Not long ago in a galaxy not far away, carbon fiber wheelsets were largely a novelty in mountain biking. Most offerings were either too expensive or too fragile (often both), limiting their application to elite endurance racing under twiggy high-posters. We’ve come a long way since then, and NOBL is just one of many brands making carbon hoops suitable for aggressive riding.
Founded in British Columbia in 2012 with the goal of producing the toughest and highest value carbon wheelsets available, the brand’s current line features an impressive range of 27.5, 29er and 27.5+ offerings, plus a variety of custom hub and spoke configurations. Over the past few months I’ve been putting NOBL’s TR36 29er wheelset ($1600) with a 30-millimeter internal width to use on demanding terrain across California and Nevada.
The TR36 29-inch wheelset is available in four different builds for individual riding styles and intended uses: Trail, Ultralight, Enduro Race, and Enduro HD. Out of the box, the Trail build wheelset with Sapim D-Light spokes and Sapim Secure Lock alloy nipples reviewed here registered at 1860 grams, which certainly doesn’t put them on the lightweight end of the carbon trail wheel spectrum (many comparable options in width and price fall in the 1550 to 1700-gram range).
A great deal of that heft can be attributed to the hubs, which are manufactured exclusively for NOBL by Onyx hubs in Minnesota. What makes a NOBL/Onyx hub so stout? Simply put, more space and heavier materials are needed to house the moving parts inside the sprag clutch mechanism. Commonly found in high-load applications such as helicopter rotors and car transmissions, instead of using pawls to engage the rear wheel a sprag clutch looks like a roller bearing with non-rotating, figure-eight-shaped sprags which instantly tilt and lock when turned the opposite way.
With a claimed weight of 467 grams, these ceramic-bearing spinners weigh roughly 200 grams more than typical rear hubs, such as the popular DT Swiss 350. So why use a sprag clutch instead of a traditional pawl system? Answer: Instant engagement and a truly silent ride. Not interested in the Onyx hubs? Ain’t no thang, the TR36 wheelset is also available with Hope or Industry 9 hubs, just for you.
Read our review of Onyx’s hubs for more on sprag clutch performance.
On The Trail
With many alloy options on the market weighing less and costing much less, what’s the advantage of this wheelset? Performance at speed. In my experience, alloy wheels tend to be more compliant, yet aren’t as snappy, predictable, or responsive under aggressive riding as stiffer carbon hoops. Looking for comfort over speed on the trail? Alloy rims might be the ticket.
Carbon-rimmed wheels are ideal for riders hungry for every sliver of performance advantage, and the stiff TR36 29er wheelset proved to be stable, precise, and predictable when entering challenging terrain on the gas. The additional grams from the clutch mechanism are housed in the hub, which makes it much less noticeable than if that weight were rotating further away from the axle at the rim.
Although they’ve come a long way in recent years, durability can still be an issue with carbon rims. I put the TR36s through multiple harsh impacts on the jagged, volcanic terrain of Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City, Nevada, where I expected my silent ride to start whimpering with a broken spoke or cracked rim. But the TR36 wheels didn’t flinch. (I wish I could say the same for the spendy alloy wheels underneath my DH bike on that terrain.)
Versus the Competition
Unless you’re in a bike park doing back-to-back laps, comparing wheelsets can be tricky. And even then, factors like spoke tension, tire selection, terrain, and tire air pressure all influence how a bike handles. However, in the past year I’ve done the bulk of my riding on the same 140-millimeter-travel 29er, on the same terrain, and almost always run 2.3-inch-wide tires with mid-weight casings. So I have a pretty solid frame of reference from which to compare these hoops to a couple other wheelsets.
I love the lightweight and performance of Specialized’s Traverse SL Fattie 29 carbon wheelset (1550g), but I break spokes on those wheels regularly (and I’m only 150 pounds). I’ve had very good luck with Praxis’ C32 carbon wheelset (1700g), which isn’t as svelte or lively as the Traverse wheels, but is reliable enough to set your watch to. NOBL’s TR36 wheelset balances the liveliness of the carbon Traverse rims with the Praxis’ durability for a snappy, competitively priced set of hoops that handles a lot more playfully than its weight suggests.