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First Ride: Novatec Diablo XL 27.5

The new enduro/DH wheel from Novatec is a beefy, do-anything ride.

Out of the box, the new Novatec Diablo XL wheels are a stylish, but not too loud looking aluminum wheel. The flat black finish, topped with heat-cured graphics that alternate between black and white, give the wheel a clean and appealing look from afar. Up close, smaller details become noticeable, like the offset rim that keeps spoke tension closer to even on both sides, or the laser-etched logo on the gloss-black hub, and of course the rim’s noticeably wide 30-millimeter internal, 35-millimeter external width.

The wheels will be available in a 27.5-inch boost-only size, with 29ers to follow. It will be available with two different hubs, a Novatec for the more budget minded folks, or the top-shelf Factor for folks with a little extra spending cash. Prices will range from $700 to $850 depending on hubs.

The Hubs

If you are looking for something other than Factor logos, for an extra charge Novatec can laser etch your design of choice onto the hub.

The wheelset I rode had Factor hubs installed. An offshoot of Novatec, Factor houses Novatec’s high-end product such as carbon wheels or, in this case, that fancy, shiny hub. The hub features six double-toothed pawls and 60 engagement teeth for a lightning-quick three degrees of dead space between engagement. The pawls of the hub are slightly offset so that only three can engage at a time, leaving the other three standing at the ready. Each pawl has two teeth to help eliminate slip, even in those moments when you’re suddenly grunting up a steeper-than-predicted hill. And to keep it all protected, there is a thick rubber seal between driver body and hub internals.

The 42- and 60-tooth freehub bodies. Which is which?

The Novatec hub is essentially the same 6-pawl freehub, but interfaces with a 42-tooth drive ring, creating slightly more play before engagement.

The Rims

Our pre-production samples featured stickers, but on the final rims logos will be heat-cured onto the rim.

When designing these rims, Novatec took notes from bike builders whose rides can handle mellow trail just as well as bike park laps. So with the Diablo XL, Novatec wanted to make a rim that would step up to any challenge just as well. Continuing with the trend of wider rims, the 30-millimeter internal width does best with a 2.3- to 2.6-inch tire, but Novatec claims it can take up to a 2.85.

The aluminum rims are laced with 32 double-butted steel spokes front and back and the offset shape eases tensions discrepancies found in a more traditional rim. The rim is 6069 welded aluminum, trading weight for durability. The wheels will ship with four replacement spokes and nipples, and come with tape and valve installed for easy tubeless setup. Each rim weighs in at 546 grams, with the wheelset weighing 2,040 grams (front: 950, rear: 1,090).

The Ride

Kona’s Graham Agassiz won’t compete in this year’s Red Bull Rampage, so he came a tried the Diablo XLs with us.

 

In order to test Novatec’s claims of the Diablo XL being an all-around wheel, we took it for a 20-plus mile spin on the Kingdom Trails in Vermont and followed up with a full day shuttling the Burke Mountain Bike Park.

At 2,040 grams, the wheels are by no means light, and the extra weight didn’t make pedaling any easier. But it wasn’t enough to make me complain. And because  the rims got that boost in girth– and are aluminum – they gave me boost in confidence when blasting through rock gardens or casing drops I didn’t know were coming.

More than making up for the weight was the ultra-fast three-degree engagement offered by the Factor hubs. For reference, that’s just as quick as what you’ll find riding Industry 9 hubs. On technical climbs which required quick backpedals to avoid strikes followed by equally quick punches to get over square corners, the hubs were always waiting and ready. Never did I experience any skipping when coming into a steep climb in too high a gear or jamming the pedals into a sprint.

As for wheel stiffness, that is less easily judged, especially after only two days of riding. Swinging the back wheel into berms I felt no flex or unwanted give, and they were precise enough to catch where I wanted them too. Coming out of those same turns, I could reliably point my front wheel to cut out early or g-out a little harder when airing into the next catch berm, with the wheels holding true to the direction they were pointed upon landing.

Graham Agassiz puts down his landing gear, a testament to the Diablo XLs strength.

Over the two days of riding, I quickly came to trust the Diablo XLs on drops and jumps, with no strange noises or unpredictable movement no matter how harsh the landing. And speaking of harsh, it is one thing these wheels are not. Maybe it is because I was on a 6-inch travel bike, but at no point were these wheels uncomfortable.

The hub noise was also a pleasing change of pace to the often-heard loud buzz of 6 pawl hubs. Throughout my time riding the wheels, the hubs offered a consistent and smooth click with no pops or cracks, and they were quiet enough that I could listen to the sound of rubber on dirt and rustling fall leaves kicked up by riders ahead.

As for durability, that’s also difficult to test after just two days on the trail. That being said, these wheels have been under a few Kona riders in recent months, and according to them, despite the number of dents and hits the rims have taken, they have held their air and continued to roll straight. I will have the same pair I rode in Vermont coming into the office, so keep an eye out for an update on reliability after I have put more time on the wheelset.

So I obviously liked the wheels, but the question is would I recommend them, and the answer isn’t as easy as a definitive yes or no. For riders who don’t find themselves slamming their wheels against rocks and roots or are not taking shuttle laps on the regular, it is hard to endorse the Diablo XL over the lighter Race Face Turbine R, or the Industry 9 Enduro S. For those who like to get rowdy, or have a single bike they take to both the bike park and to their backyard trails, or for the heavier-set riders, this wheel is a slam-dunk. The extra weight is worth the trade in confidence that the wheel will hold up to bigger hits.

Learn more at novatecusa.net