Over the course of the last year or so, there have been a lot of different wheels coming through our doors. Sometimes when it rains, it pours. And for some time now, it's been raining wheels. The most difficult challenge in reviewing a large number of products in the same category isn't finding what's unique about each offering - it's trying to be fair and balanced, even as I start to develop favorites among them.
But finding things to like about the Jets isn't hard. These are solid wheels, continuing a long tradition of well-built wheels from HED Cycling. The Jets are built around a simple concept: take a traditional aluminum box-section rim, which is a pretty easy wheel to build, and then slap on a carbon fiber fairing which will drastically improve the aerodynamics without adding too much weight. It's a concept HED has been using for many years, and it's been so successful that they've even licensed it out to Bontrager for a time, for the previous generations of Aeolus wheels (the new D3's no longer use fairings).
The reason it's such a popular construction methodology is twofold. First of all, it's a much easier and cheaper way to produce wheels than making the whole things out of structural carbon. Just look at the other wheels in HED's own lineup - their all-carbon Stinger tubulars cost about 50% more than the Jets. And when you look outside HED, you find manufacturers having to overcome enormous technical hurdles to make a carbon clincher work.
And that leads us to reason number two why the box-rim-plus-fairing formula has stood the test of time: it's utterly reliable. If you remove the fairing, you're left with a wheel that is basically the same as those ridden in Eddy Merckx's heyday. Of course, looking at it that way makes it sound a bit drab. But not everyone wants to be a beta tester for new construction technology. A lot of riders just want a quality product that works. And HED's Jet certainly series fits that bill.
Fast and Faster
By now, virtually every manufacturer on the market has developed (or is currently developing) a wide rim for the purpose of improved aerodynamics at yaw. What many forget is that HED was one of the first to do so (HED and Zipp were independently developing wide rims at roughly the same time, and released their first products within a couple months of one another). At 23mm wide at the brake track, the Jets certainly aren't the widest rims on the market, and in fact, HED's own Stingers take that title with a 28mm-wide brake track. But their moderately wide and cleverly-designed shape lets them lay claim to some real aerodynamic prowess, and they're proven to be good enough for world TT champ Tony Martin, who rode Jets with the logos removed for the better part of two seasons.
One of the benefits of wide rims is that they're wonderfully easy to build up, because the wide geometry means that clincher beads have an easier time slipping into place. It can usually be done without any tire levers. In the case of the Jets, that wasn't totally true. I paired my set with a set of Michelin Pro Race 4 tires, and the end of the install was tight enough to require a lever. By comparison, I have never once needed a tire lever on a Zipp Firecrest rim, which has always surprised and delighted me. It's not a huge deal, but one of the benefits wide rims have to offer that you don't quite get with the 23mm width of the Jets.
The ride, on the other hand, is great. It's smooth, snappy, and predictible. I'd say that they don't fare quite as beautifully as a set of 404 Firecrests in windy conditions, but they're not too far away. And given that they're less than half the price, I have no problem saying they're a great value. It's easy for the gear monger in me to dismiss these wheels as an unexciting option, given the plethora of full-carbon hoops I've gotten to ride over the past couple seasons. But the truth is that these are a compelling option either for the rider who wants top-of-the-line aerodynamic design, but is constrained either by budgetary concerns, or a loyalty to the idea of the tried-and-true alloy rim.