Review: Swiss Side Gotthard wheelset

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Swiss Side, started by a Formula 1 engineer and an award-winning sports equipment designer, produces only handbuilt wheels for road bikes, and nothing else. Their products already sound astronomically expensive—but they’re not. Founders Jean-Paul Ballard and George cant deliberately structured the company to be lean and mean to avoid overhead. (It also helps that the wheels are handbuilt in Taiwan, not Switzerland.)

The Gotthard wheelset is intended for rougher roads or heavier riders. The name, as it turns out, is not slightly offensive, but is in fact an homage to the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland, a twisty and treacherous pass that is one of the highest paved roads in Europe. This isn’t exactly a touring or rough-road wheelset, but is certainly more durable than typical racy road sets, and quite light to boot, at 1,465g for the pair.

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Each wheel has 24 Sapim bladed stainless steel spokes, straight-pull style, all black, except for two red and one white that mark the valve holes. The rims are welded and machined for strength and a smooth brake track. The 14mm internal width (19mm external) is narrow by modern standards, but can handle 28c tires with no issue. The hubs are svelte-looking and anodized, with a full five rows of sealed cartridge bearings in the rear. The freehub contains a “micro-shuffle” three-pawl parallel mechanism with 24 degrees of engagement.

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I swapped out the stock wheels on the Raleigh Capri 4 tested in issue 29 for the Gotthard wheels. The braking surface is indeed smooth as glass, and the bearings are like buttah. The freewheel mechanism feels smooth and quick, and—a good indicator of quality—the quick-release skewers have a solid, positive feeling with easy engagement. The general ride feel of these wheels was speedy and stiff in the right places, responding quickly to my efforts.

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My typical “road” rides tend to include some non-paved or poorly maintained surfaces, and these wheels stood up to plenty of that without coming untrue. The real test was a trip from New York city to Washington, D.C. that involved crappy sidewalks, obstacles hidden in snow and dirt, and ungraceful curb navigation, all with an extra 20 pounds or so of gear strapped to the bike. No problems at all from the wheels.

All in all, the Swiss Side wheels elevated an already nice bike to new heights of speed and finesse. The price of 529€ ($720 as of this writing) is well below that of similar-quality wheels, which can easily top $1,000. Keep an eye out for a disc version coming soon.

Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #30, along with an incorrect photo. We apologize for any confusion.

 

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