Review: FSA's Gradient Wider29 Carbon Wheelset

Aug 20, 2020
by Sarah Moore  
FSA Gradient Wheels Photo by Jason Thomas
Photos by Jason Thomas


After finding success for their wheels in the road world, then in cross-country applications, FSA developed a burlier wheelset for trail and enduro riders. The FSA Gradient line-up now includes bars, stems, and a crankset, in addition to the Gradient Off-Road Wider29 wheelset that was introduced in September of 2018.

The carbon wheelset is available in both 29" and 27.5" versions, and the claimed weight is 1736g for the 29" wheelset with a 29mm inner bead width. A 4mm offset spoke bed allowed FSA to use equal spoke lengths and spoke tensions on the 24 spokes on the wheel, while keeping the wheels relatively light and maintaining an aggressive price point.
Gradient Wider29 Details:

• Intended use: trail / enduro
• Carbon rims
• Direct pull 2-cross double butted spokes
• 29mm internal rim width
• FSA's Alloy PRA (Preload Reduction Assembly) hubs
• Weight (29"): 1705 grams, 807 front / 898 rear w/o rim tape or valves
• 2 year warranty
• Price: $1,349 USD
fullspeedahead.com

The FSA Gradient Off-Road Wider29 wheels retails for $1,349 USD. You can also buy the rims on their own for $399 USD if you'd like to build them up with a different hub and spokes.

The wheels are covered for two years against manufacturing defects.




Details

The FSA Gradient Off-Road Wider29 rim has a hookless bead and is based on a 24-spoke layout both front and rear. FSA says they can achieve the desired tension and stiffness with just 24 spokes, whereas a lot of other mountain bike rims use a 28 or 32 hole layout. The double butted, straight-pull spokes are laced up in a 2-cross pattern and connected to the rim with brass nipples.

The carbon rim has a 29mm internal width, a 35mm external width, and an overall height of 30mm. We are starting to see wheels come out with lower profile rims, and while the FSA Gradient rim height is just 3mm taller than Bontrager's similarly priced Pro Line 30 wheels, it is almost double the height of Zipp's ultra-compliant 15mm tall 3Zero Moto rims.

As for weight, the claimed weight of 1736g is the same as the claimed weight for the Roval Traverse SL wheels that retail for $1600 USD, and almost 100 grams lighter than the claimed weight for the Reserve 30 carbon wheels that retail for $1,599 USD. I weighed the FSA Gradient rims without the rim tape or valves and the front wheel came in at 807g while the rear came in at 898g.

The wheels use FSA's 6-pawl Alloy PRA (Preload Reduction Assembly) hubs with 6.6 degrees of rotation between engagement points and 54 points of engagement.



Performance

Set Up


FSA sent me the wheels with a Shimano freehub installed and then sent me a SRAM XD freehub driver to install. When I realized I didn't own 15mm cone wrenches, I headed over to Mike Levy's house. Turned out, he didn't have any either, so when I entered the garage he was busily grinding down a set of 13mm cone wrenches, sparks flying everywhere. We both made it out of there alive, and the wrenches worked beautifully to install the freehub.

Once the freehub was installed, I mounted the FSA Gradients up with a set of Maxxis DHF EXO+ and Highroller II Double Down tires. The wheels were easy to tubeless with that combination and popped into place evenly using the FSA tubeless tape that was provided. The wheels also come with a pair of tubeless valves.

On the Trail


It can be difficult to talk about compliance and stiffness when you’ve got a couple of inches of suspension, tires, and all of the pesky variables of real world testing, but when going back and forth between a set of Santa Cruz Reserve 30 wheels with DT Swiss' 350 hubs and the FSA Gradient wheels, both set up with the same tires and the same tire pressure to eliminate that variable, it was easy to tell that the Gradient wheels are on the stiffer side of the spectrum.

I enjoyed the accurate and precise feeling of the stiffer wheel on gravel climbs and on smoother terrain, but on rough terrain, I found they transferred more feedback from the trail into my body and didn't grip the trail quite as easily when the trail got rougher compared to the Reserves. I tried a hybrid set-up, with the the stiffer FSA Gradient wheel in the front and the Reserve wheel in the back, and the difference in stiffness was noticeable.

While the FSA Gradients may not be the more compliant wheels, it is worth noting that they are 100 grams lighter and $300 cheaper than the Santa Cruz Reserve 30 wheels with DT Swiss' 350 hub. On the other hand, they're $50 more than Bontrager's Line Pro 30 wheels, which are 46 grams heavier, but have a quicker engaging hub and a lifetime warranty.

As far as durability goes, I had no issues with carbon rims or the hubs, and after a few months of muddy and then dusty riding the bearings are all still spinning smoothly and free of any excess play. These wheels have also seen plenty of impacts over the last few months and they're still rolling straight and true. If they were aluminum rims they'd likely have at least a few dents by now, but there's not a blip to be seen.

The silver stickers did start to peel at the corners within the test period, so you'd be likely to just peel them all off for the long term and just run the black rim. It is also worth noting that there's no lifetime warranty with FSA wheels like there is on Reserve, Roval or Zipp wheels if anything does happen to them. That peace of mind may or may not be worth an extra couple hundred dollars to you. It's not a big issue if you plan on keeping them for less than the two-year warranty period, but it's definitely something worth considering if you like to keep on the same product for longer.





Pros

+ Less expensive than some comparable options
+ Relatively light weight for this category

Cons

- Less compliant than competitors
- Stickers peeled off
- Warranty terms




Pinkbike's Take

bigquotesThe FSA Gradient wheelset is a lightweight and relatively inexpensive carbon option, with a precise ride feel. Just don't forget to factor the lack of a lifetime warranty into your purchase if you're planning on keeping them for the long run.Sarah Moore








75 Comments

  • 35 1
 So, in summary. They're not light, not cheap, not compliant, not easy to work on, not warranted. I'm struggling to see why you'd buy them, regardless of whether you view carbon rims as the devil's work or a must-have.
  • 1 0
 indeed, you can ride bontrager kovee xxx on enduro bikes, there are Not cheap, but they are really Light ????
  • 36 8
 Obsessive compulsive sweating and shaking heads silently at a lack of tyre-logo-lined-up-with-valve game... yea, that includes me
  • 5 2
 It is at least aligned with the fsa branding. The gradient branding can be used for finding the valve.
  • 1 1
 Ride it like you stole it bro
  • 20 0
 why does the front hub say '148' on it? Super mega boost?
  • 3 0
 haha good eye!
  • 2 0
 Super duper booster
  • 15 0
 I'm sure FSA is reading this review and the comments:

If you do not offer a lifetime warranty (or at least like a 7 year warranty), no one is going to buy your carbon wheels. $1350 on a wheelset is too much money to have them blow up after 2 years with no support. Maybe not on its own, but the market isn't a vacuum. There are numerous other options that do have lifetime warranties to back them at this price.
  • 17 0
 Jesus...Danged bunch of noobs who don’t have a 15mm come wrench. Hahaha.
  • 9 0
 They're right next to the 32mm headset wrench!
  • 3 0
 Guessing the never had to adjust shimano hubs before...
  • 14 2
 Lighter than the NOBL TR37 and WAO Union sets, I'll give them that. Might be a hard sale with the other quality carbon options out there at similar price points and lifetime warranties.

For instance:

The NOBL TR37 wheelset can be had for $1200 with I9 1/1/DT350's/Hope Pro 4 hubs, and sport a lifetime warranty.

The WAO Unions are $1400 with I9 1/1 hubs, also with a lifetime warranty.

Personally, the warranty, and "better" hubs for $150 less to $50 more would be worth it for me. But, I ride a 37lb long travel 29'er, so clearly I'm not overly worried about ~100g of weight savings, so I might not be the target market.
  • 43 0
 Wouldn’t touch any carbon wheel set without a bulletproof warranty, they’re are plenty of options with it so why would you choose the one without?
  • 18 17
 Struggling to understand why anyone would spend such an amount on anything made of carbon that is going to be smashed into rocks in a daily basis. Warranty isn’t going to replace your lost week of a riding holiday or worse. It makes no sense!
  • 12 0
 I stopped reading at 2 year warranty. And claimed weight is without tape and stem and only 24 spokes, a easy hard pass for me.
  • 34 1
 @jaame: I destroyed many alloy rims but have yet to brake a carbon rim, that's why.
  • 24 1
 @jaame: Because we've ridden carbon rims hard for years without any issues so it's not something we worry about. That's why.
  • 12 0
 I just put a set of WAO wheels with hydra hubs on my Norco Optic the performance difference was mind blowing cornering was so much more planted accelerating so much more snappy guys at WAO were amazing to work with warranty is hard to compete with as well!
  • 1 0
 @vikb: Not without any issues, I cracked my rear wheel last fall.
Will either go Zipp for next bike too, or go back to aluminium.
3Zero Moto rims feel like cheating in off camber rooty corners, I really didn't buy into the whole compliance thing until I tried it myself, though the price was hard to swallow, even at a discount.
  • 7 0
 @vikb: Yup, I'm still running a pair of 6 year old 35mm Light Bicycle 29er rims on Hope hubs which just refuse to die.
  • 6 0
 @jaame: lol... Imagine owning multiple sets of wheels. Maybe even one carbon set and one extra strong aluminum set? Is that even allowed?
  • 3 0
 @jaame: I guess it all depends on if you look at rims as a wear item or performance item.
  • 8 2
 @jaame: Conservative riders can run 20 psi in exo tires and still never hit rim, even in rocky terrain.
  • 5 0
 @toad321:

I feel like if these wheels came out a few years ago they’d be noteworthy. But I feel like right now there a bit more of a “me too” product launch.

I’m am actually in the market for wheels. My stock wheelset is super low end, and the rear rim already has 3-4 dings on it. I’ve been considering a carbon rear wheel, exclusively because the lifetime warranty makes financial sense if you go through AL rims every so often (at $100-150 a pop).

But like you said, these not having a lifetime warranty means I’m not even going to consider them.
  • 3 0
 @jaame: I just had my holiday cut short after smashing my alloy wheel to pieces. I’m replacing the wheelset with reserves.
  • 1 0
 @Losvar:

I'm potentially in the market for carbon rims, but not set on it yet.

What rim did you break? Did you warranty it, and if so, how did it go?

Mostly considering WAO Union, and NOBL TR37's at this point.
  • 1 0
 @hobbnobs: just a heads up but WR1 has a UK branch as well.
  • 2 0
 @jaame: because, at least you get your wheel replaced. an AL wheel you're still down with a broken wheel...and you have to pay for it.
  • 4 0
 My Carbon rims brake just fine... are you running old school Juicy 3's or Elixirs? maybe that's your problem.
  • 2 11
flag jaame (Aug 20, 2020 at 14:12) (Below Threshold)
 I guess I’m poorer than I thought. $1300 for a pair of wheels - not even including cassette, tyres or discs. f*cking ridiculous! My whole bike cost me £1999 and I bet I could smash most of you carbon wheel loving fanboi poo poo heads!
  • 3 0
 @jaame:

My bike cost the same as yours (but in USD), and there is a good chance that you're a better rider than me (average weekend warrior here).

But, surprisingly carbon rims can actually make financial sense. Assuming the same pair of hubs, carbon rims seem to cost about 1.5 - 2x what a good alloy wheel set costs.

i9 1/1 hubs + DT Swiss EX511's cost ~$800.
i9 1/1 hubs + Nobl TR37's cost $1200.

But if you dent/destroy an alloy rim, you're out another $100-150 + wheel building costs. With the Carbon wheel you get a free rim to replace the broken one. So depending on if you're the type that beats up rims and replaces them every year or so, it can actually be pretty close to the same price (or cheaper).

And fun fact, you can actually buy most of these as a front/rear wheel only to lower the cost. Thats the option I'm currently exploring anyway.
  • 1 0
 I've been running a set of WR1 Agents and they have been fantastic! Also, they were very quick to respond to customer enquiries. NOBL couldn't be bothered to write me back when I was looking into their stuff.
  • 2 0
 @ocnlogan: It was a Zelvy carbon rim, I did not warranty it, as their site and everything was down for a long time due to some rebranding and stuff, and I couldn't really be arsed, especially in these corona times with shipping down to Australia.
Heard good things about WAO rims.
New NOBL rims actually look quite interesting, and warranty seems to be amazing.

I would never buy carbon rims without a good warranty, the price to performance ration doesn't make any sense without it, as there's really not that big of a difference from a good alu rim, it's massively exaggerated.
  • 1 0
 Actually, there was a time where Light Bicycle and Nobl were pretty closely linked and I got them confused. I need to retract my prior comment about Nobl. It was Light Bicycle Canada that couldn't be bothered to email me back. And you're right, Nobl wheels do look like they have an impressive warranty!
  • 1 0
 @jaydubmah: theyre the same bud.
  • 8 0
 I’m sure these are plenty strong. But lack of warranty coverage is a no-go.

Also, the 24 spoke wheels will be fine.......until you break a spike and the wheel rubs your frame. 4 more spokes would have added almost no weight, but a fair bit of security.
  • 8 0
 Intended for trail and enduro use, but only 24 spokes and 2 year warranty. I don't really see anyone buying these when there's so many wheels with lifetime warranties.
  • 6 0
 PRAAAP.... PRAAAP... PRAAAP... 2-Stroke Wheels
  • 3 0
 bap bap bap bap bap bap braap braaap
  • 5 2
 More like PRAAAP... PRAAAP... PRAAAP... SNAAAP... oh
  • 4 0
 Just call them trail wheels, because that's what it seems they are.. 24 spokes, overly stiff certainly doesn't sound like enduro..
  • 5 1
 Anybody else have pretty much everything FSA blow up on them in the last 10 years? I understand that brands evolve but that’s a solid pass for me.
  • 1 0
 My FSA cranks just came loose, again. Last night's ride. I am going back to the stock cheap samox crank.
  • 3 0
 Friend refuses to buy anything FSA after they wouldn't warranty a set of carbon road cranks that delam'd. Delam is such a blatant manufacturing defect. This makes me feel like even that 2 year warranty is worthless as they're just going to deny any claims.
  • 3 0
 I've had good luck with cheap FSA headsets.
  • 1 0
 "Falls Straight Apart"
  • 5 0
 Gimme a good hub laced to an Aluminum DT rim anyday.
  • 4 0
 I stopped reading after 2 year warranty
  • 2 1
 Non-transferable lifetime warranty means little. Majority upgrade/change their bikes and/or components every 2-3 years. After 2 years if it isn't broken you're probably not going to break it.
  • 2 0
 I see your point. I always feel like lifetime warranties have you paying for the 1st replacement upfront. But in this case, it's similar price to other high quality wheels with lifetime warranties.
  • 2 0
 Completely agree. Not to mention hub “standards” will change by .11 mm or something stupid and you won’t be able to run them on your new bike an way.
  • 1 0
 @slovenian6474: warranty should be understood as (the company who produced the product did something wrong) after two years of proper use if a product breaks it will be considered crash replacement by most companies
  • 1 0
 @wheelsmith: But at that price point, other companies are covering crash replacements UNDER their lifetime warranty. For example, WAO.
  • 3 0
 Well that review sounded decidedly unimpressed.
  • 1 0
 No pics of freehub internals?

Fsa is junk. Re warranty they need to pull a Kia and run a market leading warranty to re-instill any faith at all in that brand.
  • 2 2
 You guys just lost a lot of credibility by admitting you didnt own 15mm cone wrenches. They are not antiquated...I would say 90% or more of the bikes out there require them...and yes that includes sealed bearing designs...
  • 2 0
 Stopped reading after “two year warranty”. I’ll do you a favour - google we are one composites. You’re welcome.
  • 3 1
 These weigh as much as ibis s35 alloy
  • 2 0
 Been smashing these wheels for three seasons now with zero issues!
  • 2 0
 But are they from recycled unicorn hairs?
  • 1 0
 well they'll probably end up as recycled unicorn hairs if you ride them
  • 2 0
 Always amazed FSA is still in existence in the mountain bike world.
  • 1 1
 Anyone else, any time there's a carbon wheel review, scroll down to the bottom before reading the full review to see if they cracked?
  • 2 2
 It's telling that all carbon rims come down to the warranty question... It's not the "if" but the "when"
  • 4 0
 I feel like that’s how it is for any wheelset for people that ride hard... difference is your aluminum wheelset doesn’t cost $1350 so people will still buy it without the lifetime warranty.
  • 3 0
 That's any wheelset. What sets carbon apart is the eye-watering cost. When (not if) I munch a rim, $140 gets me another DT EX511.
  • 1 0
 @peleton7: 150$ get me a new Ibis carbon rim on crash replacement. Is an 1800$ set with I9 Torch hubs on sale for 1000$. I like carbon wheels.
  • 1 0
 With wheels in general it’s “when”, not “if”. My last season on alloy wheels cost me a fortune — three broken rims in just a few months, and I had to replace each one of them on my own dime. I tried carbon wheels because of the lifetime warranty. Since then, I’ve broken two carbon wheels which were both replaced for free. You would have to pay me to go back to alloy.
  • 1 0
 2 year warranty? Yeah, no.
  • 1 0
 for same price you can get onyxrp on any LB or nextie rims
  • 2 3
 XA ELITE CARBON weight 1715 grams, internal width rim 30mm, price 1400 euro
  • 3 4
 So Bontrager for the win???
  • 5 1
 A Bontrager rim won't fail, but hub driver isn't super durable. Not Stan's Neo level fragile, but also not DT stout. Strangely, they still use DT hubs for their road wheels, but foist cheaper, flimsier hubs onto MTB users. On a set of Line Comps, the hubs are a killer value-but on a set of carbon rimmed wheels they're a disappointment.
  • 1 0
 @peleton7: Solid analysis there, wouldn't argue with a single point.

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