The humble wheel has graced our planet for aeons - since around 3500BC to be a little more (but not completely) precise. These were simple, solid blocks of wood cut into a circle and stuck onto an axle. Fast forward a couple of thousand years and this design was revolutionised with the advent of the spoked wheel, reducing weight to be predominantly used in chariots. Stay with me folks this is actually relevant. Fast forward another 2000 or so years and the beautiful thing we know as the common bicycle was born. Wheel design now uses steel spokes hooked into holes in the hub (where the axle of the wheel is located.) Tension is applied to the spokes using threaded nipples that are inserted through holes in the rim. This collection of components and the way in which they are married together has been the benchmark construction process for almost all wheels on bicycles. Some might say the wheel had been perfected. And it had.
Until Mavic arrived with the mighty Ksyrium SL in 1999. This design completely changed the way we look at wheels. The nipples were integrated into the rim by way of being threaded directly into the structure, removing the need to have holes straight through the rim thus creating a more structurally sound component. The steel that had been used for the spokes for so many years was replaced with high grade aluminium which created an unparalleled level of torsional stiffness in the wheel, translating to unbeatable acceleration and superb handling properties.
In 2008 Mavic were back reinventing with the R-SYS. This time replacing the aluminium spokes with tubular carbon units. This worked on the same philosophy of the wheels used in chariots - working in traction and compression (conventional spoked wheels only work in traction - otherwise known as tension). This improved upon the already excellent stiffness offered by the Ksyrium at the same time as improving comfort and reducing weight.
Today Mavic have merged these two technologies into what I feel is one of the most versatile wheels on the market - the Ksyrium SLR.
Weighing in at 1440 grams for a pair without tyres and tubes, the SLRs represent the pinnacle of conventional, serviceable wheel design. Using a Ksyrium SL front wheel paired with an R-SYS rear wheel. This combination offers good aerodynamics thanks to the deep bladed spokes up front and huge levels of stiffness from the rear wheel thanks to those TRACOMP (see what they did there?) carbon spokes. The wheels are then treated to Mavic’s own Exalith process. The exact details of this process remain behind closed doors at Mavic headquarters but we do know that it penetrates the aluminium of the lightly machined rim keeping the braking surface a constant anthracite colour for apparently thousands of miles. This process not only improves longevity but also boosts braking performance by up to 18% which is most noticeable in the wet. Mavic have also designed this as a "wheel-tyre system" claiming the tyres are designed around the wheels. Personally I can't really see the point but the fitted tyres are very similar in ride quality to a Schwalbe Ultremo and they add to the value of the wheel.
Out on the road the SLRs show no signs of wind up, transmitting every ounce of your effort into forward momentum. They iron out a suitable amount of road vibrations thanks to those carbon spokes. They handle with pin sharp accuracy but what really strikes you when riding these wheels is when you hit the anchors. I'm talking hold onto your eyeballs because you might lose them! The braking has more power than the grip in the tyres will allow and there's loads of control and modulation. The tyres hook up well when slung into an apex at high speed and seem to carry speed pretty well. There's also the look of the wheels to take into account. Is your bike looking a little dull? Freshen it up with a pair of SLRs available from your friendly Pearson performance stores in Sutton or Sheen.