A love letter to Flite's carbon wheels

A while back you may remember when Brett and I visited Wheelworks' Lyall Bay workshop and watched as Gavin and Tristan worked their magic and laced up a beautiful set of carbon Derby rims to some very rad Chris King hubs. If you can't remember, there is an in-depth post here about the whole process and what makes their operation different from 99.9% of the other wheel builders out there. Some of you may have also read my review in Issue 60 (it's attached below). Now my review was very favourable; if I had the money to buy the wheels off Wheelworks after the review I would have, but I had a good set of carbon hoops languishing in the garage that had been sitting lonely for my six month love affair with the Flite wheels.

I feel now after going back to my old wheels that I need to add something as a postscript to that magazine review. You see, my life has not been the same since handing those wheels back over. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. That phrase haunts me now. I went from riding wide wheels one day, and then heading to the NZ Enduro in Marlborough the next on skinny rims. I changed nothing on my bike other than going from 40mm wide rims back to 24mm but it felt horrible. If I ran the pressures as low as I had been on the Flites (around 23-24psi) my tyres would just roll all over the place and the bike felt squirmy. I'm 100kg so to get that squirmy feeling gone I was up around 30psi, but that trade-off was such a rough ride with so little traction it wasn't funny. Now the traction was probably good, but compared to the Flite wheels at 24psi with no squirm, it was a different bike. Shit, I ended up letting air out of the rear shock to take some of the rough edge off.

And then there is the fact that after six months of hard abuse the wheels are still straight. I'm talking down to 1/800ths of a mm straight, there is no movement at all, adding to that no broken spokes. The one sketchy moment I had was on one of the raddest berms I've ever ridden, on Redline at Wairoa Gorge, and everyone I've spoken to about "that" corner says their tyres felt the same.

Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike my current carbon hoops, but not a single day goes by where I don't wish I was still running those Flites; they added that much to the performance of my bike.

But those wheels have since moved on to the second part of our long-term test and out of my reach. They are on their way around three Kiwi riders to see just what kind of abuse they can handle. For their first month they're living in Rotorua with Jeff Carter, then they're moving to Christchurch (with a short stint to Whistler) to spend some time with Harriet Harper and Boyd Grinstead (who hates carbon) and they'll finish off with probably the biggest carbon wheel hater in New Zealand, Craig "Cowboy" McGinity. After each rider has finished with the wheel we'll post their thoughts up.

Removing any kind of bike industry hat, for me personally, , wide rims are the next best addition after dropper posts you can make to your bike to make that fun factor increase exponentially. I'm saving for a set right now; hell you can walk away with a set like the ones tested but with Hope Pro IIs for around $2000.

WHEELWORKS FLITE WHEELSETwheelworks.co.nz

I’ve only ever owned three hand-built wheels. The first is somewhere at the bottom of the Churton Park landfill, but the other set is still going strong a good seven years after their birth.    Eight months ago when Tristan at Wellington-based Wheelworks offered to build me a set of custom carbon hoops, I leapt at the chance. The carbon Derby rims are my first foray into the world of wide rims, sporting a 35mm internal bead width laced to the flashest hubs I’ve ever ridden—pink Chris Kings. Wheelworks’ custom build process is like nothing else, with each spoke cut and threaded to the exact length required for your rim. Every spoke is individually tensioned and Tristan guarantees you won’t break any. (You can check out the in-depth coverage of our wheels being at spokemagazine.com/flitewheels)    I didn’t know what to expect from the wide rims. I’d heard of people running pressures in the teens so once I’d set them up tubeless, which was perhaps the easiest tubeless setup in the history of tyres, I picked 24psi front and rear as my starting point, and I haven’t looked back. Turns out it was spot-on for me.     Climbing has been revolutionised. Rata Ridge above Wainuiomata is one of the main test rides we use as it’s full of steep, rooty little pinches, and there’s a bunch I’ve never cleaned. The first ride on the Flite wheels at the lower pressures gave me all the traction I needed to clean most of them; it was like glue, and made the whole ride (and every ride since) that much more fun. Over the last six months, I’ve been surprised daily by just how much traction I have on the climbs.    The trade-off? Well, I’m yet to find one, seriously. Descending traction is improved dramatically, as the wide base eliminates tyre squirm so even at pressures as low as 20psi (I weigh around 100kg) I still felt stable. Tyre choice plays a big part though and some tyres end up looking like 80s flat-top haircuts on the wide rims and not really doing what they were designed to do, but the WTB Breakout and Vigilante combo I’ve been running front and rear have a reasonably rounded profile. I’m not the most aggressive rider but I’m yet to find them going past that ‘edge’ and letting go, although some super burly riders might. However, as more manufactures make tyres specifically for these wide rims, things will get even better.    Now, they’re not cheap but they’re also not as expensive as other wheelsets out there, and let’s face it, you’re either in the market for a custom-built carbon wheelset or you’re not. If you are, then the Flites are pretty hard to pass up. If, under my weight, riding style and hefty track selection, they can remain as true as the day I rolled them out of the Lyall Bay workshop, they’ll be more than worthy of their top-tier status. Caleb Smith