Review: Shimano Ultegra RS81 C35 wheelset


Shimano’s fabled quality was put to the test big time when the manufacturer ventured into producing other components besides the ones that compose the groupset. But maybe these very challenges boosted the name of the Japanese, since their new products carried the same quality, despite the lack of experience, and every pair of shoes, of apparel or any other component for that matter, layed another step on Shimano’s way to superstardom. However, when Shimano entered the wheel sector mixed feelings occured even more than before, but the scenario repeated itself, with the company having a range that covers everything, from ultra-high performance to abuse-taking products, and interesting offers like the RS81.

Our first take on the RS81 C35 (for there are other two “C”s – C24 and C50) goes like this: the all-rounder par excellence, that doesn’t kick ass in any regard, simply scoring above average in all chapters and including trickle-down technology. They rely on Shimano’s carbon-laminated rim technology, which at the time of its launch (somewhere around 7 or 8 years ago) was reserved only for the top-notch Dura-Ace groupset. This concept relies on a rim with an aluminum core which is covered by several layers of carbon, and is reinforced at the point where the spokes are hooked to the rim. So, the carbon that replaces the usual alloy shaves off some grams, increases stiffness, and also provides a glossy surface that makes for an elegant appearance.

However, RS81 has a few more aces up its sleeve. For extra aerodynamic advantage, it has specially designed spokes, with a flat profile, which count 16 for the front wheel and 21 for the rear one (14 on the drive side, and 7 for the other), and also increased width of the rim. Shimano says this helps integrate the rim and the tire into a single shape, more efficient in terms of reducing air drag, but if there really is such an advantage, you’ll have to look really hard for it. Stiffness turns out to be ok, without setting any record however, but for sure strength prooves to be a key element of the RS81, the rims taking the shocks of the bumps we didn’t miss without suffering any damage. If the laminated rims trickled down from Dura-Ace, the hubs didn’t, still the ones employed by this set run smoothly and require little to no maintenance thanks to their sealed bearings. We can’t strongly recommend you to take care of them since we ourselves didn’t do that, even considering that we took them through hell and high water (and dusty conditions for that matter), but you might want to check them at least a couple of times each year.

The RS81 set belongs to Ultegra’s performance level according to the manufacturer, but judging by the leap the 6800 series groupset made, maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea to shave more grams off these wheels. Besides the C35 version we tested, Shimano prepared another two – C24 and C50, the number in the denomination representing, you’ve guessed it, the height of the profile. As we stated earlier, C35 embodies a true all-rounder which belongs somewhere at the border of mid- and high-level. It isn’t heavy enough to become a burden when climbing (1.700 grams/pair), and it’s aero enough to provide a minimum of edge when rolling on flat terrain or sprinting. It doesn’t excel in any of these matters, but it’s strong enough to use for a reasonable amount of seasons, in virtually any conditions.

All in all, if you’re an amateur seeking some of the technology that pros use, but want an all-in-one wheelset that carries with it the strength of dealing with different impacts, than RS81 is an option to be considered among the various similar offers.


  1. I am an older (76) rider, been ridding all my life, doing Time Trials mostly until my 40’s. I am reasonably fit and am think of have a go at T.T.s again in 2016. Equipement as changed lots and I am think of a carbon / alluminum clincher wheel set and high on my list are the Shimano SR81s. I am leaning towards the C35 for their slightly better aero effect but the C24 are a little lighter and these are tempting. Please confirm my thinking. I found your article very well rounded and as you say for an allround for the price they will take some beating. Thanks.