The Flite Apex Enduro are a $1080 ($1200 NZ) set of wheels using 30mm wide DT Swiss 511 rims, Wheelwork’s Dial hubs and round-section double-butted DT Swiss spokes. The weight is a reasonable 1922g, there’s lifetime warranty on spokes and nipples, and you’re able to customise the colours of the stickers to match your sweet ride, we opted for the green decals of our glossy black Specialized Enduro for a bit of pop and dazzle.
But what makes a Wheelworks wheelset a valid option for an upgrade is the build process that they pride themselves on. You can read all about the Wheelworks wheel building process in our interview with Wheelworks founder Tristan Thomas. We truly recommend you have a read, as there are some pretty interesting aspects to the process and Tristan does a great job of dispelling some popular myths about wheels.
Swapping out the stock Specialized wheels didn’t drop any grams but after one or two rides the bike certainly felt more responsive, stiffer and the rear hub far more engaging.
Stay tuned for more as we put some hard hours on the wheelset over summer!
The latest range of Norco suspension bikes have been so good. First, it was the short travel Optic, then the long travel Range and the Sight in the middle. Using a new frame, great spec and a very well received approach to geometry, they’ve been popular!
We sat down with one of Norco’s bike designers, Owen Pemberton, chatting about frame geometry, wheel size and suspension, it’s an excellent read. “I spent months working on a study, staring at excel spreadsheets trying to work out geometry and how we could make it work – on paper, could we get a 29er to handle as well as our 650b bikes?”
While the wheels from custom wheel builders Wheelworks use the similar rims to the stock spec Raceface ARC 30, these have 35mm internal width rims and have been handbuilt with bladed spokes, they also use high-end hubs with a very positive freehub engagement. There was quite a discernable difference in the ride quality with the wheel change, especially on loose surfaces where we could drop the tyres down a little further to give us more traction.
Going to wider rims are an absolute no-brainer for anyone looking to add composure and confidence to their bike, we’ve been super happy with these.
This was an interesting one for us, our first ride of the BOX One drivetrain, a brand previously known mainly for BMX components. The drivetrain is 11-speed with an 11-46 tooth cassette, a black KMC chain and it uses a few unique approaches to the classic task of shifting; the most obvious one is how you shift with your thumb. Instead of two paddles that shift up, and the other shifts down, the BOX One uses one paddle that can be downshifted like normal, but to upshift you ‘poke’ the L-shaped thumb lever inwards towards the shifter. It took a few hours to get used to, but the shifting is actually very smooth and precise, the chain glides up and down the cassette quietly and with a fairly consistent jump in teeth size (unlike the Shimano 11-46 cassette it replaced) we liked its light and slick shifting feel.
It only took a few hours of riding to get used to, the shifting is actually very smooth and precise, the chain glides up and down the cassette quietly and with a fairly consistent jump in teeth size (unlike the Shimano 11-46 cassette it replaced) we liked its light and slick shifting feel.
The rear derailleur not only looks vastly different from Shimano or SRAM, but it also uses a different approach to chain retention, too. While BOX does suggest using a chain guide with the system, we didn’t drop a chain despite the derailleur’s tension feeling significantly lighter than the Shimano it replaced.
Our biggest gripe with the shifter is how it meshed with the Shimano XT brake lever, the architecture of the mount didn’t allow us to roll the shifter upwards to our preference. Though we doubt that would pose an issue for everyone. Overall we were happily impressed with the drivetrain, though it may not stand forth as a stronger option to the other big guns, it’s nice to try something different.
Geeking out with the ShockWiz.
This is one very interesting little device, we’ve had this fitted to the fork and shock for quite some time now and are really beginning to understand how it works. Interestingly though, one thing we take away from deciphering the ShockWiz feedback is to back off the rear shock’s compression even when it’s in open mode and decrease its progresivity by removing volume spacers. This proves the point that the Sight’s suspension is quite supportive and firm, we’re going to delve into this a little deeper in our next long term test update.
Dropper post – FOX Transfer.
The best dropper post we have ridden, the Transfer is so reliable, consistent and the lever fits so well on the left-hand side of the bar. We’re open to suggestions as to what could trump the Transfer as the best dropper out there if the cost was no factor.
Cockpit – ENVE stem, PRO Tharsis bar, Ergon GE1 grips.
To drop some weight from the front end, we went full carbon with the ENVE stem and PRO Tharsis bar, some of the lightest available. The Ergon grips are huge favourites of ours.
Saddle – Ergon SMA3-Comp.
Saddles are a personal thing, while the SDG saddle that came on the Norco was a good fit for our backsides, we wanted to lose some weight from the bike and try something new. The SMA3 Comp saddle comes in two widths – medium and small – we’ve got the medium on there now, and the saddle feels firm but not too hard, and the material and shape allow us to move around it as we ride in and out of the saddle.
While we’re never going to set records for the lightest trail bike out there, the Sight makes it up in other areas. We’re going to try some 2018 FOX suspension, Bontrager carbon wheels, XTR brakes, TRP Quadiem brakes, Schwalbe Addix tyres, a SRAM Eagle drivetrain and try to find a water bottle cage and bottle that fits in the tight space.
Wheelworks wheels are not your average off-the-shelf wheel; they aim to offer a broad range of custom options predetermined from a consultation with the friendly folk at their Wellington, NZ headquarters. They’ll call you to discuss the options, on an actual phone if you wish, how personal is that!
You can read all about the Wheelworks wheel building process and just why they feel confident in offering a lifetime warranty here, in our interview with Wheelworks founder Tristan Thomas. We recommend you have a read, as there are some interesting aspects to the process and Tristan does a great job of dispelling some popular myths about wheels.
“It all starts with a short conversation with the rider where we’ll talk about what bike they’re going on, what style of riding they’ll be used for, and how hard the customer is on equipment. We do a lot of bench-testing as well as ride testing so we know stiff different rims and combinations will be and how much they’ll weigh. All our staff ride so we’re able to combine the theoretical benefits with actual ride quality. We’ll also talk about colours to make sure their new Flite wheels look good on their bike.” – Tristan Thomas.
They are sold online, direct to the consumer with very impressive warranty terms; we’re talking lifetime warranty on hubs, rims, spokes and nipples. The options are plentiful, choose from rim widths, rim materials, hub brands, spokes and even decal colours to match your bike just right.
Let’s go shopping!
Following our review of the FLITE Wide Carbon wheels which resulted in a first-hand test of their warranty process as carbon met rock (the rock won and the ride was done) we picked out an aluminium set to try. The wheels were to be fitted to our mid-travel Norco Sight, we opted for the FLITE Wide Alloy Trail 29 wheels with Wheelworks’ own Dial hubs, all colour matched to the frame nicely.
The rims are very wide, 35mm wide internally. Why go so wide? The last few years have seen trail bikes, all mountain bikes and enduro bikes being fitted with wider rims. Long story short, with wide rims there is more air volume to dampen the ride, more support for your tyres when run at lower pressure and the result is mega traction. With that added traction climbs are not as slippery, corners feel grippy, and the bike responds to braking with more composure.
We’re seeing most ‘wide’ rim wheelsets hovering around the 27-30mm mark; we’re so used to it now we shudder when receiving a test bike with anything under 25mm, even cross country bikes with 19mm rims feel so outdated.
Can wide become too wide?
After riding a huge variety of wheels, we feel that around the 30mm mark is a good balance of traction, precision and support. We’d reserve 35mm rims for serious terrain, rocky and loose surfaces and root-riddled trails – the stuff we love! Take a bike with 35mm wide rims to buff trails and it is overkill, the weight and rolling resistance will drag you down. But take it to a trail where traction is rare, drop those pressures down, and you’ll be cleaning sections of trail like a champion.
Don’t go throwing any old set of tyres on 35mm rims; it’s important to match the rubber to the width. You’ll know if your tyres aren’t right if you can see the sidewalls bulging out past the tread, or the shape of the tyre goes somewhat square. Maxxis have a range of tyres in a particular shape designed for this; the WT (wide trail). Or you’ll be relatively safe with anything above 2.35-2.4 ish.
How’d they roll?
Replacing the wheels on the Norco (Raceface ARC 30) with the Wheelworks set (which use Raceface AR 35 rims) was surely not going to provide a vast amount of difference to ride. Or was it? The 5mm of extra width, combined with build quality, actually lifted the bike’s performance.
Straight away the wheels felt tight and ready, no pinging sounds came from the spokes on our first ride, the wheels were tensioned perfectly. The Dial hubs had significantly better engagement than the Shimano XT hubs they replaced, and the freehub was much smoother too.
We hammered the living daylights out of these wheels; we even sliced the rear tyre from slamming a sharp-edged rock we didn’t even see on one fast descent. A few dings emerged but the spokes didn’t lose tension, and they never went out of true. After three months of pounding, they are still straight, with no twiddling of spoke keys from us at all.
Upon reflection, we probably should have gotten more punctures during the three months; there are way more dings in the rims than the amount of punctures received.
How do they ‘feel’?
When talking wheels, the word ‘feel’ comes up a lot, especially when talking carbon vs. aluminium. These wheels lacked a little zing and pep that we expect from a lightweight pair of carbon wheels, but they had a feeling that we got to appreciate – tough. Throw the bike sideways and the wheels land with a thud, not a chatter, they bomb through rocks quietly and confidently.
The Dial hubs.
Wheelworks offer a bunch of hubs like Chris King, Hope, DT Swiss and their own branded hubs, the Dial (they sound like a dial of a safe). The rear hub has a very precise 72 point engagement freehub, something you’d only find on top end hubs, but Wheelworks spec the Dial hubs on their lower price point wheel builds.
Front hubs don’t typically demand our attention too much, there’s not much going on, but we did find this one a little frustrating when fitting into the bike. The end caps aren’t fixed, they hang loose when the hub is not clamped into the fork. So when dropping the fork onto the front hub, lining up the rotor in between the pads isn’t the only thing you need to take care with. The hub end caps need to be held into place with one hand while the other guides the wheel into the dropouts.
What are the rims?
“Unlike the Flite carbon wheels we develop in-house we do not produce our own aluminium rims and instead choose rims developed and sold by other companies. We’re a fully custom wheelbuilding company and we have access to basically any rim produced and if it suits the customers needs then we’ll source and build whatever is best. What we find is that some rims work better than others for certain applications and those are the rims we choose to stock and recommend. We’ve found the RaceFace ARC range to be well suited for XC and Trail riding and we’ll often suggest the ARC27 and ARC30 for XC use, and the ARC30 and ARC35 for trail use. These rims are wide and light and have good durability for trail use, but not great durability for Enduro so for a harder-hitting rider or bike we’ll use the DT Swiss 512 or 570. These DT Swiss rims are heavier than the ARC rims but stand up better to really aggressive riding.” – Tristan Thomas.
Carbon wheels break, right?
Traditionally speaking, carbon wheels crack where aluminium wheels ding, and it’s more common to see a trashed aluminium wheel still going after heavy abuse where carbon gets to a point where it just can’t go on. It’s a fine line to tread if you’re an aggressive rider, and even more so under pressures of racing. At the EWS in Derby we say many carbon wheels breaking, and occasionally saw bikes fitted with carbon wheels on the front, but aluminium out the back. While not everyone races their bikes, we can still understand why racers make those particular decisions. If we were racing enduro and serious about it, we’d go for something like these for security’s sake, for sure.
Weight, price, stuff like that?
We weighed them at 1900g on our Park Tool scales, which is ok, not fantastic. When comparing wheel weights, though, it’s key to compare apples to apples, these rims are 35mm wide and aluminium. The $1620AUD price gives us that same response, decent, but not a bargain. But again, it’s worth looking at the value of the product as a whole, not just the wheel. Warranty, local support (southern hemisphere is kinda local), custom options and the hand-built process. These guys prove that you can still get good old fashioned service AND purchase on online. In a way, it’s the best of both worlds.
Yay, or nay?
If you’re investing in your bike and want to upgrade, you can’t go past wheels as an area with room for improvement. If your bike is a few years old and running standard narrow-ish rims, these would be a great upgrade, and yes we agree this is a long review for a set of wheels, but there’s just a lot going on.
Hard on wheels? Ride loose trails? Consider these.
At over $2500 for the wheelset, these are an item that few mountain bikers will ever consider. But if you’ve got the money to spend on some thoroughly high-end hoops, then there are some compelling reasons to look at Wheelworks.
As we went into in detail in our First Bite on these wheels, the Wheelworks build process is pretty special. Not only do you get all the custom colours under the sun, but the actual build process is second to none with custom cut spokes, and the wheels are pre-stressed to a very high level, so they aren’t going to need any spoke key love. Mind you, when you see how stiff the rims are on this wheel set, you kind of wonder if it’s even possible for them to go out of true! The components used to build this wheelset are top shelf too, with DT hubs and DT Aerolite bladed spokes, which also contributes to the price tag.
Since we began this review, Wheelworks have expanded their FLITE Carbon lineup – they’ve now got a XC, Trail and Enduro specific versions, with different rim widths/weights for each category. The exact model we’ve tested here most closely aligns with the new Enduro version, but no matter what model you choose, the build process is the same.
For the type of riding we like to do (technical, loose, ageing and uncoordinated) wider rims have some real advantages, letting you drop the tyre pressures while retaining tyre stability. You reap the traction and control benefits, but you do need to pick a tyre that suits. If your tyres are too narrow, or have a particularly square profile, then you end up with a very on/off cornering feel. Luckily, there are plenty of wide rubber options to suit now, such as the Maxxis WT series that we’ve been loving.
It’s in this realm of wide rims that carbon really comes into its own. Making a rim this wide out of alloy adds a lot of weight, or if you keep the rims too light, you sacrifice strength.
How did they ride?
We put these wheels onto our Canyon Strive, and fitted them up initially with Maxxis DD Aggressors (reviewed here). While these tyres are really a bit too narrow for optimum performance (we later fitted Maxxis Minion WT rubber, much better), the sheer stiffness of this wheel/tyre combo was out of control – you just do not appreciate how much flex there is in a ‘regular’ wheel until you ride something as washboard stiff as this. It actually takes a bit of getting used to, they’re just so direct.
When your wheels are this precise, everything just seems to work better; you hold better lines, your brakes seem to have more bite; your suspension is able to do its job properly; they’re incredibly responsive to accelerations, a fact no doubt helped by the crisp engagement of the DT 240 freehub. The bike even sounds better, less clangy, more of a dull thudding of tyres on terra firma.
The issue was, we started to believe we were invincible. As it turns out, nothing is indestructible, and in a moment of joyously uncontrolled and ill-considered hucking, we cracked the rear rim!
What? You broke them? How?
Basically in exactly the same way as we’d have trashed an alloy rim, really. We launched off a five-foot ledge going too fast to pick a landing, and crunched the rear wheel into a square-edged rock, complete with a total suspension bottom out. With a noise like someone had whacked our helmet with a stick, we knew the rim was toast. Ouch.
In this instance, the damage to the Flite rim was relatively moderate. Sure, the rim was cactus, cracked enough to lose air, and we wouldn’t keep riding it long term, but we could fit a tube to get back home, the wheel wasn’t in pieces or anything drastic like that.
Would the impact have ruined an alloy rim? It certainly would have put a big dent in it anyhow, but at least that dent wouldn’t have left us with that sinking feeling in our stomach. Breaking a $2500 anything really feels bad! Fortunately, part of that price tag is the backing of a lifetime warranty, as we’ve discussed below. Yes, these wheels have lifetime warranty, including for broken spokes and impact damage.
What happened then?
We got on the phone to Wheelworks, of course! As it turned out, what could have been a very shitty experience became a good reminder of why great product back up is priceless.
They took the news well. After building hundreds of these wheels, they told us they know that around 3% of riders will have an issue. They also accept that these wheels are designed to be ridden hard, and in their assessment what we were doing certainly fell within their ‘realm of normal use’, meaning it would be covered by their lifetime warranty.
We sent the wheel back to Wellington NZ (from Sydney), and within five days we had it back, a new rim ready to roll.
We asked Tristan Thomas to give us a bit more of an explanation about the warranty terms, because these things can be notoriously vague:
“If something happens to a wheel during normal riding we’ll cover it. We’ve only had a handful of failures from quite a few hundred wheels and we’ve covered all of them however we wouldn’t warranty something like a bike on the roof of a car being driven into a garage. We’ve built enough wheels with high-end carbon brands to have plenty of data about failure rates and we know what we’re doing with our wheel builds results in an industry-leading low failure rate, and that’s the only way we can offer such a generous warranty.
“We can’t promise that a wheel won’t break but we do promise that if it does we’ll sort it and that we’ll do it as quickly as we can to minimise any delays. The customer pays to get the wheel back to us and we’ll replace the rim, spoke nipples, rim tape, and cover return shipping.”
This incident did get us thinking about carbon rims in mountain biking once again. Undoubtedly the performance benefits of a carbon rim are there – to get a wheelset to perform like these do with an alloy rim just wouldn’t happen. But for all the benefits of weight, stiffness and strength, there is a trade off, both in terms of price and practicality.
We’ve ruined plenty of wheels in our time, and some of them have been carbon. And in our experience, when a carbon rim goes boom, it often does so in a terminal kind of fashion, whereas an alloy rim will usually dent up, battered but often still rideable. There are plenty of EWS racers on alloy rims for that very reason – they need a wheel that can take a dent or flat spot, but still be nursed through a full day of racing. And of course there’s no way to grab a pair of multi-grips and bend your carbon rim back into shape back in the workshop.
Carbon rims are a performance item, and there are enough performance benefits there to ensure they’re going to have a bigger presence in mountain biking (especially as the price does come down). But this incident really drove home to us again that with expensive kit like this, equal investment must be there in product back up and warranty support, and as a consumer you should factor those into your purchasing choices.
So, they cost a lot, and you broke them. Can you still recommend them?
While we hate it when things break, we’re happy we’ve at at least had the firsthand experience of just how well Wheelworks handle the process if you do happen to munch a wheel. As we said before, that kind of back up is a huge reassurance when you’re handing over significant amounts money for a wheelset.
We totally understand that a $2500+ set of wheels is not a ‘must have’ for any mountain biker, and a set of far cheaper wheels will do the job just fine. But leaving all that aside, nothing can change the fact these are a ripping set of wheels. Stiff, light, precise, and with great looks too. They will markedly change the way you look at the trail, we promise.
We all know carbon wheels have their big benefits, but there’s no hiding their propensity to explode if hit hard enough, while aluminium rims can withstand a beating for longer. Sure the top downhill and enduro pro riders might have carbon wheels, with a rack of spares at the ready but you can bet the privateer racer who bets on aluminium to get them through.
From our standpoint, we are currently seeing a divide in the mountain bike scene when it comes to the material of choice for wheels. While there are weight and ride quality properties to be benefited from the more expensive carbon option, aluminium rims have gained a lot of ground and a decent wide rim wheelset is more commonplace on high spec bikes than ever before.
We’re fitting this set to our Norco Sight C 9.2 test bike which currently has RaceFace 30mm wheels on Shimano XT hubs, which have been great, we’ll see how these handbuilt wheels with wider rims stack up. Stay tuned for more!
Wheelworks FLITE Wide Alloy Trail 29″.
1900 grams with rim strip and valves as pictured.
35mm internal width.
2″ up to 2.8″ plus tyre width compatible.
Dial hubs, 72-point engagement with angled flanges and low-friction seals.
Hub weights – 135/250g.
DT Swiss Aerolite spokes with Wheelworks lifetime broken spoke guarantee.
Tubeless tape and lightweight aluminium valves included.
Custom ordered decals, CNC in-house, available in about 30 different colours.
Wide rims are the way forward, there’s no doubt about it. A wider, more stable, platform for your tyre lets you run lower pressures for more grip and control. We don’t need to harp on again about it in detail, but we’re not overstating it when we say that wider rims can transform your ride experience in a way that few equipment changes will.
We’ve recently received a set of pretty special wheels from New Zealand custom wheel builders, Wheelworks. These guys are well regarded as the godfathers of Kiwi wheel building – they’re the only crew we’ve ever encountered to offer a lifetime warranty on their wheel builds, including impact damage and spoke breakage, which is pretty exceptional.
You can read all about the Wheelworks wheel building process and just why they feel confident in offering such a warranty here, in our interview with Wheelworks founder Tristan Thomas. We really recommend you have a read, as there are some pretty interesting aspects to the process and Tristan does a great job of dispelling some popular myths about wheels.
The Flite Wide Carbon wheels are, as the name implies, very wide and very carbon. The rims measure up 40mm externally, and 34mm internally, which makes them just about wide as the Ibis 741 rims we tested last year, which opened our eyes to the potential of truly wide rims.
Spokes are the bladed DT Aerolites, and they’re laced in a two-cross pattern, which reduces the angle of entry of the spoke into the rim, with a nice touch being the two powder-coated white spokes on the either side of the valve stem. It’s all in the details!
DT provide the hubs too, which have been given the Wheelworks touch, with custom decals to match the rims. One of the perks of buying a custom set of wheels is that you can pimp them out as you like, so we went with silver and blue decals to offset the silver/black finish of our Canyon Strive test bike. In another nice touch, the Wheelworks guys even up-specced the DT Star Ratchet freehub, to the 54-tooth version for super fast engagement. The weight is pretty impressive, at 1720g for the pair.
The rims come taped and ready for tubeless use with valves already installed to, so we were able to get them setup to ride quick smart. For rubber, we’ve opted to run the new Maxxis Aggressor DD (Double Down, with a stiffer sidewall) in a 2.3″ size. With the stiff tyre sidewall and wide rim, they were a bit of battle to fit, but we’re certainly never going to worry about rolling them off the rim! We think that with the wide rim, coupled to a stiff and robust tyre like the Aggressor, we’re going to have plenty of confidence at low pressures.
We’ve fitted these gorgeous hoops to our Canyon Strive / XT Di2 test bike, and all that remains is to see how fast we can go! Giddyup!
We got Wheelworks founder Tristan Thomas on the line to answer a few questions about why all wheels are not created equal, and to dispel a few myths around the oft-called ‘dark art’ of wheel building.
We’re going to be testing the Flite Wide Carbon wheels, which boast a 34mm internal width. From our perspective, we feel that rim width can really transform a bike in so many positive ways. Given the performance benefits, why do you think it took so long for wide rims to come about?
We’ve been building and riding wide rims for about 5 years now and it’s great to see them become popular and mainstream. From our point of view there aren’t many downsides to rims with an internal width of 30 to 40mm, and as you know there are a whole lot of positives.
After the move from 26” to 29” and then 27.5” that most companies felt they’d already overloaded their customers and their supply chain with wheel changes
I think the delay with seeing these rim widths becoming adopted by the industry is that after the move from 26” to 29” and then 27.5” that most companies felt they’d already overloaded their customers and their supply chain with wheel changes and that the move to wide rim wasn’t a priority for them.
I don’t think we’ll see much change in rim widths over the next few years. I think that rims will go as wide as 40mm for 2.8-ish tyres but for everything from XC oriented 2.2” to enduro oriented 2.5” will use rims in the 30-40mm range. We’ve been running everthing from 33mm cyclocross tyres on 30mm rims and there really is zero downside to wider rims.
Our test wheels are carbon. What are the most common misunderstandings, myths or mis-truths about carbon rims?
My big frustration is that all carbon rims, whether they’re good or bad, get lumped into this same category of “carbon rims” and talked about like they’re the same and this isn’t fair or accurate. There are plenty of good quality aluminium rims which are much better in every measurable way than a cheap carbon rim.
There are plenty of good quality aluminium rims which are much better in every measurable way than a cheap carbon rim.
Modern, high-quality, carbon rims like our Flites are the lightest, stiffest, and most durable rims available. The only downside is that they’re more expensive than aluminium.
You also offer an alloy Flite wheel set. Can you have an alloy-rimmed wheel that’s as strong as a carbon-rimmed wheel? Are there any inherent limitations or advantages to an alloy rim?
Alloy wheels are far from dead and there is heaps of product development still going into them. Modern wide alloy rims are a big improvement on the narrow, flexy things of yesteryear. In general an alloy wheelset will be heavier and less stiff, but will be cheaper. Alloy rims tend to dent when they’re whacked…this can be a good thing and is why you see EWS racers using alloy, whereas good carbon will take a pretty serious beating with no damage at all but whack them hard enough and they will crack. In general alloy rims should be treated as a consumable item for an aggressive rider…they’ll dent and eventually have a hard time holding an airtight tubeless bead. Good carbon rims don’t suffer from these dents and will outlast alloy.
Where does a wheel actually derive its strength from? How much is a product of the rim versus the build quality etc?
Stiffness, strength, durability are three terms which get used and I think it’s worth clearing these up as they’re very different but often get confused.
Once a wheel has ‘enough’ stiffness the rider won’t notice twice as much stiffness.
Lateral stiffness is how much the wheels flex when loaded sideways during cornering, landing crooked (come on, admit it!) knocking off rocks or riding off-camber roots. A stiffer wheel provides a more direct, confidence-inspiring ride. A wheel which isn’t stiff enough is vague or mushy to ride. Once a wheel has ‘enough’ stiffness the rider won’t notice twice as much stiffness. I think of it like having a waterproof roof on your house: if it’s not waterproof enough then it will drip in the rain but once waterproofed it doesn’t matter if you double or quadruple that waterproofness as you’re still going to remain dry. How much lateral stiffness is ‘enough’ depends on the ride weight and style, and on their bike. Also worth noting is that a super stiff wheel won’t be noticed when clamped into a super-flexy fork with a flexy stem and flexy handlebar.
A big myth here is that high spoke tension builds stiffer wheels
Lateral stiffness is built into a wheel mainly by the rim’s shape and material but the spoke type, number of spokes, lacing pattern and hub flange dimensions also play a role. A big false myth here is that high spoke tension builds stiffer wheels: There is no scientific reason for this to be true as the spoke’s Modulus of Elasticity isn’t affected by tension and our lateral stiffness testing confirms it isn’t true. Lowering spoke tension won’t change how the wheel feels unless you lower the tension so far that the wheel falls apart. Conversely increasing spoke tension won’t make the wheels feel any stiffer or more responsive but the higher tension will place more stress onto the rim, hub, and spokes and will cause these items to fail sooner.
Vertical stiffness is another myth. Wheels don’t flex vertically in any amount which could be significant. Your tyres have around 60mm of vertical flex so adding, say, 1mm of rim flex just won’t do anything.
Strength is how a wheel will respond to one, single, hard impact: A cased jump, a hard strike onto a root, etc. Strength mainly comes from the rim’s design and a good, strong rim poorly laced to a cheap hub will still be strong.
Durability is how well a wheel responds to prolonged riding and continued impacts. A wheel’s durability is much harder to measure and building durable wheels is not easy. This is where some of the ‘black art’ of wheelbuilding comes in and although no single silver-bullet will give you excellent wheel durability – there are plenty of small steps, custom tools, and minor tweaks that can be done during the wheelbuild process to increase durability. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years and wheel durability is a huge area of focus for me and the reason we’re able to offer lifetime guarantees on wheels.
We notice you offer a lifetime broken spoke warranty. How can you do this?
Because we’ve figured out how to ensure they don’t break! As part of every wheelbuild we measure the rim and hub and calculate the spoke length. We then cut spokes to the exact right length, down to 0.1mm accuracy, specific to that wheel to ensure we’ve got full thread engagement in the nipple. If the spokes are too short they’ll break the nipple, if they’re too long they’ll break at the first thread. When they’re the perfect length and combined with our other steps, we can guarantee they’ll never break.
There are two types of warranty: one where the manufacturer expects the product to fail and be replaced, and one where the manufacturer puts steps in place to nearly eliminate possibility of failure. We offer the second type of warranty and I’m extremely proud of the durability of our wheels.
You’ve mentioned to your ‘grimlock’ machine, which pre-stresses the wheel. Can you explain how it works and the importance of this process?
If you’ve ever ridden a brand-new bike you’ve likely heard a popping sound coming from the spokes as they settle in, unwind themselves, bend themselves slightly, and loosen off. With some hand-built wheels you’ll hear that they need to go back to the builder after they’ve ‘settled in’ to be re-tensioned and re-trued.
Grimlock allows us to apply a vicious amount of force into the wheel in a really controlled way, and basically over-load the wheel well beyond what will happen when you ride it. The first time a wheel goes into Grimlock it loses about half its spoke tension so we need to re-tension and re-true the wheel. We alternate this process of re-tension and re-truing, and putting the wheel through Grimlock until the wheel comes out of Grimlock as true as when it went in. At that point the wheel has been stressed well beyond what a rider can do and we’ve got full faith that barring a huge crash the wheel will never go out of true.
Do spoking patterns really have an impact in the world of mountain biking? How do you lace mountain bike wheels and why?
There are a few little things that lacing patterns impact but nothing too significant. We lace most carbon rims with a 2-cross pattern which reduces the angle that the spoke enters the rim and helps with rim durability a little. We lace the rear wheels so that the ‘pulling’ spokes bring the crossing in towards the centerline under power to give a bit more derailleur clearance, but with modern 142 and 148mm dropouts being so stiff and modern 40-plus tooth cassettes this doesn’t have a significant effect for most people.
What is the next frontier for wheel development?
The area between Plus and non-Plus is pretty blurred at the moment and you’ll see that continue, but the industry will settle on 30-40mm rims for non-Plus bikes, 40-50mm for Plus sizes and those horrible 23mm rims will be a relic of the past like V-brakes.
Carbon rims will continue to drop in price and will be spec’d on lower-priced bikes but the high-end stuff will remain at a similar price.
If you look at the holistic development of the bike I think that wheels are in front of the curve. I think we’re unlikely to see really significant changes to wheels in the next few years but there will be lots of development in tyres to make the most of wider rims.
Bikes which can accept both super-wide 27.5” tyres and 29” tyres will be increasingly common. What we’re seeing riders owning this type of bike can drastically change how the bike rides by carefully selecting two wheel and tyre combinations so they no longer have a need for an XC bike and a Trail bike and just swap wheels instead.
At the moment we’ve got a mess of axle ‘standards’ which are confusing for riders and make life harder for everyone in the industry from frame companies to dealers so we’ll see the industry settle on a single standard which works.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Tristan! We’re looking forward to putting your wheels to work!