Typically, a wheel that tries to do too much ends up not doing much of anything. The exception is the Alto CC40.
What do I want in a wheel? Easy. It needs to be light, stiff, fast, and great in a crosswind. Oh, and it has to have a soft, comfortable feel. And it has to be affordable.
My criteria for a wheel is extensive but with good reason:
-The wheel has to be light so I can feel that snap when I have to accelerate in a hurry.
-It has to be stiff so that it doesn’t deflect under heavy loads, like when putting a lot of power to the back wheel.
-The aerodynamic shape of the rim determines how it feels straight ahead as well as how it functions when the wind is pushing 10-20 MPH from the side.
-A soft, comfortable wheel is going to absorb road chatter and smooth out the road.
-Top of the line carbon clinchers can easily exceed $3,000 and since I plan to send my children to college I would prefer not use a home equity line to buy a set of wheels.
Finding this mythical wheel might seem as easy as spotting a unicorn, but then I tried the Alto CC40.
Alto Cycling was started by Bobby Sweeting and Shawn Gravois, who met while studying mechanical engineering at UF. The two were also professional bike racers and they wanted to apply what they learned in class to develop a wheel that would better serve their needs. Several years later, the time came to put their design ideas to the test and Alto Cycling was born.
The two saw that the manufacturing tolerances were simply not good enough on the products they were using. Movement caused bearings and components to be less efficient and to break down faster.
Bobby and Shawn started with the R-Symmetric hub design out of their Sarasota base. The internals were engineered to extremely tight tolerances and a labyrinth seal was machined into the hub to prevent dirt and water from getting into the bearings. The resulting wheels spin super smooth and should for years to come (check back with me in a few).
The first time I rolled the Alto out of the driveway I was amazed at how soft the wheels felt. The ride quality was delightful and unexpected. With an external rim width of 25MM, I was able to run tire pressure of 95-100psi and put a very wide contact patch of tire on the ground. I was using a 23MM tire and according to Bobby, the ride quality is even better using a 25MM tire. I simply didn’t expect for a wheel that stiff to have a ride quality that smooth.
The superstar of the hub design is the asymmetrical rear flange. The flange on the drive side of the rear hub is significantly taller than on the non-drive side. The torque on the drive side is substantially stronger. The taller drive side allows for shorter spoke length and optimization of spoke tension to create an incredibly stiff wheel. Normally, I have to run my rear brakes wide open to compensate for the wheel deflection during a sprint or climb but I didn’t have that issue with the Alto CC40.
I’ve been running 60MM clinchers for almost a decade so I wanted to try the 40s for a couple of reasons. The 40MM rim is lighter as there is less material than the deeper wheel. The 60MM is the go to wheel here in Florida as we’re usually more concerned with the aerodynamic qualities than weight. In an area where you are doing more climbing the advantages of reducing rolling weight are far more important. Aerodynamics in cycling was explained to my simple brain as moving air onto and off of the bike as smoothly as possible.
In the last several years we have seen rim widths get wider. A big benefit of this is the tire profile smoothly transitioning to the surface of the rim. Creating a rim shape that will move the air back off of the rim makes for a fast wheel. The other benefit of going with the 40MM rim is less surface area in a crosswind. I am a larger rider and I still get pushed around when there are 15-20MPH crosswinds. The shorter profile reduces the effects of a crosswind.
I was concerned that the 40MM wheels simply wouldn’t be as fast as the 60MM wheels I was used to. I used the wheels on the Naples Velo Hour of Power, one of the hardest rides in SW Florida. What I noticed was that my power numbers on the shorter wheels were slightly lower than on my other wheels. The lower power number indicates I wasn’t working as hard as I normally do. The variance can be based on a number of factors but I can say with certainty, that it wasn’t harder on the shorter wheels so there was no sacrificing speed. The Alto CC40 wheels has a reported weight of 1525 grams while the deeper CC56 are 170 grams heavier. If I can save over 1/3 of a pound of rolling weight and have a wheel that is just as fast and better in a crosswind, I’ll take it.
Last year I tested top of the line $3000 carbon clinchers. They were stiff and they were fast but the ride quality was punishing. Those wheels didn’t do much to absorb the road chatter that reverberates through your bones and muscles, causing you to fatigue faster. The sprint is at the end of the race so the person who gets to that point feeling the freshest is going to have the advantage. As fast as those expensive wheels were, I didn’t miss them when I sent them back.
The MSRP on the Alto CC40 wheel set is $1900, which is on the low end for a carbon racing wheel. The overall ride quality was one of the best I have experienced and it wasn’t accomplished by sacrificing stiffness. Because Alto Cycling is based in Florida, it is easy to find a demo day to be able to try these wheels out if you have any doubts. If I were in the market for an everyday wheel that I could race, the CC40 would be in the top three, without a doubt.
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