High Rollin: 5 Premium Carbon Wheels in Test
The editors of ENDURO magazine not only live to get into the mountains but love to ride hard, and race too. We are lucky enough to have access to the world’s most desirable carbon wheels and have been smashing five premium sets down rugged race stages throughout the 2016 season. From EWS rounds to big mountain missions the test wheels have had some hammer, it’s time to find out how they performed.
It was not that long ago that if someone told you they had spent over € 2000 on a set of bike wheels you would have smiled, then backed away slowly as they were certainly insane. Over the last few years, high-end carbon wheels have not only become commonplace on racers bikes but are now frequently found on trail riders bikes too. Our test team has put some of the most desirable to the ultimate test, including the desirable ENVE HV M70, IBIS 742, Reynolds Enduro 27.5, SRAM ROAM 60 and the Stans ZTR BRAVO. There are many other options available, but it takes time to test wheels, thousands of km’s need to be ridden, crashes need to happen and bad lines taken, so, unfortunately, we could not test them all.
Will a € 2000 wheelset make me a better rider?
It’s time to address the elephant in the room. It’s a fair question and one that may surprise you. If you’re an aggressive rider, skilled enough to pick good lines and push a bike hard then you will certainly see the benefit of good carbon wheels. Carbon wheels are generally much stiffer laterally than aluminium rims, less flex means every input from the bars goes into changing and holding lines. However, if you don’t live your life in pursuit of seconds and enjoy trails at a more sedate pace – you will probably find your riding actually suffers if you fit some of the stiffer carbon wheels on the market. If not harnessed properly the brutal stiffness of a carbon wheel results in a nervous and unforgiving ride. At low speeds, the flex of an aluminium rim helps the tire stay in contact with the ground, generating more grip and a smoother ride. Moving from a cheap aluminium rim to a stiff carbon rim is like fitting low profile rims to your car, more aggressive in turns but a much harder ride.
Stiffness Vs. Compliance
A stiff wheel is powerful and holds an aggressive line well but is not compliant. A compliant wheel follows the ground well and provides more grip and a smoother ride, but is not as aggressive. Premium carbon wheelsets have to balance stiffness and compliance for the best ride. Some carbon wheelsets like the Stans ZTR BRAVO and SRAM ROAM 60 achieve a more compliant ride, while the ENVE M70 and Reynolds ENDURO 27.5 are racers favourites with their brutal stiffness.
Are premium carbon wheels indestructible?
You would think that buying a super expensive carbon wheelset would guarantee you an unbreakable option, in the real world this is simply not true. When you take ‘that line’ and case ‘that drop’ the forces a bad landing puts through a wheel are massive. As a group, we have snapped or cracked nearly every brand of rim. Accidents happen, things break and even the most exclusive rims snap. Most rims use the same carbon fibre as the base material, but the quality of the fabrication does differ immensely. The benefit of buying a premium wheelset is that they come with some form of discounted ‘loyalty’ warranty, and some even offer an insurance scheme to protect your investment.
Why go wide?
It was only last year when 30 mm + rims started to take off. We realised that a wider rim delivers better sidewall support under hard turns, allowing a lower pressure to be run. Lower pressures (if not too low) result in a faster-rolling speed, more grip and powerful braking. Around 30 mm internal width is now the accepted sweet spot, allowing lower pressures to be run that help offset the very minimal compliance from the stiff carbon construction.
When you pedal, pawls in the freehub engage with teeth in the freehub body to lock the drivetrain and power you forward, when you stop pedalling they release and the wheel can spin freely. The more pawls and teeth that are present the less rotation is needed to before you start applying power, and the firmer the connection. These premium wheels use hubs with a freehub with many teeth and pawls, such as the legendary Chris King and Industry Nine torch hubs. Both these hubs offer near instant power transfer and make a great noise when ripping down the trail.
Which wheelset is the best?
Our pick of the bunch would be the very impressive IBIS 742 which deliver a compliant ride which is stiff enough to power through rock gardens without shaking out your fillings or breaking the bank. The addition of the reliable Industry Nine Torch hubs is the icing on the cake.