HED is a storied American brand founded in the 1980's by Steve and Anne Hed. Until his passing several years ago, Steve dedicated himself to making the best cycling equipment available and the fastest wheels possible. The brand's road wheels were highly sought after as they were some of the most aerodynamic wheels available.
With Hed's wind tunnel and manufacturing experience, he was able to create products with distinct advantages in ride quality and aerodynamics. A solid disc wheel had many issues in wind, therefore Hed invented the "deep" sectional carbon wheel that's commonplace on many high-end road bikes today.
HED Raptor 29 Details
• Size: 29"
• Intended Use: XC
• Hub options: 28h; HED, Onyx, I9
• Driver options: HG, XD, Microspline
• 25mm Internal / 31mm external
• Weight: 1460 grams
• MSRP: $2,650 USD (as tested)
The company is now based in Minnesota, where it's still being run by Anne Hed. The brand has branched out beyond road wheels and now produces carbon mountain bike wheels and is a highly acclaimed contract manufacturer for other companies. All of HED's carbon is USA sourced and hand laid in their Roseville, Minnesota facility.
HED's Raptor 29 XC wheelset is aimed at XC racers, and it's built with carbon rims that measure 25mm internally and weigh 380g apiece. The rims are available as a wheelset with HED's Brick House, Onyx, or I9 Hydra hubs along with 28 Sapim Laser spokes. As tested, the wheelset sells for $2,650 USD.Design
It's been a while since HED have had a true XC wheel. The Raptor 27.5" is a part of their line up but the Raptor 29 is a completely different wheel. All 148 sheets of carbon in the rims are hand-laid in HED's Roseville, MN facility and utilize HED's engineering to make what they believe to be one of the best XC wheelsets available.
The rims measure 25mm internally and 31mm external. They are designed around use with 2"-2.5" wide tires and are drilled for a 28 hole hub. The set I'm testing is laced up to Industry Nine's Hydra hubset, complete with 690 points of engagement, and riders can choose between I9, Onyx, or HED hubs, depending on their mood.
The core of the rim system is HED's DNA rim profile. "DNA" stands for Dual-axis Nipple Alignment. Haha, right, what does that mean? The DNA profile aligns the spoke bed and hole to match the four spoke angles that occur in a wheel. Those angles are pushing, pulling (on one axis), left, and right (on the other). By having everything perfectly aligned, the interface where the nipple pulls on the rim stays completely even and consistent. With the nipple oriented to the spoke angle, the spoke path is straight and direct all the way into and onto the head of the nipple.
This puts even stress on the nipple and keeps the spoke from bending to accommodate a mismatched angle which creates a stronger nipple bed and a stiffer and stronger rim.
HED's DNA system, illustrated. This shows how the rim bed is designed to keep the spoke path straight and keep even tension on the nipple.Performance
I've been riding the Raptors, on and off, for the better part of six months now. More about that "off" time below.
For an XC wheelset that weighs 1,460g, the Raptor 29's are quick to accelerate, responsive, and amply stiff. The ride quality is superb, although the wheels don't weigh as little as some other wheelsets I've been on, such as Bontrager's Kovee XXX (1,290g), or the Atomik's we recently reviewed with BERD's fancy spokes (1,360g). The overall feel is closer to that of the BERD spoked wheels rather than the Bontragers - the HED wheels have a little more forgiveness. In the world of short travel bikes, this is a welcome trait for most, myself included.
Spinning them up to speed is effortless, as it should be with a wheelset at this weight, mounting tires is painless, and long term durability has been ALMOST
That's right...there was an issue. On the first ride, after I had put the Raptor 29's onto a Trek Supercaliber, I was be-bopping along my standard test loop, a combination of trails I've ridden hundreds of times, and upon landing off of a small (2-3') drop, I heard a loud "pop" that sounded suspiciously less like a shock bottoming out and more like something carbon breaking.
Upon inspection, I noticed a very small, but very present crack in the layup of the rear wheel. Everything else seemed fine...tire still inflated, all in one piece, but having just mounted the wheels up an hour earlier, it was obviously an issue. As much as it pained me to bail on the rest of the ride on a beautiful fall day, I pedaled back to my house and sent HED an email saying "Hey guys, this isn't ideal but I cracked your wheel on the first ride" along with the below photo.
I sent the wheels back to HED. A couple of days later, I received the following response:
Great ride quality+
Owned their mistake
Price. $2,650 isn't the most competitive, even for lightweight carbon-
Initial test rim cracked