When we spoke to Sven Folmer, CEO of Hawk Racing, about testing a set of their clincher wheels, we talked about the problem of differentiation in a flooded market of nearly-identical products: wheelsets. We recognized that there is no such thing as a component made in China that is proprietary – once you send the design to the factory, everyone who wants to copy it has the opportunity to. The difference, Sven said, is what you do after that part comes back to your shop; the finishing, the quality, and the craftsmanship that make all the difference in the world. Nothing could be more true than that for Hawk Racing’s 50mm clincher.
Hawk’s wheels are your relatively standard 50mm all-carbon hoops mated to Hawk’s SF12 aluminum hubs in a 20/24 pattern with Sapim CX-Ray spokes, coming in at 1560g with skewers for around $1,500 and put together in Florida, by hand. There are few things that get our attention like the last part of that sentence: the art of wheel building got lost as cycling (and triathlon), got big and when you can drive up and shake the hand of the guy who built up these wheels for us (his name, as it happens, is Matthew), we take notice. So let’s take a look at his handiwork, then.
There are no tooling marks anywhere on these wheels. No markings on the black anodized aluminum spokes whatsoever, the carbon is unmarred and all holes, both inside and out, are smoothly finished and burr-free. Spoke tension on both drive and non-drive was even and properly tuned. There are big names who can’t manage this. In short, this is how wheels should be put together; with an attention to detail at the beginning instead of quality control at the end. Nice job, Matt.
Once on the road, there is a single, overriding sensation for these wheels – solid. Simply put, the level of communication between the rider’s contact points and the vibration and input from the wheels is incredibly sharp, and this gives an exceptional sense of where your contact patches are in relation to the tarmac you’re traveling over. You may not see that you’re an inch from that pothole, but, somehow, you can feel it. The same is true for cornering; instead of understanding that you’re on a bike, there’s a level of input from both the front and rear tire that contribute to a remarkably specific spatial sense, allowing you to dive steeper into a corner than you might normally.
On the flats, they behave just like any other V-notch carbon clincher will: straight line acceleration is good, aerodynamics are great in a direct headwind and passing in anything else, braking leaves something to be desired versus an aluminum brake track. Nothing surprising here, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At speed, they are generally well-behaved, though the aforementioned communicativeness does tend to be a tad bit overwhelming until you get used to it. Settle into your tuck, relax, and let the tires soak up the miles – even in the aero position, the Hawks are plenty controllable on less than perfect asphalt.
In an industry of big changes and sweeping trends, it brings a smile to our faces to see someone who is still focused on the small things that matter to the rider and not the marketing tag line. Hawk Racing has produced an absolutely rock-solid dependable set of wheels that show an attention to detail not found in many of the giants of our industry, and for that, gets our full-throated endorsement. If you need a do-it-all set of wheels, you could do a whole lot worse than Hawk for a lot more money.