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THE BEST GRAVEL WHEELS

Summary: The ENVE AG25 carbon (available here, here) rates as the Best Value and is a Best Performer among gravel wheels we’ve tested. 

If you’re out for a long day of steady riding and climbing on a range of gravel surfaces, the Campagnolo Levante (here, here, and here) is our recommended wheelset.

Shorter, race-like gravel performance without much climbing is best served by the DT Swiss GRC 1400 Spline (here and here).

The HED Emporia GA Performance wheels (here and here) give dedicated dirt and gravel road riders the best lower-priced option among alloy gravel wheels.

If you’re looking for one wheelset that performs well on both your gravel and road bikes, check out our review of the best all road wheels, including those we like from ENVE, Bontrager, Roval, and Zipp.


Gravel wheels are a relatively new breed of wheelsets for riding dirt and gravel roads and trails. Even with the same gravel tires, a good set of gravel bike wheels will give you better speed, control, handling, confidence, comfort, and enjoyment than road bike wheels on all of those unpaved surfaces we now call “gravel.”

Of course, all gravel wheelsets are not created equally. The best ones have wide, carbon rims, are light, engage quickly, and cost a lot. Some “all-road” wheels can double as gravel wheels and climbing or all-around wheels on our road bikes.

By contrast, those that come with new gravel bikes are usually heavy, aren’t very responsive, climb poorly, and will generally hold us back from getting all the performance and pleasure we want when we ride gravel.

For this ongoing review, my fellow testers and I evaluated gravel bike wheels at different performance and price levels to develop recommendations for different gravel rider profiles and budgets.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT GRAVEL WHEELS

Click on any red statement below to go directly to that part of the post. Click the back arrow to return to this list. 

What makes a wheelset suited for gravel riding

What matters most when choosing gravel bike wheels

Upgrade gravel alloy wheels are a step up over most that come with a new gravel bike

Carbon gravel wheelsets can provide better performance than upgrade wheels


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THE EMERGENCE OF GRAVEL BIKE WHEELS

Over the last ten years, gravel bikes and gear, including wheels that perform best for different types of gravel riding has expanded quickly. We’ve taken to calling almost any unpaved roads and many trails “gravel,” started using various types of “gravel tires” for different classes of “gravel surfaces,” and been putting them on a range “gravel wheels.”

Road cyclists used to mount cyclocross clincher tires on a durable set of alloy road wheels to ride those same gravel surfaces. Not ideal, but that or a mountain bike were their only options.

Today, the best 700c alloy and carbon gravel bike wheels have 23 to 25mm wide internal rim widths.

For me, these widths define “gravel wheels” and meaningfully separate the performance you get from them from what you’ll experience on road bike wheels that are 19 to 21mm wide on the inside, even when both use gravel tires.

With a gravel wheelset mounted with 35-45mm wide gravel tires, you can lower your tire pressure more than you would with road wheels with narrower internal widths.

Lower pressures will give you better handling because your tires stay in contact with the surface more. You’ll enjoy better comfort as your tires and wheels soak up more of the energy from the uneven dirt and gravel roads you are riding and as your body absorbs less of it.

Wider internal and external rim widths, typically 30-32mm wide, on a gravel bike wheelset will also support the tire sidewalls better than on narrower rim brake wheels. This will make the tire profiles more vertical and less rounded, like a lightbulb. Better support will give you superior handling when you turn on loose or packed surfaces and when you move back and forth across a gravel road for a better line.

Superior handling will also improve your confidence on those consistently changing surfaces that are part of the challenge and fun of riding gravel. Improved confidence will also naturally lead to you riding faster or at least enjoying yourself more at lower speeds.

Adding it all up, using gravel wheels on gravel surfaces will give you better control, comfort, handling, confidence, speed, and enjoyment than road wheels with the same gravel tires.

That’s real performance improvement in a lot of areas.

Gravel bike wheels today are also tubeless, disc brake, and use 12x100mm front and 12×142 thru-axles similar to modern road disc wheels. This combination gives you fewer flats, better braking, and more stability than clincher rim brake wheels with quick releases.

While most new road bikes have disc brakes and tubeless-ready wheelsets, many roadies still prefer clincher tires. And quick-release axles and rim brake wheels are still the predominant road bike format in use.

So, true gravel bike wheels are quite a different animal than what roadies ride on paved surfaces.

Gravel wheelset use will expand beyond gravel bikes.

While you can still ride your road or cross bike and road wheels with 28mm tires on the hard-packed dirt roads that I and others call Class 1 gravel, there are a couple of developments among road bikes that will make it possible for you to use some gravel bike wheelsets on your road bike as well as your gravel one.

First, many of the latest enthusiast-level road disc bikes are being made with enough clearance between the front forks and rear stays for tires that measure 35mm wide or wider once installed.

Mounting a labeled 28mm to 32mm road tire on your 700c gravel wheelset with 23 to 25mm internal and 30mm to 32mm external rim widths can give you a sweet – i.e., comfortable, great handling, and even aerodynamic – road ride.

ENVE’s SES 4.5, and later their 3.4 disc wheels, both with a 25mm internal width and originally carrying the AR name suffix, were the first wheelsets far wider than most modern road wheelsets. These could double as both a road and gravel wheelset. Zipp’s 303 S and 303 Firecrest were two of the latest to join this party, along with at least eight wheelsets from other brands.

I’ve tested many of the carbon gravel bike wheels in this review both on gravel with gravel tires and paved roads with 28mm road tires. Let’s just say a few are ready to give you that sweet ride on both unpaved and paved roads. 

The idea of a tire “quiver” where you pull out the right gravel or road tires to mount on one wheelset is certainly a lot more economical than having a wheelset quiver where you pick between different wheels. While it is more work switching between tubeless tires than between wheels, I think many of us would be down with improving our tubeless tire installation skills if we could save some serious money buying just one set of wheels. If that includes you, check out my review of the best all road wheels.

However, as long as roadies continue riding rim brake bikes with clincher tires and continue to resist tubeless tires, and I think this will be happening for a while, the growth of the one-wheelset solution will be limited to those who’ve bought road disc bikes.

The other development, although it is more limited so far and perhaps more of an exception than a trend, is the introduction of bikes that claim to be fully capable on both the road and gravel. Years ago, Allied Cycle Works introduced their Allroad as “fast enough for criteriums yet fully dialed for gravel.” The Parlee Chebacco, marketed as “One bike. Endless Possibilities,” was originally introduced for cyclocross and rough paved road riding and now includes dirt and gravel roads in the bike’s claimed adventure riding profile.

As more and more brands sell bikes with room for 35-38mm tires, they can make a credible claim for riding on Class 1 dirt, some Class 2 gravel surfaces, and paved roads.

These are not hybrid or Swiss Army knife-type bikes full of compromises. Instead, they share the geometries, tube shapes, and layup properties of road bikes, the clearance for wider tires found on gravel bikes, and the drivetrains and gear range found on either.

The definition of an all-road bike varies from brand to brand. Some market them more as gravel race bikes. But as you can see in the descriptions below, makers of the BMC Kaius, Cervello Aspero, Giant Revolt, Ridley Grifn, Specialized Crux, Trek Domane, and Wilier Rave each claim some all-road status.

Currently, the big brands seem more focused on combining the attributes of light, aero, racing, and endurance road bikes into one while introducing a separate line of gravel bikes. Even more of their attention, and likely their development dollars, are being spent on e-bikes in every category – road, mountain, commuter, recreational, etc.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got a gravel, cross, or road bike, whichever way you want to define them, using a gravel wheelset, as I’ve described, will make a big difference in your ride performance and enjoyment over your standard road bike wheels when riding on dirt or gravel. And if you’ve also got a road disc bike with enough clearance, the right gravel wheelset could double as both your first gravel wheelset upgrade and your next road bike wheels.

Stock wheels exist in the gravel bike world too.

As with most road bikes, gravel bikes also come with what’s called “stock wheels.” It’s a rather derogatory term which, for all but the most expensive gravel bikes, means a low-cost, minimally performing wheelset that bike brands usually spec to keep the sticker price down and their profit up.

Most stock wheels on gravel bikes are typically heavier and have poorer-performing hubs than aftermarket wheelsets sold on their own. You notice the difference immediately between a stock and aftermarket wheelset’s acceleration, responsiveness, and climbing and you probably wouldn’t want to push stock wheels too hard in corners or going through technical sections. Their performance is such that they usually will hold back the potential ride quality and enjoyment a bike’s frame and components are otherwise capable of giving you.

Stock wheels are the “weakest link.” Replacing them on a gravel bike is the second upgrade you should make, tires almost always being the first.

Gravel bike wheelsets group into familiar categories.

Bikes, wheels, components, and kits developed specifically for gravel riding are relatively new compared to road or mountain biking products. As most of us are coming to gravel from one of those other, more well-established cycling passions, I’m sure we realize that we are committing to a range of n+1 decisions when buying gravel gear.

Perhaps, for this reason, brands seem to be serving up fewer gravel bikes and wheelsets than road ones priced in the stratosphere and more options at lower price points.

Indeed, as I survey and select widely available gravel bike wheels for this ongoing review, I see a fair number of them priced and speced in a way that aligns with the upgrade and value-carbon categories I use to evaluate road bike wheels.

The most expensive wheelsets for gravel and often, and some of the best-performing ones, usually also double as road bike wheels. I’ve written a separate post, The Best All Road Wheels, that reviews these wheels that are outstanding performers on both surfaces. 

Of course, some dedicated gravel wheels are outstanding performers and just as expensive as dedicated road wheels.

And just like with road wheelsets, there’s quite a bit of difference in the performance delivered by a gravel bike wheelset from one category to the next. I’ll suggest which category or wheelsets are best suited to different riders at the beginning of each group of gravel wheelset reviews below.


Related Gravel Cycling Posts

Related reading:  

THE BEST CARBON ROAD BIKE WHEELS

THE BEST GRAVEL TIRES

GRAVEL RIDING TECHNIQUE FOR ROADIES

 


WHAT MATTERS MOST

As with all of my reviews, I evaluate criteria in four categories – performance, price, quality, and design – and rate gear and kit roughly in that order of importance.

When it comes to road wheelsets, the performance criteria I try to get a handle on are speed/aerodynamics, stiffness, handling, acceleration/responsiveness, comfort, crosswind management, climbing, and versatility. The relative performance of each of these depends on whether I’m considering all-arounders, aero, climbing, or upgrade wheels.

You really can’t evaluate gravel wheels without first acknowledging and then accounting for the role of gravel tires. Tires are a far bigger factor in your gravel ride’s performance than on your road ride. Your gravel tire choice can totally obscure or greatly enhance the performance of a gravel bike wheelset in a way that doesn’t happen with road tires on your road wheels.

Likewise, the terrain, surface, and speed you ride gravel also influence many of these performance criteria more than they would on the road. Rolling down a hard-pack, relatively flat dirt road at 20 mph is a totally different “gravel” experience, almost a different sport than riding challenging, narrow paths with lots of gravel, 10% climbs, and fast descents, or hairy loose corners at 10-15 mph.

I’m not diminishing the role that different tires and terrain play when riding your road bike on paved roads. It’s just that you can really f* it up with the wrong gravel tires or create a sweet ride with the right ones in a way that’s hard to do with most road tires these days.

To account for the variability that tires and terrain can bring when evaluating gravel wheel performance, I attempted to neutralize their effect as best as possible.

Here’s how.

First, after testing and rating gravel tires, I picked a model that was the best performer across the widest range of surfaces to be my control tire to use for all gravel wheel testing.

Second, I bought another set of those same tires to do A-B comparative testing of different wheelsets back to back within a given day on the same route.

Next, over several months, I rode all the wheels at least a dozen times in different combinations of A-B tests on the same route, one that offered a range of terrain and classes of surfaces from paved to cracked paved to hard pack dirt to spread and dense gravel, to sand and ruts and technical sections with plenty of flats and climbs, etc.

As I’ve tested more wheels for this ongoing review, I continue to use the same benchmark tires on both the new wheelset I’m testing and the wheelset I’ve rated the best or one of the best in the original test.

You can see the route and protocol I followed same as in my gravel tire review here.

Finally, I rode the gravel bike wheels at the suggested tire inflation for the combination of tire and rim width and my rider weight. I used ENVE’s tubeless tire pressure recommendation chart and the SRAM tire pressure guide for this.

While I could have altered the pressure for a given wheelset to get more comfort or improved handling, adhering to a set of guidelines allowed me to compare wheelset performance under the same conditions better.

Yes, I did ride most of these wheels, also in A-B testing mode or on their own on other routes for variety and to avoid feeling like a cycling lab rat. Hey, I’m in this for fun too!

While enjoyable in their own right, none of these rides were as varied as my test route, and I didn’t learn much new about the wheels doing this. Beyond the pure pleasure of the rides, they often confirmed what I had concluded in the ride testing.

My fellow tester Conor uses a different protocol. He rides the same wheelset for a month or so on the Vermont gravel roads where he lives using tires he knows well.

These two approaches usually give us a broader perspective, usually complementing each other, across a wider range of conditions and riding styles than we could develop alone.

What matters most differs between road and gravel wheels.

While the same criteria I listed above matter when trying to distinguish the performance of gravel wheels and road wheels, their relative importance is different. Several things cause this.

For one, you don’t go as fast on unpaved dirt and gravel roads as you do on gravel, perhaps except when you are on Class 1 hard-packed dirt and, of course, on the paved roads between gravel sections of multi-surface rides. The average gravel ride speeds for a course with varied terrain and surfaces for most enthusiasts will range from 12 to 18 mph (19 to 29 kph). I don’t know about you, but I’m wrecked after I ride in the middle of that range on a challenging gravel course for 50 miles.

For this reason, aero is (next to) nothing when it comes to gravel. Your tire’s rolling resistance will affect your speed far more on dirt and gravel than on paved roads.

While some of you may do most of your gravel riding on relatively flat and consistent surfaces, there can be a lot more variation both on unpaved road and trail surfaces and pitch than you’ll ever see on paved roads. (Your tax dollars at work.) Riding on dirt and gravel, you’ll frequently need to change your line for a better path, and you’ll likely go uphill and downhill, dropping and increasing your cadence as you go across variable surfaces and grades a whole lot more than you would on asphalt.

As such, you accelerate more on gravel, so responsiveness is more important in rating gravel bike wheels than road ones. Hub engagement and rim weight play more of a role on these off-road surfaces, in addition to the responsiveness of the rims, hubs, and spokes working together.

We also ride gravel wheels harder and through more abusive environments than road wheels. They’ll naturally go through dirt, mud, and water that can get into the hubs in a way we’d seriously try to avoid when riding our road bikes. We’ll bounce our gravel tires and rims through potholes and over and against rocks and stones on a good day and perhaps fall over several times or crash occasionally on a bad one. Who knows what kind of vegetation, living or dead, from bushes to dead branches, will rub against or get into our spokes when we’re riding double or single-track sections?

All of this adds up to putting a higher premium on durability and quality when it comes to evaluating gravel wheels compared to road ones.

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UPGRADE GRAVEL BIKE WHEELS

The first step toward a better ride on a new bike is replacing your stock wheels, those that came with your bike, with an upgrade gravel wheelset. Unless you bought a gravel bike that came with carbon wheels, an upgrade set is the most economical way to get a better ride after first getting a better set of tires.

Why? A good set of upgrade gravel wheels will have a wider internal rim width, likely somewhere between 2 to 6mm wider than the wheels that came with your bike, some of which aren’t wide enough to meet my definition of a gravel bike wheelset. These upgrade gravel bike wheels will give you a more comfortable ride as you’ll be able to lower the tire pressure with wider rims. They will also better support your tires, providing you with improved handling.

Many upgrade gravel bike wheels also have better hubs and lighter rims than you’ll find on your stock wheels. This will improve your acceleration and make climbing a bit easier.

All of these types of improvements are true and even more for the value-carbon and all road category gravel bike wheelsets reviewed in the sections below. However, that could cost you 2x to 3x the $700-$1200 you’ll pay for upgrade wheels from established brands.

From my experience with wheels in all three categories, I’ve found that upgrade wheels are best for relaxed rides at relatively low average ride speeds (10-13mph), on flatter terrain, and over more consistent Class 1 (hard-packed dirt) and Class 2 (spread gravel) surfaces.

If that description fits you and the way you ride, you don’t need better performance than what these wheels give you.

Of the upgrade gravel wheels I’ve tested, I noted differences in their response to my accelerations, their ability to climb, the comfort they provided, how smoothly they rolled, and how their freehubs sounded while coasting. They all felt sufficiently stiff when I rode them hard going uphill and handled similarly on downhills and flat terrain. All held up well over the months I rode them.

Here are my individual reviews that get into their differences.

HED EMPORIA GA PERFORMANCE – COMFORT WITH A BALANCED CHARACTER

Market price US$750. Available from Performance Bike, BTD (BikeTiresDirect).

HED EMPORIA GA PERFORMANCE GRAVEL WHEELS

Born, tested, (and photographed) as the Eroica, HED changed the name of these wheels to Emporia GA Performance shortly before I wrote this review. No worries. Nothing about the product itself is different other than the name.

HED now uses the Emporia name for its line of gravel wheels. GA stands for gravel alloy. GC for gravel carbon. You can choose between HED’s Performance hubset, the one I rode for this review, or, for $200 more, the Sonic hub, which goes on the Emporia GA Pro wheelset.

Of the upgrade gravel bike wheels I tested, these HEDs offered the best balance across my performance criteria. While superior to the other wheelsets on just one criterion, it was equal to or just a touch off the best on the others and not objectionable on any.

Overall, the Emporia GA Performance is a solid wheelset for those of you who should be attracted to upgrade gravel bike wheels – you’re on a budget and riding at lower speeds, flatter terrain, and hard pack dirt or spread gravel surfaces rather than those enthusiasts doing faster, more varied gravel challenges.

Comfort is the Emporia’s strong suit compared to other upgrade wheels I’ve ridden. While you can always lower your tire pressure on any wheelset to get a more comfortable ride, you may give up some handling and responsiveness if you go too far. Riding the Emporia and other wheels in this review at the pressure suggested for the combination of their internal rim width, my control tire’s width, and my rider weight, this wheelset was notably more comfortable than other upgrade wheels.

When I accelerated on the Emporia or headed up a 5% or steeper climb, these HEDs performed nearly as well as the best hubs in this category. Perhaps it’d be equivalent or better with the Sonic hub that HED puts on the Pro model, but I wasn’t disappointed with what the Performance gave me.

Likewise, the Emporia GA Performance wheels are plenty stiff enough and handle well for the kinds of efforts I was putting out on a wide range of terrain and gravel classes on my test track.

You can hear the Emporia’s freehub when coasting, but it’s not particularly loud or high-pitched. While not the smoothest rolling of the upgrade wheels, the Performance’s hubs didn’t create a rougher ride than the surface beneath me delivered on its own.

A few dings aside, these wheels held up well over months of testing in dusty, sandy, muddy, and rocky conditions that go along with gravel riding. The wheels remained true, I didn’t notice any difference in how the hubs rolled and found no water got past the hub seals.

These wheels came in at 1648 grams without valves or tape. They measured 24.1mm deep, 24.9mm wide between their bead hooks across the inside of the rim, and 30.4mm wide outside.

EASTON EA90 AX – SOLID, SMOOTH ROLLING

Market price US$800. Available through these links to recommended store Performance Bike, JensonUSA

EASTON EA90 AX GRAVEL BIKE WHEELS

Hub performance seems to drive noticeable differences among the gravel wheelsets I’ve tested in the upgrade category, as many of the results of my evaluation of other criteria are quite similar.

Easton’s EA90 AX gravel bike wheelset is built around the company’s Vault hubset. It’s solid, smooth rolling, and relatively quiet, almost unnoticeable, coasting over loose dirt or gravel surfaces.

As I’ve found on Easton’s road bike wheels which use the same hubs, they also give you a great ride off the road. Rolling through the elements of dirt and gravel, they seem unperturbed and no worse for wear after a lot of hard riding.

The Easton Vault rear hub doesn’t engage or spin up as quickly as what I experience on HED’s Emporia GA Performance wheelset. This makes the EA90 AX a bit less responsive to accelerations and, while about 80 grams slimmer than the lighter of those two, not as good on shorter, punchy climbs.

In addition to the smoother rolling, relatively quiet ride, these wheels are also comfortable though nothing out of the ordinary in this category. The same goes for their good stiffness and handling.

The EA90 AX wheels come with durable, pre-installed strips that appear to be molded to the rims. With the multiple tire changes I made on these and other rims, the Eastons clearly held up the best and would make your life easier if you changed out your tires frequently.

My scale had these wheels at 1579 grams, including the aforementioned strips, below others and Easton’s own 1625g claimed weight. You don’t see that happen often. At 19.8mm deep and 28.2 mm outside width, they are both shallower (by about 3mm) and narrower (2mm) than the Bontrager and HED upgrade gravel wheels. Neither of those measurements matters in this Easton gravel bike wheelset’s performance as much as its inside width, which, like the others in this review, comes in right around 25mm, specifically 24.8mm with my calipers.

VALUE-CARBON GRAVEL WHEELSETS

Let me use the differences in road bike wheelset categories to provide context for gravel ones.

A value-carbon road bike wheelset makes good sense as a replacement for your stock road wheels. Compared to alloy upgrade road wheels, you can get deeper, potentially more aero-value-carbon ones for higher road speeds,  somewhere in the US$1000 and $1600 price range or about US$500 more than you’d spend on the alloy upgrades.

While the weight of value-carbon and alloy upgrade road wheels are often about the same and have similar quality hubs, some value-carbon road wheels are stiffer, handle better, or are more comfortable thanks to what carbon can give you vs. the limitations of alloy rims.

And they are carbon! Who wants to ride alloy wheels anymore when you can ride carbon ones?

That’s where I should have started since it’s what motivates many people to look at value-carbon wheels in the first place. “I want carbon wheels, and I want to pay as little as possible for them” is how it usually starts for many of us roadies.

That’s the rationale behind value-carbon road bike wheelsets.

However, the value-carbon gravel bike wheelset category makes less sense to me. Carbon and low price is also likely the primary motivator for this category.

As I wrote earlier, you’ll get little to no aero benefit from your wheels at the speeds we mere mortal enthusiasts ride dirt and gravel. So, even though you can get value-carbon gravel bike wheelsets that are 40 or 45mm deep, far more than the 20-25mm rim depth of upgrade ones, it wouldn’t help all but elite, professional riders. And as pros, they’re sponsored and likely riding higher performance, dedicated carbon gravel wheelsets or all-road ones.

When riding gravel bike wheels, I believe you’re better off with a lighter set than a deeper one. The lightest value-carbon gravel wheels weigh between roughly 1400-1450 grams, a difference you’ll notice when compared to the 1575-1675g weight of most of the wheels in both the value-carbon and alloy-upgrade categories.

Few value carbon wheels are both light and wide with 25mm inside and 32mm outside widths ideal for good handling and comfort.

The reasons I can see for spending the extra money on a value-carbon gravel wheelset over an alloy upgrade one are:

  1. Better performance on gravel so that you can ride faster or more comfortably on more challenging or longer rides.
  2. Better performance on the road using your gravel bike wheels on your road bike instead of stock or upgrade road bike wheels. This would give you a reason to use your gravel bike wheels on both your gravel and road bikes.
  3. “I want carbon gravel wheels and I want to pay as little as possible for them.”

As you’ll see in my ratings and reviews below, most of the value-carbon wheels I’ve tested to date are a bit of a mixed bag for the first two reasons above. But they are all carbon!

There is one point to add about wheelset quality that favors value-carbon gravel bike wheels over upgrade ones.

Some think carbon wheels are more prone to damage than alloys when riding dirt and gravel surfaces. The opposite is actually true, assuming the carbon layups are well made and come from companies who design, test, and either do or oversee their rim manufacturing and wheel assembly.

ENVE AG25 – ONE OF THE BEST PERFORMERS ON GRAVEL AT A VALUE PRICE

MSRP/RRP: US$1400, £1850, 2200. Available through these links to recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, BTD (BikeTiresDirect), and Tredz (10% off w/code ITKTDZ10).

ENVE AG25 Gravel Bike Wheels

When I first rode the ENVE AG25 gravel wheelset, a song came into my head. It doesn’t happen often when I go out for a ride. And when it does, it’s often a song I just heard before getting on the bike and doesn’t stay there long.

But when it happened with the ENVE AG25, it stuck and still does. The music suits my mood while riding these wheels, and the words provide a pretty good metaphor for their performance.

The song? Smooth. The 1999 Grammy-award-winning hit features a knockout lead guitar performance by Carlos Santana with words written and sung by Rob Thomas, the gritty-voiced lead singer of the 1990s pop band Matchbox Twenty.

Haven’t heard it for a while? Listen here, my friend.

Santana’s playing is downright energizing. It’s the kind of energy I want to draw on when I’m doing a long gravel ride that I’m psyched about, especially if it’s an event with a mass start where my heart is already calling for it with every pulsing beat.

In the first few miles of that kind of ride, you need to “stay so cool” and “be so smooth” to avoid blowing up when it feels like you’re just “seven inches from the midday sun.”

And Thomas’ hook, the vulnerable yet impassioned“gimme your heart, make it real, or else forget about it” is the same attitude I want from myself and my gear on every gravel ride. Be on my game from the start or don’t even bother to show up.

The ENVE AG25 gravel wheelset performs at the high energy level I get from Santana’s guitar. It’s very responsive to accelerations and line changes and handles precisely as you make sweeping turns.

Yet, throughout a hard ride, the ENVE AG25 is also comfortable and relaxed, the gravel ride equivalent of so smooth.

There’s a massive volume to spread your air pressure in the ENVE AG25’s rims. I measured them at 25.0mm inside, 33.5mm outside width. Riding them with several small knob tires in the 40mm wide range, they were notably more comfortable than others in this category of value-carbon wheelsets.

The AG25 also climbs evenly, comfortably, and with little effort – so smooth. Weighing just 1435g on my scale, 150 to 250g lighter than most gravel wheels in the value-priced category, and using the Industry Nine 1/1 hubset with 4 degrees of engagement probably has something to do with it.

ENVE AG25 Gravel Wheels

ENVE SES 3.4 (left) and ENVE AG25

On several occasions during my couple months of tests, I rode the ENVE AG25 and ENVE’s more expensive all-road SES 3.4 back-to-back on the same day on the 13-mile, mixed surface, multi-class gravel route I use as a test track. Despite trying, I couldn’t tell their performance differences while riding gravel. Perhaps a better rider could.

Sure, the 3.4 is more aero as it is nearly 2x the AG25’s 21mm depth. But most enthusiasts, including me aren’t going to ride fast enough on dirt and gravel roads and trails for aero considerations to come into the picture.

And yes, the 3.4 is supremely versatile – it can be you all-around and climbing road wheelset and your gravel grinder. That’s a good reason to pay more for the SES 3.4 if you want that one wheelset to rule them all. You can read my complete review of it here.

But if you’re looking for a dedicated gravel wheelset, I’ve not found a better performer than the value-priced ENVE AG25, and none nearly as good for less. At US$1400/£1850/2200 for the AG25, it’s priced at the top end of the value-carbon category but well below those in the performance-carbon range that the ENVE AG25 is on par with.

In the same way that the song ends with the repeated refrain, “Let’s don’t forget about it….”, it’s hard to get this wheelset out of my mind and off my gravel bike to make room to test others.

For those of you who prefer 650b size gravel wheels.ENVE also makes the AG28, available at the same stores through the links above.

BONTRAGER AEOLUS PRO 3V TLR DISC – WELL SUITED FOR UNPAVED ROADS

MSRP/RRP: US$1500, £1350, €1400. Available through these links to recommended stores Trek’s online store.

BONTRAGER AEOLUS PRO 3V TLR DISC GRAVEL WHEELS

Bontrager calls the Aeolus Pro 3V a road wheel for “road and gravel tires.” From my experience, this wheelset is well suited for dirt and gravel where, amongst those I’ve tested in this category, just a step behind the best.

On unpaved surfaces, its rapidly engaging hubset shines against others at this price point and delivers the kind of quick acceleration that is welcome and more often needed on dirt and gravel than on paved roads. It also climbs reasonably well even though it is as heavy as most in this category, even more so if you use the tubeless rim strips.

The Aeolus Pro 3V is also one of the most comfortable value-carbon wheelsets I’ve ridden offroad. Further, I found the handling precise and confident when going fast around corners on loose gravel or soft dirt surfaces. The combination of comfort and handling makes for an enjoyable, smooth ride.

On paved roads and compared with the many value-carbon road wheelsets I’ve reviewed, the Pro 3V was quite average and not one I’d recommend if you ride that surface for more than slower, commuting, or recovery-type rides. With 28mm tires on board, I did sweet spot intervals, an alpine climb, and a recovery ride or two in search of the Pro 3V’s strengths and weaknesses.

Despite trying tire pressures at, above, and below suggested levels, I couldn’t find a pressure where the Pro 3V felt both comfortable and gave me good handling. It wasn’t uncomfortable and didn’t handle poorly, but neither was it more than average on these performance characteristics.

It climbed adequately, but again, nothing special, and I didn’t really feel it maintained my speed well at aero speeds.

Would I recommend the Aeolus Pro 3V over the best alloy upgrade wheelset for gravel? Yes, in a heartbeat. It is clearly better and will change the quality and pleasure of your ride when you go offroad.

At the same time, you can do better if you look for one wheelset for unpaved and paved surfaces.

For those of you interested in the Pro 3V’s design specs, per my measurements, it sports one of the widest internal (25.1mm) and external (32.3mm) rim widths of any of those measured or claimed in this category. My test model ran 35.0mm deep and 1682 grams with the tubeless rim strips inserted.

As with all Bontrager tubeless-ready wheels, you can ditch the 60-gram strips and tape them for tubeless if you want to go 100 grams lighter. Bontrager uses their Rapid Drive 108 freehub, with 3.3 degrees of engagement and 24 double-butted bladed spokes on both the front and back wheels.

CAMPAGNOLO LEVANTE – COMFORTABLE ON ALL-DAY ROUGH RIDES AND CLIMBS

MSRP/RRP: US$1750, £1350, €1400. Available through these links to BTD (Bike Tires Direct), Performance Bicycle, and Merlin.

If you regularly do long gravel rides with a lot of climbing and a range of rough road surfaces, the Campagnolo Levante is a good “silent partner” to ride along with you.

My fellow tester Conor rides the Vermont Green Mountain gravel roads and trails and lives for the weekends when he can do it all day. The Levante perfectly suits the climb after climb after climb nature of those rides on most course that give you double-digit percentages of Class 1, 2, 3, and 4 surfaces no matter which way you go. 

My Italian isn’t very good, but I believe there is some connection between the word “levante” and the English word “rising.” If so, that’s a good description of one of the things these Campagnolo wheels do well. While they’re not the lightest (1527 grams measured) or stiffest gravel wheels around, they do go uphill better than most in the value-carbon gravel wheelset category that their relatively modest and often discounted price puts them in.

Campy could have also named this wheelset the Comodo or “comfortable.” Conor remarked that they soak up the bumps and road chatter so well, and their cup-and-cone bearing hubs are so quiet that they seem to disappear beneath you.

When he was out on 4 to 6-hour rides on challenging terrain and surfaces, the combination of Levante’s easier climbing and quiet comfort gives you an easier and more enjoyable day on your gravel bike.

Recognize that these are really best as all-terrain, all-surface endurance wheels. We don’t find them as snappy or responsive as some of the more expensive all-road wheels or even the similarly priced ENVE AG25.

On smoother dirt and gravel road races where speeds pick up, pacelines form, and turning precision is key to maintaining your position, the Levante doesn’t excel. But neither do most wheels in this value carbon category.

While perhaps wasted on a wheelset that’s likely to get as dirty as you after a long day riding off-road, the Levante cleans up better than most of us. Its rim finish gleams, its hubs have an hourglass profile, and its logos are stylish. I seemed more motivated to wash my bike after a day of riding with the Levante than most other gravel wheels.

If nothing else, that got me off to a better start the next day than I’d have had with a dirty bike.

SHIMANO GRX WH-RX870 CARBON GRAVEL – COMFORTABLE FOR STEADY RIDING

MSRP/RRP: US$1400, £1225, €1350. Available through these links to recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, BTD (BikeTiresDirect), Tredz (10% off w/code ITKTDZ10), and Tweeks.

Shimano GRX Carbon wheels

Everything we’ve come to expect over the years from Shimano wheels comes through in the GRX WH-870, their first carbon gravel wheelset. It’s a solid performer across the board, though it doesn’t stand out against the competition in any area. It’s well-made, modestly badged, and fairly priced.

Being a Shimano product, it has the largest dealer support network in the world. But you’ll likely not need to visit a dealer if this carbon gravel wheelset is as durable and easy to maintain as most products from Shimano. And from fellow tester Conor’s and my experience riding it hard for a few months, there’s nothing even to hint that the GRX WH-870 will be any different.

Shimano’s highly lauded cup-and-cone road hub bearing design carries through to the GRX carbon gravel wheels. It’s wonderfully quiet and peaceful and rolls smoothly when you’re out for an easy ride on Class 1 dirt or Class 2 light gravel roads. However, you can only get this wheelset with a Shimano/SRAM 11-speed suitable HG freehub, so those of you who use SRAM AXS 12-speed drivetrains and need XDR freehubs are out of luck.

On rough surfaces, the wheels absorb chatter and bumps as well as the ENVE AG25, Bontrager Aeolus Pro, and Campy Levante gravel wheels, and better than the others in the value carbon category. Like many leading carbon gravel wheels, the Shimano GRX rims’ inside width measures 25mm wide. That allowed us to run inflation pressures lower than those of the less comfortable wheels in this category while still maintaining good traction and handling performance.

In addition to using my benchmark 40mm Continental Terra Speed tires on these wheels for A-B comparisons against the ENVE with the same tires, Conor and I installed several other models and widths of rubber on the GRX. We independently noted how relatively easy it was to mount tires on these rims and how well they held air pressure.

Regardless of the surface, including rides when you have a fair amount of paved roads or you cover dirt, gravel, rocky, and technical gravel classes, the Shimano GRX WH-870 carbon wheels don’t perform as well as the ENVE and Bontrager wheels when you want to go faster. That puts the GRX on par with the other wheelsets in the value carbon category.

We didn’t find the GRX as responsive or lively when accelerating up a climb or making quick line changes on a speedy course as the better gravel wheelsets. I also thought the rear hub engaged slower than most in this category. And while the handling was competent, we didn’t find it as precise as the ENVE or Bontrager.

Bottom line? The Shimano GRX carbon gravel wheelset is a balanced performer ideal for the gravel rider who prioritizes confidence and comfort on a steady ride over top-level performance and speed for a challenging day out.

REYNOLDS ATRX – A STEP UP IN COMFORT AND HANDLING FROM UPGRADE WHEELS

MSRP/RRP: US$1550, £1500, €1800. Available through these links to Competitive Cyclist and other recommended stores at my Know’s Shop.

REYNOLDS ATR X GRAVEL WHEELS

While the Reynolds ATR X performs better than alloy wheelsets on dirt and gravel roads, it doesn’t match the level of the best value-carbon wheelset.

I immediately noticed the improved handling and greater comfort riding the ATR X compared to even wider alloy upgrade wheels. Perhaps it’s the properties of carbon or how Reynolds lays it up, but it’s clearly a step up. You go where you want to with less effort, both steering your bike and feeling the surface.

Together that creates a more enjoyable ride, and if you want, you can challenge yourself to ride a bit harder and more aggressively.

Yet, this Reynolds wheelset wasn’t as comfortable on dirt and gravel as the Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3V, even when I reduced the tire pressure on its 23mm internal width rims.

As a roadie riding gravel, you notice certain things when riding the changing surfaces and short, punchy pitches off-road that you don’t when riding pavement. Quickly accelerating and getting up short climbs without losing a whole lot of momentum is key.

Unfortunately, neither of these were strong points for the ATR X. It seemed to take me a couple of crank revolutions before my acceleration efforts kicked in, and they didn’t get uphill nearly as well as the others in this category.

That climbing performance carried over when doing back-to-back comparisons on alpine asphalt road climbs. The steadier ramp you find on a paved road surface didn’t require many acceleration changes from the Reynolds wheelset, but it still felt like more work compared to other value-carbon wheels going up long, 5-10% climbs.

On the road at aero speeds and with 28mm tires mounted up, the ATR X maintained my momentum reasonably well though not much better than others in this category and clearly below the level of performance-carbon wheels. Cruising around at slower speeds during recovery delivered average comfort.

When riding dirt, gravel, or paved roads, it was hard to find an argument for the Reynolds ATR X wheelsets against others in the value-carbon category. They do provide a step up from gravel wheels in the upgrade category, but there are better choices if your budget limits you to value-carbon.

The ATR X wheels I tested weighed 1606 grams, including the pre-installed rim strips but not the valves on my scale. The rims measure 40.1mm deep, 23.1mm wide on the inside, 30.9mm outside near the rim-tire interface, and 32.1mm at the widest point of their toroidal profile. The rim width well exceeds the tire width with 28mm road tires installed. The 4-pawl rear hub engages every 10 degrees. You’ll find 24 Sapim Race round spokes on both the front and rear wheels.

ELITEWHEELS DRIVE G45 CS – BEST ON FLAT, DIRT AND LOOSE GRAVEL ROADS

MSRP/RRP: US$1269, £1005, €1159. Use code ITKCycling to get a 15% discount when you order from the Elitewheels website.

 

While we’re big fans of the Elitewheels Drive 50D in the value carbon road wheels category, the similarly speced and competitively-priced Elitewheels Drive 45G CS wheels intended for gravel were disappointedly average.

One key difference between these Drive 45G CS wheels and other gravel wheels is their use of carbon spokes, hence the CS designation. In theory, carbon spokes should lead to a low-weight, responsive wheelset that improves cornering and power transfer over otherwise similar wheels with steel spokes.

Combine that with what I measured to be its 1347g weight, 24.4mm internal width and 45.5mm depth, and ceramic bearing, 4-pawl HG or 6-pawl XDR hubs, the Drive 45G CS would seem to have a lot going for it on paper.

But on gravel, my fellow tester Conor and I found them most suitable for a limited range of gravel surfaces and terrain.

They’re at their best, though no better than the average gravel wheelset, on flatter, Class 1 packed dirt and Class 2 spread gravel surfaces. They roll along with good momentum and don’t seem affected by side winds on open roads.

When the road turns up, however, neither Conor nor I felt any added benefit from their low overall weight or any spring coming from the hoop-spoke-hub combination that makes up the G45 CS wheelset. While no worse than the average, value-carbon gravel wheelsets, they don’t climb nearly as well as the slightly more expensive, far shallower, slightly heavier ENVE AG25 that leads this category.

On rougher surfaces, and even on relatively smooth ones, the G45 CS isn’t terribly comfortable. You can really feel the road beneath you. I rode them with 40mm Conti Terra Speed and Tufo Swampero at about 32 psi under my 150lb body mass, while Conor tested these wheels with 44 mm wide Sawmpero and Tufo Thundero at similar pressures for his 15lb heavier build.

Conor also struggled to get both pairs of Tufo tires mounted and had no better luck with a Rene Herse endurance casing model. This was a show-stopper, as he often changes tires depending on his planned ride.

My biggest put-off was the loud freehub noise, nearly as vocal as the Hunt gravel wheelset. I appreciate that most hubs aren’t quiet, and some prefer a distinct buzz from their rear wheel when coasting. If that describes you, you’ll feel at home with the Elitewheels model hub used here.

When changing lines or accelerating up climbs, the G45’s stiffness and low weight don’t translate to responsive, quick maneuvering. They’re not noodly and transfer your power well; they just don’t do so quickly or handle as precisely as the best gravel wheels in this price range or more expensive all-road wheels that excel on gravel and paved roads.

While we had higher expectations, the attractive, glossy-coated, marble-finished Drive G45 CS is still a better value for similar performance than several gravel wheels from better-known brands in this value-carbon gravel wheelset range. And if you use the code ITKCycling, you’ll get a 15% discount off their US$1269, £1005, €1159 price on the Elitewheels website.

Elitewheels also sells a steel-spoke version of this wheelset called the Drive 45 SS. While we haven’t tested them, those spokes may have more give and yield a more comfortable ride than the carbon spoke model we reviewed. They’re also less expensive, selling for US$1039, £823, €949 with the same discount available.

ZIPP 303 S – BETTER ON PAVED THAN GRAVEL ROADS

MSRP/RRP: US$1400, £1090, €1320. Available through these links to recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, BTD (BikeTiresDirect), Merlin, and Tweeks.

ZIPP 303 S CARBON TUBELESS DISC-BRAKE

While Zipp claims the 303 S offers the versatility to ride fast “no matter the road surface,” compared to other value-carbon road and gravel bike wheels I’ve ridden, it’s a far better choice for paved roads than unpaved ones.

While it says Zipp on the rims, it’s very un-Zipp-like in my experience.

First, it sells for far less than other Zipp wheelsets. Unlike any other Zipp wheelset before it, the 303 S is hookless and can only be ridden with tubeless tires. The Zipp 303 Firecrest, a performance-carbon wheelset reviewed below in the performance gravel bike wheelset category, is also hookless and sells for US$750 more.

Second, the performance is the opposite of what I’ve experienced with other Zipp wheelsets. Specifically, it has better than average lateral stiffness and average vertical compliance (aka comfort). The added stiffness is welcome on paved roads, especially when climbing and for heavier riders. And, the average comfort isn’t a problem. It’s just not what I’ve come to enjoy about Zipp wheels.

The 303 S comfort is below par on dirt and gravel compared to other value-carbon wheels I’ve ridden. While Zipp rounds up the 22.5mm inside width I measured to claim 23mm, it rides more like a 21mm wheelset with the 35 to 40mm gravel bike tires I tested.

Despite wide gravel tires, narrower rims usually provide less comfort and worse handling performance on dirt and gravel than wider ones. Indeed, I found the Zipp 303 S lacked both compared to wheels with 25mm internal width.

While their stiffness helped make them excellent road climbers, the Zipp model 3-pawl hub was relatively quiet when freewheeling but a bit slow engaging during acceleration and on short climbs.

The Zipp 303 S I tested weighed 1556 grams, with its rims thankfully taped at the factory. It uses 24 bladed spokes front and back and Zipp’s third-tier 76/176 hubset. It runs 45.2mm deep, 22.5mm wide across the inside of the hookless rims, and 27.5mm wide outside.

ROVAL TERRA C – LOW-PRICE CARBON FOR FLAT GRAVEL TERRAIN

MSRP/RRP: US$1000, £1150 €1400. Available through these links to Performance Bicycle and Tweeks.

Roval Terra C gravel wheels

The Roval Terra C is the lowest price carbon gravel wheelset in Roval’s line. Selling for US$400 less than the Terra CL and US$1400 below the Terra CLX, I often wondered what performance gaps I would fill by buying another letter or two in Roval’s gravel wheels of fortune.

At its core, the Terra C is a comfortable wheelset. At the right inflation pressure and with a good set of 38-40mm wide small knob tires suited for the combination of paved and Class 1 through 3 dirt and gravel I rode it on, it was acceptably comfortable – not plush but never harsh.

I also found it stiff enough and handled confidently in moderate riding efforts. With its gravel wheelset rim widths that I measured at 24.5mm inside and 29.9mm outside, that kind of performance made sense. Enough volume for comfortable, typically low gravel wheelset inflation pressure and enough rim width to support wide tires when cornering.

Pushing the Terra C to accelerate fast or climb steep terrain with ever-changing surfaces and pitches revealed its shortcomings. It paused a bit whenever I wanted to quickly accelerate or change line and struggled going uphill, at least more than my legs already did.

If the dirt and gravel roads and trails you ride on are more varied or you ride harder than the average grinder, you may find yourself wishing you spent a bit more to get better performance while still staying in the value-carbon category.

Likely to keep the price of the Terra C down, Roval uses the DT Swiss 370 hubset at the center of these wheels. While they are pleasantly quiet and roll smoothly, the freehub engages each next tooth only every 20 degrees or somewhere between 1/2 to 1/5 as often as other gravel and road freehubs. That, along with the wheelset’s 1626-gram weight on my scales, likely explains their acceleration and climbing weaknesses compared to other value-carbon (and upgrade) gravel wheelsets I’ve tested.

Roval Terra C

You have to get close to see the decals on these satin-finished rims


But on steady pitching, not too steep, and well-graded dirt or gravel roads where you can maintain steady speed or power output, the Terra C is totally good unless the pitch isn’t too steep. That’s the sweet spot for these value-priced, humbly decaled carbon gravel wheels.

HUNT 35 CARBON GRAVEL DISC X-WIDE – THEY DON’T PLAY THE GAMES ON PAPER 

MSRP/RRP: US$999, £699, €939. Available through this link to Hunt.

Hunt 35 gravel bike wheels

On paper, the Hunt 35 Carbon Gravel Disc X-Wide looks to be a winner. It is one of the lowest-priced value-carbon wheelsets. 28 spokes in both the front and back wheels suggested it would be stiff for good power transfer and handling. 5 degrees of freehub engagement was better than most and should make for a responsive wheelset that climbs well.

But as the saying goes, “they don’t play the games on paper”.

On gravel, the Hunt 35 Carbon Gravel isn’t as strong as I’d have expected based on its specs or as capable as others in the value-carbon gravel wheelset category.

Looking for this Hunt wheelset’s sweet spot, I tried a few different tires and inflation pressures in addition to the 40mm WTB Raddlers I’ve used to evaluate all gravel bike wheels at recommended pressure based on the tire size, inside rim width, and the combination of my body and bike weight.

The results were much the same. It’s not as stiff and handles with less precision than others in this category that I rode back to back on the same days and courses. Sluggish was the word I kept returning to describe how the Hunts rode when I pushed them hard on dirt and gravel.

Powering through looser surfaces like deeper gravel or soft dirt at a good speed, the Hunt 35 Carbon Gravel’s rear wheel also swims a bit, and the rear rotor will occasionally clang against the pads.

On the positive side, its freehub engages quickly, as fast as any I’ve ridden. Yet that strength is neutralized by a lack of stiffness. The result is responsiveness and climbing more in the middle of the pack among Hunt’s carbon-value wheelset peers.

It is reasonably comfortable, more so than some and less so than others. The freehub is also louder and higher pitched than most though somewhat dampened by the sound of your tires against the dirt and gravel surface.

For the UK and European gravel cyclist, or at least if you live in those areas and will be buying gravel wheels in GBP or EU currencies, the Hunt 35 Carbon Gravel X-Wide is a great value if your terrain and gravel surfaces aren’t very demanding and you aren’t out to win competitions or push yourself to ride harder and better over time.

For US gravel grinders, shipping and raw material prices have forced the price of this Hunt wheelset up to where it costs nearly the same as wheelsets in this category that outperform it.

PERFORMANCE-CARBON GRAVEL WHEELS

For experienced, fast, and aggressive gravel riding enthusiasts and those of us who aspire to fit that description (hello!!!), you want to ride performance-carbon wheels dedicated to gravel surfaces or all road wheels that perform at the same high level both on gravel and paved roads.

The dedicated ones we’ve tested gave us the kind of performance that’s unavailable from most upgrade or value-carbon gravel bike wheels and a level of confidence to let loose on unpaved roads.

The same goes for the all-road wheels on gravel. This group includes the likes of the ENVE 3.4, Bontrager Aeolus 37V, Zipp 353 NSW and 303 Firecrest, Roval Terra CLX which are also great road climbers, and the Zipp 454 NSW and ENVE 4.5 which are outstanding all-around road as well as fast wheels on flat and rolling terrain gravel terrain.

Yeah, they’re expensive. Priced around US$/£/2000 and up, or 1.5x to 3x what you would spend on an upgrade or value-carbon gravel wheelset, you’ve got to have a deep bank account or a good justification for going the performance-carbon route.

Of course, this two-for-the-price-of-one justification holds only if you need or are planning to get a new set of road wheels and new gravel ones.

If you’re already good with road wheels, a dedicated performance-carbon gravel wheelset like the ones we’ve reviewed here will give you the best wheelset for either gravel racing or long-distance comfort. They are notably better at one of those specialties than almost all of the value-carbon gravel wheels my fellow tester Conor and I have ridden.

If you can swing it, justify it, or BS your way to spending it, I think they are absolutely worth the extra money.

DT SWISS GRC 1400 SPLINE – BUILT FOR SPEED

MSRP/RRP: US$2400, £1900, €2085. Available from BTD (BikeTiresDirect) and Tweeks Cycles.

If you’re serious about gravel racing and cyclocross, the DT Swiss GRC 1400 Spline DB 42 wheelset is intended for you.

My fellow tester Conor felt faster on the GRC 1400 from his very first ride. He set PRs and moved up the KOM ranks on several Vermont segments, rolling with these DT Swiss gravel wheels.

And while I’m not nearly as fast as Conor, I sensed an energy in the GRC 1400 that was almost telling me that this was a day to put it in gear rather than on cruise control.

What’s going on with these wheels?

First, the DT Swiss GRC 1400 wheelset we tested feels laterally stiff. At the same time, it responds very quickly to your call to accelerate, propelling you forward. This stiffness and responsiveness allow you to react to or create surges at key points in a gravel and CX race on uneven gravel terrain and surfaces.

When the rolling is steadier, the GRC 1400 maintains its momentum better than most gravel wheels we’ve tested. Perhaps it’s the aero effect of this wheelset’s nearly 43mm depth. More likely, it’s the simple physics of its over 1600-gram weight, a couple of hundred grams more than most others in the performance carbon gravel wheelset category.

That extra weight also shows up on long climbs, which isn’t this DT Swiss gravel wheelset’s forte. And its superior lateral stiffness is also accompanied by more vertical stiffness or lack of compliance than the most comfortable wheels.

While neither of these attributes is worse than average or a drag on your efforts, it’s clear that the GRC isn’t an all-around gravel wheelset or one you’d choose for a long day of climbing and rougher surfaces.

Rather, the DT Swiss GRC 1400 is all about fast, relatively short (for gravel) performance. That’s where it performs at its best and better than most we’ve tested in those situations.

CORIMA G30.5 – A ZEN-LIKE RIDE AND GRAVEL BEST PERFORMER

MSRP/RRP: US$1750, £2100, €2010. Available from Corima dealers.

Corima G30.5 gravel bike wheels

The Corima G30.5 wheels challenge the expectations about what makes for a great performing gravel wheelset. Or at least my expectations developed from doing extended tests of more than a dozen gravel wheels in the last couple of years.

Generally speaking, I’ve found the best-performing gravel wheels are light for climbing, wide for low-pressure tire-enabled comfort, stiff for good handling but not so stiff that it takes away from compliance, and have a stealth black finish because.. well, they’re just going to get dirty anyway and you won’t see the finish.

If I knew nothing about Corima wheels and their G30.5, and I knew very little because Corima is a niche brand where I live, and the G30.5 was the company’s first, I wouldn’t have expected much from sizing them up when they first arrived.

With their glossy carbon-weave finish, weighing about 200 grams more and measuring 3mm or so less than other performance-carbon wheels, fellow gravel tester Conor and I thought these might be average performers. My spirits were further dampened by the list of specifications on the G30.5’s webpage that started with “mandatory terms” that included “only for gravel use” and a short “list of tires that must be used with our Gravel G30.5 wheels.”

It felt like I was back in Madame Eynon’s freshman-year French class.

Riding the G30.5 quickly cleared the mind of those expectations. Using top-rated 42mm Specialized S-Works Pathfinder tires (not on the Corima mandatory tire list… whatever!) on the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V for nearly a month and then on the G30.5 for another month, Conor felt a clear improvement in ride comfort from the Corima.

For example, when riding over typical gravel chatter on a freshly graded dirt road, the Corima G30.5 smoothes out the vibrations well. The difference is less noticeable on bigger bumps like severe washboards or rocks. But on regular dirt roads, the G30.5 makes for a more comfortable ride.

Corima G30.5 Gravel Wheels

 

Handling is also a pleasure with these Corima wheels beneath you. They track well and have no side-to-side flex, no matter how hard you push them.

The DT Swiss 240 Ratchet EXP hubs feel smooth and engage quickly enough for most gravel riding. The previous generations of DT Swiss 240 hubs were durable and maintenance-free. While they grew noisier during our two-month test period, we had no issues with the performance of the latest EXP ones used in these Corima wheels.

Conor capped his experience with the Corima by riding them in the 160K D2R2, the granddaddy of New England gravel events. After an extremely hot and dry summer leading up to the ride, the course was bone dry, and surfaces were hard and roughly shaped as a result. Severe washboards abounded, and exposed rocks and potholes were plentiful.

Conor reported that through it all, these wheels felt well balanced, tracked and handled well, and changed directions and leaned over to go wherever he pointed them without complaint.  The construction of these wheels really hit the holy grail of laterally stiff and vertically compliant.

Despite the distance and surface conditions, his hands and arms felt somewhat less fatigued than they might on similar rides, possibly owing to the vibration absorption offered by the G30.5 wheels. That made the post-ride wrist curls with a beer in one hand and barbeque in the other all the easier to consume.

Oh, and the glossy, carbon-weave finish is actually quite attractive. Very French in that way. Makes you want to keep the wheels clean. (Wants and needs are different things, however.)

While not also a climbing road wheelset, the Corima G30.5 is a highly enjoyable option for dedicated gravel riding.

OTHER WHEELS ON MY TO-REVIEW LIST

While it feels like I’ve tested and compared a good number of gravel wheels with the reviews you see above, it always seems like there are more I’d like to ride if time and budget allow.

Perhaps like you, I keep a wish list of wheels I’d like to check out. I plan to work through that list over the next period of time. I’ll likely focus more on the performance-carbon gravel wheelset category as I think there is better performance and more bang for your buck from the wheels in that category.

If there are wheelsets I’ve not reviewed or mentioned that you have your eyes on, let me know in the comments section, and I’ll look them up.

Because they aren’t available to the geographically diverse group of enthusiasts that read the site, I tend not to test custom-built or regional brand wheels. And while I’ve reviewed road wheels made in factories that good branders or little-known brands sell direct but don’t add much, if any, design or testing value to, I’ve learned enough from digging into that part of the cycling wheelset world (read here) to want to avoid spending your time or mine on gravel wheels from the same sources.

But hey, gravel is a new thing, and I’m an old dog learning and yearning to learn new tricks. If you’ve thought it through and are deeply interested in a set of gravel wheels I’ve not tested, let me know which ones and why in the comment section below.

*   *   *   *   *

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Thanks, and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve

111 comments

  • Steve,
    Longtime reader and recently started commenting. Love the reviews and you have helped in the past with decisions. I am picking up a set of the ‘21 303’s. I currently ride 4.5 AR’s and will be swapping them for both road and gravel. I do ride a fair amount of mtn’s so the 303’s would better suited but in town the 4.5’s are probably faster (not settled on dedicated road wheel vs gravel wheel). I also don’t want to buy a ton of different tires and want them to be compatible across both wheels. I will most likely stick with Schwalbe Pro One TLE for the road but don’t know what 38-40mm gravel tire to go with. Would like to keep weight down. Gravel is not that technical and rather rolling and mixed surface in parts. Any advice appreciated on what you have tested with both wheel sets. Thanks! Brad

  • Hi Steve,

    Great info here! I just bought the Cervelo Caledonia and want to replace the DT Swiss 1800 wheels that came with it. I only ride 20% on dirt/gravel and my frame can accommodate up to 34mm tires. I want a set of wheels that are fist going to perform well on the road and can run the higher volume tires for when I do a gravel ride. I like the idea of the Zipp wheels but I’m intimidated about buying hookless rims and never being able to throw clinchers on. If I can find an older set of Zipp 303s with hooked rims, will the performance be akin to what you reviewed?

    Also, what do you know of the Astral VEIL4 DISC wheels? Do you think they would be good for for my 80/20 road to gravel cycling? Thanks!

    • Shawn, Both the older Zipp 303s and Astral wheels have internal widths narrower than the 23-25mm I’d suggest for gravel riding. Plus you really don’t want to be riding gravel with tubes (assuming that’s why you want clinchers) as they will pinch flat too easily at the lower pressures you want to ride gravel. I’d suggest you hang on a few months at least. This is the time of year when new products are being introduced and there may be more options coming out in a hooked, tubeless-ready, wider wheelset that can work on both road and gravel. Steve

      • I ended up buying a set of Roval Terra CLX partially for this reason. They have a tubeless-ready, hooked rim with an internal width of 25mm. They’re incredibly light, really tough and a superb ride with either road clinchers (Conti GP5000) or gravel tubeless (WTB Raddlers from Steve’s review).

  • Hi Steve,

    Great material here! Your efforts are much appreciated.

    When will you be publishing your Enve AG25 review? I’m in the market for a mid-priced carbon gravel wheelset, and that one is high on my list of options.

    • Tyler, Thanks for your interest. I’m hoping to get it out later this month or early in July at the latest. I’ve been riding it back to back with a few other gravel wheels above and below the AG25’s price range to be able to compare to what else is new and what I’ve tested previously. Steve

  • Hi Steve, could you confirm that the Enve 3.4AR fits on a Parlee Altum Disc? I’m concerned about clearance with a 25mm internal rim width. Parlee specified that the Altum Disc will fit tires up to 28mm, so I think this is cutting it close. What tires did you use? Many thanks!

  • Hi Steve, thanks for your excellent reviews – very helpful. Any thoughts on the new Campagnolo shamal CL21 gravel wheel set?

    • Scott, I haven’t tested it but with only a 21mm internal rim width, I don’t think it’s wide enough to perform at the same level as others in this review. Perhaps best for a 32mm or narrower slick tire on smooth dirt. Steve

  • Curious why you haven’t reviewed any of the DT SWISS high end wheels GRC, ARC, PRC, or ERC road or gravel wheels?

    • Parker, I had hoped to test a couple this year but product and budget shortages in the US made it difficult. Hope to do so next year. Steve

    • I realize you can’t test them all, but have you had any experience with Shimano GRX wheels? They appear to be a value upgrade wheel set and I’ve had positive experience with Shimano road wheels.

      Thanks for all your reviews, fully enjoy them and appreciate your approach.

      • Jim, I don’t have any experience with these wheels. Based on their width (21.5mm internal) alone, I wouldn’t think they would compare well against most gravel wheels that are typically 23-25mm wide. They also are quite heavy (1650g) compared to most. I don’t evaluate wheels based on specs but I need to choose which wheels to source for testing and my experience with wheels of similar specs I’ve tested in the past suggests they wouldn’t perform as well as most I’ve reviewed here. I suspect Shimano built these wheels to accompany their GRX groupsets targeted for the original equipment maker (OEM) bike market than aftermarket sales.

        Most of the wheels I’ve reviewed here have been introduced since the GRX wheels and this is a rapidly evolving segment. Shimano introduced new road wheels for 2022. Perhaps they’ll update the GRX wheels as well. Steve

  • Hi Steve, Thanks for such a great article and taking the time to test these wheelset and post it. I know you did a review of best gravel, and best road, but I am looking for a value wheelset to do both. I have a Giant Contend with PR2 wheels on it and they are HEAVY. I do 50% road and 50% gravel and lots of climbing. The current rims are harsh decending and the narrow tires don’t cut through the loose gravel. I want to run 38mm tires. I’d like to hear what you think. Giant CXR-2 set? Alloy or Carbon? I like to keep the cost around $1300 or less. Less is always better, but you have to pay to play. Thanks.

    • TD, I don’t know those wheels per se but based on their specs and price, I’d guess they’d be in the value-carbon category. The 30 tooth, 3 pawl hub doesn’t suggest quick engagement and that along with the 1518g claimed weight doesn’t suggest it would be a great climber. Unfortunately, as I wrote in the post, I haven’t ridden a value-carbon gravel wheelset that’s also good on paved roads for more than recreational or commuting type riding. And none in that category are really great for a lot of gravel climbing. You really need to go with a performance-carbon wheelset to find a great gravel wheelset and climber that’s also good on paved roads. They’re more expensive for sure but it’s almost like getting one wheelset that’s great on gravel and road climbing for the same amount that some will spend on two wheelsets that aren’t as good in either situation. Steve

  • Steve, kudos to you for the amount of effort and insight you put into your reviews.

    I have a Cannondale Topstone Carbon 5 – I want to upgrade the stock rims to carbon. I got a response from Roval (regarding their Terra CL) stating that they don’t recommend redishing their aft wheel 6mm leftward from the drive side accommodate Cannondale’s Asymmetric Integration (AI). Have you any insight as to what wheels can work? Thanks.

    • Gary. Thanks. I welcome your kind feedback and your support of the site. As to the Cannondale, I don’t know much about your non-Cannondale alternatives. Nate has a Cannondale cross bike and he’s had to stay with Cannondale wheels. Part of the company’s closed ecosystem strategy I guess. Perhaps you could get a wheelset built with the same dishing? Anyone else have suggestions? Steve

  • Hi Gary,
    I also have a Cannondale Topstone and recently contacted HED about ordering some new gravel wheels. They will build your wheels with an AI dish if requested.

    • Thanks Jon. I appreciate your taking the time to respond!

    • Hi Jon,

      I read your response and ordered Emporia GC3’s built to AI spec. Thanks for the tip, and BTW, I saved over 300USD b/c of their Cyber Weekend deal. I’ll report back this spring on my thoughts after a few hundred miles, err, clicks, depending on one’s locale.

      Thanks again to you, and to you too, Steve for the great work you do!

  • Hi Steve,

    Thank you for all your work and reviews on the wide range of products. Your site is the first place I go when considering any significant bike related purchase.

    Do you have any thoughts on using the Enve AG25 as a gravel and also as a cyclocross race wheelset? Thanks.

    Craig

    • Craig, I think they’d work well in both events. Just put on the right tires for each. Steve

      • Craig, if, however, you are doing high-level cross races that follow UCI rules (as opposed to most that don’t), the AG25 or any gravel wheelset with a 25mm internal width is probably not going to work. The UCI rule requires a tire no wider than 33mm. On the rim with a 25mm internal width, a cross tire is likely to set up wider than 33mm. Steve

  • Great reviews and insights! I just bought a pair of Enve 3.4 AR wheels, yet do not quite understand your argument for versatility. While one can run a 30mm road tire one day and a 38mm gravel tire the next, trading between the two is not an easy affair, fraught with sealant mess and painful, yet failed inflate attempts. At the same time, one cannot reason buying two sets of these very expensive wheels. So what is the balance, the correct setup? For now, I have some cheaper Industry Nine alloy wheels for gravel and these for road.

    Thanks!

    • Hi Karl, Agree that switching tires is not simple and not what you’d want to do day-to-day. By versatility, I meant these and other wheels in this category are great performers on both road and gravel. With the right set of tires on these wheels, say a 30mm or 32mm road or semi-slick gravel tire, you can do a mixed surface ride, one that has sections of paved and dirt roads (aka class 1 and even some class 2 gravel) at a performance level as good as any dedicated road or gravel wheelset. And finally, put a set of 28mm road tires on these wheels and they will be top-performing road climbers or a set of 38-42mm gravel tires on and they will take you on any class of gravel with the best. You may also find, as I have from doing a lot of tire changes, that you become pretty good at it with 20-30 minute installation and limited mess. Not something I want to do every day but something I’m more than willing to do, for example, a couple of days before a big weekend gravel ride. Steve

      • Thanks for the reply! I am running the Panaracer Gravelking 32mm slick tubeless and they work great on mixed surfaces as you suggest, although I may switch to the GP5000 S TR in 30mm when they are available. I’ll practice making the transitions between road and gravel tires; the air compressor I got for Xmas may help with that. Happy new year!

  • All good stuff here. Im a roadie coming to the dark side of gravel and love it. Looking for a carbon wheelset for my new rig. Most of your reviews here have all been wheelsets I am considering. Not wanting to break the bank, have you tried Scribe? They look good on paper for around 1k. I know the value in a good set of carbon wheels from the road side of things, but truely can you spend around 1k and be “happy”? Would like to keep the weight down with shallow depth without being to springy on the 10-15% climbs I ride in NC. Thanks again!

    • Chris,

      Haven’t looked at the Scribe wheels. Weight, stiffness, and hub POE/quality are going to be key to how well your wheels help or hold you back climbing long, steep gravel pitches. Steve

  • Hi Steve
    How do the DT Swiss GRC1400 compare to the 303 firecrest? Price wise around the same locally here.
    And greetings from Denmark!
    Jesper

  • Hi Steve and fellow cyclists,

    This is a follow up to an earlier post. I bought the HED GC3 Performance Carbon wheelset over the Christmas holiday season @ 20% off from a Black Friday Sale.
    They arrived within a week; the rear wheel was dished for the AI offset for my Cannondale Topstone 5.

    This April, I had the wheels installed with Specialized Pathfinder Pro 38mm as I ride 80% road/hardpack.

    After riding 1000mi/1600km, the wheels and tires ride like a dream. No issues with leaks, mounting etc., good engagement with rear hub, and the bike climbs nimbly. Wheels run true, and I’m loving the setup. I’m NOT a competitive rider, but this geezer wanted you all to know that I am happy with the tires and wheels. Thanks to you, Steve, for ALL of your work and help and to a previous commenter Jon for suggesting HED as a wheel builder. Happy and safe riding to all!

  • Hey Steve,

    How would compare the HED GA Pro Emporia vs the Enve AG25? Is the Enve worth the extra upgrade? I see myself using the bike for gravel adventure but also perhaps competing in some gravel events. Thanks!

    • Ben, if speed isn’t your priority and the races don’t have a lot of climbing in then then yeah, I’d say the GA Emporia would be fine. If you are a bit more competitive an ride gravel with a good amount of vertical, I’d say the AG25 would give provide you a noticeable performance difference.Steve

  • Hi Steve,
    I assume your Giant Advanced test bike came with CXR-1 Composite wheels. I own the same bike. What is your opinion on the CXR stock wheels? It seems like CXR are pretty nice wheels, do most of the wheels in this review blow those away?

    I also find it very interesting that the Corima G30.5 appear to be your clear favorite of the lot with its 22mm interior width compared to 25mm featured in most of the others. It seems like most of the gravel wheel market and gravel riders have settled on 25mm as the standard, best option these days. So it was very surprising to see a 22mm wheel as the standout.

    Kyle

    • Hi Kyle, Yeah, the CXR-1 wheels that came with my bike felt very draggy – heavy, unresponsive, and the tires that came on them were stiff and didn’t handle well at the speeds I wanted to ride them at. As to the Corima, it just goes to once again show that any one design characteristic (or a combination of them) doesn’t determine the overall performance. While generally gravel wheels with wider internal rim widths have performed better than those with narrower ones, there’s enough in the secret sauce of what goes into the Corimas to make them a great gravel wheelset. That said, the others in this performance gravel wheelset category are all great wheels and I wouldn’t shy away from any of them especially if you want a good all-road (paved and unpaved) one. Steve

      • Hi Steve,
        Were your CXR-1 wheels the first gen? I think Giant revised the wheels in late 2021-early 2022. From a spec perspective the current CXR-1’s seem to be pretty decent (similar overall dimensions to Roval Terra CL/Bontrager Pro 3V (25mm rim ID, 31mm rim OD), weigh sub 1400g, Sapim CX-Ray spokes, DT350 hubs, hookless only though). Other on-line reviews are positive, I looked at them but ended up buying Terra CL’s for the hooked rim (and the Terra’s were on sale).
        Dave

        • Dave, Yes, bought my Giant in 2019. Specs, components, and other design aspects don’t determine performance. Too many variables in materials, integration, production, etc. Can’t speak to other online reviews’ independence, criteria, testing, product comparisons, etc. No need for hooked rims at gravel tire pressures. Sale prices can be good motivator 🙂 Steve

  • Steve,

    Since the Enve G23 didn’t make either carbon list, does that mean that you don’t see a value in them over the AG25?

    Thank you for your insight.

    • Dave, Honestly, the G23 was the first carbon gravel wheelset I tested and I didn’t have my testing protocol down or any other wheels to compare it to at the time. So I’ll have to take a pass on rating it. Steve

  • Steve,

    Would love to hear your thoughts on the Reserve 32s if you ever get a chance to test them out!

    Todd

  • Does anyone tried Zipp 303s wheel with Specialized Pathfinder Pro 38 mm?

    Thanks!

    Eduardo

  • Hi,

    Nice review, I enjoyed reading.
    I am interested in the HUNT 40 carbon gravel race wheelset. How do they perform when you compare them to the list you have tested in this review?
    I am riding 70% road / 30% gravel 1 to gravel 2. Sometimes 50%road / 50% gravel.
    Looking for a quick wheelset with some comfort around 1200€.

    Luc.

  • Hello Steve, thank You for a great content as always. What is the best rim depth in your opinion for all-around gravel rims, with the scale weighting towards riding. It seems that the deeper the wheel the less comfortable? I think 30-35mm is a sweet spot here, and how do you think?

    • Jakub, I don’t think there is a “best” depth. Since slower speeds and wider tires make make aero considerations less relevant on gravel than paved roads, added wheelset depth doesn’t help you go faster. I also don’t see a relationship between depth and compliance across the wheels we’ve tested. Deeper wheel can make for heavier wheels but I’d focus on lateral stiffness, vertical compliance, hub performance, quality, durability, etc. as described in our reviews and in the section https://intheknowcycling.com/best-gravel-wheels/#matters. Steve

  • Steve – I’d be curious on a possible review and comparison with the Reynolds Blacklabel G700 Pro. Would be great to get your thoughts.

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