Anyone who has ever thought about buying a carbon wheelset for their XC bike has come to at least one conclusion – they don’t come cheap. The main reason carbon wheels came on the scene, at least for me, is weight savings. Although, it wasn’t as much as I thought it was, this huge weight savings I expected.
For example, my Trek Top Fuel came with DT Swiss X1700 alloy wheels. They weigh around 1680 grams. Give or take a few. Turns out, that’s not too bad for a decent alloy rim based wheel set. Always the weight weenie, after a few years I started thinking about how much weight I could drop by upgrading to carbon wheels. I ended up buying two different sets, and it was eye opening.
My first set was an ebay new OEM leftover, a set of DT Swiss XMC1200 wheels. Weight is 1450 grams for the set, taped, no valves. So only about 1/2 a pound savings over my X1700 alloy wheels. These XMC1200 were touted as their stronger enduro wheels at the time. So a bit heavier than their XRC1200 XC wheels. New, they were $2400, I got them for about half of that.
I had a chance to get a real deal on the then new Stan’s SRD Podium wheels. So I grabbed those too, with the idea I’d sell one set or the other. The stans’ wheelset was 1300 grams. So 150 grams lighter, about 1/3 of a pound, or .3 on my scale. Hmm. The weight was almost all in the rear wheel. The spokes were really thin in the Stan’s. The hubs didn’t look too great either, and they were really loud. The centerlock rotors were super tight, I had to file down and pound on the rotors on my wheels. The DT wheels were perfect, and not as loud, and they looked beautiful. So in the end, I sold the Stan’s and kept the XMC1200s purely for race day.
Back to $1200 wheels. Specialized announced today their Control Carbon wheels, 29mm inner width, 1450 grams, for $1200.00 with a lifetime warranty. This is really cool. Still really expensive, but a tad more realistic for the average working person. The warranty is great too. Only once in 30+ years of riding have I ever “broke” a wheel, and it was a few spokes in my old aluminum 26″ crossmax rear. Other than that, I’ve not broken or tweaked a wheel ever.
My takeaway from my very expensive carbon wheel experiment is this – I can not tell any difference at all with the carbon wheels vs my alloy wheels. 1/2 pound for me, is inconsequential. I leave my old alloy wheels on all year, only throwing my carbon wheels on for a few races. Which is kind of dumb. The sealant dries up, and the rear shifting isn’t quite perfect when I swap wheels. Same cassettes, and both have basically the same DT rear hubs. If it was me? I’d probably hunt down the lightest alloy xc wheels for $6-800 and be done. But at $1200? Hmm, this might push me over the edge.
Maybe in another 5 years, light XC carbon wheels will be down well below a grand, and we can all enjoy having some modern technology on our bikes.