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Mavic R-SYS SLR Exalith Review

Anyone who’s read a Bike Crit-ique of mine on a bike that has a aluminium rims with a silver brake track is probably used to seeing a comment about how ugly I find that look on a bike. Until recently the only way around that has been to either run a carbon wheel, which isn’t to everyone’s desires or budget, or to run a set of Ceramic-coated Open Pro rims which leads you down the route of a traditional 32h wheel build. When Mavic announced their Exalith black aluminium coating with the launch of their new SLR wheels last year I nearly collapsed with relief… Ok I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

Back when I first found out about these wheels I didn’t know I was going to be in a position to build the Baum, let alone to be running special order Lightweights – what I did know at the time is that I would probably have done everything in my power (including selling body parts, and possibly even those of close friends and relatives) to get my hands on a set of these new Mavic wheels that looked so lickably lush. Fast forward a year or so (and with all my own and other people’s body parts intact) I’m now lucky enough to be running a set of the R-SYS SLRs on my Look. After around 750km on them I thought it about time I jotted some notes.

Pic borrowed from rouesartisanales.com

The R-SYS SLRs aren’t actually the lightest in the R-SYS range as they have the adjustable bearings from other wheels in the range which adds weight over the white-detailed SLs (which rely on the skewer pressure to keep the bearings in check). The Cosmic Carbone SLRs aren’t the lightest of wheels either at around 1600g, but the 52mm aero profile offsets that for some, and aesthetically they are definitely up there with some of the very best looking wheels on the market.

But were they worth the wait? Squealing aside, yes, without a shadow of doubt.

What was that about squealing? Yes, they do. Like mo’ fo’s. Really rather loudly – worryingly so in fact. It does thankfully subside and then desist with time (around 500km), coupled with careful toeing of the brake pads.

Whilst we’re on the subject of those pads, be warned you’ll go through the first set of pads like toilet paper after a dodgy curry, but the harshness of the rim surface finish starts to wear down and then the pad wear rate declines. It turns out it’s the harsh edges of that surface treatment that causes the squealing too.

Mavic freely admit all of this happens so I’m not worried by any of it, especially given the braking performance on them. And that braking performance really is worth raving about.

Anyone who has ridden with me on any kind of descent, but particularly long mountain descents, will know that I’m often one of the last down. Much as I love riding them I’m not fast or confident. I have a habit of spending way too much time on the brakes, only to then worry that I’m heating the rims up too much which is when I start worrying about puncturing through heat build up… and so it goes on. Whilst I’ve not ridden any mountain descents on these wheels yet (that comes next weekend on the Gran Fondo Nove Colli), what I have been able to do which is a new experience for me is to leave my braking incredibly late (for me at least), but more importantly to be able to do so confidently. I like that a lot.

The flipside of that initial squealing is that when you go through the softening of the surface the braking noise you are treated to once they stop squealing is actually (bizarrely) quite cool… maybe I’ll try and record it or something!

One update to offer here: after running the wheels on some longer European descents on the Gran Fondo Nove Colli recently I was quite alarmed at how quickly I was going through the pads. That said, I’d still rather be running these rims than carbon clinchers on long descents. Having now got home and checked them over there is actually still plenty of life left in them after all.

This is a set of wheels that are plenty stiff enough too. I wouldn’t say “they don’t budge”, but I do like to run my pads quite close to the rim so a little bit of brake rub out of the saddle isn’t entirely unexpected, especially for an 82kg lump like me. Add that to the sprightly manner in which they spin up and there’s definitely nothing to put you off.

Sure, the R-SYS spoke design is still under question, but there’s very few (if any) reports of the newer spoke style suffering anything like the failures seen on the first iteration of the design. Travel carefully with them and I see no reason they should let you down – I’m not going to let the scaremongering stop me using them, that’s for sure.

Second update: Mine got damaged coming back from the Nove Colli and are currently unusable. Damn it.

For what it’s worth, I recently got a bit flappy about whether or not I should really be running Lightweights on my Baum (for a plethora of reasons that I won’t bother going into). For a while I was prepared to switch from stupidly expensive sub-1200g wheels to circa 1600g wheels costing half as much to put a set of Cosmic Carbone SLRs on it. Considering the Baum is a total ‘dream bike’ build for me I think that says quite a lot about what I think of them.

Also worth noting is the fact that these wheels are sold as a ‘WTS’ set – that’s ‘Wheel Tyre ‘System’, just to clarify. The beauty of this is that the wheels come ready mounted, logos aligned and everything, with tyres and tubes. It just so happens that the Mavic Yksion Powerlink (rear) and Griplink (front) tyres are pretty bloody good in their own right. A neat little finishing touch and a little more justification (sort of) for those extra pennies spent.

Yes, Mavic probably should supply them with a second set of pads out of the box as you really do rip through that first set alarmingly quick. That aside, they look fantastic and really do offer more braking confidence than any other wheel I’ve used. I’m yet to try them in the wet, or to see how the surface wears over a long period of time as it is only a surface treatment (I’m not sure when or how, but I scratched mine so I have an annoying silver mark on one of the rims) so that will be interesting – so far so good though.

In case it wasn’t already clear, I rate them very highly – they’re really very impressive. Finally the all-black carbon look with the surefooted confidence of aluminium.

Point to note: Yes, the Swissstop Flash Pro Green GHP2 pads are the same compound as the Swissstop/Mavic pad designed for these wheels, but the Mavic pad has a differently designed face which apparently works better with the Exalith surface – choose wisely for that second set of pads as you may well lose some of the benefit of that braking performance.

Rich [@RichTheRoadie]

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