You might not have heard of Sixth Element, but the young British brand has been gaining a lot of traction in the UK with its smartly-packaged and keenly-priced carbon fiber wheels. Over the years carbon has steadily worked its way into the affections of all but the most stubborn mountain bikers, and while still expensive compared to aluminum, prices have fallen a lot over the years, making a carbon wheel upgrade more viable than ever before.
Despite the slowly-falling prices, carbon wheels are still a pricey upgrade, but with a sub-£1000 price, the Sixth Element wheels are one of the more affordable options currently available.
Sixth Element Details
• Size: 27.5” (29” available)
• Intended use: all-mountain
• Internal width: 45mm
• Rim material: Carbon fiber
• Hubs: Hope Pro 4 Boost
• Weight:1870 grams; Front: 890 grams, Rear: 980 grams
• MSRP: £979 (about $1180)
• Contact: www.sixthelement.co.uk
The company specializes in carbon wheels, there are no aluminum options, and offers a wide range of rim widths and built options to suit budgets and wheel size preferences. Like most carbon fiber products, the rims are manufactured in the Far East, but the wheels are assembled by hand at the company's base in Manchester.
I tested the 27.5” version with the widest 50mm rim option, spinning on new Hope Pro 4 Boost hubs with 32 double-butted spokes in each wheel. With tubeless tape and valves readily installed they weighed in at 1800g. They also come with a two-year warranty and crash replacement policy, in the event that you do damage one of the carbon rims. Here’s how I got on with them, but first let's catch up with Sixth Element founder and owner Graham Stock.Five Minutes With Sixth Element Founder Graham Stock What motivated you to start selling carbon fiber wheels?
I've always been keen on pushing the boundaries and looking at new products from the rider's perspective. Some four years ago I started experimenting with carbon rims from different suppliers - building various wheels and testing them on my own and others' bikes. I quickly realised that I was onto something good. The improvements in handling were so dramatic. I knew it was a good business concept, and so worked on the logistics and the quality of the product, always knowing that I wanted it to be rider focused.
I then spent a good deal of time dealing with manufacturers and testing their products - resulting in me settling on a select number of suppliers. Once I was sure that we had a great quality product, that we could sell at a reasonable price, I founded Sixth Element Wheels in 2015. There's a lot of choice in the carbon wheel market these days. What sets yours apart from the crowd?
It's all about top quality, at an affordable price. By this I mean: we use branded hubs (mainly Hope and Chris King, along with DT); the rims are top quality and go through strict Quality Assurance checks; All Sixth Element wheels have a two-year 'no quibble' guarantee and we have a three-year crash replacement programme (£275 for a replacement rim, including re-build: this is available to all our customers). We have a choice of four rim widths and weights to cover all mountain bike and downhill riding and tire sizes.
And not forgetting the decals - customers are making an investment in the wheels and its right that they look great for the long term. Pretty uniquely, Sixth Element decals are physically part of the wheel, they are not stickers. The decals don't fade or become discoloured, they don't peel off or get scratched at the edges. The colours remain permanently true. Customers also have a full choice of decal colours. Do you think the early skepticism towards carbon wheels on mountain bikes has dissipated now?
Mainly - the wheels are so proven now. From our perspective that includes use of Sixth Element wheelsets at World Series level, the Mega Avalanche and across many top UK events. Our Sixth Element riders have been at events where alloy wheels have been broken on the rocks, whilst our's have come through unscathed. Actions rather than words I suppose.
Of course, we still get asked 'are they strong enough?' - this may be founded in the perception that carbon is light and so perhaps not as strong as other materials. I sometimes reflect that most military aircraft these days are made of carbon parts - that must tell us something about strength. What would you say is the big benefit of a carbon fiber wheel?
The most noticeable benefit is the precise handling that comes from riding the wheels. The cornering is amazing compared to alloy rims. The weight saving - mainly on the rolling weight (i.e. the outside of the wheel) - is, of course, beneficial, but I always feel that it’s the performance that counts. Construction
Despite the low price of these wheels, there's nothing at all cheap about their appearance, which is first class. They look a really good product, with smart decals and a clean finish to the carbon rims. The rims are manufactured from unidirectional Toray T700 carbon fiber with the addition of a 3K weave carbon to reinforce the spoke holes. Build quality and attention to detail on the rims is excellent, with a very smooth finish and no signs of blemishes or rough edges upon closer inspection. They are a tubeless-ready rim and use a hookless profile, like many carbon rims these days. The design offers a stronger rim when as there’s a more consistent carbon thickness from rim bed to the outer edge.
The test wheels were built onto a pair of new Hope Pro 4 Boost hubs with a SRAM XD driver - a Shimano freehub can be specified if you prefer. The British-designed and manufactured hubs are a solid choice, combining, as they do, excellent durability with a reasonable price tag. The Hope Pro 4 replaced the PRO 2 Evo hubs with a raft of small but significant updates, including an updated 44-tooth ratchet mechanism in the freehub providing quicker engagement and an increased flange width to provide a stiffer wheel. A wide range of axle options are available with easily-replaceable end caps to fit most bikes. The hubs are also now offered in Boost for the increasing number of new bikes switching to the wider axle standard. Ceramic bearings can also be specified for an extra cost. The rims and hubs are laced together with black, double-butted spokes. Spoke tension was taut and remained so throughout the testing process. You can also choose the size and colour of the graphics to match your bike if you’re that way inclined.Performance
Going tubeless with the Sixth Element wheels was easy. They come supplied with Stan’s rim tape and tubeless valves already installed, so it’s just a case of fitting your favourite tire and a generous squirt of sealant, and inflating. I tested them with Specialized, Schwalbe and WTB tires, and encountered no problems with any of them. Inflation proved simple even with a track pump. They retained air well too. Once fitted to the bike, it really was a case of fit-and-forget. They went about their business with no fuss or drama.
These 50mm rims are absolutely massive. Now, you don't need me to tell you that rim width has increased over the years, and nowhere is width more important than Plus bikes. I've been riding a Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie 27.5 Plus bike for the past year or so and the rims it came with were dwarfed by the 3-inch tires. Just too narrow. Switching to the Sixth Element wheels created a much wider platform and resulted in a less rounded profile that noticeably improved handling and traction. Tire roll and squirm in the corners at lower pressures was reduced in every scenario. With the wider rims, the ride was simply more predictable. Traction was enhanced, especially on off-camber trails, as the shoulder knobs could be put to work: a bonus on slippery trails where Plus tires can sometimes flounder.
Wheel stiffness is a tricky thing to assess. There are many variables to take into consideration when riding, but it was noticeable that the Sixth Element wheels produced a more responsive and energetic feel. It was no surprise that the carbon wheels felt noticeably stiffer than the aluminum hoops they replaced, but the stiffness wasn't so high that they produced a punishing ride. Feedback was more direct, the bike felt tighter through the corners, and had more zip and snap in the way it responded to inputs and contours on the trail. The Sixth Elements proved to be bombproof wheels as well, handling massive roots, rock gardens and dodgy landings. Nothing seemed to phase them at all. After a whole bunch of riding the wheels were still straight and true, the spokes evenly tensioned.
There’s a growing choice of carbon fiber wheels at ever more affordable prices, and early carbon scepticism has faded away now that the material has proven itself to be strong and durable. These Sixth Element wheels saw plenty of use and abuse and they’ve been remarkably good in every situation. In short, they're a really good upgrade to most stock aluminum wheels. Throw in the top-notch finish and build quality, a wide range of rim widths, hub and decal options, and top it off with a reasonable price (for carbon), and you’re looking at a thoroughly good wheelset.Pinkbike's Take:
| A solid and dependable carbon fiber wheelset at a price that might not break the bank. - David Arthur|
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