was that the A21Ws are a tubeless design and I have been keen to try out an actual tubeless ready wheelset, rather than the DIY bodges I have been using.

 

The Pro-Lite Bortola hub is based on the firm's Bracciano hubs and runs on Japanese EZO bearings

The Pro-Lite Bortola hub is based on the firm’s Bracciano hubs and runs on Japanese EZO bearings

 

With a 23mm wide rim the Bortolas are part of the wide rim revolution that has been sweeping the wheel world (is that a thing?). The idea is that a wider rim allows the tyre to take up a more rounded profile, which combined with lower pressures increases grip and allows for a more comfortable ride. The larger volume of air allows the tyre to soak up a lot of the little lumps and bumps in the road – think mini-suspension – this improves rolling resistance, always a good thing. There is also a claimed aero benefit from wider rims. The smoother transition between wider tyre and wider rim creates a smoother airflow over the wheel, all of this adds up to smoother and faster.

 

I ran the Bortolas with 23, 25 and 28mm tyres during my test period and found that I was running lower pressures – even with the 23mm – this did give a more comfortable ride. Switching back to some Ksyriums with 23mm tyres, I could feel the difference. Not massive, but it was there. Also with the Bortola’s wider rims I was able to run wide tyres like the Clement Strada LGG in a 28mm size without suffering the ‘flop over’ that you get when cornering on wide tyres mounted to traditional, narrow rims.

 

Normally I would equate comfortable with slow, but this wasn’t the case with the Pro-Lite Bortola A21W wheels. Tipping my scales at 1519g for both wheels without freewheel, the Bortolas are no cart horse. Quite the opposite and at a little over £300 they are definitely value for money. Push them hard and they spin up quickly and take corners without any worries. Sprinting hard they feel solid with no brake rub.

 

The Bortola uses straight pull, double butted aero spokes  for a lively feel

The Bortola uses straight pull, double butted aero spokes for a lively feel

 

With aluminium rims and Sandvik stainless steel, straight pull, double butted bladed spokes, the Pro-Lite Bortola A21W is a satisfyingly solid wheel. You really feel confident taking them down the bumpiest lane, or choosing a rougher line through a corner. One thing to watch out for on those bladed spokes though, is that they do have sharp edges, I even managed to lose some skin while washing them!

 

During my test period I ran them hard over all types of road and event. They tackled early season sportives, club runs, chain gangs and a couple of road races, as well as a bit of London commuting – a harsh test for man or wheel! At no time did I feel they were in any way inferior, or ‘just’ a training wheel.

 

The build quality is fantastic, spin them in your hands and the hubs are smooth, seeming to spin forever. The rims run as true today as when I first got them, despite having been ridden over some quite appalling road surfaces. I had wanted to try them out on the ‘cross bike, but didn’t manage to fit that in, if I do get a chance this winter then I’ll let you know how they handle the muck.

 

If you are going to run the Bortola's tubeless you'll need to add some rim tape to cover the spoke holes

If you are going to run the Bortola’s tubeless you’ll need to add some rim tape to cover the spoke holes

 

After running the Pro-Lite Bortola A21W as a regular clincher wheelset, I decided to try them tubeless. I’ve been running a DIY tubeless setup on my ‘cross bike this summer and was keen to see how a designed for purpose wheelset and tubeless specific tyre would work. The tyre I chose was the Schwalbe One, which we are currently testing. Fitting them to the Bortolas was fairly straight forward, they needed a little persuading with a tyre lever, but nothing too irksome.

 

With a layer of Stans yellow tape fitted and some Continental sealant inside, I was able to get them to inflate with a standard track pump first time, only for them to slowly deflate… I had been warned about the potential faff of tubeless, but after giving them a good shake and a spin, I left them overnight and when I came down the following day and re-inflated them they stayed up, success!

 

Over a week they would lose 10-20 psi, not a big deal, but worth keeping an eye on. The ride quality was similar to a standard clincher, but I had a lot more confidence tackling the rough, flint ridden centre strips of little country lanes. In one case on the Tour of Cambridgeshire I was happy to ride one of the few climbs up one of these middle strips, saving me from being boxed in. A handy tactical tool, not having to worry about race finishing punctures means you can tackle different lines.

 

One potential pitfall to watch out for when setting up tubeless rims, is when using tape make sure it goes on crease free. I didn’t get it perfect on my rear wheel and after a couple of months riding and always leaving it fully inflated – perhaps the problem – I noticed the rear was going soft. Checking the tyre there was no sign of a puncture, so after a lot of head scratching and swearing I removed the tyre and found that the tape had a big crease in it, which had, I guess over time and under constant pressure, finally split. The remedy was simple, remove and replace the rim tape.

 

So there you have it, the Pro-Lite Bortola A21W. They are light, fast, tough and available for the kind of wallet friendly price that will mean you won’t have to hide them from your significant other. Hand built by skilled workers in the Pro-Lite factory, you know you are getting a quality product, with over thirty years of wheel building experience. You can also order replacement parts from their on-line shop which makes finding specific items like axles easier. And if you are keen to try out the tubeless revolution they are a great wheel to start on, with the added benefit of wider rims to speed you on your way.

 

I can heartily recommend the Prol-Lite Bortola A21W wheelset if you’re looking for some fast training wheels, or if you want a set of quality do-it-all wheels, either way they won’t let you down. To get a feel of the level of care and attention to detail that goes into Pro-Lite’s products watch the video below, that shows the construction of one of their carbon wheels.

 

 

Pro-Lite

 

Pro-Lite on Wiggle

 

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