Carbon MTB Wheels | Do you need them?
Aluminium or carbon? We discover the reality behind the hype
Carbon Wheels, do you need them?
Carbon has been around in the bike world for years, we've seen the big bike brands go full throttle into moulding rather than welding their frames and in some cases they have gone back to their Bauxite roots. Building the main structure of a bike from carbon is now widely accepted, the back end of Manon Carpenter’s World Cup and World Champs winning bike was carbon and almost every bit of Ratboy Bryceland's V10 also popped out of a mould rather than jig. One area many seem more reluctant to engage with when it comes to carbon is wheels that’s maybe because they are so close to the first point of contact – usually a rock – so what is there to consider when you want to splash the cash on some woven hoops?
We headed down to see Rob 'Box' Cooksley at Bad Ass Bikes to get his opinion on the question of carbon wheels.
he's a lovely lad, diligent and certainly not afraid to hurt himself. I’ve been re-decorating the bathroom since his last visit - Steve Jones
Box? Who the hell is he then?
Well when we asked Steve to describe Box he said "he's a lovely lad, diligent and certainly not afraid to hurt himself, I’ve been re-decorating the bathroom since his last visit" Seriously though, he might be crackers when he's on a bike but it's paid off. Box was winning downhill races from back in the early 2000's and since then he has been at the top or very near it in the UK Gravity Enduro Series. All that race experience under his belt is coupled with a background working for RockShox before starting his shop in 1999 and now being a well respected wheel man and specialist custom spec bike builder. In a few words, we respect Box's opinion and that's why he's here talking wheels.
It's about zip
We're not talking YKK here, and it's especially noticeable with bigger wheels. Acceleration is one thing that is evident on carbon wheels, the lack of flex translates into a fast pick up of speed, if you are sprinting for the line and out of corners all day then this can accumulate to seconds over a day of racing Enduro or shaving tenths of your downhill race time.
Carbon & Aluminium
A major consideration between carbon and aluminium is stiffness, as you will see in the video (4 mins in) there's a huge difference between the stiffness of a carbon rim and an aluminium one. When that stiff rim is built into a wheel things can get harsh, if an aluminium rim is a Jag then a carbon one is a works Impreza. Box reckons that you might even want to set the compression on your shock a bit lighter with carbon as an aluminium rim will ply with the shape of the ground more than a carbon rim. If you are moving from carbon to aluminium you might want to go the other way but the key is trying this kind of thing out on the same track and not going balls out but feeling the differences at a consistent speed.
Aluminium is by no means dead when it comes to wheels but you should be considering the way you ride. If you push the bike around and ride it hard then feeling exactly what the wheels are doing and forcing them into submission rather than letting them roll then carbon is going to give you an advantage, especially on bigger wheels and if you are going against the clock. For general trail riding aluminium wheels are perfect, they give a good feel and will cope with all the abuse you can throw at them. But if you want to gain some time and not just look flash with some big stickered rims then carbon rims could be spot on. Just remember that a stiff carbon wheelset will be much harsher to ride and they are a boat load of cash for the Enve and Chris King setup we are building here. There are other options out there but having said that Box is on the same set of rims he built 3 years ago and would normally have to swap rims every year so longevity is a consideration too.
Build & Weight
What you are getting when you head to see an experienced wheel builder is just that, experience. Building wheels to fit your weight as well as riding style is a key part of the custom process. Building a wheel to be loose or taught also makes a difference, essentially you are hanging your bike off the wheel and the forces you impart to it all affect the grip and acceleration of your bike. The inherent stiffness of a carbon rim means that you can build it a bit softer but you can't make that much of a difference, you can however build an aluminium wheelset stiff and gain some of the compliance and grip but you won't get the pick up and zip of a carbon rim.
So what should you be on ?
Buying some rims and building wheels into something like these isn't cheap, we're talking thousands not hundreds here. It seems a very expensive upgrade but look at it from a longevity point of view, especially if you are an aggressive rider or you are racing. Sinking your hard earned into wheels like this could last you well, you gain time against the clock and you have a setup that's direct and reactive when you are riding. If you are just heading into the woods and floating round trail centres then they might not give you much more than a few glances at the cafe, but maybe that's what you are looking for? Aluminium rims will suit the majority of riders out there and if you want to gain a bit of speed when racing or some positive direction when riding hard then carbon wheels could be just the job. Box down at Bad Ass Bikes offers demo wheels for riders to try out and other Enve dealers across the country do too.
Price £850/rim | Hubs £415.00 rear - £220.00 | Spokes - £64