Campagnolo Bullet Ultra 50 Review
As part of his “Do-It-All” Bike Project, Josh turns to what is, for many the first and best upgrade you can make on your bike, the wheels. Here is his choice, the Campagnolo Bullet Ultra.
The decision to run a Campagnolo groupset on the “Do-It-All” project bike meant new wheels. What I ended up arriving at was the Campagnolo Bullet Ultra 50mm. Now, before I go any further, I want to take a moment and address that first line. I said something similar in my article about the Campagnolo Athena groupset that we used. It caused quite a stir in some discussion forums.
The truth is that there are cases where it’s not that cut and dry. If you have a set of wheels from a wheel maker that offers Campagnolo freehubs just switch out the freehub. In fact, in some cases, a really good way to go from a 10 speed Shimano drivetrain to an 11 speed drivetrain is to switch freehub bodies and run a Campagnolo groupset.
Sometimes it’s possible to convert a 10 speed wheel to 11 speed by using a Campagnolo freehub.
In this case, though, the CAAD9 6 build came with entry level Shimano wheels, and there isn’t a Campagnolo compatible freehub available. If you really wanted to use a set of wheels in a situation like that, it’s still not impossible. There are conversion cassettes you could run. They are compatible with a Campagnolo drivetrain but fit on a Shimano freehub body.
I simplified all of that conversation, though, by just saying you are going to need new wheels. I call that semantics, but not everyone agreed, and so I’m giving the longer explanation here. In this case, the wheels on the bike weren’t going to work.
How many times have you read that wheels are the one upgrade you should make on a bike? That they are the one thing that really helps performance? Wheels get called out a lot is because they can make a serious dent in both aerodynamics and weight. Not just incrementally, either. The right wheels can make a huge difference in both of those categories. Still, even though wheels put a check in both columns, you’ve got to decide which way you lean. And you’ve got to decide on the braking surface you want to live with.
Wheels are an opportunity to upgrade both aerodynamics and weight.
With all this in mind, the hunt was on. I ride a lot of hills. Not mountains, exactly, it’s tough to find really long climbs, but sometimes they can be as high as 20% grade. It sure would be nice to save every gram when I hit a short steep grade. The thing is, I don’t generally need to be my fastest up climbs. I actually race in a time trial series which has hill climbs as part of the series. Unfortunately, I’m so comparatively slow that no amount of gram shaving is going to make any appreciable difference. Plus, it’s the challenge of the hills that I enjoy. The pain of them, not the speeds I attain climbing them. I also hate descents.
On the other hand, what I love to do, my favorite type of cycling, is to tuck in on the drops and point my bike forward into the distance. My legs are going as hard as I can, and my heart rate is climbing, but I’m the calm center. I listen to my breathing and notice how my weight is distributed. I slowly make changes, and I keep pedalling. It’s yoga on a bike and it’s in these moments when I’m happiest.
This isn’t a time trial project bike, though. This is a “Do It All” project. Whatever wheels got put on it had to be able to handle riding across town pulling a little one in a trailer, climbing, and descending, with someone who probably does more braking than I should. With all of these things floating around in my head, I searched far and wide.
Tubulars are just not a viable everyday option.
I knew right away I wanted clinchers. Tubulars are great but I just don’t see the point in dealing with the hassle for wheels used all the time. I also hate having race day only gear. I like to race what I train with and tubulars were out. The wheels needed to have an aero focus while also being light enough to handle climbing and strong enough to handle everyday riding. I searched far and wide, but what I came back to was Campagnolo.
Running roughly $1600 the Bullet Ultra 50 is not a cheap wheel. They are a really fantastic value for what you get. Some competitors might include the Zipp 303, the Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40c, the Enve 4.5, and the Reynolds Assault SLG. The Zipp 303 is heavier for a lower profile rim and more expensive. The Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40c is about the same weight, but it’s a shallower wheel, and it’s more expensive. The Enve 4.5 is a beautiful wheelset that’s a bit lighter, but it’s close to double the price. The only wheel that really represents competition to the Bullet Ultra 50 is the Reynolds Assault SLG.
The Assault is a little bit lighter, 1475 grams vs 1590 grams for the Campagnolo, and is tubeless compatible. Campagnolo offers an extra year on their warranty at three years. The Campagnolo is a deeper rim at 50mm vs the 41mm Reynolds, but the Reynolds is wider at 25mm vs 20.5 for the Campagnolo Bullet Ultra 50. Many companies would tell you that it’s a better design to use a shallower, wider, rim profile. I don’t have a wind tunnel to compare the two. So you’ll have to decide which marketing rings as more true to you.
Ultimately, the differences between the Campagnolo Bullet Ultra 50mm and the Reynolds Assault SLG are not huge. For me, the winning feature for Campagnolo is the aluminum brake track on the Bullet Ultra 50. I’m writing this from Portland, Oregon where it rains 154 days of the year. I think that all of the reputable companies have managed to build a carbon clincher that’s not going to come apart from heat on a descent, but aluminum is still the best brake surface, and that’s especially true in the rain. Remember, this is the “Do It All” project bike, I’ve done hill repeats in the rain pulling a trailer with my boy in it. The last thing I want at a time like that is an issue with braking.
Aluminum brake tracts still beat even the best carbon in the rain.
I do also want to note that the Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 C50 is a very worthy competitor that I left off the list. You can find them for almost exactly the same price, they both have an aluminum brake track, and although the C50 is just a bit heavier at 1672 grams, it’s also just a bit wider. The reason I left it off the list is that, as I mentioned earlier, there isn’t a Campagnolo freehub available. It might be worth considering for you, though.
So how are they to actually ride? They are fantastic. They aren’t an ultra light climbing wheel with explosive acceleration, but they accelerate well and once they are up to speed, and I’m in my zen zone, that’s when the bike really comes alive. I’m not one to ride in gusty crosswinds a ton, but I’ve dealt with my share. These wheels do just fine. You can feel it, but when out with my team on a particularly gusty ride, there were quite a few people having real issues with their deep section wheels. I generally just put a bit of extra weight over the front, and they aren’t overly bothered by crosswinds.
The thing that really has surprised me about these wheels is how tough they are. You might think that a wheel like this doesn’t make sense on a bike getting used all the time, maybe they should be raceday wheels, but every time I’ve had something happen, I’ve been surprised to find a perfectly true wheel.
The first incident, I was doing over 20mph and decided I’d switch from the busy road to a bike path I saw next to the road. I came down a slight hill onto the bike path and immediately saw tree roots coming through the cement. There was no way I was going to be able to stop, and there was no time, or place, to change course. The front end made a sound that made me think I just shattered a wheel, and I immediately jumped off the bike expecting the worst. I checked every inch of the wheels, twice, and there was nothing wrong with them.
I’ve hit potholes in the rain and dark since, and I’ve had the same result every time. These are seriously tough wheels. I did break a spoke once, although not doing anything that would have logically led to a broken spoke, but when I stopped by the local wheel shop to get it fixed up, they returned it with compliments on what a well-built wheel it was.
In terms of the broken spoke, I will give one piece of advice, order the spokes ahead of time. They only come direct from Campagnolo, and they only come in a pack of eight which contains two of each spoke for the wheelset. It’s $30 for the pack which is expensive in terms of per spoke, but it’s hardly going to break the bank. What can be a challenge, however, is the time it takes to get them. Just order ahead of time, and you’ll be set in case there is ever an issue.
When I talked about the groupset, I laid it out in a very balanced way and gave deference to each option, but I ultimately made the case for why the Campagnolo option was the one I chose. In talking about the wheels, I feel like it’s a bit of a different situation. 40/50mm clincher wheels are a popular option in today’s market, and yet, Campagnolo has a product that is clearly better based on the specs.
They also, once again, cut against the preconceived notion that many people have about Campagnolo being expensive. They are actually a better deal than many of their competitors, and when you add in the undeniable style, I don’t see a better choice.
This is the most expensive piece of this project, but wheels are the kind of thing you can move to another frame if you decide to upgrade. They make a big difference in the feel of the bike, and they will actually make a bike faster. This is a place to spend money on a bike and Campagnolo makes some of the best.