Campagnolo Zonda 2014 review

Before I start, let me add a couple of disclaimers:  one: I am not now or never have been a professional bike journalist, tester, and it’s been twenty-something years since I worked in a bike shop.  Two: I like handbuilt wheels.  I like building them, I like selecting my hubs and my rims, and I particularly like the bit where you pay any bike shop in your path a buck – maybe a buck-fifty – for a replacement spoke, right off the shelf.  My number one wheels are a set of Ambrosio Nemesis laced to a pair of Dura Ace 7900 hubs.  I shall extol their virtues in a future post (edit: I did), but I will pause to qualify their greatness – and that of all tubulars – by pointing out that I have a wife and two children, and just about enough of a conscience to feel more than a pang of remorse every time I ride over a shard of glass and chuck another hundred-buck Vittoria in the bin.    Racing, Sunday best rides, solo epics – days you live for – yes.   Intervals and hill repeats at six in the morning, snatched ten milers in fading light – no.  I have a couple of pairs of tough-as-nails training anchors (36 hole Ambrosio Excellences with the Ultegra hubs which are excellent enough to really deserve their own blog post but will probably, as in life, be sadly overlooked) but at knocking on 2 kilos a pair, plus a pair of fat, armoured conti armchairs on them, they really aren’t something you leave on for an evening crit, or chuck in the wheel van at a big race.

So that was what I wanted: something tough enough to train on, fly enough to race.  Something that feels high rent, yet cheap enough to sneak past the purchasing committee.   Various handbuilt options were weighed up and discarded, mostly because at this price point you’re playing with things like Novatec hubs and a selection of rims which some people have luck with, others don’t.  I could have gone the chinese carbon clincher option, but well…no.  I’m sure there’s some folks who’ve wound up with excellent wheels that way, and I’m definitely not one of those people with an axe to grind about manufacturing quality in Asia.  I did enough reading though, to leave me uneasy at the likely QC that goes on at the better known outlets, and enough perusing of the scale of charges for return postage to figure that one small fuck-up would wipe away any savings whatsoever and I might as well have bought those 2nd hand 404’s that I really wanted when all of this started.

And in such roundabout fashion I arrived at the Zondas, via a couple of other safe options (Shimano RS81 – a bit heavier, allegedly a bit noodly, according to some reviews I read, and considerably more coin – and the Fulcrum 3, pretty much identical to the Zonda except for the spokes and … well … looking like they fell off a Specialized.  Too boring.)  The Zondas, I read, were pretty much the equal of the Shamals and higher offerings in Campy’s line, Robbie McEwan raced them lots (whether actually he did or not I have no idea) and there seemed to be a general consensus that they were good, solid, fast wheels a lot cheaper than they had any right to be.  So I bought some.

First impressions were good.  I like the way the rim bed’s been made, so you don’t need a rim strip.  Mounting the tyres I’d chosen (Michelin Pro Race 4’s in 23’s – more on that in a minute) wasn’t too much of a struggle.  The supplied spacer for fitting my 10 speed cassette to the hub – they’re 11 speed compatible, unlike my DA7900’s, a fact which leaves me wanting to find a shimano executive to kick – unsurprisingly, that was fine too.  I wasn’t overly in love with the quick releases at first glance, but then I compared their weight with the Dura Ace ones and found them a few grams lighter, and I can’t fault the closing action, so that shows you what my first glances are worth.  The freewheel sounds a little funky on the first spin out of the box, but after a couple of hundred yards, even, it settled in and sounds like a campagnolo freehub should.  So far, so good.

Hubs are solid, quick releases light enough and reassuringly taut.
Hubs are solid, quick releases light enough and reassuringly taut.

Wheels and tyres go together, so in some ways it’s pointless to try and compare this pair of wheels to my others because my tubs run – well, tubs, and my training anchors run 25c contis that weigh a ton.  The pair of wheels the zondas are replacing are a 38mm carbon faired alloy clincher that I ran 25’s on too, and that was fine for them, but I approached the zondas with a different rationale, because:

Zonda front is conventionally radially laced with 16 spokes.
Zonda front is conventionally radially laced with 16 spokes.

1.  They’re a little aero, but not a lot. They’re also a traditional width – not the new-fangled wide stuff.

2.   They’re stiff.

3.  They’re light at the rim, where it matters for acceleration and climbing.

That’s why it made sense to me to stick a lighter tyre on –  to play to the zonda’s strengths.  I did, and this is what I found:

They accelerate and sprint brilliantly, and for climbing – they’re pretty damn good at that, too.  The braking is great – a major reason I went with alloy over a cheap carbon, because as much as anything else there’s no f*cking around with brake pads.  The braking surface is very nicely finished, right out of the box. The hubs roll great, and looking close up, you can see these are actually really nice units.  They’re not the polished chorus hubs of fifteen years ago, but they do the job well.

Zonda rear is spoked "Mega G3" - 2 drive side spokes in each triple.  Spoke replacement is apparently not straightforward.
Zonda rear is spoked “Mega G3” – 2 drive side spokes in each triple. Spoke replacement is apparently not straightforward.

Like I said before, they’re stiff: my longest ride on these so far has been a shade under five hours, and I don’t mind admitting that I felt a little beaten up afterwards, in a sort of driving a jackhammer-with-my-scranus type of a way.  Hours afterwards, the poor old chap felt like he’d been frozen in liquid nitrogen as part of a suspended animation project that involved thawing it out with boiling meths.

I’ve also done a few evening rides up our local mountain, a crit, and a 50 k road race – things I did buy them to do.  They’ve been fine with all of it, and so has my scranus.    They feel like they’ll last for years, and I think that I’ll mostly be racing on these from now on when the course suits –  there’s plenty enough races around here on shitty surfaces and belgian-type courses to keep the nemesis’s busy between times.  So no, they’re not really a total do-it-all wheelset – the stiffness and resulting lack of comfort rules them out if what you’re really after is a cushy, slightly racy number for a summer of sportives – but for a diet of shortish road races and crits for the man who can’t be arsed to swap his posh wheels out between times, I think they’re a solid choice.

By the numbers:

Campagnolo Zonda clincher wheelset.

26mm semi aero front, 30mm rear, 21.5 mm width

16 spokes front, 21 at the rear

Weight: 1595 g the pair.

Mine are the Shimano freehub, 10 + 11 speed compatible, and I paid $438 from Wiggle + New Zealand import taxes, taking the total damage up to about $600 NZD.

There’s some interesting stuff over on the weightweenies wheel forum about truing G3 laced wheels and their construction in general.  The rims are out of round before they’re built.  Suffice to say, spoke replacement is not straightforward, but it seems to be something which is mercifully rare.  Bet they cost more than a buck-fifty, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Campagnolo Zonda 2014 review”

  1. I really rate them for my riding and Saturday racing here in the Hawkes Bay. I have to qualify that by saying that I have never ridden a fancy pair of wheels. I could easily tell the difference when I moved from my stock Shimano wheels to the Zondas. You were a bit unlucky getting stung for import taxes. I paid $408, so technically over the $400 threshold, but they let them through without the tax. At $408 all up I consider them a total bargain.

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  2. Hi Jason, thanks for visiting. I’m impressed too, a few thousand k under the belt now and no problems save for a wobbly rear that wasn’t that hard to true. Still running the Michelin and latex tubes, a combination I like.

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  3. I decided to buy a pair of Zondas after reading your post. My first choice was a Mavic Ksyrium Elite. But since the Zonda is now US$350, it may be a good choice.

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  4. Loved your review and decided to pick a set up as an upgrade over my old trusty steeds – 7900/Open Pros. I upgraded to 11 speed over the winter and I can’t get the 11 tooth and the lockring to tighten on the free hub together. 10 speed seems fine. Have you run an 11 speed cassette on your Zondas and am I missing something here? Many thanks!

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      1. No spacer being used, when I put the 6800 cassette on the last 11 tooth cog plus the lockring won’t thread into the splines on the free hub. 7900 works fine. I have the same wheelset as you reviewed here. I’ll fiddle with it some more and report back. Thanks for the reply.

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      2. That sounds weird…have you tried using the 7900 lockring with the 6800 cassette? I know all shimano lockrings aren’t created equal – nearly all the weight difference between a 105 cassette and an ultegra version is in the lockring, for example (budget top tip for the day…) Maybe there’s another 3rd of a turn of thread on one of them that’ll just make the difference between it engaging or not – I’ve had troubles with sram lockrings before. Other than that, I guess you’re going to have to get the calipers out and measure the 10 speed + spacers and the 11 speed cassette to see exactly what’s out where. Cheers for stopping by!

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      3. Seems as though I’ve bought an older gen, maybe 2013, that has a 9/10 Shimano free hub. The body is longer on my c24 9000 rear wheel. Looks like I’m in the market for an 11 speed free hub for my Zondas. The 7900 cassette works fine. Might just adjust my upper and lower limits and run 10 with 11 and an unused click. Ah Shimano. Never should have ridden myself of my Record a few seasons back…

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  5. I have a alloy BMC GF02 with stock Shimano R501 wheels. Would the Zonda be an good upgrade? Considering the RS81 C24 and C35.

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    1. I’m haven’t ridden any of those wheels, so I can’t really comment – what are you looking to do? I think you could pretty much use the zondas for anything – a pretty much one-size fits all. I wouldn’t be sure about using the c35 variant everyday for everything if you’re a real flyweight or if you live in the mountains, but that’s as useful as I can be, I’m afraid.

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      1. SRJ – I have both Zondas and c24 9000 tubeless and the Campagnolos are my go-to wheelset each ride. If you want to go tubeless pick up the 2-way fit Zondas. For me, I’ve found the Zondas to be much stiffer in the rear wheel specifically. The hubs on both sets of wheels spin very smooth, I’d say on par with each other. Again, for me the Zondas are just a stiffer and snappier ride quality so be aware of that knowing what types of roads you use. The plus to the c24s is they take a wider 25c tire better. I’ve found the zonda rim to be slightly more narrow and I’ve run 25s but they almost seem to be bulging out. You can’t go wrong with either wheelset but you might save a few bucks in going with the Zondas. Good luck!

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      2. JS great insight… Sounds like the Zonda’s will do everything I need. Wanted a balance between climbing and flats. I am hoping to run Continental GP ll 25mm or Gatorskin 25mm. I am 54 years old and new to cycling. No races other than internal with a cycling club that will ride with. Some of the guys have 50mm aero wheels. I am looking for an everyday all purpose wheel. Thanks

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      3. Thanks for the response. I live and will do most of my riding in Texas. Roads aren’t bad. Will be doing group rides with a cycling team and MS150 type events. Lots of rolling hills here in San Antonio. Not a weight weenie but I am looking to shave about 1.5 pounds of my current weight. New to cycling and I weight 190 with a goal of 180.

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