Florida-based Atomik Components sells carbon wheels and handlebars. One of their most recent offerings is a 1,360-gram XC wheelset that's laced up using Berd's ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE, spokes.
Spokes that look more like string or rope raise a number of questions right off the bat. The UHMWPE spokes, however, are designed to be more durable and lighter weight than traditional steel spokes while also offering improvements in ride quality, but they are a $600 upgrade from standard Sapim spokes.
As tested, this wheelset retails for $2,150 USD, and like all of Atomik's carbon wheels it comes with a lifetime warranty.
Atomik BERD XC33 Details
• Intended use: XC
• Rim material: Carbon
• Spoke material: Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene
• Rim width: 26mm (internal), 33mm (outer)
• Diameter: 29"
• Hubs: DT Swiss 240 (tested) other options available
• 28 BERD spokes (f/r)
• 110/148 Spacing
• Lifetime warranty
• MSRP: $2,150 USD
• More info: www.atomikcarbon.com
Carbon wheels are a dime a dozen these days. The polarizing component of this wheelset is no doubt, the spokes.The Details
Atomik's XC33 carbon rims have a 33mm external width, 26mm internal width, and 24mm height. The hubs on my test set were DT Swiss 240s.
According to Atomik and Berd, the UHMWPE spokes used on this wheelset have nine times the strength-to-weight ratio of steel and are stronger than high-end metal spokes with a better fatigue resistance as well. Theoretically, they can be re-used in multiple wheel builds/rim swaps without issue. The spokes aren't cut-resistant, and they wouldn't fare well if an extremely hot metal object (say a brake rotor, heater, or vehicle exhaust pipe) came into contact with them. If disaster does strike and riders find themselves needing a replacement, a standard j-bend spoke can be substituted as most bike shops won't have a spare Berd on hand. The spokes aren't cheap, averaging about $8 USD a pop.
If you drop UHMWPE into your favorite search engine you'll likely generate results mentioning body armor or sheets of the material for sale. It's an ultra-strong material and is said to have the highest impact strength of any thermoplastic currently made. The material is non-toxic, highly abrasion-resistant, and resistant to corrosives, UV, solvents, degreaser, gasoline, etc... That means you should be able to clean your bike and wheels just as you normally would, and if you get bike wash or drips from the gasoline you just soaked your cassette in on them they'll should be fine. Of course, it's recommended you use soap and water to clean things up.
Berd claim their spokes offer superior strength to weight to traditional metal spokes.
The spokes ends that thread into the nipple attach to the UHMWPE spokes in a method similar to a Chinese finger trap, which is the only way to attach them being that the UHMWPE material is inherently slippery. This further differentiates the Berd spokes from spokes that seem similar, such as the ones from Pi Rope.
Building up a set of wheels with Berd spokes is a bit different than using normal spokes, however they can be built/rebuilt by any wheel builder using a few speciality tools. They cannot be machine built. According to Atomik and Berd, most hubs require a chamfering and polishing process and three tensioning sessions, including a “rest” period of 24 hours during which the Berd’s UHMWPE material naturally relaxes by up to 50 percent before being re-tensioned. They then undergo another rest period where the material can relax by up to 25 percent before the spokes reach their maximum length during a third and final tensioning.
Wash after wash along with plenty of concentrated cleaners and degreaser coupled with grime from riding and the spokes look no different than they did on day one.
The Atomik Berd wheels have spent an extended period of time on my most frequently ridden bike, the Supercaliber.Performance
I've had the Atomik/Berd wheels on a couple of different XC bikes, and over the last several months they've been through the full range of trail conditions. I've also taken care to spray plenty of cleaners and degreasers on the bikes and drivetrains, along with the wheels, in order to keep things running well. I've been using Bontrager's XR1 and XR3 XC tires for the majority of testing with air pressures in the neighborhood of 19-23psi. For consistency, this is the same pressure range and tire set-up I've been using on other sets of XC wheels we've been testing. I've also had several other test riders on the Berd wheels from time to time to ensure it's not just my 150lb frame running into rocks.
There is a noticeable difference in the way the Berd wheels ride compared to a traditional wheelset with metal spokes. While it would be easy to dismiss Atomik's claims of vibration damping as marketing hoopla, in this case, there's something to it. The Berd wheels are noticeably smoother when it comes to ride quality. I never experienced the sensation of getting kicked around in rough sections of trail as many overly stiff wheelsets do. Compared to the recently reviewed Bontrager Kovee XXX wheels, the Atomiks offer slightly more forgiveness/compliance but also weigh in a little bit heavier, and the acceleration doesn't feel quite as snappy, although it's still very quick.
The vibration damping from the Berd spokes is noticeable and, according to them, measurable.
A good (but very general) analogy to use for the ride quality would be the difference in the feel of a high-end steel frame compared to a high-end carbon frame. For some riders, this could be a point against them, but there are ample amounts of liveliness when it comes to pushing through and accelerating out of turns or putting the bike in the air. When I'm talking about reducing vibration in this respect, it shouldn't be seen as a "deadening" of the wheels, rather a quieting of feedback and a somewhat less harsh ride. For riders who are used to associating fast with a violent and jarring feeling, this may take some getting used to, but as far as actual speed goes, the wheels feel every bit as quick as other ultra-high-end XC wheelsets.
As far as durability is concerned, I have no complaints and have had zero issues from the carbon rims or the Berd spokes.
Spoke replacements are pricey-
May be overly compliant for some riders