If you’re thinking of upgrading your bike or reducing your quiver of bikes to one genuine all rounder, then it’s worth thinking about just changing wheels because wheels are probably the most important factor on how a bike performs. The biggest question in gravel currently has to be; should I go for 650b wheels and if so which ones??
With the latest generation of gravel bikes the interchangeability of wheels gives a bike two distinct personalities with the same frame. It’s a great option to get a pair of 650b for the rides that involve rougher tracks or singletrack sections, while keeping the 700c wheels with narrower tyres for those routes with tarmac/gravel being the majority. Swapping between them regularly means the cassettes can wear at similar rates too and keeps things simple.
I have been testing a set of Reynolds ATR V2 carbon wheels in 650b for the last 18 months now and they’ve transformed my Tripster ATR into a rocketship. With the baby arriving last year I am less fit but seem to be riding faster and I put it down to these wheels.
Intended for gravel, all road, adventure, bikepacking, road and even XC – these wheels are essentially equally at home on tarmac and singletrack. Call them whatever genre you like but essentially in 650b sizing they edge towards the rougher off road capabilities for a drop bar bike and suited for 40-52mm tyres.
I have been running them with WTB Resolute in 42mm set up tubeless with a track pump first time with 80ml sealant.
The first observation out the box was obviously the low weight, as you’d expect for a set of carbon wheels priced at around £1000. They come pre-taped for easy tubeless set up and it was straightforward to seat the WTB tyres on them. A 15mm adaptor from the standard 12mm thru axle was needed for my Lauf Grit forks – a simple change. Quick tighten of the centre lock discs and I was all set to go in minutes.
First observation was the pure acceleration, these wheel just take off not only the weight but swapping to the smaller circumference too. Then they stay at speed incredibly well for what is a decent tyre width on tarmac roads and a 650b set up.
But the biggest impression on me was simply that acceleration was noticeably faster – in part from the weight saving of carbon but also the smaller size – altogether they led to a whole lot of fun hammering the trails faster than I would normally!
It was on the road where I was most surprised I sat spinning at the kind of speed I’d be doing on my 700x28mm road tyres. This was in part due to tyre design but these wheels are phenomenally fast rolling and dismissed any fears that 700c is essential for any long road rides, it also has meant these 650b Reynolds ATR wheels have stayed on my bike for over a year now.
The stiffness was comparable to MTB wheelsets thanks to the chunky rim depth 40mm and wide internal measurements of 23mm. The best strength test was hitting table tops on drop bars at the end of a MTB trail and after some unfounded confidence and a small tweek in the air that went a bit bigger than anticipated I landed the front wheel heavy and sideways. The tyre rolled and made an awful noise as the Lauf bottomed out hard and I dragged it back straight. As I stopped to assess damage I wwas amazed to see there was no issues at all, when a weak wheel would have been destroyed – even no air burped out and the wheel was perfectly true. The guys I was riding with were on MTBs and having seen and heard the noise they couldn’t believe the wheel was perfect. There’s certainly no issue with strength with the Reynolds ATR (Nor the Lauf Grit fork)! Since this I has been used on gravel and light MTB riding without issue, I’d be tempted to race XC on them to be honest but guess that’s not recommended!
I could have cleaned them up for the pictures but it’s good to show just how many miles I have already put them through without issue, they have a few scratches now and marks but no damage and run like new after almost 18 months of riding.
Some tech specs;
Rim depth 40mm, external width 32mm and internal 23mm (so wider than most gravel)
Weight is 1550gms for 650b pair and Shimano freehub
36 points of engagement give super quick pick up
Overall these wheels continue to surpass my expectations and have transformed the Tripster into something faster than I imagined it could be. Given I have been testing crazy light gravel bikes like the 3T Exploro and Open UP it shows that wheels are so much more important than a few grams saved from a frame. It confirms my thoughts on how pivotal a decent set of wheels are in how a bike rides. While £1299 for a set of wheels sounds ridiculous to some, these can be picked up a bit cheaper than that and are actually relativly speaking good value for carbon gravel wheels of this quality (they come with full lifetime warranty too). However the biggest argument for value is that because they perform so well in 650b it means they could well save you needing two or even 3 bikes by simply swapping between wheelsets for specific types of ride!
I genuinely can’t find fault with them, despite some rock hits there’s no damage, the bearings are like new and this is now October 2019 so after almost 18 months of maybe 4 decent rides a week in Scotish conditions. I think that maybe says it all!