Reviewed: Wheels

Six of this year's most sought-after wheel sets

As part of the 2014 Bible of Bike Tests, we reviewed six of the year's best wheel sets, including DT Swiss XM 1501 Spline One 29,  Specialized Traverse SL 29, Bontrager Rhythm Pro, Industry Nine Torch Trail 24, Mavic Crossmax Enduro, SRAM Roam 6.
As part of the 2014 Bible of Bike Tests, we reviewed six of the year’s best wheel sets, including DT Swiss XM 1501 Spline One 29, Specialized Traverse SL 29, Bontrager Rhythm Pro, Industry Nine Torch Trail 24, Mavic Crossmax Enduro, and SRAM Roam 6.

Price: $1,100


The DT Swiss Spline wheel series is split into cross-country, trail and enduro segments. All three sport DT’s 28-hole hub, but the rims gain heft and size as you go from cross-country light to bruiser enduro. We have the trail-oriented XM model 29 on tap here, which also comes in 26 and 27.5 versions.

For a 29er wheelset that can brawl, the XM 1501 is admirably light. Ours weighed 1,760 grams with rim strips, valves—both top notch—and through axles (15-millimeter up front and 142 out back). The weight is competitive for a wagon wheeler, particularly one with such a wide rim. DT’s aluminum rims measure nearly 23 millimeters, which lends a great degree of sidewall support to any tire up to a 2.5. DT Swiss characterizes these as trail wheels, but they are as stout as most other all-mountain or enduro models.

As riders, we tend to fixate on weight. Grams, however, are not the best indicator of performance. Strapping these things onto my bike resulted in quicker acceleration and more confidence in corners. The stout wheels feel bomber in chunky terrain. I’m a fan of the three-cross lacing and double-butted DT Competition spokes. If you’re a fool for fast engagement, you’ll dig the 36-tooth iteration of DT’s Star Ratchet system. Also, the hubs accept just about any axle standard, no tools required. –VERNON FELTON

Price: $1,700


Calling these wheels ‘affordable’ is just plain wrong, but there aren’t a ton of carbon wheels out there that come in below two grand. At 1,700 grams with tape and valves, they’re damn light for 29er wheels. We’ve only been out on a few rides on them so far, but if they’re anything like the Control 29 Carbon—which we rode all summer—they’ll hold up just fine. Especially considering that those were XC race wheels, and these are designed for all-mountain use.

Specialized carbon rims do not have a bead hook to catch the tire, which seems crazy. But, motorcycle rims don’t have bead hooks so why do bikes need them? We haven’t had any tires fly off the rim, or even a single burp. Plus, not having a bead hook creates a simpler, stronger carbon layup.

Besides that, they’re stiff and nimble. Our test bike, a Specialized Camber EVO comes spec’d with the alloy Traverse wheels, which are roughly 200 grams heavier. The performance advantage with the carbon hoops is instantly noticeable in that the lateral stiffness makes the bike much more responsive. DT 240 hub internals are used in the rear wheel, so we know that’s good. The wheels come set up for a 142×12 rear and 15-millimeter front axle and ship with kits to convert to other common sizes. They arrive taped for tubeless and include valves. –RYAN PALMER

Price: $2,200


The Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheelset has big things on its mind. The 22.5-millimeter-wide rim results in a broad base of support for bigger, more aggressive tires and leads to a wider, squarer tire profile. By using carbon fiber for the rims Bontrager built a wide rim without creating a heavyweight monster. On our scales the 27.5-inch model weighs 1,720 grams with valve cores and rim strips.

The wheels come ready for tubeless application and the rigid plastic strip that Bontrager uses firmly locks the rim bead into place and mimics a UST tubeless rim. The interface between the tire and the rim is tight and positive, creating a good seal—Bontrager still recommends using lots of sealant—and a deep center groove makes it easy to remove tires when necessary.

The freehub features a 3-pawl design has three teeth that engage simultaneously, creating 54 points of contact. The result is a fast pickup and engagement, excellent for acceleration and making desperate ratcheting maneuvers in technical conditions. The outside of the freehub did become excessively notched after just four rides, and required a hammer to remove the cassette. The bearings were beautifully smooth from the box but it would take a lot longer to give the bearings a good going-over. –SEB KEMP

Price: $1,195


I chose 26-inch Torch Trail 24 wheels for my dream bike build in the December 2013 issue of Bike because I wanted something light, yet still stiff and strong enough to ride hard. Given the blank-check nature of our dream builds, you might ask yourself why not shoot for the moon and slap on some hoity-toity carbon-fiber hoops? Every other editor did.

Because I’ve had a crush on Industry Nine since 2006 when I first worked on a pair of wheels for then-sponsored athlete Matt Hunter. I was impressed with the one-piece machined aluminum spoke/nipple and how it threaded directly into the hub flange. It was one of those genius ideas so simple that as soon as you see it you wonder: “Why the hell didn’t I think of that?”

But I’d still never actually ridden the stuff. So when these new Torch wheels came out I had to have them. I wanted to see if I could go this light—1,450 grams with valves—and still ride hard. After several months of flogging—including several runs down the Top of the World trail in Whistler—they’ve collected a few dents, but are still going strong. They’re stiff as hell, thanks to the alloy spokes. And they accelerate SO FAST. But if going the Industry Nine route, you’d better like your freehubs loud. –RYAN PALMER

Price: $1,000


Mavic set out to construct the Crossmax Enduro wheel-tire system to be versatile but high-performance to suit enduro racing. (The corresponding Mavic tires are reviewed on page 124.).

The front wheel has 24 bladed spokes and a 21-millimeter-wide rim, whereas the rear wheel has just 20 bladed spokes and a 19-millimeter-wide rim. Mavic claims that a narrower rim paired with a narrower rear tire reduces rolling resistance. This goes against a study by Peter Nilges from the German College of Physical Education in Cologne, that found wider, high-volume tires better absorb the terrain, resulting in less deflection and better rolling. Beyond this, a narrow rear rim makes it less than ideal to run a 2.4-inch tire because it gives the tire a rounder shape and less support.

The wheels feel assuredly stiff on an angle, in turns and through sustained rock gardens, while the rims should be as resistant to denting and distorting as ever. The clever hub internals are easily serviced and maintained, making the Crossmax wheels sturdy and reliable. Our 26-inch test wheels weighed 1,660 grams. The 27.5-inch set claims a weigh of 1,710 grams. Overall, these wheels are a good bet if you are looking for dependable hub internals, strong rims or you just have a propensity for bright yellow things. –SEB KEMP

Price: $2,200


Wheels are one of the most likely parts to fail and leave you hoofing it, especially if your wheels are the ones that came on the bike. Companies are pulling the wool over our eyes, distracting us with frivolous upgrades, “Check it out, it has an XTR rear derailleur,” while they slap color-matched garbage wheels on and laugh all the way to the bank. How did this happen despite the fact that wheels arguably make the most noticeable difference in the ride quality of a bike? I have no clue.

The first thing I noticed when I put the new SRAM Roam 60 wheels on my bike was their stiffness. Even though the wheels I previously had on the test bike are considerably lighter, the SRAM wheels still accelerate extremely well in comparison, but are incredibly stiff laterally. This can most likely be attributed to the carbon rims, which are significantly stiffer than alloy hoops. The 26-inch-diameter wheelset weighs 1,600 grams with tape and valves, and is configured with 142 x 12 rear and 15-millimeter front axles. Although we haven’t gotten a ton of miles on them yet, the 21-millimeter-wide carbon rims have held up to a couple bottom-outs so far, and the rear hub utilizes the widely proven and trusted DT Star Ratchet system. Plus, they are available in all three wheel sizes. –RYAN PALMER


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