The Pinkbike crew gets to roll on the latest and greatest all too often. You guys call it "testing", while I call it living the dream. But what do we choose when we have to slap down some of our own hard earned coin on parts for our ride?
I've recently invested in a set of brand spanking new custom wheels for my all-mountain bike. I only wanted a set of wheels that approach the weight of XC race hoops, and something wide enough as to work good with 2.5" width tires, and sturdy enough to stand up to the odd booter or big gap if I am feeling zesty enough. That's not too much to ask for is it?Read on to find out what I chose....
After spending so much time on other peoples wheel's I finally decided to put together a set of my own. I'll stop short of telling you that I was starting to feel guilty about beating down "test" wheelsets, because I don't. What I was lusting after though was something of my own, something light but strong, and a set of wheels that would be perfect for the sort of riding I've been doing a lot of lately.
It's not like my list of wants was too demanding. I'm only looking for a set of wheels that approach the weight of XC race hoops, and something wide enough as to work good with 2.5" width tires, and sturdy enough to stand up to the odd booter or even road gap if I am feeling zesty enough. So yeah, all I need is your average run of the mill wheels! Let's get started....
At the center of it all sits some beautifully understated WTB hubs. Done in flat black and finished with laser etched logo's, the LaserDisc Lite rear and Super Duty 20 mm front hubs look the part. There are far more expensive hubs in all sorts of fancy boy colors, and cheaper generic hubs that may (or may not...) be up to the task, so why did I build my personal wheels around WTB's hub set?
Cori's mom likes my parts also...
The boy's at WTB go to some great lengths to produce some very light hubs without sacrificing reliability in the process. The LaserDisc Lite rear hub spins upon a uber-strong alloy axle, saving a load of weight in the process. Before you question the use of aluminum, keep in mind that the Super Duty rear hub that is intended for heavy FR/DH use takes advantage of the same system and has survived many seasons on my DH bike.
Aluminum is also used for the freehub body, an easy spot to drop a load of weight over a steel version. That's not all though, look closer and you should see the beveled trailing edge on the drive splines. The entire hub shell has been relieved of any excess material, leaving the meat where it's needed and trimming the fat where it isn't. You can tell that somebody at WTB has sat down and really thought out the details.
Aluminum freehub body
Speaking of details, the inner workings of the rear hub has a few interesting ones. The quickly engaging freehub uses a clutch plate just underneath the body itself. A pickup point on the body is in near constant contact with the plate, which in turn engages all the pawls at the same instant. It's an inventive system that has some real world advantages, the biggest being the lack of dependence on any springs that could (and would) gum up over time. Simply put, instead of spring tension forcing the pawls to engage, it uses the torque you put down to activate. All of the six pawls (each with two contact points) are forced to engage at exactly the same instant, as opposed to a more traditional system where one or more of the pawls may be stuck down due to contamination, focusing the load onto a single pawl. That should never be an issue with the LaserDisc Lite, pretty cool!
From the inside out: Aluminum axle, inner bearing, clutch plate (you can see the pickup points) and pawls
-282 grams (w/o skewer)
-Both 32 and 28 hole options
-135 mm quick release only
-Black or silver (32 hole only)
- $250.00 Canadian msrp
I needed a 20 mm thru-axle hub for the front so I side stepped over to the Super Duty line of hubs from WTB. There really isn't too much to do to a front hub, but WTB has managed to massage the weight down to an impressive 188 grams. Like the rear, the Super Duty has been parred down to only what's needed. Large reliefs in the flanges and a very minimal set of rotor mounts put it squarely into the svelte category of 20 mm hubs.
LaserDisc Super Duty 20 mm hub
-Both 32 and 28 hole options
- $175 canadian msrp
Check out www.wtb.com
to learn more about their products.
Spokes don't get the respect that they deserve. When a customer is purchasing a hand built wheel from me, the majority of the time the only concern they have about spokes is for me to make sure that they are black. Most of us only remember spokes when one manages to separate itself from either the hub or nipple, and then all we do is curse them! So after years of building wheels with standard, but proven spokes, I decided to splurge on some Sapim CX-ray's for my personal build.
Sapim manufactures spokes for every sort of bike and price point, but the CX-Ray is their highest end offering. It's common to see CX-ray's used on road wheelsets approaching 1000 grams (for the pair!) and under much higher tension than what you would use a mountain bike wheel.
The CX-Ray's have been manipulated about as much as you could ever do to a steel spoke. What you are left with is butted and bladed spoke that is nearly the weight of a titanium spoke, but far more resistant to stretching and flexing. The finished product is also lighter than a straight gauge spoke, saving 152 grams over 64 spokes. While the weight savings are nice, the real benefit comes from the bladed cross section. Not for aerodynamics though, but for tensioning and truing.
With a regular round spoke it can be difficult to visually see if the nipple is free to turn or if you are in fact winding up the spoke along it's length. Wind-up is not an issue when first building the wheels, but can come into play down the road after many miles in the rain and mud. Using a slotted tool to hold the mid section of the spoke in place while turning the nipples prevents wind-up and generally makes everything easier. And no, there is no black.
-Available from 182 mm to 310 mm, in even lengths only
- $348 canadian msrp for a package of 100 spokes
Check out Sapim
if spokes are your thing.
Because this wheelset will be going on my all-mountain bike I wanted to use a rim that struck a happy medium between weight, width, and strength. After some homework I decided on a set of Stan's ZTR Flow rims. With a claimed weight of only 470 grams, the Flow's complement my spoke and hub choices quite nicely. I did get a surprise when I weighed them and they came in well under the claimed weight at only 442 grams! How often does that happen?
The Flow's 28 mm overall width, and 22.6 mm inner width, should also work perfectly with the 2.3-2.5" wide tires that they will be shod with the majority of the time. Any skinnier and it would have a negative affect on a tires profile. The rims feature two unique features, the first being a slightly lower sidewall height, and the second is something called Bead Socket Technology (BST). The shallower sidewall in theory should lower the amount of pinch flats due to the tires larger than average volume. BST refers to the shape of the inner portion of the sidewall. The Flow rim's have a much smaller bead hook, and also a much rounder shape to mate to the tire's bead. BST's intention is to create a tighter seal between the tire and rim.
The picture explains it far better than me
-470 grams claimed (mine came in at 442!)
-available in 26" with 32 holes, as well 29" with both 32 and 36 hole options
- $139.90 Canadian msrp
How'd it turn out?
The finished product is exactly what I was hoping for. Weighing in at only 1687 grams for the pair (780 front, 907 rear), they actually came in lighter than I was anticipating. I managed to shed about a pound and a half off my bike, and in rotating weight nonetheless. Having a light wheelset is fine and dandy, but my end goal was to have a set of relatively light but strong wheels. They are also going to be the "control wheels" for a number of test bikes in the future so they should get plenty of time put on them.
Visually the wheels do not compare to some of the eye catching products out there. That was the goal though and do they look quite stealth with their simple black rim's and hubs, laced with silver spokes and nipples.
I'll be putting in a load of XC miles on them, but don't get the wrong idea as I'll also be pushing the wheel well past what they are intended for. Sure, they'll be on shorter travel all-mountain rigs, but I tend not to shy away from too much regardless of the bike I'm on. Only time will tell how the WTB, Sapim, and Stan's (as well is my wheel building skills!) combination will hold up in the long run. We'll keep you posted!WTB Sapim Stan's NoTubes
-Mike "kakah" Levy