CC 56 Carbon Clinchers
CC 56 Carbon Clinchers
Tech & Specs
Spokes (both sets): Sapim CX-Ray, 20F – radial laced/ 24R – radial laced drive, 2-cross non-drive
Hub: Alto (make in USA)
Freewheel: SRAM/Shimano 10/11
Inside Width: A26: 18mm; CC56: 16.9mm
Brake Track Width: A26: 24mm; CC56: 25mm
Widest Section: CC56: 27.25mm
A Quick Background on Alto Cycling
At Interbike last fall, I was fortunate to get to the Outdoor Demo. It’s a big scene outside Las Vegas in Boulder City – lots of sand and bikes in the Nevada desert. Vendors set up tents small and large around the mountain bike park area, and it was there
that I came across Alto Cycling. I almost walked past their tent but happened to catch the eye of one of the guys working the booth. He turned out to be Bobby Sweeting, the CEO, and alongside him was the CTO, Shawn Gravois. Together they comprise almost
the entire company.
They lured me in by having me hold one of their wheels by the axle end caps and then spin it. The result was something I’ve not encountered before – after rotating the wheel with a gentle start it will continue to spin, and spin, and spin. Frankly, it
feels like like the wheel rotation will outlast your possible attention span. I know perpetual motion is theoretically impossible; however, it feels like Alto might be close to it with this party trick. I was intrigued and decided to find out more.
The magic begins in the hub. Alto Cycling (a recent lawsuit necessitated a name change from Alto Velo) went through to two other manufacturers before finding one that could get to the tolerances they required for the hubs – 50 millionth of a millimeter
in its bearing tolerances, so precise that it can only be measured by lasers.
The company also pays a similar attention to detail with the seals, using a labyrinth design that claims to keep out dust and dirt. As a result, they do not feel the need to use plastic dust shields that could cause friction. The seal tolerance is 5 thousandths
of a millimeter.
The other unique aspect is what Alto calls “R-Symmetric design.” Realizing there is an issue with the imbalance caused by the need to accommodate for drivetrain spacing, Alto uses a much larger than usual 109.7mm drive side flange (see photo). The effect of this is to extend out the spoke angle and therefore better equalize spoke tensions between drive and non-drive
sides. The claim is that this will remove deflection from the wheel and prevent brake rub even under the hardest effort.
Completing the picture is a one-piece axle design machined out of 7075 aluminum. The one-piece design and material choice is done to eliminate any bending and therefore reduce bearing wear.
It all sounds good, but what does it mean on the road?
It all adds up to zero deflection when you stand on the pedals. There is no brake pad rub even under the heaviest load. I first tested this when I was at Interbike’s Outdoor Demo. I had already ridden a couple of very nice bikes, high-end carbon wonder
bikes with suitably high-end wheels, when I came across Alto Cycling.
They had a bike available in my size equipped with their 56mm carbon clincher wheels, which I took out for a spin on the same roads I’d already ridden. The difference over the other bikes I’d ridden that day was slight but noticeable. There was no wasted
effort through flex in the wheel. Instead, the power felt like it was all being transferred into the road.
Listening to Alto Cycling’s Sweeting and Gravois talk, it’s clear that they believe they have a unique design that they are clearly excited to share. Their enthusiasm is obvious when speaking about the engineering challenges they had to overcome and the
tolerances they are able to achieve.
The engineering and design wouldn’t mean much if they couldn’t deliver on the real question. To me, there is just one measure for the wheels, which is, “Am I in front of my buddies at the top of the hill / crossing the sprint line, or am I behind?” If
you’re riding these wheels and you are behind, you can take the wheels off your list as one of the possible excuses. (Not to worry, though: I have plenty of other excuses still available if you’d like the complete list).
I purchased a pair of the 56mm carbon wheels from Alto, which I’ve been riding for five months, and I was fortunate enough to spend a month reviewing their alloy wheels. For the rest of this review, I will aim to highlight the differences between them.
In order to not bury the lead, both wheelsets turned out to be outstanding.
Alto A26 Alloy
Let’s start with the Alto A26 alloy wheels. It is clear from the first time you pull them out of the box that the build quality is solid, arriving correctly trued and remaining that way for the entire review period. I had these wheels on my bike for one month and approximately 500 miles of riding.
Setting out on the wheels for the first ride the impression I had from the quick test ride at the Interbike Outdoor Demo returned. This meant that I felt I was able to kick down hard and maximize the effort and feel comfortable that the wheel would track
in a very predictable fashion around the corners.
Strong and reliable
During the review period one of the more memorable rides was the local “Tour de Chapel Hills,” a wintertime ride that rolls gently between climbs and then becomes an all-in interval workout up each hill. The climbs are short and and the effort is near
100%. It’s a good test of the wheels since any flex would be noticed as wasted power. This never was the case. Performance was flawless on the ride, and for the entire duration of the review.
The wheels felt rock-solid on the descents, best evidenced on the same short and often technical hills. The feeling was very assured when the road tipped south and around corners at higher speeds. Braking always induced confidence, even when wet.
Why these wheels and not the carbon version?
The key difference between the alloy and carbon wheels is the aerodynamic advantage of the carbon clinchers. It’s the reason why you might want to consider the carbon option. However, these wheels are a great choice for everyday riding and compare favorably
against comparably priced competitors. As I discuss below, these wheels would be my first choice for riding in the mountains.
The only reason I scored these wheels as 4 stars and not higher is that there are similar competitors in the marketplace at this price point, although unable to match Alto’s stellar hubs.
Alto CC56 Carbon Clinchers
The first time I got these wheels spun up to speed I knew I was going to be happy with the ride. The carbon clincher wheels share the same hub and spoke setup as the alloy model. For a 56mm wheel I would rate them as impressively light at a claimed 1,692g.
These are wheels I’m happy to use on every ride. They feel solid and reliable, and make riding even more enjoyable. On the negative side, these wheels leave you with one less excuse for why you’re not riding well today!
The aero advantage is smooth and predictable
As mentioned above, the big difference over the alloy version of the wheels is the aerodynamic advantage. It feels most pronounced in a group. When others are pedaling around you it seems like you’re doing less work for the same speed, and your ability to make quick moves is enhanced.
The hub design is undoubtedly part of the reason; however, the alloy wheels don’t have the same “glide” feel at speeds above 21mph that the carbon wheels do. The rims have a noticeable aero effect, and the smoothness of the aero advantage is an impressive
feat to pull off.
I’ve ridden the wheels through some especially windy conditions. One day in particular I experienced a crosswind gust of about 25mph. Other wheels I’ve tested in the past have felt twitchy and unpredictable in such conditions. However, the Alto wheels
handled well. Although there was some movement, it was predictable and controllable.
Braking in wet conditions the only possible drawback
Alto claims they can take up to 400F temperature without any braking issues, and that sustained braking conditions peak at 300F, more typically in the 200-220F range. The rims are made with expanded polystyrene molding instead of latex bladder molding,
resulting in more uniform wall thickness and a more reliable brake track. The brake track uses basalt to increase the surface hardness, allowing for the use of a more dense brake pad. Alto supplies and specifies SwissStop Black Prince pads.
What all this is touted to add up to is that braking performance on these all-carbon wheels should replicate the performance of an alloy wheel. I found this to be true – most of the time. In dry conditions, I could not notice any difference between the
carbon and alloy rims. There is no additional sound from the brake pads, and the braking is reliable, well-modulated and predictable. Braking in wet conditions was a little different, however. I found that on the carbon wheels there was a hesitation
before the pads would grip and reliably catch – even accounting for the typical “squeegee” function of brake pads on wet rims.
Why choose one and not the other?
Depending on your wants and needs, both of these wheelsets could have a place when setting up your bike.
The alloy wheels are light enough, strong and reliable, and would be great everyday wheels for a rider not looking for an aero advantage. For me, I’d be happy to use the alloy wheels on any mountain ride. The braking is sharp and assured, leaving me with
high confidence when descending. Although the company assures me the carbon wheels would be capable of mountain riding, I don’t know that I would be truly comfortable with taking them on long, steep descents. And of course they’re heavier than the alloys,
meaning more rotating weight to drag up the mountain. My personal ideal for these carbon wheels is the everyday riding I do in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, on rolling roads where the aero advantage is high.
Taking the possible different uses into account, I highly recommend both wheelsets.
Paul Smith regularly reviews products for RBR. He’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in thePiedmont area of North Carolina. He commutes often, and his car is worth less than any of his bikes. Click to read Paul’s full bio.