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HED Ardennes RA Black: High-Performance Aluminum Hoops for Rim Brakes

HED Ardennes RA Black road bike wheels for rim brake lead image
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While disc brakes may be taking over road cycling, not everyone has given up on rim brakes, myself included. Whether for older rim brake frames or the small handful that are still being produced, rim brakes are still relevant and preferred by many riders who still aren’t convinced that disc brakes are the only way to slow down your road bike. 

That’s where the HED Ardennes RA Black wheelset comes in, which, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of aluminum rim-brake design, and among the best road wheelsets available, regardless of material. With high performance, stunning looks, and a great build, these wheels lack many of the compromises and shortcomings that I feel affect many carbon wheels that can be as much as double the price. 

A close-up look at the textured brake track on the HED Ardennes RA Black road bike wheels
A close look at the textured and anodized brake track on the HED Ardennes RA Black rims. (photo/Bennett Shane)

What sets these wheels apart from other rim brake models and perhaps the most striking feature of the Ardennes RA Black is its namesake – a textured surface with a permanent black coating that is machined and anodized into the brake track. Dubbed Turbine Braking Technology by HED, this patented textured surface aims to reduce both the distance required to stop, and the force required at the lever to do so. HED claims that in dry conditions, the Ardennes RA Black will stop up to 25% faster than other rim-brake wheels, and in wet conditions, a staggering 70% faster. 

For context, these figures represent testing performed against a full-carbon clincher with a carbon braking surface. Just like these stealthy full carbon wheels, HED’s Turbine brake track will remain black, creating a super stealthy look for your road bike. HED engineers did mention that routine riding in dirty and wet conditions may cause the anodization to slowly fade. Also, it’s important to run black brake pads, otherwise, the Turbine track will eventually match the color of the brake pad, as pad material is transferred during hard braking.

Specs and Build

The HED ARdennes RA Black wheels mounted on a steel Speedvagen road bike frame
The HED Ardennes RA Black wheels look undeniably stellar mounted up on my Speedvagen. Don’t worry, I swapped the red pads out for black ones before riding. (photo/Bennett Shane)

The Adrennes RA Black rims are made from aluminum and feature the aforementioned Turbine Braking Technology brake track. The rims have a 24.5mm depth and measure 21mm wide internally and 25mm wide externally. The hooked rims are tubeless-ready once sealed with the included rim tape. HED’s tire pressure chart shows values for tires between 23 and 32c, although we feel the 21mm width is better optimized for use with tires between 23 and 30c. Plus, narrower tires will make it easier to get through the brake calipers when needed.

Moving in from the rim, HED uses Sapim Bladed CX-Ray spokes, which are a benchmark spoke in the industry, renowned for their strength, low weight, and great aerodynamics, but most of all for their ride quality. The front wheel is radially laced using straight-pull spokes while the spokes on the rear wheel are 2-cross with traditional J-bend style, meaning replacements shouldn’t be too hard to source if the need arises. That said, I’ve been riding Ardennes for years, and have never had to true them, let alone replace a spoke. 

The front hub of the HED Ardennes RA Black wheels
HED uses their own hub on the Ardennes RA Black wheels. (photo/Bennett Shane)

HED uses their own hubs in the form of a HU216 front and Sonic 545 rear. The hubs use a super durable 5-pawl freehub body, 12mm axles for added stiffness, and high-quality sealed bearings in steel. Freewheeling sounds aggressive but refined and is useful for passing on the bike path, but not too loud for a conversation with your riding partner. They are available with either Shimano HG or SRAM XDR freehub bodies and are sold as a set for $1,300, or they can be purchased individually at $585 for the front and $715 for the rear. Our test pair weighed in at 1475 grams without tape and valves. All HED wheels are handbuilt in their factory in Minnesota. 

Review of the HED Ardennes RA Black

The HED Ardennes RA Black wheels mounted on a road bike
Looks aside, the HED Ardennes are an excellent set of aluminum road wheels with stopping power that rivals disc brake setups. (photo/Ben Guernsey)

Setting up tires tubeless on the Ardennes rim was a cinch, using a floor pump, with the valve core removed. HED provides tubeless tape in the wheel box to get the rim sealed airtight and offers high-quality tubeless valves separately on the HED website. The Ardennes rim is hooked, so it should work with any tubeless tires and retain compatibility with clincher tires that require an innertube. 

Stopping power is essential and one of the primary highlights of these wheels, but the Ardennes RA Black is just as focused on fun and performance. The ride quality of the Ardennes rim is top-shelf. The design and construction process is tailored to deliver a lively but comfortable feel, and the width of the Ardennes at the brake track means you’ll get the best grip, vibration damping, and aerodynamics, whatever tire volume you choose, from 23-30mm. I found that relative to other rims, I was able to run smaller tires and remain comfortable and confident at all times while enjoying the aero and weight-saving benefits of less rotating mass. 

Climbing on the HED Ardennes RA Black road bike wheels
With a respectable weight and a lively but comfortable feel, the ride quality of the Ardennes RA Black wheels is right up there with more expensive options. (photo/Ben Guernsey)

Compared to deep-section carbon rims, there is surprisingly little difference in how fast the bike feels when equipped with the HED Ardennes RA Black. Super discerning riders might notice a small fall-off in high-speed efficiency compared to a 40-50mm deep rim, but it’s fair to say that 60mm would be where the obvious differences can be felt. Of course, with a rim that deep, those efficiency gains come at the expense of comfort, cross-wind stability, maneuverability, and quick acceleration. So, for recreational riding and even many group rides and racing scenarios, the 24.5mm deep rim with a 23-28c tire is optimal. 

Out on the road, the power of Turbine Braking Technology was verified as a huge upgrade, easily surpassing the stopping power of any rim brake wheelset I’ve ever used, and offering competitive levels of power and modulation to hydraulic disc brake setups. The textured surface does produce an audible but pleasing whirring sound as the bike slows. It took a short time to get used to it and then I stopped noticing it at all. 

Descending on the HED Ardennes RA Black road bike wheels
HED’s Turbine Braking Technology gives the Ardennes RA Black wheels the best stopping power of any rim brake wheels I’ve used. (photo/Ben Guernsey)

As you may have guessed, the textured surface will accelerate the wear of brake pads. The good news is that no special pad is required for Turbine Braking Technology to work at its best and remain black. To preserve the black finish, however, it is critical to replace the brake pads when installing the HED Ardennes RA Black wheels on your bike. It’s also wise to routinely check your pads for harsh debris that has lodged itself in the compound and could scratch the black anodized coating over time. I also found that toe-ing in both pads prevented some vibration and a groaning sound which can be generated by the Turbine track when the pads are set up parallel to the brake surface.

While stopping confidently is nice, riding road bikes is about going fast and enjoying the ride. This is where not only the RA Black, but all HED Ardennes wheels truly shine. In my opinion, the ride quality, responsiveness, handling, and rough road comfort are unbeatable in an aluminum wheelset. Even if you are looking for a less expensive rim brake upgrade like the Ardennes RA Pro or an aluminum disc brake wheel upgrade like the Ardennes RA Performance, great value runs throughout the entire Ardennes wheel line. The Ardennes RA Black are not budget wheels, but when comparing their performance and rugged reliability against carbon wheels at double the cost, this high-quality aluminum wheelset becomes hard to resist. 

Climbing on the HED ARdennes RA Black wheels on a steel Speedvagen road bike frame
If you love rim brakes like I do, the HED Ardennes RA Black is a killer set of wheels that ride well and add a noticeable boost in stopping power. (photo/Ben Guernsey)

Who are the HED Ardennes RA Black for? Well, me, that’s who. And many other people I suspect, who have a rim brake bike that won’t be retired anytime soon. Save the rim brake! It’s impossible to ignore that these wheels are stylish. Black brake tracks look pro, stealthy, and refocus the eye on the frame of the bicycle, by helping the rims sink into the background a bit. It’s hard to imagine going back to a shiny brake track on my Speedvagen after looking at it dressed in these stunning rims for a few months. 

That said, my location in the Pacific Northwest makes stealthy carbon clincher rims a liability from a durability and safety standpoint. I’ve witnessed a few rims delaminate on steep descents, and it’s not something I ever want to experience. Neither is being unable to stop in time when the unexpected happens. Rarely does a technology tangibly improve road cycling these days. I would argue that most new tech nets no real benefit for 99.9% of riders, or even degrades the experience slightly. But, in my opinion, Turbine Braking is legit. It improves the performance of the tried and true rim brake system while also enhancing aesthetics. Packaged into what has long been a benchmark wheelset, I think the HED Ardennes RA Black is a winner.

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Rim Brake enjoyer
Rim Brake enjoyer
1 month ago

I’ll tell you what. I still don’t get why we where forced to move to these disc brakes for road. I liked the feel of the rim brakes, I raced them at a Cat 2 level and never had an issues with their performance or heat tolerance even on carbon clinchers and you know what? They just worked . Had to get replace of all my race wheels, trainer, car rack and stand for seemingly no benefit (aside the bike brand’s bottom line). I mean I guess the bleeding is easier than swapping cables and housings but I always find randomly you’ll get some really annoying noise that’ll pop up for seemingly no reason and ruin your ride and even when they work right they make annoying sounds when you’re using them. In comparison my Zipps sounded like a jet turbine spooling down when the pads hit the brake surface. I’m a Porsche master tech and now work predominantly with heavily modified air cooled Porsches so it’s not like I’m a noob to hydraulic braking. Think that stuff was just for noobs and triathletes who wanted to drag their brakes down every descent because they get scared above 30mph.

Bumscag
Bumscag
1 month ago

“…randomly you’ll get some really annoying noise that’ll pop up for seemingly no reason and ruin your ride…”

Yeah, I hate when a random noise completely ruins my ride too. Maybe you should just… not ride if you find it so challenging to enjoy?

Rim Brake enjoyer
Rim Brake enjoyer
1 month ago
Reply to  Bumscag

For an $8000 toy it’s pretty annoying to hear random dinging noises for 4 hours on a nice quiet early morning ride in the desert especially when those noises didn’t exist on any of my other rim brake bikes regardless of price. The only other comparable was poorly made press fit bottom brackets creaking which was also annoying.

Dave
Dave
1 month ago

Rolf Prima is the way to go for a really nice set of rim brake alloy or carbon. Love mine

bennett
bennett
1 month ago

I’m with you on most of this. You’ve got a great amount of perspective, being both a high-level bike racer and auto technician. I do think hydraulic disc offers better safety and more fun to a large group of riders. But, I feel these riders probably aren’t best served by a super-aggressive race frame, so why push disc brakes on those platforms?

I could list of all the reasons, but to summarize, I’ll just say that from the manufacturer’s perspective, road disc presented an opportunity to consolidate and streamline their operations, by eliminating all of the processes and tooling that accompanied rim brake technology. Since they were already staring down the barrel of gravel bikes (for which disc is absolutely essential) becoming far more popular than pure race bikes, it was an easy decision for them. This goes for not only bike/frame brands, but also for wheel and component brands, and so that divided manufacturing situation led to a lot of groupthink and incentive to conform.

I guess the good news is that some wheel companies are still holding out and offering rim brake wheels. Sadly, there will come a point (many years from now, I hope) when it’s prohibitively difficult to find cable-actuated brake levers, and that will greatly accelerate the disappearance of the rim brake. Then, through firmware changes and the exclusion of cable-brake actuation in generational updates to AXS and Di2, SRAM and Shimano will eventually phase them out completely.

At least with 12s Di2, you can still run rim brakes, or cable-actuated disc, I was very happy to see that.

Veganpotter
Veganpotter
1 month ago

I never had an issue with rim brakes either. I also never had an issue with carburetors. But things improve and I’m happy about that.

Rim Brake enjoyer
Rim Brake enjoyer
15 days ago
Reply to  Veganpotter

This isn’t carbs to fuel injection, the bicycle technology where that analogy would make sense is probably tubulars to high end race clinchers or 23mm to 28mm tires. This is more like the push from port fuel injected low compression naturally aspirated engines to direct injection higher compression forced induction engines for consumer cars that are often short tripped and prone to LSPI and fuel dilution. Or the move to CVTs or dual clutch transmissions for similar applications instead of more robust and serviceable torque converter automatics.

Michael Cloidt
Michael Cloidt
1 month ago

They sound like Campy Shamal Mille from a few years ago, incredible ride quality, performance, looks, and value.

Scoty
Scoty
1 month ago

Mavic had similar scaled braking surfaces many years ago.

Bumscag
Bumscag
1 month ago
Reply to  Scoty

Yeah, they called it ceramic and it claimed the exact same benefits. First I remember hearing about it was late 90s, IIRC

B Barber
B Barber
1 month ago
Reply to  Bumscag

The Mavic ceramic is different from the exalith which this mimics.
Either way love to grab a set of these

Evan
Evan
1 month ago
Reply to  B Barber

exalith had a hideous noise issue. The HED surface sounds great (like a turbine engine powering down).

bennett
bennett
1 month ago
Reply to  Evan

That’s a great simile. I might have to consult you on my next review when something makes a cool noise!

Scoty
Scoty
1 month ago
Reply to  Bumscag

Exalith is the ribbed machined braking surface. Ceramic coated rims of the late 90s were on flat braking surfaces including the USA made Bontrager rims.
With the correct pads, both systems work very well especially in the wet.

Veganpotter
Veganpotter
1 month ago
Reply to  Scoty

They didn’t work nearly as well as these do.

Alex
Alex
1 month ago

No Campagnolo 12 Speed cassette body available so these wheels are a waste of money. Good work HED.

wwm
wwm
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex

Just use a 12 speed cassette from S. I use a DA cassette without hesitation.

Bennett Shane
Bennett Shane
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex

You can get a Campag N3W freehub separately. Not ideal, but it reflects the reality that Campagnolo is super niche at this point.

George Vargas
George Vargas
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex

Not a waste of money. Think of it from HED’s perspective. HED doesn’t want to take the business risk of making 12 Campy wheels for an extremely small market and then get stuck with them or have to discount them to move them.

Rim Brake enjoyer
Rim Brake enjoyer
1 month ago
Reply to  George Vargas

They could make literally 12 Campagnolo compatible since that would be the whole of the Campagnolo market.

Bumscag
Bumscag
1 month ago

You should really tag this as sponsored content because, wow, fawning praise like this is surprisingly rare from actual humans writing objectively.

Bennett Shane
Bennett Shane
1 month ago
Reply to  Bumscag

Hi Bumscag, this is the real human who wrote the article. I get why you’re skeptical, but it’s not warranted in this case. They’re a special set of wheels that have no downsides if you ride a rim brake bike. HED didn’t pay us anything for this article. They were kind enough to provide two sets of test wheels and that’s it.

Evan
Evan
1 month ago
Reply to  Bennett Shane

Although I’ve moved on to discs for better or worse, the hed black rims were my favorite for years on rim brake bikes. I would disagree that they have no downsides: they do make switching between wheelsets more of a pain in the butt since they require a pad swap. But yeah, once they’re on the bike there’s no real performance downside.

Sevo
Sevo
1 month ago

Well of course you need to toe in the brake pads….thats first day at the bike shop knowledge.

bennett
bennett
1 month ago
Reply to  Sevo

Sevo, glad this is obvious to you, but most cyclists know less than nothing about bike maintenance. Ever notice how many people’s chains are squeaking like a nest of baby pigeons when you pass them on the road?

Eddie I.
Eddie I.
1 month ago
Reply to  Sevo

I’ve never had to toe in pads on any decent calliper brake, Ultegra, 105 or cheapy Tektro. CX cantilevers or cheap mini Vs perhaps (but not high end mini-Vs like CX 8.4 funnily enough).

In fact I’d consider it the only blemish on this positive review that they need toe-d in, my Fulcrum 3s with stock Ultegra pads and callipers brake silently in all conditions with no toe-in

Veganpotter
Veganpotter
1 month ago
Reply to  Eddie I.

I’ve had 2 sets of wheels with these rims and I never toed them in.

Normanzo
Normanzo
1 month ago

FYI for those who are shopping for hard-anodized alu wheels: Vision’s Trimax KB alloy wheels also feature this type of textured, hard anodized braking surface. I have a set of the Trimax 30 KB wheels ($900) and they perform very well –braking is noticeably more powerful than conventional alloy rims. Note the inner rim width are narrower for the Trimax 30 KB (19mm), and even narrower for the Trimax 25 KB (17mm). The Trimax 25 KB model is a little less expensive at $842.

Another option is are DT Swiss PR 1400 Dicut Oxic wheels ($1500) which have an 18mm inner width and are built with their 240 hubs.

Note: I’m quoting rim widths and prices from the respective manufacturer websites.

Normanzo
Normanzo
1 month ago
Reply to  Normanzo

p.s. And don’t forget that you can keep your speed up –and have a great, hard-ano braking surface, with Hed’s Jet Black wheels… several options for rim depth, from 46mm to 90mm, to accommodate your need for speed –and they even make their Jet rear disc wheel with the Turbine surface so you can outfit your TT rig for optimal aero and great braking.

agwolf
agwolf
1 month ago

I’m reluctant to buy another HED complete rear wheel after breaking several Sonic freehubs on their first-generation Ardennes SL’s while JRA. Has HED upgraded their freehub’s durability since then and why not switch to ratchet rear hubs?

Veganpotter
Veganpotter
1 month ago
Reply to  agwolf

Yeah, I cracked two of their front hubs. After that, I built every training wheelset with their rims and Hope hubs. I have them on racing wheels but they just don’t get beat up the same way

Scottss80
Scottss80
1 month ago

HED wheels with the CNC machine groves are the real deal. I have been running the Jet Black 5 (55mm) aero wheels for 4 years, the Jet Black series have since been replaced by the RC Black series, looks like a change in the carbon fairing shape. I use that set on my aero road bike. I believe they are the same Ardennes rims using a carbon fiber fairing. The wheels work great! The stopping power is great, with excellent modulation on slowing! With 21mm internal width, I can run lower tire pressure. HED also has a 90 psi limit on the Jet Black 5, but with Conti GP5000, 28mm tires, I don’t run even close to that. So it has a nice ride feel too.
.
Last November I did a ride in Oklahoma called the HOOT ride, had some climbing and some fun descents, I was on my light weight climbing bike using the OEM carbon fiber wheels. I did not enjoy the descending as much, using the brakes just as little as possible, but at certain points one has to used their brakes. Got home and saw my carbon fiber pads already showing signs of glazing. Something I have always seen on my carbon fiber rim brake wheels. So for the Christmas I bought the HED Black RC4 (46mm), for that bike and I am just as impressed! Yeah they are not cheap, but I would not run anything else when doing an endurance race or event! Well I do run the HED wheels all the time in the warmer “cycling” season. I train in the winter on a Tarmac SL4 with a couple of different typical alloy wheelsets, I can certainly tell the difference with how the brakes react compared to the HED wheels. So I get the look of carbon wheels with the HED’s without the issues of rim brake carbon fiber wheels.

I am not sure why a few of you have to be so negative with your comments, I guess some of you just wake up mad, looking for an argument? If you don’t like something just move on. These are probably the best rim brake wheels out there. Not the lightest, not the cheapest, but they are the best, in my opinion! When you get a chance to ride, have a great and safe one!

silca
silca
1 month ago

After owning a set of the HED jets with the turbine brake track I have to say I didn’t think they stop as well as a rim with a smooth aluminum track. Tried multiple sets of pads with the jets and got the best performance from a set of swiss stops but still wasn’t great. I have a set of the old ardennes rims with smooth tracks and they stopped much better.

Matt
Matt
1 month ago

Seems borderline fraudulent to only compare their stopping power to a fully carbon rim. Isn’t the expectation to compare like for like? How well do they stop compared to a benchmark aluminum rim such as the Mavic Open Pro?

George Vargas
George Vargas
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

HED compares their wheels to carbon wheels because when people think of upgrading their wheels they think carbon wheels. The brake will offer better braking performance than spending twice as much on carbon wheels. As a shop owner I offer these wheels an alternative to purchasing a disc brake bike when the consumer feels forced or thinks that disc brakes perform better.

Adam
1 month ago

I have a set of HED Jets with this brake track. The author is actually right- absolute game changer in terms of braking. The best I have every used. In the dry, they are reassuring. In the wet that ‘OMG why doesn’t my brake work’ feeling as you first yank on the anchors is reduced, not totally abrogated, but reduced enough to not matter. Massive upgrade.

But…..the HED engineers in this article understated the anodization coming off. I have had mine 3 years and used them over 3 Winters and the tracks are now very silver. They still work great (the anodization didn’t do too much for braking but lots for looks). I’d actually prefer if they made this track not anodized. It looks great when new/black, and would be acceptable as raw aluminium, but faded and warn anodization is a little lame-looking.

One weird thing to be aware of for the HED Jets (I have a 40ish and 60ish mm deep F/R pair) is the carbon fairing. They are essentially these Ardennes rims but with a deep faring. That’s cool and works great for aero (so I am told) but they really fill up with water when out riding in proper rain. A lot of water. No joke, I guess that each rim fills up with ~500 ml of water. They have two drain holes in each fairing and the water kinda comes out but it’ll take weeks to get it all out. Not that big of a deal, but when riding in a downpour if your two wheels gain 500g each (!!!) you kind of notice it when riding. The wheels aren’t the lightest when dry so when riding in the rain they sure get heavy.

774
774
1 month ago

 I would like to see it sold as a Belgium series with just the rim.
Why is it that neither HED, Mavic nor DT sell rims with black brake tracks?

Robo
Robo
1 month ago
Reply to  774

+1 on Black rimmed Belgiums. Unfortunately, the market seems to desire complete factory wheelsets, not custom builds. The irony is that the Ardennes is shown here on a custom Speedvagen.

Scooper
Scooper
1 month ago

I’ve ridden these in places they have no business going — rock gardens, fire roads — all over flagstaff. There’s been times I’ve had to get off the bike and check my teeth for chips before I checked the wheels. They are undoubtedly solid. And they’ll take a size 44 really well. Although I wouldn’t recommend doing what I did. They now have a dedicated 32c road tire and live on a Ritchey breakaway cross. One of my all time favorite wheelsets, hands down.

James Lumbert
James Lumbert
24 days ago

This is excellence in road cycling journalism….in a wheelset review no less! If communicating the intent is the end, then this article achieves its end. Well said Bennett! Now, anyone have $1,300 layin’ around?

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