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Carbon wheels on a gravel bike worth it?

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Carbon wheels on a gravel bike worth it?

Old 01-25-21, 07:05 PM
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SwampGrinder
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Carbon wheels on a gravel bike worth it?

Opinions sought: Are carbon wheelsets worth the expense in terms of ride comfort and quality when rolling over bumpy gravel roads? I am not asking in terms of any weight savings or speed or hill climbing advantages.

My specifics: I own a 2021 Giant Revolt Advanced 1. Love it and really enjoying this new (to me) gravel riding experience. I bought the Advanced 1 specifically because I wanted 1X. I see the Advanced 0 and Advanced Pro have carbon wheelsets. This has me wondering if the compliance of carbon provides a distinct advantage over my current aluminum wheelsets in terms of ride quality (which I recognize is somewhat subjective). Or is it just a weight and speed thing? I ride exclusively in a national forest on primary and secondary forest service roads. It is almost entirely flat (SE US coastal plain). I do not ride single track or any technical trails (I have another bike for that). Also do not ride pavement, ever. So the idea of upgrading and then having a second wheelset for different rides does not seem particularly relevant. Given the upgrade will not be inexpensive, I am only interested if I will be able to actually feel the difference (I have other hobbies that I could spend the $ on). But if the difference is real, I'm all in.

Thanks for any insight or advice.
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Old 01-25-21, 07:06 PM
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Save your money.
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Old 01-25-21, 07:16 PM
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No.
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Old 01-25-21, 07:16 PM
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Moisture
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Try different stems and saddle positions instead
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Old 01-25-21, 07:53 PM
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When I had more money than good sense, I bought a 29+ bike, aluminum frame and rims, and kinda heavy-ish (like a Jones SWB bike, but aluminum). The "reviews" I read recommended upgrading to carbon rims, so I did, even before I had ridden the stock rims. I absolutely didn't know what I was doing, but the lbs guy said that the advantage of carbon rims is more than however many grams is saved. I can't explain it, but I will tell you that this bike is my favorite bike. And I'm thinking about getting a set of carbon rims for my carbon "paved road/occasional gravel road" bike, on which I run a 700/35 and 700/40 Clement/Schwalbe combo of tires. I've never been sorry that I bought carbon anything. Pound for pound, it's 20x stronger than steel (although only in the direction in which it was designed to be strong). Lots of folks hereabouts will disagree.
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Old 01-25-21, 08:00 PM
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Carbon wheels will be lighter and they typically feel a bit zippier and faster and, depending on how deep they are, make a cool sound. And they look cool, too. They won't ride more comfortably than aluminum, though.
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Old 01-25-21, 09:44 PM
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Carbon fiber can help reduce road chatter, the high frequency vibrations which often cause discomfort over time. That said, your tires and pressure will have a larger impact in this aspect.
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Old 01-25-21, 09:47 PM
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The better aluminum wheels at $800-ish are about the same weight as the $1200 carbons (maybe 1600 - 1650 grams) so I'd save my money and go aluminum in this price range if they are significantly lighter than what you have. Otherwise I'd stay with your current wheels. For gravel you need something wider and stronger than road wheels so the super light carbon does not make as much sense as it does in road wheels. Light weight you will notice immediately but road feel you will have a tough time telling the difference in this price range. Easton, DTSwiss, are great aluminum wheels in this price range and Shimano GRX are hard to beat for $418 in the lower-price bracket.
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Old 01-25-21, 09:48 PM
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Tires >> wheels
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Old 01-25-21, 11:04 PM
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I have both and whatever subtle differences there are between high end alu and high end carbon disappear 5 min into the ride. The weight difference is like 300g - I couldn't tell by feel alone but objectively there are probably seconds worth of savings when I compare rides.
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Old 01-26-21, 09:06 AM
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Stan's Crest ZTR are 23mm internal width, weigh 365g, are tubeless ideally, and cost $100 per rim. My gravel bike has a 1500g set of wheels I built with them for under $500.

Stan's rear hub, Novatec 791, and I was the builder.
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Old 01-26-21, 10:28 AM
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I have never noticed any difference in ride quality between my carbon and aluminum wheels. I'm not even sure how someone would notice "compliance" in a wheelset that is running wider/lower PSI gravel tires. Is that really a thing? If anything, my carbon wheels feel a bit stiffer and harsher than my aluminum wheels.

For gravel use, carbon wheels are way into marginal gains territory. In most cases, a gravel tire ruins or at least massively diminishes whatever aero gains you're getting from a deep section wheel (typically optimized around road tire sizes), so the main benefit of carbon is gone. There are of course some lightewight carbon wheels out there, but for the most part they are narrow and low spoke count wheels designed for climbing on road bikes. I do see a lot of Zipp 303 Firecrest at CX races, and this wheelset looks awesome but is very expensive. Outside of that and a few similarly expensive carbon options from Enve, etc I think you'll be hard pressed to find a carbon wheelset that works on gravel and is noticeably lighter than a descent aluminum wheelset.

At the top of my current gravel wheelset is the HED Chris King option. For $1215 you get a 1650g wheelset that is wide, robust and rolling on Chris King R45 hubs that have instant engagement and super smooth bearings. On the cost-competitive end, the Shimano GRX wheelset also looks like a solid buy at $419, but is a bit narrow (21.6mm internal, 26mm external) for gravel tire sizes. There are many good options in-between, and I really like the DT Swiss 350 hubs as a choice for something in the $700-$900 range.
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Old 01-26-21, 10:34 AM
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Originally Posted by rosefarts View Post
Stan's Crest ZTR are 23mm internal width, weigh 365g, are tubeless ideally, and cost $100 per rim. My gravel bike has a 1500g set of wheels I built with them for under $500.

Stan's rear hub, Novatec 791, and I was the builder.
I have read the Crest rim can be a bit flexy. Any truth to that? I have played around with builds on PWB using these and you can definitely make a very light/cheap wheelset with them.
I mostly see the Grail being used for CX and gravel, but it is 100g heavier and narrower.
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Old 01-26-21, 12:25 PM
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Originally Posted by msu2001la View Post
I have read the Crest rim can be a bit flexy. Any truth to that? I have played around with builds on PWB using these and you can definitely make a very light/cheap wheelset with them.
I mostly see the Grail being used for CX and gravel, but it is 100g heavier and narrower.
I built byhe wheels last spring and rode them on my mountain bike. A hardtail. I didn't ride a ton but I got some great rides with some very rocky descents on them. I put new end caps on for my new bike, a Ritchey Swiss Cross. When I pulled the mountain bike tires off to make the switch, I put them on my truing stand. Not perfect but nearly.

I don't expect them to give me any trouble.

The big disclaimer is that I'm 140lbs, actually, a touch under. I can't make any promises for a bigger rider. At my size, I've never crunked a wheel without a wreck.

A pair of Light Bicycle carbon rims on the same build would weigh the same and likely be stronger. I think they're actually not too much more.
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Old 01-26-21, 02:05 PM
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Originally Posted by SwampGrinder View Post
Opinions sought: Are carbon wheelsets worth the expense in terms of ride comfort and quality when rolling over bumpy gravel roads? I am not asking in terms of any weight savings or speed or hill climbing advantages.

My specifics: I own a 2021 Giant Revolt Advanced 1. Love it and really enjoying this new (to me) gravel riding experience. I bought the Advanced 1 specifically because I wanted 1X. I see the Advanced 0 and Advanced Pro have carbon wheelsets. This has me wondering if the compliance of carbon provides a distinct advantage over my current aluminum wheelsets in terms of ride quality (which I recognize is somewhat subjective). Or is it just a weight and speed thing? I ride exclusively in a national forest on primary and secondary forest service roads. It is almost entirely flat (SE US coastal plain). I do not ride single track or any technical trails (I have another bike for that). Also do not ride pavement, ever. So the idea of upgrading and then having a second wheelset for different rides does not seem particularly relevant. Given the upgrade will not be inexpensive, I am only interested if I will be able to actually feel the difference (I have other hobbies that I could spend the $ on). But if the difference is real, I'm all in.

Thanks for any insight or advice.
This is like asking if it is worth it to eat a cupcake - you don't care what it tastes like or how many calories it has… but is it worth it
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Old 01-26-21, 03:48 PM
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How much do you weigh? At ~185lbs I haven't had an alloy rim survive yet. So I bought carbon Bontragers with a lifetime warranty. Two or three broken alloy wheels and I'm money ahead with the carbon wheels.
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Old 01-26-21, 09:32 PM
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Originally Posted by SwampGrinder View Post
Opinions sought: Are carbon wheelsets worth the expense in terms of ride comfort and quality when rolling over bumpy gravel roads?
"worth the expense" really varies depending on one's disposable income.

Quality carbon rims are going to be more durable, improve handling, can have shapes that are unattainable with aluminum, etc.

"comfort" is hard to define since your tires are going to make more of a difference in reducing chatter.
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Old 01-26-21, 09:34 PM
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Originally Posted by msu2001la View Post
Chris King R45 hubs that have instant engagement and super smooth bearings.
As an owner of some R45s, I can confirm that with 72 POE, they are not instant engagement.
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Old 01-27-21, 01:12 AM
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Weight savings is negligible, ride quality probably favors aluminum but if you are running 40mm or larger TL tires you can't tell. I ride carbon for the durability. Don't need to be trued nearly as often, can take a beating.
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Old 01-27-21, 07:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Moisture View Post
Try different stems and saddle positions instead
No. Just no.

Assuming your bike fit is dialed in, leave your stem and saddle alone. Regardless, there is nothing about these variables that would affect ride smoothness to any noticeable degree.

OP: for the riding you described, you will get much wider variation in ride smoothness with different tires. If you are currently running a stiffer, less compliant tire, you could try something like this and get a significant improvement in ride quality.
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Old 01-27-21, 08:11 AM
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Define worth.

I wanted a set of Onyx Racing Products sprag-clutch hubs laced up...I could either have had say ColoradoCyclist or someone similar lace up alloy rims, or for the same money had Light Bicycles lace up 45mm carbon rims. Both would weight about the same--but ofc the Onyx are not built to be lightweight--but durable, silent, and proper instant engagement. I did the LBs.
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Old 01-28-21, 09:59 AM
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Originally Posted by SwampGrinder View Post
I am only interested if I will be able to actually feel the difference.
To this point right here, no, it won't be that noticeable. Go for the alloy wheels and see if they last you more than two seasons. You can always buy aftermarket carbon at any point.
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Old 01-28-21, 10:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Toadmeister View Post
Carbon fiber can help reduce road chatter, the high frequency vibrations which often cause discomfort over time. That said, your tires and pressure will have a larger impact in this aspect.
Great Toads think alike!

IMHO, comfort on rough surfaces starts at tires. Look for wider tires, with higher tpi (making softer sidewalls), and play with pressures. I ride 700x45 WTB Riddlers and like to keep pressures around 25/28 (f/r) psi for gravel (for reference, this Toad is ~165 lbs).

Great discussion about tire choice and pressures - jump to 5:55 to talk pressures.


EDIT (afterthought): comfort starts at the tire, but never forget if bike geometry and fit are off, no tire will fix that.

Last edited by Hypno Toad; 01-28-21 at 12:27 PM.
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Old 01-28-21, 01:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Hypno Toad View Post
Great Toads think alike!
Lol

Originally Posted by Hypno Toad View Post
EDIT (afterthought): comfort starts at the tire, but never forget if bike geometry and fit are off, no tire will fix that.
This.
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Old 01-28-21, 01:37 PM
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Originally Posted by shoota View Post
Go for the alloy wheels and see if they last you more than two seasons.
why do you expect such a short life span? The Araya rims laced to suzue hubs on my 1980 Norco were original and still rolling perfect fine after 40 years of use.

The rear wheel has been bent before, so two of the spokes on the non drive size needed to be almost fully loosened to maintain rim true, but the wheel didn't bend at all even when I weighed 220lb.

if you want to tinker with your bike, start with different stem lengths, saddles and tires to find better comfort.
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