In For The Long Haul: Wheelworks Flite Wheelset

The 105kg of solid muscle and fast twitch fibres that make up ex-Spoke Magazine owner Caleb Smith have already hammered these Wheelworks-built wheels for six months and they came away from that abuse within 1/800th of a mm of perfectly true. These wheels are tough! Caleb handed them onto me for a second round of testing. I’ve had them mounted up on my Pivot Mach6 for three months and they are as perfect as when I got them. During that time I’ve ridden all sorts of terrain from slapping Rotorua berms to smashing through Australian rock gardens––these wheels are awesome. If that’s all you need to know then move along, if you’re interested in getting a set of custom wheels built then keep reading…

Firstly some back-story––when all mountain/enduro capable carbon rims first came onto the market around 2009-2010 I purchased the Enve 26” All Mountain rims, 30mm external, 24mm internal width, built by Jono Church at Wide Open (the Enve importers) onto DT Swiss 240 hubs and mounted up on a Santa Cruz Nomad. The difference between carbon and aluminium rims is noticeable both climbing hills and when hitting berms––the wheels just don’t fold over in berms like alloy ones do. These Enve wheels were great, they were also pretty spendy and the internal nipples make it difficult to replace spokes. I eventually sold them second hand, but I still run Enve’s on my Zerode DH bike. Since then there’s been an avalanche of carbon rims available at ever decreasing prices.

When I switched to the Pivot Mach 6 bike I needed new 27.5” diameter wheels, and searched around the net reading reviews to find out the best carbon rim. The Derby rims at 40mm external / 35mm internal width came out on top and I purchased them off the Derby website direct from the USA. The 10mm wider rims allow me to run much lower tire pressures than I would have on the narrower Enves, without the tyre burping air or getting squirmy. For example on the Enve’s I would run 30psi front & rear with single ply trail tires, with the Derby rims I run 20psi front, 22psi rear. I weigh 85kg and love ripping inside cutties on berms, this is as low a pressure as I can go without tire squirm starting to be an issue. When I switch to the heavier stiffer sidewall tires Schwable Super Gravity or Maxxis EXO or dual ply downhill casings for trips to rockier trail, I can drop the pressures even further 15psi front/18psi rear. In gnarly terrain or when it’s wet and muddy where I’m riding on the edge of traction this low pressure allows the tire to conform to the ground and gives incredible grip. If you enjoying riding dry conditions grade 2-4 tracks then perhaps you won’t need the extra grip provided by wider rims/lower pressures.

Fast forward to 2015 and I now own 2 front/rear sets of Derby rim’d wheels, both on DT 240’s, both with Sapim CX-ray j-bend bladed spokes, the newer set is 28 spokes/wheel and older set is 32 spokes/wheel, both built by Jono Church at Bike Culture in Rotorua. Performance wise I couldn’t tell any difference between these 2 sets built by Jono at Bike Culture and the test set built by Tristan at Wheelworks. They both build great wheels. It’s worth noting that Tristan will put 4hrs into a wheel build precisely cutting spokes and measuring tension, whereas Jono pumps it out in 2hrs with standard length spokes. This doubles the wheel-build labour cost, whether or not it’s worth paying for this extra level of attention to detail is up to you, as it doesn’t seem to affect the performance.

Other rim options: If your focus is price then you might like to check out the wide rim options from NZ’s Roam Industries (with a NZ warranty) or Light Bicycle or Nextie direct out of China.  If you’re performance/technology focussed then the next level of rim innovation is coming from the Australians check out the awkwardly named Bouwmeester Tammar V4.8 rims these are single-wall rims and claim to flex in torsional to better absorb impacts and maintain traction.

Alternative rim weights:

Derby 27.5” AM 40mm wide: 465g

Enve 27.5” M70 32mm wide: 453g

Roam Industries CR27.5” 35mm wide : 400g – NZ based warranty

Light Bicycle  27.5” 38mm wide 440g (other width options available)

Nextie 27.5” 38mm wide 410g asymmetric spoke holes (other width options available)

Bouwmeester 38mm 480g front/rear specific asymmetric, only available as wheelsets with DT swiss hubs.

Spokes––Tristan at Wheelworks is picky about spokes, he won’t build wheels with any straight pull spokes and he won’t use Sapim CX-Rays as he’s had six Sapim spoke failures in 10 years, preferring to stick with j-bend DT Swiss Aerolight spokes. Wheelworks delivers a solid warranty against spoke failure that Bike Culture (and most other shops I’m aware of) do not. The warranty is useful if you live in Wellington and can take a wheel into Tristan for a replacement spoke, but not really necessary if you live elsewhere as replacing a spoke in a local shop would be cheaper than sending the wheelset to Wellington, and not being able to ride for a few days.  In any case spoke failures these days tend to be from sticks in the wheel not from manufacturing or wheel building faults. For the record I haven’t had a spoke failure in any of these wheels.

Spoke Weights:

DT Swiss Aerolite 64x 264mm j-bend spokes = 278g

Sapim CX Ray 64x 260mm j-bend spokes = 272g

Hubs: Chris King have a huge reputation for quality and longevity. They have a rainbow of pretty colour options to choose from––and this is the deciding factor for many people that purchase these hubs. These test hubs are pink to match Caleb’s Santa Cruz Nomad, when you’re selecting your hubs bear in mind that these wheels could well last through multiple bikes unless you plan to sell them with your bike. My only gripe with the hubs is the Chris King freehub mechanism––it makes a distracting buzzing drone when coasting down the trail. I took these wheels into Chris at Wide Open (the Rotorua-based NZ importer of Chris King components) for a refresh, and they came out rolling super-fast, but still noisy in the freehub. Some riders defintely love the swarm of angry bees buzzing noise, personally I can put up with it, but I’m not a big fan. I’d prefer the rear hub to be silent so I can hear the sounds of the world around me. The DT Swiss 240s hubs I selected for my own wheels are much quieter running, but still not silent. If you really want silent hubs then check out the Onyx Racing hubs imported to NZ by Revolution Products.

Hub weight: The DT Swiss 240s hubset with j-bend spoke holes, Centrelock disc brake mounts, XD driver body, front 15mm axle and rear 142x12 axle weight 126g front / 218g rear, Chris king hubs with the same specs and 6-bolt disc brake mounts are 197g front / 331g rear. Selecting the DT Swiss hubset saves 184g over the Chris King hubset––quite a big weight savings and you get to run the awesome Shimano RT99 Freeza Centrelock disc brake rotors that have the cooling fins and aren’t available for 6-bolt hub mounts (I run these rotors with Sram Guide brake calipers and levers). Lastly if you’re going with DT Swiss hubs and you want to improve power engagement by reducing the free rotation, then you can upgrade the internal star ratchets from 16 to 32 or 54 tooth units.  The NZ importer doesn’t carry them, but you can get the 54tooth ratchets from Fairwheel bikes in the UK.

Final Thoughts

This is a top quality wheelset, in fact they don’t come much better than this, I can’t recommend the Derby rims highly enough for riders who enjoy grade 5-6 trails and the Wheelworks build is absolutely solid. Next up these wheels are heading to Boyd Grinstead in Christchurch for further long term testing, hopefully his pending marriage won’t affect his riding schedule!