Wil Tests & Reviews The DT Swiss EXC 1200 Wheelset
Launched partway through 2019, the EXC 1200 is the newest carbon fibre wheelset from DT Swiss. Designed to withstand the rigours of enduro racing and trail thrashing, the EXC 1200 is built with DT’s own carbon fibre rims, bladed spokes and the ultra-trick 180 hubs. It’s a premium high-performance wheelset, and that’s reflected in the premium $3,389 AUD price tag.
Where Do These Sit In The Range?
DT Swiss offers a staggering range of hubs, spokes, rims and complete wheelsets, and while we’re familiar with a lot of them, it’s still easy to get bamboozled by all the options. When it comes to complete wheelsets though, most of them fall into three main categories;
- X/XR/XRC = Cross Country
- M/XM/XMC = All Mountain
- E/EX/EXC = Enduro
Most of the wheelsets are alloy, but anything with a ‘C’ on the end of it refers to the use of carbon fibre rims, like the EXC 1200 wheelset we have here. The EXC 1200 can be had in two different versions: the Spline 30 (29in) and the Spline 35 (27.5in). We’ve got the 29in wheelset on test, which features an internal rim width of 30mm.
There are a few reasons why you’d choose a carbon wheelset over an alloy wheelset, and weight is one of them. Compared to their alloy equivalent (the EX 1501), DT Swiss claims the EXC 1200 is considerably lighter – 1670g vs 1868g. Our test wheelset came very close to the claimed weight at 1697g, though I did weigh the wheels with tubeless tape and valves fitted. Either way, that’s very light for a wheelset designed for full-blown enduro action.
A big reason why these wheels are so light is because of DT’s stupendously premium 180 hubs. These feature ceramic bearings, one-piece alloy shells, and the new Ratchet EXP freehub system. Confirmed weight for a pair of hubs is just 283g, which is lighter than most rear hubs on their own. They’re also a big reason why these wheels are so expensive – a pair of 180 hubs sells for the considerable sum of $1,200. Wowsers! If you want a closer look at the new 180s and how the new freehub system works, check out our Ratchet EXP deep dive here.
What’s also worth pointing out is that the rims themselves are actually quite burly. They measure 36mm externally, feature 3mm thick hookless beads, and are claimed to weigh 535g for a standalone 29er rim. The rim walls are thicker compared to the carbon rims found on the lighter XMC 1200 wheelset, which promises greater impact strength and durability.
It’s nice to see DT Swiss including both a SRAM XD and a Shimano Microspline freehub body with the EXC 1200 wheelset, though really it should do given the price. We made use of the tool-free swappable freehubs, since the wheels were tested on both a Specialized Stumpjumper Evo (SRAM 1×11) and our Trek Fuel EX 9.8 long-term test bike (Shimano 1×12). The freehub body still pulls off easily – too easily in fact, since I had the cassette come off completely during a trail-side puncture repair, resulting in a spring and ratchet plate falling out onto the dirt. If you’re more careful than me you’ll be fine, but it would be nice to see a stronger freehub seal to prevent this from happening in the first place.
With tubeless rim tape already fitted, setting up the EXC 1200 wheels tubeless presented no issues. These rims have worn a variety of tyres, including 2.3in wide Maxxis Minions, 2.4in Pirelli Scorpions, and 2.6in Bontrager XR4s, and all have aired up without need for an air compressor.
I did find the plastic wing nuts that are used to tighten down the tubeless valves to be quite delicate. This is probably a deliberate move on DT’s behalf to stop users from over-tightening the valves, but it did mean I had to fit a tube on one occasion after the threads in the plastic wing nut gave way and failed to keep the valve airtight. I’ve since fitted a regular round alloy nut in its place.
Along with extra freehub body and tubeless valves, the EXC 1200 wheels come supplied with snazzy wheel bags, a spoke tool, and 6-bolt rotor adapters. I really do like the simplicity of the Centerlock rotor system, though the addition of 6-bolt adapters mean these wheels are ready for either standard.
Hands down, these are one of the fastest rolling wheelsets I’ve ever ridden. Yes, they’re exceptionally light for their given intentions, but their speedy demeanour largely boils down to those trick 180 hubs and their slippery-smooth SINC ceramic cartridge bearings. There is very little drag present, and that has a noticeable impact on rolling speed on the trail.
When coasting, the Ratchet EXP mechanism gives off a nice, chunky buzz. The pitch is lower than the Star Ratchet freehub, and the engagement itself feels ever-so-slightly more solid. There are 36 engagement points, so you have 10° between each click. Because the inboard clutch plate is fixed however, DT claims that pickup is marginally faster compared to the Star Ratchet. I’m not sure I could actually notice that, but they sure do feel solid.
Would I want faster engagement than this? Not really to be honest. I personally find anything around 10° to be sufficient, though riders who crave ultra-high engagement hubs, like those from Chris King and Industry Nine, may be disappointed. That said, a high engaging hub does result in more pedal kick-back on a full suspension bike, so there’s something to be said for having a few less clicks.
Stiff & Solid, But Not Brutal
The wheel build itself is nice and tight, with 28 spokes laced in a 3x pattern front and rear. DT specs the slightly lighter Aerolite bladed spoke for the front wheel, and Aerolite Comps for the rear. A nice touch is that the spoke lengths are exactly the same front and rear, left to right, which makes it easy to stock a couple of spares. Spoke tension has remained even after several months of testing, and I’m yet to use the little red anodised spoke key.
With the taut build and carbon rims, the EXC 1200 wheelset has a responsive feel under pedal power and steering inputs. Compared to the XMC 1200 wheelset, the rims here do share the same internal and external width, but they are shallower at 25mm. This shallow profile helps to improve radical compliance, and as a result there’s less harshness – something I’m fairly sensitive to as a lighter rider.
I also performed some back-to-back testing with the Bontrager Line Carbon 30 wheelset that comes stock on the Fuel EX 9.8. I setup both wheels with a 2.6in Bontrager XR4 on the front and a 2.3in Maxxis Minion DHR II on the rear, which were inflated to identical pressures on each wheelset. I then swapped the wheels around on the Fuel EX and rode several test loops on repeat.
The difference in ride quality was stark, with the EXC 1200s offering a significantly quieter and smoother ride feel. In comparison, the Bontragers transmitted more buzz and also knocked me around a lot more – something I noticed on a particularly rocky descent, where the bike pin-balled around a lot more. Don’t get me wrong – the EXC 1200s are still responsive, they simply transmit less feedback, resulting in a more comfortable ride overall. Take that short section of trail and multiply it by several hours of riding, and the difference in fatigue becomes even more noticeable.
As a sign of DT’s confidence in the EXC 1200 wheelset, these puppies come with a maximum system weight limit of 130kg (that’s the rider + gear + bike). They have a 2-year warranty to cover you for any manufacturing defects, and there’s also a crash replacement policy that provides owners with a significant discount on replacement parts. However, that’s ultimately up to the discretion of DT Swiss. It’s also nowhere near as impressive as the warranties that Santa Cruz, Reynolds and Bontrager are offering.
Still, the use of non-proprietary parts makes this a relatively easy to live with wheelset, and in our testing we’re still yet to encounter any durability issues. They’ve been totally solid, even though I’ve deliberately ridden them without any tubeless inserts and with standard tyre casings. I’ve managed to write off two rear tyres during the test period, both of which suffered fatal cuts to the bead and crown of the tyre casing. Those impacts weren’t gentle, but the rims shrugged off both of them, along with countless others that would have put in numerous dents into an equivalent alloy rim.
Although they remain undamaged and true, I’d still recommend adding a tubeless insert. These are expensive wheels after all, and it’s worth protecting your investment. Since these wheels are so light though, you go a long way to offsetting the extra weight of an insert. Running an insert also lessens the need for a heavy duty tyre casing in the first place, further reducing the total system weight.
The EXC 1200 is one of the highest performing wheelsets I’ve ever tested, though it bloody should be given the price tag. They’re incredibly fast rolling, and they’re highly responsive thanks to their taut build and low overall weight. They aren’t the smoothest out there (the Zipp 3Zero Moto currently holds that mantle), but they do offer a quiet and refined ride quality compared to most carbon rims on the market.
Perhaps what’s most impressive is just how tough these wheels have been given their sub-1700g weight. While I would like to see a more robust crash replacement policy, our test wheelset hasn’t produced any issues to begin with. They’ve shrugged off the kind of impacts that would dent an alloy rim, and the low weight makes it easier to swallow the weight penalty of adding a tubeless insert. Do that though, and you’ll have a responsive, fast-rolling wheelset that will take an absolute beating too.
They aren’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, especially when you consider the alloy equivalent – the EX 1501 – comes in at half the price at $1,699. But it’s worth pointing out that you are getting some of the highest quality rims, spokes and hubs currently available on the market. And if you’ve endured the expense of replacement rims, hub bearings, pawl springs and wheel rebuilds, then that price tag will start to look a lot more appealing.
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