Let’s play word association for a second.
That just took a left turn, didn’t it?
By now, if we have anything in common, you’re probably picturing a mountain bike wheel (with a 1.9-inch tire) in the shape of one of those potato devices contained in a Pringles canister. If you’re still thinking food, well, who can blame you? Get back to us after your snack.
We don’t talk much about how far wheel technology has come since the early days of production mountain bikes. Wheels were as fungible as tires. When 29-inch wheels were announced my first reaction was, “Oh, cool, the bikes will be faster, but the wheels will be twice as fragile.”
But how often have you seen someone destroy a 29-inch wheel? I never see them tacoed. I’ve seen destroyed rims from center-punching something that could put a hole in the Titanic, but I never see wheels folded up. So when we moved to 27.5-inch wheels, I surmised that we would see even fewer destroyed wheels and … drum roll … I was right. I’ve even talked to mechanics at a couple of shops, most of whom are too young to remember the days of weekend=tacoed wheel, and they told me that when they see a destroyed wheel it’s usually still mostly straight and the damage came following measurable air time or velocities that violate school-zone speed limits.
But then fat tires and plus tires were invented. In the rush to keep those wheels as light as possible in the face of mounting a one-pound tire, the rims have become increasingly, uh, flimsy. When I’m on rides with other riders and someone flats to the point of needing to insert a tube, it is invariably because they damaged the rim and the tire won’t seal, not because there’s too big a hole in the tire. Which sealant a rider is using becomes a completely irrelevant topic. It’s like saying someone’s soufflé was crap not because they are a bad cook, but because they used an electric oven.
So when I went to build up a bike around Scott’s Genius 700 Tuned Plus frameset and Shimano’s Deore XT group, I wanted to review a wheel that might better survive the minefield that is Annadel.
That search led me to Reynolds and the rather directly named 27.5 Plus. The wheels, without rotors or cassette, weighed in at 1801 grams, which is what some road wheels can run. While I wasn’t interested in the wheels for their weight, I was impressed and I filed that away as I considered that with big hunks of rubber on them any weight reduction would be handy.
The 27.5 Plus feature Boost spacing (everything is going Boost, at least for now), 28 spokes front and rear, a 45mm outer rim width, a 40mm inner width and a 24mm depth. Reynolds sourced Torch hubs from Industry Nine; I9 hubs are famed for their super-immediate 3-degree engagement. For 2017 Reynolds is introducing their own proprietary hubs. The carbon fiber rim is tubeless, so no taping was necessary. Insert valve stem and start mounting.
I’ve often heard and even felt the flex in 29er wheels as I bounce off rocks. The smaller diameter of the 27.5-inch rim helps with stiffness, but this carbon fiber rim is so stiff that if this wheel flexed under my use, the flex went unnoticed.
As reviewers go, I’m on the slow side. I need to get a number of miles on a product before I’m willing to pass judgement on it. Sure, some items—like shoes—don’t require 30 hours of riding, but with bikes and wheels I need solid time to become familiar with them and also to find out how they hold up. That’s probably truer of wheels than anything else. Which is to say that the folks at Reynolds would have loved to see this review up some weeks back. But I needed that time.
The upshot is this: these are, by far, the most capable and durable mountain bike wheels I’ve encountered in my career, and I’ve got north of 50 hours on these. I’ve crashed several times on these wheels. I’ve hit rocks with the force of a pneumatic hammer and have dived (dove? doven?) through rock gardens brakeless only to emerge arrogantly flat-free.
This sort of quality comes at a price—$2600, but before you flip over that price, consider that Reynolds offers one of the most comprehensive crash replacement programs out there. The Reynolds Assurance Program offer a one, two or three year program ($149, $229 and $299 respectively) with a true no-questions-asked replacement. This is more or less the opposite of most replacement programs and a total no-brainer.
When I see how quickly a budget wheel can begin breaking down, I can’t find fault anywhere in these wheels. The immediate engagement of the I9 hubs is critical when climbing up rock-studded trails and I have to clutch my pedal stroke to pass rocks. The seal on the rims has been flawless, so much so they have reset the standard by which I will measure other wheels. And then there’s the fact that my off-road descending skills are the best they’ve ever been and these wheels have served with the sort of confident abandon I used to associate with downhill products. Which reminds me, I need to review those Specialized Ground Controls I’ve been riding. Whew.
Final thought: Rad multiplier.
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