Shimano Ultegra WH-6600 Wheelset
By Jon Sharp
One of the best side-effects of advancing technology is the quality that trickles down to the lower product tiers. There was a time when carbon fiber was rare, and aerodynamics only played an important part to those with money. Thankfully, more and more, I can tell people that so much of what is out there is good. Take Shimano, for instance, 105 is now made up of some high-quality parts with amazing technology. The same holds true with Ultegra--no longer just the 2nd in line, but a very viable alternative to it's costly sibling. And, as further proof, we'll look at the Ultegra wheels in this review: WH-6600.
(Before I go on, though, I have to point out Shimano's inventive numbering/lettering naming scheme. Seriously, folks, WH-6600? That name, although useful to product engineers at Shimano, isn't very helpful to someone not familiar to the ins and outs of life at Shimano.)
Those familiar with some of Shimano's wheels of yesteryear might be surprised at how tame-looking this wheelset is. However, with the WH-6600 I found that looks can be deceiving. The first thing I noticed was the bladed spokes and semi-aero rim. Certainly Shimano could have made the rim taller to further increase aerodynamics, but only at the cost of weight and, er, cost. Anyway, as I looked closer, I saw that the spoke nipples weren't at the rim, but at the hub. This provides for two advantages: First, the spokes are straight-pull, which has generally proven to be stronger than traditional J-bend spokes. Second, by placing the nipples at the hub, it lowers the rotational weight of the wheel--or, at least, moves it in-board where it has less of an affect on acceleration. As with most mid-to-high-end wheels, the front is radial laced, while the rear is radial laced on the drive side and 2 crossed on the non-drive side. Also, the spoke bed on the rear rim is offset for increased strength. This wheelset is, thankfully, built with Shimano's 10-speed specific freehub.
Okay, many of you are groaning at the lack of backwards compatibility. However, keep in mind that freehub bodies get beat up. They are subject to tremendous forces (at least, when I pedal they are, heh heh). Most drive-trains are moving to 10-speeds--including the relatively low-end 105 group--so it makes sense to avoid the penalty of backwards compatibility for the benefit of longevity. Also, by so doing, Shimano can use an aluminum freehub body to save weight without suffering much in the category of long-term wear.
However, one thing is worth noting. Currently, SRAM cassettes are only compatible with Shimano's legacy 9-speed freehub body. Depending on your needs and preferences, this could be a significant drawback. (I would hazard a guess, however, that those running SRAM drivetrains aren't pining away for a Shimano wheelset--I could be wrong here, though.)
When I first mounted and rode on these wheels, my first impression was that of slicing through the wind. Other, less aerodynamic wheels are noticeably slower--especially against the wind. Though not a tremendously light wheelset, at 1687 grams they aren't heavy, either. I had no problems sprinting or climbing with these. I did notice, however, that if I had my computer magnet mounted too close to the sensor, I could get them to make contact with heavy, torquing-my-handlebars-out-of-the-saddle sprinting. However, I never felt any give or flex in the corners--where I most need them stiff.
Summary: MSRP for the Ultegra WH-6600 wheelset is US$530. For that price, you get a stiff and aerodynamic wheelset with a lively ride. This is Shimano's first Ultegra wheelset, and they seem to know what they're doing. If I were in the market for a solid, middle-tier wheelset, the WH-6600, despite its lackluster name/designation, would be my first choice.
Jon Sharp is a contributing editor for GearReview.com. Read his blog.
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