Product review: Campagnolo Bora WTO 45 vs. DT Swiss PRC 1400 Spline

 

2019 Roadie Carbon Wheelsets

Fast comparison of two high-end wheelsets costing c.£1,700 each

You can make out the reverse curlicue pattern on the Campag rims. Its effective but makes the incoming-missile sound when you brake.

You can make out the reverse curlicue pattern on the Campag rims. Its effective but makes the incoming-missile sound when you brake.

This wheelset comparison begins with my purchase in late 2018 of Canyon’s Ultimate CF SLX, their UCI weight-busting, 6.5kg road bike. I bought it to directly replace the same model from 2009. Two major differences (both counting as progress, but read on) registered upon receipt of the bike: the very fast, very bargainful inclusion of the PRC 1400 Spline wheelset from DT Swiss; and Canyon’s carbon cockpit, about which more below.

Progress is a tricky thing in cycling. I’m a long-time decrier of disc brakes on road bikes but even I had to admit that the carbon rim-braking of the Splines was poor, even in comparison with previous experiences.

Let’s not beat about the bush. The Splines are acceptable in the dry, now they’re worn in and with Canyon’s supplied Swiss Stop Black Prince pads. ‘Acceptable’ means worse than an equivalent alloy brake-track but not disastrously. Initial bite is poor. As the rim heats up the braking rapidly gets better and the pads dig in. In the wet? Well, that’s another story. The first day I went training out of London on a wet Sunday morning in December, I had to brake sharply when a car cut across my lane slowing to a red light. Upon a sharp pull nothing; a sensation of panic, followed by belated overkill and instant locking-up of the rear tyre. The wet accentuates the dry weather pattern of hesitancy followed by too much.

Asking my Campagnolo trade contact what he thought, knowing that he was a fan of purist, rim-brake aesthetics, and his reply was a long, detailed explanation of how Campagnolo has gone to extreme efforts to engineer the lay-up of their carbon fibre in the brake track. Basically, the ends of each filament stick out to the brake track at right angles, atop of it a series of reverse-curl groovings that you can see if you study the rim in good light. Plus, he said with emphasis, you MUST fit the right brake pads, code number ‘BR-BO500X.’

So naturally I started with the wrong brake pads, just to test the Campag brake-track in isolation. It is superior to the Splines. Under braking, the Campy rims have a chalkier, more textured brake feel with better friction properties and modulation.

I then fitted the bright red BR-BO500X brake pads which adds another level at the expense of an incoming-missile swooshy noise when you brake.

See what I meant about progress? It all depends on what you mean, and perhaps more importantly, what it means to you.

In a few years rim brakes are going to be 5-10% of the market place for high-end road bikes, and the likes of Canyon and Specialized will have ditched them to bolster margins. Colnago and Condor will keep going with some rim-brake models and you’ll pay a premium for those purist aesthetics, even as right now the rim brake models are falling into the bargain bin.

A few more observations about the relative merits of each wheelset. The Campags came in wheelbags giving off such extreme volatile organic compounds that I was warned not to unzip them at home. An absurdly cheap touch for such a high-end product. I also thought the skewers were functional rather than lovely, and no comparison for the DT Swiss skewers which have a ratchet detached from the lever position, so that you can always place the external tab in exactly the right position, separately from tightening the mechanism. No hesitation there in preferring the DT Swiss innovation.

But the Campags fight back with a lustrous, dark carbon fibre finish that emits a gleam when you ride, in my case noticeably lifting the matte black of the Canyon. I never tired of it. By contrast the Splines are deliberately yet more matte black, and I’m a bit done with matte black. I’m not an understudy for Teutonic fashion and nor should you be.

At the business end of the wheelset, the hubs, I am not equipped to judge: in both cases extraordinarily high-quality hub/bearing set-ups, and sensation of effortless speed unbowed by side-winds. Campag deploys its tried and tested hybrid ceramic set-up and they feel and go very well. The Swissers are reckoned by my wheel builder friend David Hunt (DCRWheels.co.uk) to be some of the best money can buy.

Pricewise, the Italians charge a bit more, as usual: £1,700 versus DT’s £1,600, but the internet might deliver.

My verdict is unequivocal: Campagnolo win for superior braking and the lustrous finish, which is to say, this sort of purchase has to have a dimension that is emotional, but equally and also, safety is paramount. Everything else is subjective. Both wheelsets are very fast and very desirable, and both are tubeless ready.

I was going to finish with a comment about Canyon’s carbon cockpit. If progress is measured as stiffness, it’s extremely progressive. But it gives me numb hands. I have half-solved this by fitting Continental 5000 TL (tubeless) tyres, running 65psi at the front and 80psi at the back.

This is, in case you hadn’t noticed, capitalism at its finest. It answers questions you hadn’t previously asked, which provoke others that are unavoidable. At the end of it all, your wallet is lighter by more than you had expected.

 

Red brake blocks add a dash of welcome colour amod

Red brake blocks add a dash of welcome colour amod

The Campagnolo wheels came in very budget wheelbags - more plastic waste that should have been avoided.

The Campagnolo wheels came in very budget wheelbags - more plastic waste that should have been avoided.

Enigma Ethos did the pick-up work, courtesy of CONDOR London, who are thanked for their help in this feature.

Enigma Ethos did the pick-up work, courtesy of CONDOR London, who are thanked for their help in this feature.