What’s special about the Wheelworks wheels?
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.
You can read a lot more about the Wheelworks approach in our interview with Tristan Thomas, the founder of Wheelworks.
Is wider better?
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?
Yes, we can. Though if we were buying these wheels, we’d be inclined to fit a Huck Norris kit (read our Huck Norris Anti-Flat Tubeless Protection review here) to at least the rear wheel as a measure of insurance.
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.