When it comes to riding up hill, there is one thing every cyclist can agree on: you benefit hugely from light weight stiff wheels. This is what the new range of TUFF Exo Wheels excel at.

The high tech Matrix spokes are the centre piece that lifts to performance above and beyond the current top end sets of wheels on the market. At 1200grams for the aerodynamic carbon fibre clinchers and a feather light 1050grams for the high performance tubulars.


Matrix refers to the carbon fibre composite spokes that are half the weight of the top spec Sapim CX Ray spokes used in the Ultimate and Spin range of wheels. The spokes are both light and strong rated to take a tensile load of 250kg, more than most rims can resist. Combined with the wide rims and 30mm profile at the front and 38mm rear rims, the Matrix spokes and light carbon fibre wheels build up a strong stiff and light weight wheel – perfect for climbing.

The hubs are made to work with the spokes and add to the stiffness required for responsive wheels. The front wheels take advantage of the strength of the Matrix spokes by lowering the spoke count down to 18 to improve aero dynamics. The rear wheels also reduce the spoke count from the typical 24 spokes used in most wheels sets, to 21 spokes with 14 drive side spokes and 7 widely spaced non drive side spokes. The 2:1 layout amplifies the stiff and responsive feel of the Exo rear wheels. With more drive side spokes applying the power results in snappy acceleration. It also helps multiply the lateral stiffness by reinforcing the heavily dished drive side, and then the extra wide non drive spokes are able to be built with high tension.


So how do these new wheels stack up against the other best wheels on the market?

Clincherrim depthexternal/internalfront/reartotal weightRRP
TUFF Exo 30T30/3826/1820/241260$1,850
TUFF Ultimate 32c w/DT240s3226/1820/241380$1,399
ZIPP 202 NSW3225.4/16.2518/241375$3,100
ZIPP 202 firecreast3225.4/16.2518/241450$2,200
ENVE SES 2.22527/18.520/241275$3,500
Fulcrum Racing Zero3024.5/1716/211358$2,100
Mavic Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL T Haute Route25/1718/241390$2,175
Mavic R-SYS SLR24/26/1516/201295$1,950
Tubularrim depthwidthfront/reartotal weightRRP
TUFF Exo 30T30/382318/211065$ 1,675
TUFF Spin 30302320/241140$ 1,220
ZIPP 202 tubular3222.618/241180$ 2,000
ENVE ses 2.2302720/241045$ 3,300
Fulcrum Speed 35352018/211260$ 2,000
Mavic Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL T Haute Route25 18/241190$ 2,500


Mavic infamously introduced the R-SYS wheels with great fanfare in typical Mavic marketing style. The light weight wheels still use Al rims, but used non-tensioned rather fat round un-aerodynamic carbon fibre spokes. The non-tensioned spokes reduced the load on the rim allowing for very light weight rims. Unfortunately for many customers, the same spokes proved to be prone to catastrophic failure in the early models. Mavic claims to have fixed the issue, but the sigma has never worn off. Compression spokes that are long and comparatively thin are always going to be a risk. Some customers love the wheels for their stiffness and responsiveness climbing. The Exo wheels use tensioned spokes in the same way every other modern wheel is built, and doesn’t have the risk of failure like the R-SYS wheels. The carbon fibre technology in the low profile rims and light weight Matrix spokes also provides the responsive feel the R-SYS wheels are loved for.


The high price SES 2.2 wheels have huge bling appeal. The ENVE carbon fibre hubs are more spectacular than light weight considering their price. The rims are also claimed to be very aerodynamic for their 30mm depth and sport an 18.5mm internal width for great tire support. A major complaint by both reviewers and customers is poor rear wheel lateral stiffness. There are many online complaints of brake rub under power. Like when hammering up a hill. Stiffness is not a problem with the Matrix spokes and 2:1 lacing pattern in the rear wheel. This layout is used to provide both high levels of torsional stiffness and eliminate later flex. The 30mm front and 38mm rear rims are also aero profiled and are wide like all modern designs. This gives the excellent tire support of the latest designs and also helps improve air flow from tire to rim.


The ZIPP 202 wheels arguably created the aero climbing wheel market by matching carbon fibre medium profile rims with aerodynamic profiles. The theory being that first you have to ride fast on the flat roads before climbing the hills. The 202 tubular wheels are more reasonable priced than some other brands, but don’t excel on the weight front. They are ~100grams heavier than the Exo tubular wheels. The 202 clinchers suffer even more in both price and weight. The older Firecreast wheels are close to 200grams heavier than the new Exo clinchers, but also quite a few hundred dollars more expensive. The new 202 NSW clinchers don’t get any better. While they are 50grams lighter than the Firecreast wheels, they are nearly twice the price of TUFF’s EXO wheels.


Fulcrum’s high end carbon fibre wheels, and their Campagnolo cousins, are arguably every bit as popular in the aftermarket as ZIPP. To go with the mass appeal is – mass. Both the Racing Zeros and Speed 35s are 150-200grams heavier than the TUFF Exo wheels. The rims are also not as wide as other modern wheels potentially reducing their aero and handling properties.


Again the mass market top of the line Ksyrium wheels suffer in the weight department. Both the clincher versions and the tubular versions are both ~150-200 heavier than the high tech Exo wheels. It doesn’t matter how much marketing hype you add, and how many pros you pay to ride your wheels, the performance numbers still speak for themselves.


The new Exo Wheels with aero carbon fibre wheels and ultralight weight Matrix carbon fibre spokes certainly stand up well against their high price competitors. Combine the excellent stiffness properties, with the low weigh, and Matrix wheels would already be market leaders. Combine with the low price TUFF is able to offer these custom hand built wheels and they have a winner not just on the steep mountain slopes they are made for.

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