Throughout the biking ages, carbon has been one of the biggest evolving technologies and materials that’s often been dubbed plastic fantastic. From minor components, to butted frame tubing and now complete bikes, the evolution of carbon has meant one primary thing, a lite weight stiffness. With that, the ever unsatisfied weight weenies have grown more and more fond of this stiffness as alternatives to titanium and alloy in their ever search for that extra less gram.
As technologies have evolved and companies have understood the limitations of carbon, the early era “stone chip” write offs have grown less and projected lifespans of the components grow more. This has been the single biggest turning point (IMHO) in the evolution of carbon and which components we determine they really need them to be.
Take for instance, a wheelset, a large spinning, unsprung weight. Of course the wheelbuilders quality will still dictate the effective stiffness, but couple say a boost hub, Sapim race spokes and a wide and well built carbon rim and surely you’d have a match made in heaven right? Or is alloy still the better solution here when it comes to wheels when we weigh up the options of a weight/ stiffness and price tag check sheet like we did with our teenage girlfriends?
So let’s put budget aside for a second. What really does the carbon rim achieve for us, well off the batt with our derby’s and project 321 hubs we saved a gobsmacking 450 grams in total build weight from the spanks I was running. So yes, we aren’t comparing apples with apples in terms of build pedigree vs the spank 345 wheelset, but they were my well priced, good width bomb proof wheels I could confidently huck, smack or pummel anything my fat ass could.
With the weight savings alone you start to populate that first column box tick…. As much as the haters and purists will say they aren’t weight weenies, it’s a scientific fact, a lower unsprung mass, especially a wheel, is going to outperform a heavier alternative hands down. High unsprung mass exacerbates wheel control issues under hard braking in which you would find on a MTB and in turn, an awful level of wheel hop sneaks in. The less contact with the dirt, the worse the handling for obvious reasons here…
The next big tick on the list is the ever important column that you must tick off is stiffness. More so when you’re rocking the big ole wagon hoops like I do. So yes, sure the hub “standard” (uugghhh, hate that term) matters a fair bit here too along with wheel build quality, but that aside, the carbon material has a far better stiffness calculation factor derived from a very scientific formulae -∫ of √ ⌀ x width x π x boost / by the carbon strands per ^2 cm. The answer is "very stiff" in this case. (Scientific AF).
So then it boils down to a quality/cost ratio. Yes, no doubting here that a wheelset of any half decent quality is going to set you back a fair bit out of ya piggy bank irrespective of your desired composition. But fact is, any wheelset is going to cost a bit if you're serious about A. You're riding and B. How much of a gear nerd you are.
With all of these factors above considered, plus the unmentioned warranty statuses. I decided to pursue a set of Derby rims built up with some suuuuper Shmicky project 321 hubs. I've always had a desire to try a set of carbon hoops on the wagon wheeler but never found myself in the right spots to trial. Having ridden and destroyed early mavic, late model stans flow, top end bontragic, my pessimism to invest in some thing plastic sure was nudging my level headed portion of my brain.
Derby rims have a very generous warranty program, plenty of modern options with width and discipline. paired with the Oregon built hubs of project 321 with well engineered bearings, an insane 216 rear magnetic tooth engagement system and plethora of funky colours I couldn't really see where I could go wrong?
Was investing almost a new bike in a set of plastic wheels really going to be worth it though? Well, HELL YES! wheels turned up from Al at two wheels one gear straight, ready to go and immaculately presented. The build precision on both the the rims and hubs were seriously impressive. Looks aside, the initial and obligatory ride around the outside of the stable felt amazing. Acceleration on tap, stiffness something found on a 20" BMX freestyle bike and an efficient, pro buzz from the hubs...
First ride I was told I'd likely need to adjust a few suspension settings which was dead right. The stiffness increased front predictability ten fold with my front end often pointing well inside the line I was attempting. A subtle change in dampening both front and rear to keep the wheel in contact more (reflective of the above wheel hop felt with the heavier wheel set). The wheels soon became the norm and the new level of expectation I would assume from my bike. Irrespective of my athletic prowess.
Now I know a lot of weekend warrior readers may scoff at the thought of shelling out an enormous amount for wheels on top of what they already have. But consider the investment as being (besides suspension) possibly one of the best investments you'll make on your steed. I for one am madly involve with these wheels and hubs and I think my riding has benefited from them massively. Derby is run by mountain bikers for mountain bikers and is a true passion type a business that I feel fits with my morals of bike riding.
I’ve now wracked up a few hundred KM’s on these wheels, completed 4 enduro events and have battled two days of granite and grit on the Old ghost road and I just wonder, why didn’t I get into these sooner?!