XC-290 NINER 29er wheels
The XC-290 NINER wheels represent FSA’s first stab into the 29er market. The first thing most riders will notice about these wheels is that they use proprietary spoke nipples. Normally, non-standard components can be a pain–replacements parts and the proper tools are always hard to find when you need them most. But FSA's splined nipple design looks promising and the company includes the wrench with the wheels–a nice touch. Even better, I only had to use the wrench a handful of times because the wheels stayed mostly true throughout the test. They only needed an occasional turn after particularly rocky rides on my hardtail. During these times, though, the wrench performed well and the wheels were easy to true.
At 2,122 grams per set (with skewers) the XC-290 NINERs are light enough to race and stiff enough for all-day riding. They felt solid in corners and off-camber rock gardens, and never felt sluggish on climbs or finish-line sprints.
Durability, however, was hit and miss. I tested two sets of these wheels for several months each and had mixed results. The first set withstood several races and heaps of abuse. Once, I carried too much speed into a steep chute that ended in a head-high drop to a flat. Despite delivering a direct blow to the front wheel, XC-290s withstood the impact and I rode away unscathed.
The second set fared worse. Toward the end of the test, I noticed a large crack had developed on the front rim at one of the spoke holes. This set was ridden aggressively, but there wasn't a particular event that should have caused them to fail. FSA claimed the wheels were pre-production and that newer production sets have been reinforced to prevent cracking. We'll test another set to see how these claims hold up.
Until then, these wheels present and interesting dilemma: They are light, stiff, affordable and offer some unique features. One set withstood months of abuse, but another failed early. These wheels could be an all-star, but there are some potential durability issues. We'll hold judgment until we spend more time on another set.