“I hate your fucking wheels”, Uncle Crusty said.
It wasn’t an insult; it was purely a statement of fact. We were on a springtime ride, cautiously crawling out from under the COVID restrictions and claiming our state-allowed daily exercise. As is common, the afternoon winds were battering us, slowing our forward motion to a near standstill.
We were riding on a flat road, side-by-side, directly into the wind. He was pedaling, and I was coasting. Since the road was dead flat, my impressive bulk alone could not have been the reason I could coast, so credit went to my brand new Hunt Aero Wide wheelset. Uncle Crusty was on a Hed Ardennes SL Plus wheelset, with shallow non-aero rims, and despite being tubeless compatible, he was running with tubes.
Uncle Crusty and I have known each other since daycare, and we are old enough to have been delivered to that toddler storage system unseatbelted in the back of bubble-windowed, faux-wood paneled station wagons. We’ve ridden together since the days when our Schwinn StingRays were the apex of youthful transportation, and he’s always been faster. In our glory days of racing rigid mountain bikes in the late ’80s, Uncle Crusty would disappear (forwardly) when the trail tipped upward, while I disappeared (rearwordly).
As the years have passed, one thing has remained constant: he climbs better. This may be due to our distinctly different physiologies- his is lanky and skinny, mine is spheroidal. When standing together, we resemble the Number 10. Any upward tilt to the road or trail, and he floats away, like a stray trashbag on a breeze, then waits at the top with a limited amount of patience. When the road is flat, however, or the wind is blowing, he’s happy to hide in the shadow of my impressive mass, while I grit my teeth and push the wind out of the way. It’s always been thus; it’s understood.
Our headwind was no joke on that day. Some springs in Colorado are calm, some rage with afternoon winds, stripping the warmth away and threatening to rip large trees out of the ground. This year is of the windy variety, and we were forced to adjust routes based on time of day and wind direction.
I had recently built a new bike up, and had put Hunt’s alloy 34 Aero Wide wheelset on it. The wheels are unusual in that they are not carbon. Instead, they use an alloy rim, as well as bladed Pillar spokes. Hunt claims they are as fast as a Zipp 202 NSW, and they have graphs and charts to prove it. Whatever. A chart with squiggly, colored lines on it probably tells you some good info, but to me, I am not clear why it’s not symmetrical, and also why the narrative text says the wheelset with a 28c tire is fastest, but the chart is labeled as a 25c.
I liked the colors of the individual lines and how they evoke the Rainbow Jersey, but beyond that, it didn’t really provide useful information to me. It’s not that I don’t like charts and graphs, I read them all the time in my day job. Funky ones at that. This one, however, really didn’t seem to say much, probably because I am not an aerodynamics designer.
The narrative that went with it, though, was pretty good. Other reviews of the wheels have also been positive, and the rim width was closet to what I wanted for this bike. Since jumping on the fatbike bandwagon a decade ago, I have developed an affinity for big tires. I like the Panaracer GravelKing 38s, I like my 650b 50mm gravel tires, and I like my plus mountainbike tires. It may have something to do with my own plus-size dimensions. I had been considering lacing up a set of Hed Eroica rims, but my budget was steering me towards something already built.
And that’s another thing I like about Hunt: their pricing is really good. This wheelset retails for $609, which is much less than I could build my own wheels for. I like building wheels, it’s fun, relaxing, and really enjoyable. It’s not cheap, however, and given the pricing and remarkably low weight for a deep alloy wheelset (1548g), I bought them. Out of the box, the front wheel weighed 720g, and the rear was 860g, so pretty accurate.
They arrived, complete with spare spokes and nipples, spoke wrench, and spoke holder. Also inside the box were a card signed by the guy who built them, warranty info, etc. As they are tubeless, they also included valve stems and tubeless tape already installed. I put Schwalbe Pro One 28c tires on them for two reasons: 1) I love road tubeless and wider tires, and 2) one of their citations says the Schwalbe 28s were the fastest. As a MAMIL, I am willing to buy fast things as this is typically a better use of my time than actually training and becoming faster on my own merits.
The spokes are bladed straight-pull Pillar Wing 20s laced to alloy-bodied hubs. The rear hub has 7.5-degree engagement. The hubs use adapters to change between axle configurations (thru-axle, quick release, etc.), which I also ordered so I can swap the wheels between my bikes.. The rims themselves have a very blunt U-shape, as opposed to a more teardrop shape seen on many aero rims.
The tires seated pretty easily with an air compressor, but I had leakage from one valve stem. I swapped them out with another pair I had on hand, and the leak stopped. I don’t know if the leak was from the way I cut the tubeless tape at the stem or if it was the stem itself, in either case, changing the stem solved it. The Schwalbe tires seated without needing to soap the rims. I put about 1-1/2oz of Orange Seal in each tire after seating them. One tire leaked air through the sidewall, but once I got the sealant distributed and a few rides on it, the leak sealed up.
The hubs are centerlock, and 6-bolt adapters are included. Installation was easy, and there is no play in the rotor or adapter.
I put them on my bike, and rolled down the driveway to seat the pads to the rotors and get my first ride on them. Immediately I noticed they were rolling faster down my road, at least 2-3MPH faster than my fastest-rolling wheelset. I have another aero wheelset, made from Sapim bladed spokes laced to 45mm Nextie 45mm carbon rims. The Hunts feel faster, but that’s purely subjective, I’ll have to try the Nexties again.
A big difference between them is when the sidewinds hit the wheelset. The Nexties are pretty good, being a blatant copy of a Zipp profile, but any breeze contribution that’s not dead-center on the tire makes them switch lanes faster than a VW microbus. The Hunts feel more like a subtle pressure, rather than a body check. Since I am more accustomed to non-aero wheels, I have had to learn to weight my front wheel more. The wheels are also pretty stiff, which given their 34mm deep, 26mm wide profile, that’s a pretty burly extrusion. I started with tire pressures at 80PSI, and have been lowering them incrementally. I’m now at 72PSI, and it’s feeling pretty good- no tire squirm or understeer.
The dimensions of the rim definitely point themselves towards gravel, as does the durability and reliability of alloy. The width is similar to the 650b rims on my gravel bike, and I would expect them to be good with a large, low pressure tire. I don’t know how much the aerodynamics would suffer with a 45c tire vs the tested 28s, but recent articles have said Hunt is working on aero gravel wheelsets. I think the depth would require a careful balance between any aerodynamic advantage and stiffness on rough terrain, and the resulting ride quality.
I’m happy with the wheels, and they roll extremely well. I had one gust of wind cause a shimmy on a descent, but once I slowed and pressed harder on the bars, that went away. Their width may be a bit much for a pavement bike, but they also have narrower aero tubeless disc wheelsets available. I keep telling my belt that wider is better, but, dear reader, you may not have yet been enlightened to the benefits of bulk.
Less than a week after this ride, it should be noted, Uncle Crusty ordered his own pair of wheels from Hunt. There’s a slightly used pair of Hed wheels for sale, if anyone’s interested.