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Industry Nine Torch i25 TL review

8 Aug 2016

Who says alloy wheels are dead? Industry Nine doesn't, and the Torch i25s are here to prove it.

The received wisdom in cycling is that it is currently easier to sell ice to Alaskans than it is to sell high-end wheels made of aluminium. But that hasn’t stopped US brand Industry Nine from quietly building top-spec a-loo-min-um wheels out of Asheville, North Carolina for over a decade, and it seems to be making a pretty good business of it. 

Originally a mountain bike brand, Industry Nine crossed over into road a few years back via the world of cyclocross, realising that the robustness of its mountain bike hubs coupled with their low weight and fast engagement made them ideal for crossers’ needs. That move worked out well, so now the company is applying the same logic to the road with the i25 TL. Well, sort of.

While entirely suitable for the road – 9mm quick-release hubs, 23.2mm wide calliper rims in a 700c package – Industry Nine still talks about the i25 in the same breath as cross, and in fact offers them in a tubular build alongside these tubeless-ready clinchers. It also makes a big point of the Torch hub’s pick-up mechanism. 

The i25s boast what Industry Nine reckons is an ‘industry-leading six-degree engagement’ using three pawls (the tiny levers that engage with the ratchets inside the freehub), instead of its mountain bike wheels’ six,
to decrease drag when coasting. In other words, the wheel has the opportunity to engage under pedalling  load at every six degrees of rotation – that is, there are 60 notches inside the hub.

What does that all mean to us roadies? Well, to my mind, not much. We don’t tend to get on and off the power as much as mountain bikers or cross riders, so having quick engagement is largely irrelevant. If I hadn’t been told about it, I wouldn’t have known the Torch hubs had any greater or fewer degrees of engagement than any other road wheels. Except for one thing: the noise.

All those notches mean countless tiny pings as you freewheel, and that can be either a gratifying or annoying sound. It certainly made me want to keep pedalling. 

Possible causes could be that the grease in the freewheel is particularly light or sparse (grease damps freewheel noise but does increase drag), or that the cavernous, thin-walled hub shells echo like a bell. Industry Nine says the noise diminishes over time, but nearly 400km on and it was as loud as ever. 

To the positives

Braking on the milled alloy brake track is decent through to excellent in all weather, and happily noise-free. The hubs are joys to behold, made entirely in Asheville save for outsourced bearings, which means you can choose from a variety of colours and matching/clashing nipples as Industry Nine anodises in-house. 

Mass manufacturers can skimp on grease, yet the Torch hubs oozed a decent amount through their seals on the first ride, which though it might look alarming is generally a good sign. It means the wheelbuilder hasn’t skimped, and proper greasing is indicative of care taken in a build and probably longevity of the hubs.

On that note, the craftsmanship is excellent. As mentioned, the hubs are really something, and even the details are commendable. It’s the little things such as the anodised nipples being perfectly red and intact – no gouging down to silver metal because of careless spoke key work. Or the precision of the spoke-hole drillings, which allow the straight-pull spokes to enter the bulbous flanges of the hub with pinpoint accuracy.

If there is an aesthetic criticism of the i25 TLs to be made, I’ve yet to find it, particularly as Industry Nine will build them in most colours under the sun. That said, while I like the graphics on the rims, some might like the option to peel them off. If you prefer your hoops gleaming like highly polished Campagnolo Shamals of yesteryear alas, Industry Nine has elected to laquer over the graphics. 

This is all by the bye – the real winner here is the rim itself. It’s got a wide 19mm rim bed and 23.2mm outer width, meaning a 25mm tyre inflates to a large, rounded profile that lends itself to excellent handling without squirming in corners or feeling like its draining watts at speed, all while being more comfortable (as a wider tyre can be run at lower pressure). 

The ride quality is somewhere between a lightweight clincher and grip of a tubular

At a claimed 445g the rim is also pretty light, and helps keep the wheelset just under the magical 1.5kg marker. Combined with appreciable stiffness, this low weight makes for an impressively zippy, agile ride. But, best of
all in my book, the rim is tubeless-ready. 

That’s not to say tubeless is an instant mark of quality – a good set of tyres can make or break any wheelset – but it’s a new technology I feel sure will end up being as important to cycling as Edouard Michelin’s original ‘Demontable’ tyre in 1889. The ride quality is somewhere between a lightweight clincher and the assured, even grip of a tubular, but small punctures get sealed almost instantly and there’s potentially less rolling resistance due to the lack of friction that arises in tube-tyre set-ups. 

Set up as tubeless, the i25s are a true delight. Could they mix it alongside comparable carbon wheelsets? That’ll depend on whether carbon wheel manufacturers can get up to speed with tubeless first: they exist, but only just. Until then, wheels such as the i25s remain highly desirable items.

Industry Nine Torch i25 TL
Weight Front: 651g Rear: 843g
Rim Width Internal: 19mm External: 23.2mm
Spoke count Front: 20 Rear: 24
Price From £840

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