By Vernon Felton
Long-Term Test: Syntace W35 MX
There are wide rims. There are very wide rims. And then there are the Syntace W35 MXs. With a sprawling internal width of 28.5 millimeters, these lightweight, all-mountain rims are a good 4 millimeters wider than what you'll find on many downhill hoops. That wide profile gives fat tires the kind of support they deserve and the result is less squirming under cornering, a larger contact patch and less risk of a pinch flat. We strapped on some 2.5-inch tires and, yeah, they felt amazing.
You might figure that with sucb a wide rim, the W35 MXs must weigh a ton. Syntace keeps the grams largely in check. The 29er version, which I've been riding for a year now, have a per-rim weight of 560 grams and weights for the 26er and 27.5-inch versions are 500 and 530 grams, respectively. In short, not the lightest things out there, per se, but surprisingly light for such a massive aluminum rim. Syntace counters that you can keep rotational weight to a minimum by safely running large volume, thin sidewall tires and that the improved control afforded by the wide profile more than makes up for the extra grams in the rim. After a full season on these things, I have to second that notion. The W35 MXs never felt sluggish. More to the point, they added a whole new level of confidence to cornering on every bike I slapped them on.
There's also this to consider, at 1,854 grams (again, for the 29er version) overall wheel weight is still damn impressive. I routinely swapped these for stock wheels on pricey 29ers and rode away with a lighter wheelset in place every time. A lighter wheelset that made trail bikes nearly feel like all-mountain bikes.
I am rough on parts. It's not something I'm proud of, but it's a fact: lightweight wheels don't always face a long, happy life on my bikes. Syntace designed the W35 MX to be durable and simple to work on; accordingly the wheel is largely devoid of proprietary bits. The company went the traditional route on the spokes--opting for the "add more of em, and support them like crazy" approach. Accordingly, each of our shot-peened, aluminum rims was three-cross laced with 32 Sapim CX Ray bladed spokes. What's more the rear rim is asymmetrical and is paired with angled hub flanges to reduce that killer of wheels--dish. Even spoke tension is key to long-term durability and Syntace clearly sweated the details to get that rear wheel as close to even as they could. Despite knocking these things around and side loading them plenty, I haven't even had to true them, beyond an initial touch up.
Hub engagement is quick--I'm not a trials guy, so that characteristic usually ranks low on my list of priorities. Hub durability, however, matters to us all. Syntace designed their own spur gear-driven HiTorque MX hubs. The guts look a lot like a DT Star Ratchet system, except four little springs do the job that a large central spring does in a DT 240 hub. I've ridden these things in all sorts of weather and so far, so good. I'll admit, those tiny springs just scare the hell out of me. It doesn't seem like the most robust system. To be fair, however, those mini springs have been doing their job flawlessly, so I can't criticize them on that score.
The rear hub is easily converted between 135- and 142-millimeter standards. Syntace also offers a separate 150-millimeter version. Syntace offers to versions of the front hub: a "narrow" version that accepts both traditional quick release and QR15, as well as an oversize version that will also accept the nearly extinct (but still cherished....at least by me) 20-millimeter through axle. I was running the narrow version, but if I was running the 26er wheelset, I would give my eye teeth for the oversized front-hub, since I'm still a sucker for a Fox 36 or RockShox Lyrik fork.
I was worried that I'd flat spot these things. The rims are low profile, I run my tires at 24 to 26 PSI (I weigh 170) and the rims are aluminum--that's kind of a recipe for fucking an aluminum rim up. Nevertheless, the W35s have rolled on unscathed. Mind you, I'm not a jumper, but my local trails are of the root and rock variety, and I maim plenty of other hoops on them. In short, I walked away impressed by Syntace’s take on “wider is better”.