Review: Dash Aero Wheels, Gretchen Disc
article & images by Nick Salazar
Feb 2, 2015
Dash Aero Wheels
This article has been a LONG time coming. When I first met up with Dash Cycles back in 2011, they hinted to me that they were working on some rims. And now, nearly four years later, that project has finally come to fruition, and their ultra-light hubs finally have a branded mate to lace to. Dash sells the complete wheelset with the relatively nondescript name of "Aero Wheels." But where their title might be a bit vanilla, these wheels are anything but. At just over 1200g, they are amazingly light, especially considering their 26mm-wide construction, which uses more surface area (and therefore material) than previous-generation aero wheels. Like most modern wheels, they use a blunt inner diameter to better serve as a second leading edge against the wind, and improve performance at higher yaw. But despite their impressive weight numbers, these wheels are STIFF. They spin up like nothing you've ever felt before, owing to both their low weight (low inertia for initial spinup) and aerodynamics (further reducing the force required to get up to speed). They're awesome. Not a lot of wheels can boast that they give you a truly unique riding experience, but this is one of them. They don't merely offer you speed via aerodynamics (which can't really be detected by a rider's senses), but they give you the really fun sensation of spinning up a light wheel, or carrying said wheel up a hill, where pulling up against your bars truly does feel different when there's less weight in the spinning hoops beneath them.
The entire exterior of the rim is finished in plain 1k carbon fabric. This is a weave rarely seen in the bicycle industry, and a bit more common in aerospace. The tighter weave is generally more expensive, and not often selected by rim manufacturers. What's underneath that exterior layer? Dash won't let me say. But one interesting thing I can say is that the exterior 1k layer isn't there for cosmetic reasons; it's entirely structural. And there's no extra paint, epoxy, or other surface finish to help cover up blemishes; what comes out of the rim mold is what you get - an impressive fact that's confirmed by the existence of the tiny visible micro-voids that are an ordinary part of the carbon layup process. Normally these micro-voids get covered up by clearcoat or paint, but Dash displays them proudly as a badge of honor. Personally, I love it, and generally love to see nude carbon in any form.
It's fashionable these days to declare that weight doesn't matter, or more accurately, that for most courses it matters much less than aerodynamics. But that's a false dichotomy; Dash proves that you can have both. And to be fair, there's something undeniably FUN about spinning up a light wheel, especially in this case when you know that isn't costing you an aero penalty. It's a joy to ride these wheels, and I have no problem recommending them for race day in virtually any discipline.
Other than the price tag, what could you possibly complain about?
Now, compared to rimmed wheels, a disc is another beast all together. They require so-called 'crack pipe' adapters or special pump heads entirely, and aren't the most convenient things to deal with. But what they give up in creature comforts, they make up for in pure unadulterated speed. They're just plain faster than anything else. And while many people fear running such a deep wheel in back, that fear is actually unfounded - a rear disc helps handling rather than hurting it. So it's a win-win - if your race allows a rear disc, you're basically always faster to use it. And with the Dash Gretchen, "basically always" becomes a very solid "always." Why is that? Because the thing is SO insanely light. At just 795g, it's about the same weight as a Zipp 303 tubular!!! So even if your course goes straight up a mountain (like the US Pro Cycling Challenge's Vail Time Trial), there's no penalty for choosing aero over weight. And even if you're riding a more typical flat or rolling course, the Gretchen is all about speed. It's a flat disc, basically maintaining a 21mm-wide profile straight down to the hub. I wouldn't mind seeing Dash go a little wider here, more like 25mm to match their Aero Wheels. That would be a better match for most modern tires as well. In order to optimize the performance of the Gretchen in its 21mm-wide form, you'd really want a 21mm-wide tire, becoming a bit harder to find these days.
Just like the Aero Wheels, Dash finishes the disc in nude carbon, a tiny sticker, and nothing else. The Gretchen is primarily finished in strips of unidirectional fabric, with a bit of 1k at the brake track. One thing I noticed about early versions of the Gretchen disc was that the valve cutout was really small, and would only accommodate a 'crack pipe' type of adapter. I told Dash about the more impressive disc chucks out there, and how great it would be if the Gretchen could accommodate them. A week later, Dash had updated their mold, and the Gretchen is now compatible with all of these disc chucks! That's the nimble versatility that makes Dash so spectacularly awesome. And whether or not you're a weight weenie, it's hard to deny that this is one of the most awesome wheels you'll ever see. It'll definitely be on my bike on race day.
Dash Aero Wheels
FInally, the Dash Aero wheels! These beauties are finished in 1k carbon, a weave usually only seen on aerospace parts. It features Dash's own Elle/Michelle hubs, Sapim CX-Ray spokes, and the brand new 60mm tubular rims from Dash. I paired my set with the new Specialized Turbo tubular tire, which offers a nice balance of puncture resistance and low rolling resistance, but not quite as low as the Turbo Cotton. Overall, this wheelset is quite lovely, and has everything you could ever ask for: good looks, ultra-low weight, and modern aero design.
Perhaps the most beautiful disc ever made, the Gretchen is an undeniably sexy wheel. It's insanely light in weight, clocking in just 15 grams heavier than the rear 60 wheel! Or to put it differently, this disc wheel weighs about the same as a Zipp 303 tubular rear wheel. That's insane. But don't let its light weight fool you - the disc is STIFF, rides beautifully, and is blazing fast. Note, some of the images here show the Gretchen before Dash modified the valve hole to go through both sides of the disc wall. Just to be clear, the current disc's valve hole DOES go through both sides, which makes it a lot easier to access and inflate the valve. On race day, you can cover those holes with a little sticker.