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
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.
Less expensive than some comparable options+
Relatively light weight for this category
Less compliant than competitors-
Stickers peeled off-