I recently picked up a new wheelset, the Kotavelo R21HD. Kotavelo is a new brand on the Australian market, brought to us by Deon Attard who used to be the distributor for Prolite wheels in the region. The wheelset is positioned at the low to mid portions of the market with the set I’ve purchased (full price) coming in at $429 before shipping. Kotavelo’s intention is to spec wheels to the conditions of use, meeting requirements at a great bang to buck ratio. At the time of writing this review I’ve ridden roughly 2500km on them over the course of a month, through hours of rain.
- Wide rim
- Good braking surface
- Build quality
- Light for their build
- Smooth bearings
- Decals have flaked slightly at a couple of places, this issue was identified shortly after my early batch set shipped and has been rectified at the manufacturing stage. Other wheels from the batch are being inspected before being sent
- After some mucky rides I ended up with an occasional single tooth ratchet slip, mostly while track standing. Kotavelo was quick to offer advice on rectifying this. It was a simple 10-15m process after which I haven’t had any issues
The Wheel Build
The “HD” in “R21HD” stands for “Heavy Duty”. This is the overbuilt version of the R21, the R21 being a 20/24 spoke configuration and the 21HD 24/28. The claimed weights are 1380g and 1640g respectively. I’ve opted for the HD version as these will be used for training and a racing stint in Belgium, plus, I like to think I put a few watts through a wheel. I have nothing to gain in saving 250g in training at the loss of durability.
Spokes are 3.2mm, double butted stainless steel in an aero profile, in the aforementioned 24/28 configuration. The wheel was dead true out of the box and my audio based spoke tensiometer (finger flick and listen) says they’re at an even tension. The spokes are in the common radial front and 2 cross rear lacing pattern. These look reassuringly tough.
Rims are 21mm deep and of a familiar profile, akin to many other low profile modern alloys. The selling point here is the width. These 700c hoops have a 17.5mm inner width paired with a 23.2mm wide brake track. That inner width is in the same ball park as the outer width of many rims. This enables a better pairing with larger tyres, both in terms of aerodynamics and comfort. A 23mm tyre run on these rims will have a very smoothe transition from tyre to rim. 25mm tyres are a great medium, still mating well but providing a big fat contact patch and a greater volume of air. The upshot of this is ample grip, low rolling resistance and plenty of comfort. The braking surface is attractively machined. The welded seam is visually very tidy and imperceptible while braking.
The hubs are compact, but appear durable enough material in the flanges and a higher spoke count than many other race/training wheels on the market at the moment. The freehub has a very pleasant sound and looks to be precisely constructed. The bearings provided out of the box are incredibly smooth; I’ve not actually let the wheel spin until it stops, my attention span always finishes first. Accessing the bearings on the front wheel is incredibly easy and can be done in seconds by hand, simply pulling the end cap off. To access the freehub/rear bearings you’ll need two 5mm keys and a 10mm.
Skewers obviously aren’t the main event but the provided skewers look like they’re made of quality steel, have a smooth mechanism and clamp securely with little force. They’re a classic external cam design and are perfectly fit for purpose. Neither light nor heavy, just well made.
Road Tested – 2000km and onwards
I initially bought these wheels primarily for their width and affordability, intending to use them as training wheels on the time trial bike which has notoriously difficult to adjust brakes (allowing me to just swap between training and race wheels). I then transferred them to the road bike to see how they fared with some prime time use, with an eye to take them to Belgium for their apparent durability. I then extended this to race on 25mm tyres on a slippery course and have since just enjoyed riding them so they’ve stayed.
In comparison to the Mavic Cosmic Elites I’ve done a lot of riding on over the last year, they seem stiffer and more sure footed in hard turns. They’re lighter than the Mavics by a hundred grams or so despite the stronger build, heavier than my DT Swiss RR21 (not to be confused with this R21) by the same margin but I’ve not noticed any issues going uphill – on the contrary, I set a substantial PB up a steep climb into a headwind. So if they’re slowing me down at all, it’s imperceptible. There’s no brake or tyre rub out of the saddle unlike the Cosmics with the same 25mm GP 4000 S2 tyre.
Road feel is the big boon here. Between the higher spoke count with lower tension and the wide rim providing a plush tyre profile, these are the most comfortable wheels I’ve ridden, beating out a 36/36 spoke combo with 28c tyres on my single speed. Riding on 25c tyres, traction has been very reassuring though I’ve had some non-fatal tyre slippage at the rear while pedalling through greasy turns hard – that’s really just conditions and technique. Cornering aggressively, they’ve felt just right.
Durability will be an ongoing analysis. Thus far they’ve taken some racing, weather and serious training. I’m a middling weight, at 78kg but if I’m not shot for the boast; I’m a time trial specialist that puts a fair amount of power through wheels for extended durations. I’m not always great at dodging potholes and I bunny hop a lot. The wheels have held up to this and not alarmed me at any point. Table-topping speed bumps and roundabouts at speeds ~50km/h feels like they haven’t left the road, there’s no jarring sensation nor is there an excess of flex to make me fear for my life. As I’ve spent a good number of hours riding and thus braking in the rain, I’m impressed that I’ve yet to note any aluminium shed by the braking surface. Braking is sure and smooth, ample stopping power without shudder or perceptible vibrations.
The only issue I’ve encountered was an occasional one tooth slip of the freehub ratchet, mostly while track standing. I was recommended to regrease the freehub and Deon generously supplied a sample of SpeedX as much for his curiosity as mine to test performance. So far I haven’t had any more slippage and the lubricant seems to have distributed itself exceedingly well. I plan on inspecting again at some later point to see how it’s faring for debris and coverage.
Would I buy these again? Based on my experience thus far, without doubts. These represent an unparalleled value in this segment of the market. I’m contemplating consolidating my wheel collection and adding the standard (lighter) version of this wheel to my arsenal, likely to spend time on the TT rig, for use as spares and for races on the road bike.
Words from Deon
Part of my reason for purchase is Deon’s hands on approach to customer service. He’s active on a number of forums and freely provides pre/post sales support, promptly via Facebook, email and phone. With my earlier Prolites, he’d been helpful on at least 3 occasions. He answered a few of my questions before purchase and shipped promptly, arriving one week after purchase, well packed and with the cheapest suitable shipping option being identified by the company. For my own curiosity I sent him a few questions, he took the time to respond with more words than this article! I’ve done some editing here to include parts of his response but I’ll publish it in full separately, it makes for an interesting insight into the industry and something of a short biography.
Do you have any new models on the horizon, what niche are they for?
I am constantly researching new models, different components and assembly techniques. To me, there is always room for improvement. Nothing is ever perfect, I always want to make a faster, more durable, better priced product.
I’m a bit of a traditionalist and my personal taste is not for road disc brakes, especially in a mixed bunch of rim and disc brake bikes but it seems is probably inevitable that eventually everyone will be on disc brakes so I am developing some more road disc models. We won’t produce them yet because to achieve the price points we want, large quantities are involved but I’m getting them ready to go so I can pull the trigger and they’ll be here 4-5 months later.
What sort of testing did you do with the new range of wheels, I understand it was a protracted period before manufacturing and release?
The first set of samples [from the second supplier] were bang on. They’d passed testing on a wheel machine which is basically a drum with bumps on it and they place 80kg weights on top of the wheel axle, it moves to simulate riding and if the wheels pass the machine test without requiring truing it is an indication they’ll be okay. After that they were road tested by a few top riders in Taiwan who aren’t far of making pro tour type wattage. The roads are pretty bad in Taiwan and are always wet and hilly which makes it a great testing ground. The final testing however is always done here by myself and some of my trusted friends who race A, B & C Grade in Australia. None of them needed so much as a truing after several months of trashing. These wheels get mistreated, if I give someone a test set my instruction is simple “thrash them.”
What’s your background in wheels – you seem to know a fair bit about building?
Learning about wheels was never something I set out to do, it was born more from necessity than anything. My first road bike I went all out and spent months researching it and eventually settled on a custom made Titanium frame which came with some hand-built wheels that were supposed to be custom built for my weight.
The frame was fantastic and I still own it after having it repaired when I was hit by a car on my way to racing many years ago. The wheels however were terrible and needed truing nearly every ride. After a few $50 truing jobs at the bike shop I figured I should just buy a jig and learn how to fix them myself. Eventually I re-laced them a couple of times. That set of wheels was never right, I think the rim was too soft and eventually I junked them. Where I live is home of some of Australia’s worst roads, it is murder on wheels. Especially when you’re half asleep running into pot holes at 4am in the morning to catch the 5am bunchie, I was wearing out/breaking about 3 sets of wheels each year when I was racing and training seriously.
Eventually I started talking with and became friends with the owner of Pro-Lite. One day he rang me up from Taiwan to say there was a shipment of wheels at the wharf in Melbourne and he’d had a fall out with the distributor who was refusing to pay for them – could I find someone to take them for him? I made a few calls to people I knew in the industry and no one had heard of Pro-Lite and weren’t interested in touching them. About 3 hours later I called back and said I’d take them, 3 days later 120 wheelsets arrived. I figured I’d use them up eventually if I couldn’t sell them. I had no bike shop, no website, nothing at all and what was worse the courier stacked them 2 pallets high and damaged about half of the wheels in the shipment which I had to re-build myself. That cured me from ever wanting to regularly build my own wheels. I was satisfied that I could do it to a high level but I was slow at it and it just wasn’t good use of my time. The factory guys can bang out a hand built wheel in no time flat whereas it took me minimum two hours per set to build to the same level. The factory guys build so many and are so highly skilled that watching them work is like everything is happening in fast forward, it is actually really beautiful to watch them work, they are so highly skilled.
What goals do you have with the wheels and/or company?
I want to have the best value for money performance bicycle wheels on the market. I want to take the range I have now and keep tweaking to make it better as well as adding some more products in time.
I want to sell the wheels that people can use every day, the ones club racers and grand fondo riders use, the ones the coffee shop and social riders use every day. Products that give you real bang for your dollar if you know what I mean, they go fast, they are strong but you don’t need to hide the receipt from your wife, you can buy 2 sets if you want to, a shallow and a deep set without taking out a 2nd mortgage on the house.
Once we’ve got a few more shipments under our belt I’d like to replicate what I’ve done in Australia in New Zealand, Europe and USA