By Vernon Felton
Last year Mavic bucked the tide when they didn't unveil a comprehensive line of 29er wheelsets, focusing instead on revised versions of popular 26-inch models such as the CrossMax ST and SX. In fact, Mavic's 2012 wheelset line up included just one 29er model, the C29ssmaxx. While that particular 1,755-gram wheelset was no slouch, it was clear that Mavic was behind the curve when it came to the 29er market.
Which begs the question: Why?
The answer actually turns out to be a bit refreshing: they wanted to get this whole 29 thing right before they began pumping out new models.
By now, most people know that it's hard to make a 29er wheelset that's as light and stiff as an equivalent (same materials, ride application and strength requirements) 26-inch wheelset. Mavic's engineers, however, put a much finer point on it. Twenty-nine inch wheels, they contend, are 39 percent less stiff than a similar 26-inch model built exactly the same and will weigh 10 percent more than the 26'er.
Being pointy-headed types, they refer to this phenomenon as the "X3 (cubic) relationship between an increase in diameter and loss in stiffness." For mountain bikers who want their next 29er wheelset to have the same snappy acceleration and snappy feel as the best 26-inch wheelsets, this whole cubic relationship thing just sucks.
Making 29er versions of Mavic's existing 26-inch wheelsets therefore required that they not simply add a bit more aluminum to the rim and call it a day. The result would be heavy, taco'riffic wheels. Thus Mavic has been sweating the details in an attempt to make 29er versions of their 26er wheels that are just as good.
I won't bore you with the nitty-gritty details, but trust me, there are a crapload of them. Mavic added spokes, strengthened spokes, added rim material, took away rim material, futzed with flange spacing, reinforced some of the spokes (drive side) by shot peening them….let's just say it sounds like they've spent a lot of time trying to get those details right.
The end result of said futzing? Three new 29er wheelsets.
The first wheelset that'll hit the market is the top-level Crossmax SLR 29er, which is targeted at cross-country racing types and will be available this June for $1,000. The Crossmax SLR 29er reportedly tips the scales at 1,620 grams. While the basic rim dimensions are the same as the existing 26-inch Crossmax SLR (19-millimeter inner diameter, Tk-millimeter rim height), Mavic needed to use a thicker rim extrusion and added stronger Zicral bladed spokes. The hubs still feature Mavic's ITS-4 mechanism (four pawls) and accept both old-school quick releases and QR15/Lefty through axles up front, and 142×12 through axle out back.
The second wheelset is the new Crossmax ST 29. As is the case with its 26er cousin, the ST is more of an everyman's trail-riding wheelset: the rim is stouter (primarily because less less aluminum is machined from it) than the SLR rim, but the general dimensions are the same. Weight, not surprisingly, is actually fairly close to that of the SLR. In total, you're looking at 1,710 grams for the set. Of course, shaving nearly 90 grams from a rim will, in fact, lead to a noticeable difference in rotational weight (in other words, the SLR's are going to accelerate a good deal quicker), but if you're expecting a massive difference in weight between Mavic's XC and Trail 29er wheelsets, you'll be surprised.
The Crossmax ST 29er will be available in late summer and will sell for $825.
The last wheelset—the Crossride 29—was perhaps the most exciting to me. While it's heavier (2020 grams) and doesn't feature as nice of a freehub mechanism (it sports two pawls, rather than four), the Crossride accepts both old school quick releases and 15QR/142×12 through axles and—here's the surprising bit—will sell for just $300.
Three hundred bucks for a thru axle wheelset? That's effing crazy (in a good way). It's refreshing to see a wheelset that just about anyone can afford and, at this pricepoint, it'd make a perfect winter-time thrash-about wheelset. Expect to see the Crossride 29 in stores in late summer.