THE BEST GRAVEL WHEELS 2023
Summary: After riding and comparing gravel wheels at three price levels, I selected the Corima G30.5 (available here from a store I recommend) the Best Performer among carbon gravel bike wheels.
The ENVE AG25 carbon (here, here, here, here, here, and here) rates as the Best Value among carbon wheels.
The HED Emporia GA Performance wheels (here) give dedicated dirt and gravel road riders the best lower-priced option among alloy gravel wheels.
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 and engage quickly, and cost a lot but can double as 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.
And then there are many gravel bike wheelset choices in between that may fit how we ride dirt and gravel roads or cost closer to what we want to spend.
For this review, I tested gravel bike wheels at three different performance and price levels to come up with recommendations that serve different 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.
Upgrade gravel wheels are a step up over most that come with a new gravel bike
Value-carbon gravel wheelsets can provide better performance than upgrade wheels
Performance-carbon gravel bike wheels will give you the best riding experience
Find what you're looking for at In The Know Cycling's Know's Shop
- Compare prices on in-stock cycling gear at 15 of my top-ranked stores
- Choose from over 75,000 bikes, wheels, components, clothing, electronics, and other kit
- Save money and time while supporting the site when you buy at a store after clicking on a link
THE EMERGENCE OF GRAVEL BIKE WHEELS
Over the last few years, we’ve taken to calling 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 of what we now call “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. The best 650b gravel bike wheels measure 26-28mm wide internally.
For me, these widths are what defines “gravel wheels” and meaningfully separates the performance you get from them with what you’ll experience on road bike wheels that are 17 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 that have narrower internal widths.
Lower pressures will give you better control of your bike 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 make a turn on loose or packed surfaces and also 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 are sold with disc brakes and tubeless-ready wheelsets, roadies still prefer clincher tires. And quick-release axles and rim brake wheels are still the predominant road bike format in use. Even the most modern disc brake wheels dedicated to paved road use today have an internal width of no more than 21mm.
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 32mm wide or wider once installed. Some will fit tires up to 38mm wide.
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 wheelset far wider than most modern road wheelsets that 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 all 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 few are ready to give you that sweet ride on both unpaved and paved roads. More below.
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.
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 likely be slow.
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. I’ve seen this from Allied Cycle Works which claims their Allroad is “fast enough for criteriums yet fully dialed for gravel”. The Parlee Chebacco, “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. And those road bikes that have room for 38mm tires could make a claim for gravel riding even though their geometry might not be as well suited for gravel riding as their tire clearance.
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 it will make a big difference in your ride performance and enjoyment over your standard road bike wheels. 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 compared to aftermarket wheelsets that are 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 kit 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 we start buying into 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 surveyed and selected widely available gravel bike wheels for this review, I saw a fair number of them priced and speced in a way that aligns with the upgrade, value-carbon, and performance-carbon wheelset categories I use to evaluate road bike wheels. So I’ve adopted these same categories to compare gravel bike 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.
THE BEST CARBON ROAD BIKE WHEELS
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 the performance of your gravel ride than they are 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 have a greater influence on many of these performance criteria 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.
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 so that I could 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.
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. For this, I used ENVE’s tubeless tire pressure recommendation chart.
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 better compare wheelset performance under the same conditions.
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 get away from 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.
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 and 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 and therefore, 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.
In The Know Cycling is ad-free, subscription-free, and reader-supported. If you want to help keep it rolling without any added cost to you, buy your gear and kit after clicking the store links on the site. When you do, we may earn an affiliate commission that will help me cover the expenses to create and publish our independent, comprehensive and comparative reviews. Thank you, Steve. Learn more.
UPGRADE GRAVEL BIKE WHEELS
The first step up toward a better ride on a new bike is to replace 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 performance-carbon 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 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 freehub sounded while coasting. They all felt sufficiently stiff when I drove 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.
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 vs. 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 that 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 Bontrager Paradigm Elite 25. 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
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 to point of being 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 give you a great ride off the road too. 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 the hubs used by Bontrager on their Paradigm Elite 25 and seem just a touch slower than 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 change 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
The value-carbon road bike wheelset category 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 they usually 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.
So that’s the rationale behind value-carbon road bike wheelsets.
When it comes to gravel, 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 though it hasn’t been around long enough for me to get a bead on the views of my fellow groadies. (Bring it in the comments section below.)
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 performance-carbon gravel hoops.
When it comes to riding gravel bike wheels, you’re actually 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:
- Better performance on gravel so that you can ride faster or more comfortably on more challenging or longer rides.
- 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.
- “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 on the first two reasons above. But, they are all carbon!
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 your ride 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$1750, £1850, €2200. Available through these links to recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, The Pro’s Closet, Bike Tires Direct, Sigma Sports, Merlin Cycles, and directly from ENVE.
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 the mood I feel 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 1990’s pop band Matchbox Twenty.
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 that high level of energy 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 amount of 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 about it.
On several occasions during my couple months of tests, I rode the ENVE AG25 and ENVE’s more expensive 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 any performance differences between them 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 I and most enthusiasts 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 your all-around and climbing road wheelset as well as your gravel grinder. That’s a good reason to pay more for the 3.4 if you are looking for 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$1600/£1850/€2200 for the AG25 or 650b- sized AG28, 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.
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, REI.
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 going fast around corners on loose gravel or soft dirt surfaces. The combination of comfort and handling makes for an enjoyable, smooth ride.
As I wrote about in my review of the Bontrager Paradigm Elite 25 alloy upgrade, the same freehub used in that wheelset and this one is louder than I prefer and a bit annoying at times. Yet the performance of the Aeolus Pro 3V is that much better than its upgrade sibling that I found myself focusing my attention on riding the course more aggressively and less on coasting and the accompanying freehub noise.
On paved roads and compared with 10 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 their strengths and weaknesses.
Despite trying tire pressures at, above, and below suggested levels, I couldn’t find a pressure where they felt both comfortable and gave me good handling. They weren’t uncomfortable and didn’t handle poorly but neither were they more than average on these performance characteristics.
They climbed adequately but again, nothing special and I didn’t really feel they 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. They are clearly better and will change the quality and pleasure of your ride when you go offroad.
At the same time, if you are looking for one wheelset for unpaved and paved surfaces, you can do better.
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 which has 3.3 degrees of engagement and 24 double-butted bladed spokes on both the front and back wheels.
ZIPP 303 S – A GREAT VALUE FOR TUBELESS ROAD DISC RIDERS
MSRP/RRP: US$1400, £1090, €1320. Available through these links to recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, The Pro’s Closet, Planet Cyclery, Performance Bike, and Bike Tires Direct for North American residents, and Sigma Sports, Tredz (10% off for In The Know Cycling readers with code ITKTDZ10), Bike-Components for those in Europe.
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 on other Zipp wheelsets. And 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). On paved roads, the added stiffness is welcome 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.
I do recommend the 303 S as a Best Value for tubeless road disc riders. You can read my complete review of it for that surface here.
On dirt and gravel, the 303 S comfort is below par in comparison with 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.
Narrower rims, despite wide gravel tires, usually provide both less comfort and worse handling performance on dirt and gravel than wider ones. Indeed, I found the Zipp 303 S lacked both in comparison to wheels with 25mm wide rim wheels.
And 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.
REYNOLDS ATR X – A STEP UP IN COMFORT AND HANDLING FROM UPGRADE WHEELS
MSRP/RRP: US$1550, £1500, €1800. Available through these links to Competitive Cyclist, ProBikeKit and other recommended stores at my Know’s Shop.
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 a greater level of comfortable riding the ATR X compared to even wider alloy upgrade wheels. Perhaps it’s the properties of carbon or the way 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.
It was hard to find an argument for the Reynolds ATR X wheelsets against others in the value-carbon category when riding dirt, gravel, or paved roads. 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 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 are 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.
ROVAL TERRA C – LOW PRICE CARBON FOR FLAT GRAVEL TERRAIN
MSRP/RRP: US$1000, £1150 €1400. Available through these links to Competitive Cyclist and Tredz 10% off with code ITKTDZ10.
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 do.
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.
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$889, £699, €939. Available through this link to Hunt.
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 that I kept coming back 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 this 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.
Join KNOW'S CLUB - GET MORE VALUE FROM IN THE KNOW CYCLING
BREAKAWAY membership – Be the first to see reviews
- Get 7-day advance notice of newly published and updated reviews
PACESETTER membership – Help choose what we review
- Nominate and vote on wheelsets and other gear for review 4x/year
- Includes all BREAKAWAY member benefits
LEADER membership – Get personalized product recommendations
- Get Steve’s recommendation on wheelsets and gear for your situation
- Includes all PACESETTER AND BREAKAWAY member benefits
PERFORMANCE-CARBON GRAVEL WHEELS
For experienced, fast, and aggressive gravel riding enthusiasts and for those of us who aspire to fit that description (hello!!!), performance-carbon gravel wheels are the ones you want to be rolling on. Those that I’ve tested gave me the kind of performance that’s just not available from an upgrade or value-carbon gravel bike wheelset and a level of confidence to let loose on unpaved roads that freed my inner groadie.
Yeah, they’re expensive. Priced at 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.
Beyond the spirit-lifting performance you’ll experience, these wheels can double as bonafide road bike climbing wheelsets or cyclocross ones. Some can serve you as a decent road all-arounder too. So you get a top gravel and road wheelset for the price of one.
Are you reading this, my dear?
Of course, this two-for-the-price-of-one justification holds only if you need or were planning to get a set of road climbing or CX wheels or don’t already have a set of all-around carbon wheels. You’ll also need a road disc bike too, but perhaps that’s leading you down another budget rabbit hole.
Anyway, these wheels are stellar on gravel. They are notably more comfortable, handle better, and climb better than any I’ve tested in the other gravel bike wheelset categories. With these on my bike, I could ride faster, longer, and more confidently on more challenging terrain than I could or wanted to on a set of alloy upgrade or value-carbon gravel wheels. And, the thrill level was turned up to 11.
If you can swing it, justify it, or BS your way to spending it, I think they are absolutely worth the extra money.
ZIPP 303 FIRECREST DISC – BEST VALUE FOR GRAVEL AND ROAD CLIMBING WHEELS
MSRP/RRP: US$2050, £1780, €2050. Available through these links to recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, The Pro’s Closet, Planet Cyclery, and Bike Tires Direct in North America and at Bike-Components, Sigma Sports, and Tredz 10% off with code ITKTDZ10 in the UK and Bike-Components in Europe.
I’ll admit to being a bit skeptical of the new Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Tubeless Disc Brake wheelset before I rode it.
I’d learned to love the unique combination of comfort and speed of the 303 NSW disc road wheels that Zipp sadly dropped from their line-up after introducing this new Firecrest. And the also new, low-priced 303 S (reviewed here) I tested before the Firecrest didn’t ride like any Zipp wheelset I’ve ever known.
So while I wasn’t sure what to expect, I feared that Zipp and their new more jagged-looking logo might still be finding their way with this successor to the Firecrest franchise.
After riding this 303 Firecrest disc wheelset on enough paved flats, rollers, and alpine climbs, and a full range of gravel surfaces to get a bead on its character, I can tell you it is blazing a new Firecrest path.
And, for what it costs and what it does, I like that path.
At US$2050, £1780, €2050 for a Firecrest, that path starts at a low price. With the $3200 Zipp 303 NSW disc that replaced the earlier $3200 303 Firecrest both now out of production (the $4000 Zipp 353 NSW and 454 NSW replacing them), that is the lowest it’s been for a Firecrest in, I think, ever.
Add to that, the 303 Firecrest disc is far wider (24.9mm inside, 30.0mm outside per my measurements), far lighter (1383 grams including pre-taped rims), and somewhat shallower (40.4mm) than previous Firecrests. Oh, and it only takes tubeless tires and has hookless rims.
So all that’s part of the new path, one that Zipp claims “is designed for the real world… a world of imperfect conditions, road surfaces, and elements”. In simpler words, it’s intended to be ridden on both paved and gravel roads.
For the most part, the Zipp 303 Firecrest disc pulls it off.
As a gravel bike wheelset, the 303 Firecrest is the full package. It’s comfortable and confident, or at least makes me feel that way on any class of surface. Negotiating around rocks, ruts, branches, in and out of lines, this wheelset is nimble and responsive.
Stiffness is a plus on these 303 Firecrests. Notably, stiffness wasn’t always a characteristic strength on previous Firecrests and isn’t on other Zipp wheels if you are a heavy rider or putting a lot of watts into them. This greater stiffness also shows up on gravel climbs, where the new 303 Firecrest disc excels.
The hubs also perform well on unpaved roads. They engage relatively quickly and provide the acceleration you frequently depend on riding gravel roads with their regularly changing pitches and surfaces.
Zipp uses their own ZR1 hubset on this Firecrest, a 6-pawl, 6 degrees of engagement affair. This is also a new model for them, something they seem to regularly do with hubs every few years. Because of that, it’s frustratingly hard to know how they’ll hold up over time.
On paved alpine climbs, I found the 303 Firecrest Zipp to be nearly the equal of the best lightweight disc wheels like the ENVE SES 3.4 and Bontrager Aeolus 37 RSL. It wasn’t as snappy as the ENVEs or as quick as the Bontrager, but it was steady, strong, and felt like nearly every watt of power I put into the wheels went right to the road.
At a measured 1383 grams with the Shimano/SRAM 10/11-speed compatible freehub on the wheelset I tested, its light weight (about 30 grams heavier than the Bontrager and 40-50 grams lighter than the ENVEs) clearly makes it one you’d want to join you going up long, steep climbs.
On flatter paved roads and rollers, some of the differences between the Zipp 303 Firecrest disc and more expensive ENVEs and Bontragers and more expensive Zipp 353 NSW came out. The ENVE, Bontrager, and NSW are more comfortable and roll smoother on paved roads.
On paved roads, I used Zipp’s Tangente Speed Road Tubeless tires, ones I’ve found to be among the best tubeless tires, to do A-B and A-B-C comparative testing of the ENVE SES 3.4, Zipp 303 NSW and new Zipp 303 Firecrest. The Firecrest and ENVE 3.4 with their 25mm internal width rims got 28mm Tangentes inflated to the same pressure while the 21mm internal rim width 303 NSW was shod with 25mm Tangentes inflated to the appropriate pressure for their widths and my weight.
Each of these wheelsets uses different hubs and layups. That might explain the comfort differences.
While I don’t expect top-end aero performance from a 40mm deep wheelset, the 30mm outside width of the Firecrest vs. the 32mm measurement of the ENVE 3.4 front wheel might explain the speed difference I felt in its ability to hold speed.
But at its price and used primarily for gravel and alpine climbing, the Zipp Firecrest 303 disc wheelset is a great option for those riding purposes and a good value. And, for what that’s worth, I’m kind of partial to the new logo too.
ENVE SES 3.4 DISC – A BEST ALL-ROAD PERFORMER
Market price US$2850, £3100, €2850. Available through these links to recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, The Pro’s Closet, Bike Tires Direct, Merlin, Sigma Sports, and directly from ENVE.
The 3.4 doesn’t fit neatly into a single wheelset category. At about 40mm (39.5mm front, 43.5mm rear with my calipers), it’s close but not as deep as most all-around road disc wheels that go 45-50mm both front and back these days.
While it’s light (1432 grams with ENVE alloy hubs on my scale), the 3.4 is also not a dedicated climbing wheelset. ENVE has introduced the SES 2.3 for racers doing road races in the mountains that’s a far narrower and shallower wheelset they claim weighs 200g less. There are certainly others making light, stiff carbon road disc wheels intended for your alpine climbing adventures.
Like other true gravel wheels, the 3.4 is wide – 25mm internal (25.0 measured) and 32mm external rim widths (actually 32.1mm front and 32.5mm rear). That, along with the similarly wide, deeper ENVE SES 4.5 (reviewed here) makes it far wider than most road wheelsets made these days that measure 19-21mm internal and 27-29mm external.
o is it an all-around, climbing, and gravel wheelset triple-threat that’s great on all roads as suggested by its original AR name? Or, is it the wheelset equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife, one that gets high marks for its versatility but doesn’t perform as well as those dedicated to either the all-around, climbing or gravel mission?
Whether on paved or gravel roads, both Nate and I agreed the 3.4 is a laterally stiff wheelset. Yet in Nate’s already very stiff Specialized Venge aero frame, this strength didn’t add any benefit. In my Parlee Altum, as quick and light as a road racing frame with the comfort of an endurance one, I enjoyed how the added stiffness of these wheels helped me accelerate uphill and start above-threshold intervals (or sprints for all you racers).
Mounted on my Giant Revolt Advanced carbon gravel frame, the SES 3.4’s stiffness was further apparent in the bike’s improved responsiveness compared to how it feels with most of the gravel alloy and carbon wheelsets I’ve been testing lately.
Dirt and gravel road comfort is principally due to tire and inflation choices. So while I found them very comfortable at 30 psi on the trail, I can’t attribute it directly to the wheels. But with the same gravel tires on rims with the same internal widths and at the same inflation pressure, I’ve not ridden a more comfortable wheelset. I also found them among the most comfortable wheels I’ve ridden with 28mm road tires on paved surfaces.
The 3.4’s relative width and ability to absorb the bumps certainly created greater handling confidence that encouraged me to corner at speed on unevenly paved roads and when changing lines with the right gravel tires mounted.
While even 21C road disc wheels are at their aerodynamic best on 25C tires, the ENVE SES 3.4 and 4.5 wheelsets are one of few truly designed (rather than marketed) for 28C tires. With the Schwalbe Pro One TLE pair inflated at 60psi (my measurement benchmark for 25C road wheelsets), the tires measured 29.0mm wide, making the rim width far wider than the actual tire width to minimize aero drag.
Note that the new Schwalbe Pro One TLE measures a size down from the prior generation (i.e., current generation 28Cs measure what last generation 25Cs did) and are as much as 1.0 to 1.5mm narrower than many older model 28C tires I’ve measured from other brands. So depending on the tires you use, you may find them measuring very near the width of the rim though not likely beyond the 3.4’s 32mm external rim width.
With the 28mm Zipp Tangente Speed Tubeless tires I use for A-B comparative road testing with other wheels in this performance-carbon gravel wheelset category, they fell just inside (and probably within the margin of error and wear) of that aero guideline.
All of that said, the 3.4 didn’t maintain momentum or otherwise feel particularly “aero” compared to better 50mm deep all-arounds and certainly not on par with still deeper aero wheelsets. On the plus side, it did feel a bit more sustained going forward than other wheelsets in the 35-40mm range. Also, the weeks of 10-20mph crosswinds we experienced during our spring testing rides didn’t affect this wheelset one bit.
The hubs ran smoothly with an average freewheeling sound from the ENVE alloy hubs that use Mavic Instant Drive 360 ratchet internals.
Aerodynamics also plays a role in climbing, once thought to be only a battle of grams. For Nate, a very accomplished climber using a very aero frame, he felt no difference on steep, 2-4 minute climbs between the light ENVE disc wheelset and his roughly 25mm deeper, 200g heavier Roval CLX 64 aero wheels. On punchy climbs less than 30 seconds, the aero wheels seemed quicker for him, perhaps due to the aero benefit he carried into those climbs.
For me, an average climber who goes uphill far slower than Nate, I had the sensation of ascending freely on the 3.4 wheels, limited only by my strength and fitness. From experience, I know that most 1600+ gram aero wheels hold me back, their weight perhaps overwhelming any potential aero benefit.
Going downhill, the width of the SES 3.4 rim and tire combination made for a worry-free, joy ride, the kind you feel on a rollercoaster knowing (or at least believing) the cart you are in is securely riding on rails.
Climbing dirt and gravel where speeds are far less than on paved roads, the 3.4 wheelset’s combination of light weight and stiffness provided the feeling of turbo-boost responsiveness.
They are nimble on shorter climbs and the flats when dodging holes and rocks or needing to change lines that are all part of the “fun” of gravel riding. They get me closer than any other wheels I’ve ridden to wanting to be somewhere on the trail and actually being able to get there.
Clearly, the ENVE 3.4 disc is a very versatile wheelset. If you ride both paved and gravel surfaces and do a lot of climbing, this one wheelset which lists for $2850/£3100 can serve you well and save you from buying one for paved and another for dirt and gravel roads.
But, if you spend most of your time riding on paved roads and at aero speeds and your mental and perhaps, physical frames are more biased to aero performance than climbing, the SES 4.5 would be a better choice.
BONTRAGER AEOLUS RSL 37V – A BEST ALL-ROAD PERFORMER
MSRP/RRP: US$2700, £2100, €2500. Available from Bontrager.
While not the first, the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V is one of the best wheelsets you can ride for both paved and unpaved or “all-road” cycling.
With the breakout growth of gravel cycling and the renewed interest in cyclocross riding brought on by some of road racing’s top names, having a top-performing wheelset that excels in both those disciplines and also serves as a paved road climbing wheelset is an attractive do-it-all option.
It’s also far less expensive to have one top-performing carbon wheelset with a quiver of 28mm, 33mm, and 40mm or wider tires than a quiver of wheelsets as well as tires for that range of riding.
While ENVE may have set the standard in the all-road wheelset category, many of the leading wheelset brands are now trying to raise it with their own 23-25mm internal width, 30-40mm deep, 1400 or so gram wheelsets.
What sets the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V wheelset apart from the rest in this field that we’ve tested? My fellow-tester Miles and I rode these wheels over three seasons (road, gravel, and cyclocross) and compared them to the ENVE 3.4 AR and more value-priced wheels to figure it out.
The differences are subtle but important, especially if you prefer the performance characteristics that the Aeolus RSL 37V successfully delivers.
As laterally stiff as any of the all-road or gravel wheelsets we’ve tested, the Aeolus RSL 37V’s stiffness feels more balanced than most. While it lacks the initial snap you get from the lay-up or bracing angles or whatever secret sauce is used in a wheelset like the ENVE 3.4 AR, these Bontragers provide the consistent strength we could always count no matter the surface.
The Aeolus RSL 37V’s stiffness gave us precise handling and go-for-it confidence riding switchbacks down an alpine road, railing a turn on gravel, or accelerating out of corners to overtake a fellow cross rider.
Even when Miles rode them in cyclocross races with 33mm tires inflated to 18 psi front and 20 psi rear, he was quick to point out the wheels never felt squirrely underfoot, always tracked extremely well, and yielded no give during crucial sprints.
The Aeolus RSL 37V’s robust lateral stiffness is joined by better vertical compliance than most, a combination you don’t often find in a wheelset. Over the course of a 75-mile gravel ride or a day of climbing 10,000 feet in the mountains, both of which I did on these wheels, I was thanking them for helping to reduce the pain of those efforts.
The DT Swiss 240 EXP hubs used on these and other Bontrager, Roval, FFWD, and DT Swiss wheelsets have come in for criticism due to the noisier freewheeling than the previous model and cases of premature wear of the ratchet drive rings in the first runs of product that led to some hubs not engaging.
While DT appears to have rectified the wear and engagement problem – we didn’t experience it on this or any wheelset using the EXP hubs we’ve tested – the DT 240 EXP hubs are clearly louder than their whisper-quiet predecessors.
However, I don’t find them overly loud or annoying on the road in the way some freehubs on value-carbon wheelsets (including Bontrager’s own Pro 3V) can be or even as loud as those from the likes of Chris King or Industry Nine that riders prefer for their rich acoustics and pretty colors. To my ears, the low-frequency DT 240 EXP freehub noise gets washed out by the sound of small knob tires on dirt and gravel and doesn’t stand out against traffic noise on the road.
Sonic preferences aside, I find this hubset used in the Aeolus RSL 37V wheels to be a relative strength. They ride very smoothly and engage easily without the clunk I get when re-engaging some like the ID360 mechanism used in the ENVE 3.4 AR alloy hub. True, the points of engagement are similar and, at 10 degrees, less than I’d like to see on dedicated gravel or cyclocross wheelsets and more typical of a road wheelset. But I experienced an enhanced ride feel with the DT 240 EXP hubs on these wheels in comparison to those used on others in this category.
All of this makes the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V a rather refined wheelset that is strong, precise, comfortable, and smooth-rolling paved and unpaved roads.
On a paved road, I’d recommend no narrower than a 28mm tire a width. At my weight of roughly 150 lbs/68kg, I rode 28mm tubeless tires between 50 and 55psi and 38-40mm wide tubeless gravel tires at around 30psi. Unlike the ENVE and Zipp wheels, these Bontrager wheels are hooked so you can ride them with tubed clincher tires if you prefer.
The Aeolus RSL 37V wheels themselves weighed in at 1421 grams with rim tape and tubeless valves. The rims measured 25.2 mm inside width, 31.5mm outside width, and 37.1mm deep. In addition to the DT 240 EXP hubs, each wheel uses 24 DT Aerolite spokes bladed, straight-pull spokes.
Note, Bontrager also makes the Aeolus RSL 37 wheelset – no V after the 37 – which is a different wheelset and best for paved road climbing. I’ve reviewed it alongside other light, climbing wheels in this review.
CORIMA G30.5 – A ZEN-LIKE RIDE AND GRAVEL BEST PERFORMER
MSRP/RRP: US$2200, £2100, €2010. Available direct from Bike24 or from a Corima dealer.
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 didn’t know anything 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 are the company’s first and only gravel wheels, 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.
Actually riding the G30.5 quickly cleared the mind of those expectations. Using our 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 do a good job of smoothing out the vibrations. The difference is not as noticeable on bigger bumps like severe washboards or rocks. But on regular dirt roads, the G30.5 makes for a more comfortable ride.
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. While the previous generations of DT Swiss 240 hubs were durable and maintenance-free and we had no issues during the 2 months of riding the latest EXP ones, we can’t attest to their long-term performance. However, it’s a good idea to keep the freehubs greased as they grew noisier during our test period.
Conor capped his experience with the Corima G30.5 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 allowed.
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. While I may change my setup in the future, I’m focused on 700c gravel bike wheels (rather than 650c) both because those appear to be the most common size and they are also best suited for use on road bikes as well as gravel ones.
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 have a deep interest in a set of gravel wheels I’ve not tested, let me know which ones and why in the comment section below.
* * * * *
Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.
If you’ve benefited from reading this review and want to keep new ones coming, buy your gear and kit after clicking the store links in this review and others across the site. When you do, we may earn an affiliate commission that will help me cover the expenses to create and publish more ad-free, subscription-free, and reader-supported reviews that are independent, comprehensive, and comparative.
If you prefer to buy at other stores, you can still support the site by contributing here or by buying anything through these links to eBay and Amazon.
You can use the popup form or the one at the bottom of the sidebar to get notified when new posts come out. To see what gear and kit we’re testing or have just reviewed, follow us by clicking on the links below or the icons at the top of the page to go to our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and RSS pages.
Thanks and enjoy your rides safely! Cheers, Steve
Follow us on: Instagram | Twitter | Post | Facebook | Know’s Club | iOS app | Android app | Strava
You really should look at the Hunt Wheels sets.
Tim, My first experience with Hunt wheels wasn’t real positive. https://intheknowcycling.com/the-best-carbon-wheelset-for-the-money-2/#Hunt.
As I wrote above, if you “have a deep interest in a set of gravel wheels I’ve not tested, let me know which ones and why.” Steve
What do you think about Vision Metreon wheelset?
Kurt, The Metron wheels are road wheelsets that I wouldn’t think would do well on gravel due to their width (19mm internal, 25mm or 26mm external depending on the model). They are also a bit pricey ($1700 and up) for the value-carbon segment and a good deal heavier (150g) vs. those in the performance carbon segment. Hard to know for sure unless I tried them but they wouldn’t naturally rise to the top of my gravel riding to-review list. Cheers, Steve
Great review as always. Torn between the Bontrager Aeolus and the Zipp 303S. Part of the dilemma is the ride to get to gravel is usually a long one, so you are half on road and half off, and would love a versatile set that can do both well. I can’t afford the ENVEs or the Firecrest, so those 3 look like a good bet. Am really intrigued by the Heds Eroica too. What to do Steve!!??
I recently purchased the Shimano GRX wheelset and wow! I was surprised! Love them. Have you tried them? Am I crazy?
Andrew, good to hear. Haven’t tried them. Heavier (claimed 1720 grams) and narrower (21.6 mm) than those I tested but less expensive ($400). Likely more of a stock wheelset competitor. Steve
Excellent review as always, thx.
Re: The NSW and ENVE rim and Tangente Speed Tubeless combinations easily passed the 105% rim to outside width ratio target for optimal aero performance while the narrower outside width of the Firecrest with the Tangente put it slightly under 100%, would it be possible to publish the WAM (of the various tires and performance Rims) in the combinations you tested?
Thx. again and regards
Dushko, You can see the NSW and ENVE ratios with different tires (and other pure road rims) here: https://intheknowcycling.com/best-tubeless-tires/. The ratios for the Firecrest rim with the tires mentioned above are: Zipp 98%, Specialized 100%, Bontrager and Schwalbe 102%. Steve
Do you maybe plan to include in the testing circle Enve SES 27c / 29c tires? – reading excellent reviews for them
Dushko, We’re riding the SES 25c version now. Will review it within the next 30 days. Don’t have the wider versions as yet. Steve
I really enjoy reading your work a lot. I’m new to cycling in general, but really enjoy riding on gravel roads in the country, and away from busy streets. I only have 725kms on my Trek Checkpoint. I have nearly 500kms on the Bontrager GR1 tires that you reviewed in your excellent Gravel Tire Test. I will definitely get the Continental Terra Speed tires next, as you suggested in your article!
For the Gravel Wheelsets review, I wish you had a rating box system, for these wheels sets, as your did for the Gravel Tire reviews. It made it so much easier to compare.
Thanks again for your work. I look forward to your next gravel article! Awesome website!
Hey Steve, great site with lots of useful info. I have ordered a new gravel bike ($1700) and I’m already thinking about wheel upgrades. Improving climbing performance is a primary goal (I know – rule 5). I am limiting my budget on this, so I have looked around for upgrade alloy disk wheels. I am also considering replacing the rims and spokes and reusing the stock hubs. I have been building my own wheels for years, so this route is feasible for me. I have Boyd CCC wheels and Pacenti wheels under consideration. What do you know about Pacenti? I got a pair of their rims for a mountain bike a few years ago and had no issues.
Hi Ken, sounds like a fun project. I’m not a wheel builder and haven’t tested wheels built with Pacenti rims so can’t offer any useful perspective for you. Steve
Thanks for your helpful reviews of gravel wheels and tires. I bought a Giant Revolt Advanced 0 gravel bike this spring with Giant CXR-1 carbon wheels and Maxxis Velocita 700×40 tires. If you have ridden these items, how would you rate them against the gravel wheels and tires that you have reviewed?
Rob, My Giant Revolt Advanced 2 came with the same wheels. They are quite heavy, even for stock wheels, weighing nearly 2kg. They really don’t do the rest of the bike justice, holding you back from what you could do with that frame. I couldn’t get them off my bike soon enough. As to the tires, I’ve not ridden them but judging from the tread pattern and Maxxis’ own description, they seem limited to paved and hard pack Class 1 dirt roads. Steve
Steve, would be interested to hear your thoughts on the ENVE G23 wheelset and the new Giant CXR-2 wheelset. The CXR-2 came stock on my 2021 Revolt and I am impressed with them to date.
The CXR-2 has an ID of 25mm and is about 100g lighter than the CXR-1 it replaced.
Patrick, So we did test the G23 a while back (here) but didn’t compare them to others as it was a year or so before the current flood of gravel wheel options that prompted me to do this review. In retrospect, I’d suggest it’s best for more challenging Class 3 and 4 surfaces with a lot of climbing whereas the alloy and value-carbon in this review are probably best on Class 1 and 2 surfaces. The performance-carbon ones are versatile enough to do well on all gravel classes and paved roads too.
I’ve not ridden the CXR-2 but, as a stock wheel on the Revolt, it probably performs best on Class 1 and 2 gravel surfaces in line with the value-carbon wheels. DT Swiss makes Giant branded wheels and the latter have never stood out against wheels made or sold by companies who don’t also make bikes. Both my fellow tester Miles and I own Giant bikes, Miles an aero road bike and me a Revolt, so we are somewhat experienced in the Giant world and would love to not have had to replace their wheels on our bikes with better ones. Steve
I want to know if you have “cosmetic” problem with Enve wheels
I call cosmetic because appear some white filament in the structure of rims
From Enve seams, normal , but is aestetic to see
please give me you opinion
I some review i read that Enve replace the wheelset for this “cosmetic”problem….
Luca, I’ve seen this to various degrees on all the ENVE wheels I’ve tested. I wrote about it and my experience dealing with ENVE about it about halfway into this review of the 3.4 disc wheelset here. In my experience, it is totally cosmetic but clearly disappointing especially when you spend as much as you do on their wheels. Yet, ENVE’s superior performance far outweighs the inferior cosmetic finish. I’ve ridden many similarly priced wheels that have a very beautiful finish but don’t perform anywhere near as well as the ENVEs. I’m more than willing to make that tradeoff, especially since I can’t see the wheel finish at the speeds I’m riding. Steve
HI Steve ! thx for comment !
do you try reserve 32 with dt 180 hubs ?
i m looking also this wheelset
Luca, Never heard of that wheelset. Steve
brand from Santa cruz ( reserve)
thx for your fast answer
Luca, right, I looked them up when you first asked about them but had never heard of them before. To be clear, it isn’t a brand from Santa Cruz but was started “by engineers” who left that company. They started selling their first gravel wheelset last year. They are like a lot of new businesses looking to get a foothold in the gravel world. Nothing about their design, components, process, or price stands out for me; actually, some of those things – price, weight, rim width, and depth – along with their short time in the business dissuades me as an enthusiast consumer who also reviews gear from looking into them further. Again, there are a lot of small operators who jump into the market and do a great job of marketing themselves but whose product and experience take a bit more time to develop to the point where I’d want to test out their gear or suggest readers taking a chance on them. I appreciate you raising this one with me and am using you/them as an example of what to consider before being taken in by the marketing. They may make high performing or great value wheels or become a great option over time so I’ll keep them on my radar. For now, I’ll pass. Steve
Hello! Thanks for this excellent review! It is very helpful.
I would appreciate your expert opinion on a question. I have a 2020 Trek Domane with an Aeolus Pro 3v wheelset with Bontrager R3 32mm tires, I use this bike and tires mainly for asphalt roads because I have a back injury and this is very comfortable for me. But I still like going fast, climbing a lot and long routes.
I am very happy and surprised with the Domane. The only downsides I have felt is the weight. I am considering swapping the wheelset for a Firecrest Zipp 303 (I can’t afford a pair of Enve wheels) for performance and weight reasons (-300gr). Do you think the change is worth it? What do you think these new wheels could give me? Do you think I will notice a big difference?
(I also have a gravel bike, which I hope to use again in the future if my back is better, and I could use the same wheels as the Domane.)
Thanks again for your articles!.
Juancar, Yes, the new Firecrest Zipp 303 disc I’ve reviewed here is a superior wheelset to the Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3V and you’ll notice the weight difference for sure on climbs. Steve
The fact is that I use tires of at least 30 mm (currently 32 mm). The external width is 32mm for the Bontrager wheels and 30mm for the Zipp.
You have found that even “only” with 28mm tires it does not comply with the 105 rule.
I know it’s a small imposition, but, do you think it would a bad idea to use them with 30mm tires?
(in terms of rolling resistance, my feeling with Bontrager is very good: 32mm external width on 32mm tires)
Thanks a lot in advance!
Juancar, Neither of these wheels are deep enough to give you great aero gains even with narrower tires. Given your priority for comfort and low weight and the rolling resistance benefit you get with the wider tires, I’d think you’d be good with the Firecrest and 30mm R3s. Steve
Understood. Thanks for your help! And for your excellent posts!. Juancar
Hi Steve! Great Content, Thanks!
I am curious whether you would consider the DTSwiss GR1600 a comparable competitor to the HED Emporia GA?
Tate, Hard to say from a performance standpoint as I haven’t ridden the GR1600. Looking at the specs, the GR1600 looks a good deal heavier, a bit narrower, and with a less responsive hub than the one on the Emporia GA Pro and perhaps the Performance as well. Steve
Agreel on paper, the GR1600 seems to be more of a bike-packing type wheel. Are there any wheels you would have liked to review but didn’t get the chance? Spec-wise the HED’s are hard to beat at their price point, which is what I’m currently telling myself I can afford. The Boyd CCC is also pretty attractive, but I’m not sure if they are a big “mainstream” wheel maker. I’d rather not risk small/boutique wheel builder wheels.
Tate, In the alloy upgrade category, there are others I’d be curious to try but that will have to wait until next year when there will likely be more still. Boyd has been around for a while and is smaller and has limited distribution/customer support at the LBS level but designs their own wheels (rather than buys them from an overseas catalog, brands them, and sells and services them directly) and is not what I would consider risky. The big “mainstream” wheelmakers that have gravel alloy wheels beyond those I’ve tested – Campy, Fulcrum, Mavic, Shimano, DT Swiss – don’t make anything currently that screams “review me” about them. Steve
Going into my first carbon wheelset, I thought I wanted the 303s, but these 303 Firecrests sure sound like the perfect wheelset for my style of riding – not Aero speeds, but lots of climbing and some gravel. Am I reading that correctly?
Thanks for the overview, appreciate your work.
Jake, Yes. Climbing and gravel are its strengths. Steve
Have any thoughts on the newer HED Emporia GC3 Carbon Disc?
Jason, haven’t tested it yet but rode and liked the HED Eroica Carbon wheelset that the GC3 replaces. Planning to test it in the spring. Steve
Hi Steve- I have DT Swiss GR1800’s on Canyon Grail. Perfectly ok wheels that are strong and roll well but I can feel the 1895g weight on climbs. The issue is they’re not really stock wheels but are arguably not upgrade wheels either. I can’t afford carbon so what you reccommend as an upgrade gravel wheel that is actually superior to my current wheelset? Thanks
Charles, While I haven’t tested your wheelset, based on the weight alone, I’m confident that all of the alloy upgrade gravel wheels I’ve tested would be better performers. The Bontrager Paradigm Elite 25 has the best acceleration of those and will get you uphill far better than your DT Swiss wheels. Steve
Hi, I am really curious to hear/read reviews of the Spinergy GXX carbon wheels.
Looks like they’d fit in the value carbon range but the PBO spokes are intriguing for comfort/performance and I’m curious about that and their hub performance.
Jason, Thanks. I’ll check them out. Steve
Side note, I’m riding a 2020 Warbird Apex 1 and my rotors are 6 bolt mount. wondering if I should get center lock rotors to match the GXX hubs or use adapters.
Either works. More important is what size rotors you want to use. A lot of 6 bolt came out of the MTB world where 160mm is standard. Centerlock comes from the road bike world where 140mm is standard unless you are a heavy rider. Gravel can go either way. And of course, if your Warbird is set up for 160mm rotors and you go 140mm you will need to adjust the caliper position which may just be just repositioning them or require adapters.
Great write-up Steve. I’m curious if you have any thoughts on the Corima G30.5 wheel set? This would be for something like the Enve 3.4 AR…one wheel to span paved riding and light to moderate gravel. Looking to finalize a wheel set choice for an Open U.P. build for riding throughout New England. Thanks!
Asif, I haven’t ridden the Corima G30.5 wheels so don’t have a view about their performance. The specs don’t look attractive. The rims are narrower internally (3mm) and externally (4mm) and shallower (10mm) than the 3.4 AR by a good margin. They are also a heavier (125g) wheelset, again by a good deal. These are all differences that I would typically notice in the performance between two wheelsets. These specs are more in line with the value-carbon Zipp 303 S and ATR X yet at a performance-carbon price. The hubset (DT 240 EXP) used on the Corima is first-rate and I have no way to judge the layup or how the rims, hubs, spokes perform as an integrated package without riding it. Based on the specs and price alone and with no experience riding Corima brand wheels, it wouldn’t be one that I would put at the top of my list to check out. Steve
Hello. I have been looking for my gravel wheels for some time. I ride, more or less, 50% on the road and 50% in varied terrain in the forests, where there are many roots and obstacles of this kind. Could you recommend me wheels that can handle this kind of terrain and simply will not break? Until now I have never had contact with carbon wheels hence my fears. Greetings .
Tomek, If you buy carbon wheels from established brands that provide 2-year or longer warranties, you will find that they don’t break. Steve
I’m wondering if you have an opinion about the Roval Terra CLX 700c? I’m looking for a set of wheels to put on my OPEN U.P. which will be used for a mixture of off-road/gravel and road riding. Thanks!
Ben, Haven’t tested them. Hope to in 2021. They look similar in design and price to the Enve and Zipp performance-carbon gravel wheels. Steve
Steve, I’ll keep an eye out for your review. Reason I’m interested in hearing about these is that I’m in the UK and the Roval wheels are significantly cheaper than the Enve G23 (£1850 vs £2800) and a bit lighter than the Zipp 303 Firecrest for a very similar price, so on paper at least, they seem like a good option.
Hi Steve. Excellent info all across your site. Thanks for your dedication. Here is a quagmire of a question I can’t seem to find an answer to anywhere. I have an older Surly Cross Check I’m getting setup for gravel riding. I will be running the WTB 700x40c Raddler tires. Are you aware of any rim that is: rim brake compatible, tubeless ready, wide internal width (min 22mm but preferably 25+), alloy, and reasonably lightweight (say 550g or less)?
The only rim I have tracked down that is close is the Velocity Cliffhanger, but it’s a beast at 675g. I’m only 160 lbs and don’t plan on ever carrying more than 20# of gear on this rig. My priorities lie in comfort and trouble free performance, but I might be doing some racing or spirited group rides, hence the desire to keep weight somewhat in check. Cheers!
Greg, I’ve only looked at disc brake wheels for gravel riding. I don’t think rim brake wheels are a good application for gravel riding. Steve
Any plans to review Enve Foundation 45? Interesting price point and with the Enve warranty. Would love to see Enve do an “AR” variant of this wheel at 25mm internal width.
Asif, I will review the ENVE 45 Foundation this spring. While you could ride it on gravel, it’s internal width suggests to me that it’s probably not a great gravel wheelset and likely best for road. As you likely know, ENVE makes the 4.5AR with a 25mm internal width along with the 3.4AR that are excellent on both road and gravel. They are more expensive than the Foundation wheels but it’s a case getting what you pay for. Steve
An awesome comparative writeup. I often find gravel wheel reviews ignore on road performance so seeing these reviews focus on wheels that can truly do double duty is great.
Have you looked into any of lightbicycle co’s offerings?
[Moderator’s note: Remainder of this comment deleted as it read like a product advertisement or promotion.]
Andrew, While I’ve not tested one of their gravel wheelsets, I ordered, rode, and reviewed Light Bicycle’s WR46C02, a carbon rim road wheelset speced out with their 21mm internal, 28mm external width, 46mm deep carbon rims, and CX-ray spokes with DT Swiss 240 hubs. It weighed 1504 grams and cost USD$1267 at the time. You can find the review here.
In short, it offered decent but not great performance, not on par with $2000 wheelsets and with not the equivalent of some of the individual performance strengths (e.g. aero, stiffness, acceleration) of other wheelsets the are in its same price range.
More troublesome is the warranty, good only for the rims rather than the entire wheelset or any assembly defects. If you have a warranty issue beyond 30 days of your purchase, you are also required to pay for shipping to return the rims to their North American warehouse or their China facility, whichever location you bought it from, pay the shipping for the replacement rims, and then to get it rebuilt. Basically, this isn’t much of a warranty at all, and while I didn’t have any issues with the wheels I tested, if you do beyond 30 days, it could cost you a good deal of money and time to get back on the road or gravel with wheels that have unremarkable performance. Steve
Thanks for the reply steve!
I checked out your link and some of your other carbon wheel roundups- it’s crazy how much the material/ layup ends up affecting the ride quality in rims with such similar dimensions. I guess that’s what you end up paying the big bucks for. Coming from only having ridden alloy wheels this part is tricky for me to grasp.
I work for a trek dealer in australia and have the option to get a pretty solid discount on some pro 3vs. The only issue for me is weight really, I’d only be dropping about 100g with the upgrade. As a 61kg rider that does a lot of gravel climbs it’s hard to make that jump.
In comparison I can get a sub 1.4kg wheelset with the same dimensions, plus cxrays and brass nipples from Lightbicycle for about half the price. I can attest to bontrager’s warranty being next level and LB being subpar but I’ve never had wheel issues before.
With your experience on wheels from both makers do you think it’d still be worth pulling the trigger on 3vs? Would hate to get lumped with a rim which is too flexible or rides real harsh.
Andrew, Keith Bontrager famously said “strong, light, cheap; pick two.” I recommend riders buy wheels that provide the performance, price, and quality that aligns with their goals, riding profile, and budget (rather than comparing specs or design and disregarding quality and service). That’s often hard to do.
I haven’t tested a gravel wheelset that will give you the performance your want for your climbing profile at a price that fits with your budget goal. If that budget is fixed, you have to make a trade-off among the other focus areas, e.g. less performance or a different riding profile. The Pro 3vs are excellent performers on gravel flats and rollers but not on road ones and are just average on climbs on either surface. The service on the Light Bicycles is enough to put me off no matter the performance (which I don’t know about) or the price. Steve
Yeah I hear you, it’s all about compromise in one area or another. The Aeolus RSL37v is another option on the horizon that might offer the right combo of performance and service to make me jump at a higher priced option. I think I’ll hold on until they’re released in AU and go from there.
Again thanks so much for your input and time steve.
Very interesting review, thank you.
I was wondering what is your opinion of using a carbon xc wheels with gravel bike.
For example Mavic crossmax pro carbon (2017) with 23 mm internal rim width and weight around 1,500g or dt swiss 1501. Theoretically speaking they have the specs you were looking for in gravel wheel and could be much cheaper.
Erez, need to make sure the wheels will fit on your gravel bike. For example, these two have rear hub width options that won’t fit most gravel bikes and the Mavic uses an older thru axle diameter and 6-bolt rotor connection. These aren’t less expensive wheels either. I’d stick with gravel wheels to make your life simpler. DT Swiss, Mavic and others are making wheels specifically for gravel bikes now as this segment is growing pretty quickly now. Steve
Found your review and just wanted to say thank you. You are incredibly thorough and I’m so thankful that you took the time to test these wheelsets so that I wouldn’t have to! Thanks again and your reviews are exceptional!