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Hunt 55 Carbon Wide Aero wheels review

29 Mar 2018
Verdict:

Hunt’s latest carbon clinchers are not just tubeless, they’re hookless, and could find themselves a trendsetter before long

Price: 
£1,099

Trends in wheels are a little like trends in fashion – sooner or later everyone ends up doing the same thing. At the moment, tubeless-ready rims are a hot topic, and many brands are opting for the blunt U-shaped rim profile championed by the likes of Zipp and Enve. With that in mind, the Hunt 55 Carbons are no doubt trendy, but look closer and these wheels boast some serious innovation. 

‘Pretty much all mountain bike carbon wheels are hookless,’ says Hunt founder Tom Marchment. ‘It’s the accepted way you do it, and I think the way we think about it for road will change over time.’ 

A hookless design is one where the lip of the rim wall has no inward hook to hold the bead of the tyre, instead being completely flat. What’s more, the lip is shorter than you would expect to see with clincher wheels. This means it’s easier for a punctured tyre to be changed, but also means there is less material securing it in place. It inevitably leads to anxiety over the tyre coming off the rim, but Hunt insists there is nothing to worry about.

‘We test this stuff pretty comprehensively and we push the wheels pretty hard,’ Marchment says. ‘I descended the hairpins of the Lacets de Montvernier [the incredibly twisty road that featured in last year’s Tour de France] on these wheels, and I’m currently the fourth fastest
on Strava, so they can take a hard corner.’ 

In terms of more empirical safety standards, Hunt has pumped the tyres with high-pressure water to test the point at which the tyre is forced off the rim. ‘We inflate the tyre with water up to very high pressures to see if we can unseat the tyre. I think we got to 220psi and then actually what happens is that the tyres fail, not the rim.’

While the lack of a bead hook may seem unsettling, the benefits are substantial. Changing tyres on tubeless rims is notoriously difficult, and Hunt’s lower-profile rim wall makes this much easier. It also saves a small amount of weight, but most importantly it actually makes the rim more resistant to heavy braking forces. 

Steady as they roll

Having a shorter lip on the rim wall means the braking surface sits at the same level as the rim bed. So when the brake pads push against the rim, the forces are resisted by a horizontal section of carbon rather than a potentially flimsy clincher rim wall. In an attempt to further improve braking, Hunt has produced its own brake pads.

‘You’re always braking on resin, not carbon, so it’s important to have the right compound in the brake pad to create the friction,’ Marchment says. Hence Hunt has developed its own compound in conjunction with pad manufacturer Brakco. In practice, the pads bite purposefully, and although the 55 Carbons don’t brake with the power of an aluminium rim or disc brake, there’s plenty of control and modulation on offer.

These wheels aren’t only notable for their ability to stop – they’re pretty good when they get going too. Aerodynamically they aren’t class-leading because Hunt doesn’t have resources for extensive wind-tunnel testing, but when I tested the 55 Carbons on a Cervélo S5, I felt they were not significantly slower than the Zipp or Bontrager alternatives of a similar depth, although they do suffer a little more in strong crosswinds.

As for weight, at 1,540g for the pair they fall almost exactly between the Bontrager Aeolus 5 and the Zipp 404. In terms of stiffness, they proved to be both responsive and direct in transferring power, and the rear wheel showed minimal flex while sprinting.

Then there’s the main attraction – tubeless tyre compatibility. Beyond all the puncture-resistive benefits of the tyres, which can self-seal small punctures, the main appeal of tubeless tyres for me is the ride quality. With no inner tube, the tyres feel more supple and responsive. They ride more like tubular tyres, creating an almost gliding sensation. 

Schwalbe claims it’s a measurable five watts less effort to turn the wheels at 30kmh than the standard clincher alternative. Hunt, with its wide rim design, promises further gains by creating a wider contact patch – the wide base means the Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless tyres that come with the wheels actually measure 29mm wide despite having a claimed profile of only 25mm.

At £1,099 for the pair, I think these wheels represent impressive value when compared to many other brands at the same level, especially as included in that price are tubeless tyres, a cassette spacer for 10-speed cassettes, spare spokes, brake pads and a handsome set of quick-release skewers.

Many names appear and disappear in the wheel market, often struggling to compete with the giants of the industry. Yet Hunt, despite its relatively tiny scale, has produced a wheel that not only punches well above its weight, but could prove to be a trendsetter.

Weight 1,540g (700g front, 840g rear)
Rim depth 55mm
Rim width External 26mm
Spoke count 20 front, 24 rear

huntbikewheels.com

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