Best gravel and adventure cycling wheels 2019

Cyclingnews' round-up of the best gravel and adventure wheels available to buy this year

In the past couple of years, gravel bikes have gone from modified cyclo-cross and touring bikes to purpose-built, ride them everywhere machines. With the new frame designs and their ever-expanding tyre clearance – plus the clever way brands are making room for this ballooned rubber – we've also seen an explosion in gear to kit out these adventure and all road bikes.

In the early days, if cyclo-cross wheels didn't fit your needs you're options were skinny overbuilt MTB hoops or road wheels that might not be up to the task. Now we are flush for choice for gravel-specific wheels in both 700c and 650b sizes.

What to look for in gravel wheels

On the surface, gravel and adventure wheels don't look all the different to road wheels, however, they need to be able to stand up to considerably more abuse. While feathery road wheels push into the territory just over 1kg, a light set of gravel hoops will often tack on an additional 500g of armour.

Also, expect to find rims ready for tubeless tyres. Each brand has its own system, some are distinctly better than others, requiring no frustration, broken tyre levers or a flash pump/air compressor to get a tyre on the rim and inflated.

There are a range of alloy and carbon options out there, with carbon fibre commanding a considerably higher price tag.

Gravel wheel sizing

Most gravel bikes these days can roll on either standard 700c wheels or wider 650b hoops. 650b or 27.5in comes to us from touring bikes, however, in recent years, mountain bikers have cottoned on to the mid-size hoops for their manoeuvrability and lighter weight when compared to 29er wheels and tires.

On gravel bikes, 650b wheels and tyres allow for fatter rubber, making for a bigger tyre footprint, lower tyre pressure and more traction and more bump absorption. On the other hand, 700c wheels require a skinnier tyre, but see less rotational mass and rolling resistance, and slightly better rollover capability — tyre choice will also have a significant effect in this arena, but that is for a separate guide. Even though the rims are two different sizes, both are nearly the same diameter with a tyre mounted and inflated, meaning you can swap between them without drastic changes in geometry or handling characteristics.

Your preferred wheel size will likely depend mainly on what kind of gravel riding you plan to do. If you ride smooth gravel, with a bit of tarmac mixed in 700c is your go, however, if you're up for a big adventure with plenty of rutted, washboard gravel, singletrack or bushwhacking, 650b will serve you better.

Gravel wheel braking options

The benefits of disc brakes, especially in wet and dusty conditions are well documented, and most modern gravel bike will have disc brakes. If you are in the market for a new set of gravel wheels, you're going to need a set of rotors too, so take note of whether the hubs accept centre-lock or six-bolt rotors.

Centre-lock rotors are attached to the hub with a lockring, while six-bolt discs use, you guessed it, six individual bolts. Centre-lock rotors are easier to install, and the hubs are typically a few grams lighter, but the rotors are generally a few grams heavier. If you do find yourself with incompatible hubs and rotors, adaptors do exist, however.

Gravel wheel rim width and depth

Just like on the road, gravel wheels are continuing to get wider. While average road wheels are usually measuring between 17mm and 23mm internally, median gravel wheel internal rim width seems to have settled about 21mm for the time being. Inner rim width is the critical figure to look at because it will determine how wide a tyre you can run, the profile and volume of the casing, and tyre pressure.

Typically when talking about external rim width, we'd be speaking in terms of aerodynamics, which does come into play, although to a lesser extent than on the road. Some brands employ external width to help prevent pinch plats, but the essential thing to take into consideration is what will fit into your gravel frame.

With such a wide range of tyre widths and tread patterns on offer, aerodynamics are less of a factor when it comes to gravel-specific hoops. Look for rims under 30mm deep.

Gravel wheels rim material

The age-old question of carbon versus alloy rims rages on in the gravel world just like it does with mountain bikes or on the road. In the lab, carbon wheels are stronger than alloy hoops; however, the trouble is in the real world they don't bend, dent or buckle; instead, they just break. Riding gravel you're likely to be subjecting your wheels to regular bottom outs, and rock strikes from projectiles launched by your riding mates tyres.

Because Carbon wheels are usually built to be stiff, they can also have a harsh ride quality, especially over rough road surfaces. That being said, the energy transfer of a good set of carbon wheels when you get on the pedals, lean into a corner or pop over an obstacle is a feeling that alloy can't quite match.

Best gravel and adventure wheelsets

Hunt 30 Carbon Gravel Disc

  • Internal rim width: 21mm
  • Depth: 30mm
  • Sizes available: 700c
  • Weight: 1,479g
  • Brake mount: Centre-lock - 6-bolt adaptor included
  • Price: £862 / $1079 / AU$1539

+ Lightweight, well price and offer class-leading performance
- Heavy riders may experience some cornering flex

Hunt is a relative newcomer to the wheel market, but since launching the brand has made waves with its road and gravel wheelsets. The 30 Carbon Gravel disc wheels marry the brands 30 Carbon rim with its 4-season hub which uses six-pawls for five degrees between engagements.

With a 21mm internal width, and 27mm external the 30Carbon Gravel disc wheels made for a well-supported tire in widths from 28mm up to 50mm, and Hunt employs its H-Lock tubeless rim bed, for painless tyre installs.

For years we've heard about high TG resin designed to withstand the heat caused by rim brakes, but the 30Carbon Gravel is only available in disc brakes Hunt has gone the opposite direction using a proprietary low temp resin claimed to be less brittle and offer superior impact resistance and vibration dampening. All of this makes for a wheel that weighs in at 1,479g.

Buy Hunt Carbon Gravel Disc Wheelset in the UK
Buy Hunt Carbon Gravel Disc Wheelset in the USA
Buy Hunt Carbon Gravel Disc Wheelset in AUS

Stan's No Tubes Grail MK3

  • Internal rim width: 20.3
  • Depth: 24.5mm
  • Sizes available: 700c
  • Weight: 1,675g
  • Brake mount: 6-bolt or Centre-lock
  • Price: £600 / $699 / AU$1100

+ Comfortable for long rides, simple tubeless install
- Some lateral flex

Best known for sealant and rim tape, Stan’s No Tubes has long made high-quality rims which have gained favour among CX, MTB and Gravel riders. The Grail MK3 Alloy rims are designed specifically for high volume tubeless tires and use the brands patented BST-R (bead socket technology) rim bed designs—broad shoulders along the centre channel and short sidewalls. Historically Stan's wheels have made for some of the easiest tubeless installs and the Grail MK3's which come with valves and tubeless tape pre-installed are no exception.

The rims are made from 6069 Series aluminium which makes for a reasonably light rim (1675g for the wheelset), the updated Grail is lighter stiffer and most importantly more dent resistant than the previous version.

Measuring 20.3mm between the bead, the Grail MK3 suits tyres between 25mm and 40mm and 24.5mm deep and spin on Stan's Neo Hubs. There is a tinge of flex which can be felt hammering out of the saddle, the Grail MK3 are incredibly reliable and some of the more comfortable wheels we've used to date.

Buy Stans No Tubes Grail MK3 Wheelset in the UK
Buy Stans No Tubes Grail MK3 Wheelset in the USA
Buy Stans No Tubes Grail MK3 Wheelset in AUS

ENVE G-23

  • Internal rim width: 23mm 700c
  • Depth: 25mm
  • Sizes available: 700c and 650b
  • Weight: 1,305g, 700c with Envy Alloy hubs
  • Brake mount: Centre-lock
  • Price: £2700 / $2800 / AU$TBC

+ Lightweight, easy tubeless setup and good durability on offer, Wide Hookless bead allows for low tire pressure
- Internal spoke nipples make adjustments a headache

 

Finding a happy middle ground between its road and MTB wheelsets, the G23 700 measure 23mm internally and feature ENVE's Wide Hookless bead which provides a larger more forgiving surface during bottom outs and is claimed in all but eliminates pinch flats — in our experience, it has worked pretty well. ENVE also offer these wheels in a 650b version which push the internal rim width out to 27mm.

The G-series wheels use a bell-shaped rim which provides for a laterally stiff wheel, that also offers some degree of absorption and dampening. They also get ENVE's moulded rim holes, which the brand says makes their rims stronger, but also puts the nipples inside the rim making truing difficult.

The 700c version weighs 1305g for the set, and they are pretty snappy when pressure is applied. As you'd expect from ENVE, the G23's are stiff but don't wander into the bone-rattling harshness of the M-Series. Also to be expected is the hefty price tag, but you get what you pay for, and the G23's are also backed by the brand's no-questions-asked lifetime replacement policy.

Buy Enve G-23 Wheelset in the UK
Buy Enve G-23 Wheelset in the USA
Buy Enve G-23 Wheelset in AUS

Mavic Allroad Pro Disc

  • Internal rim width: 22mm
  • Depth: 24mm
  • Sizes available: 700c
  • Weight: 1,670g
  • Brake mount: 6-bolt
  • Price: £900 / $1200 / AU$1699

+ Bulletproof, UST system seals easily and securely
- Price, if you want 650b, you'll have to pay for carbon

It's been a few years since Mavic dove into gravel and adventure riding, and the Allroad Pro hoops have evolved to better suit what we're looking for out of an all-road wheelset. With a 22mm internal rim width, Mavic recommends 28mm to 62mm tyres and the undrilled rim bed makes means no tape or rim strips are needed to take advantage of the UST system.

The alloy rims can take a beating, and though they weigh at 1,670g, they are efficient and responsive. As Mavic sells its wheels as a 'system', the Allroad Pro's come with Yksion Allroad UST rubber in either 35mm or 40mm widths. At first glance the Mavic tyres look like they're shod with knobs; in reality, they are slick with deep channels cut into the rubber.

With a carbon hub shell at the front and alloy at the rear, the Allroads spin on Mavic's Instant Drive 360 freewheel system which boasts 9-degrees engagement and features with centre-lock brake mounts. The hubs will also take a standard or Road XD driver, opening up gearing potential.

Buy Mavic Allroad Pro Wheelset in the UK
Buy Mavic Allroad Pro Wheelset in the USA
Buy Mavic Allroad Pro Wheelset in AUS

Zipp 30 Course DB

  • Internal rim width: 21
  • Depth: 26
  • Sizes available: 700c
  • Weight: 1,650g
  • Brake mount: Centre-lock
  • Price: £800 / $1010 / AU$1510

+ Lateral stiffness, versatility, price
- Ride quality can be a bit harsh when things get rowdy

 

Zipp doesn't mark the 30 Course as a gravel-specific wheel, but with a 21mm internal rim width and a robust alloy rim they are at home on well-maintained dirt roads, and bomb holed jeep tracks alike. Slotting in as the brand's first tubeless-ready wheelset (the wheels come with tubeless tape and valves pre-installed), the rim itself borrows its toroidal rim profile from the 202 Firecrest and spins on the same 77/177d hubset.

In the box, the Zipp 30 Course come with end caps for every modern axel standard and will accept both 10/11-speed Shimano or Campy freehubs, as well as Sram's XD driver for a dinner plate rear cassette. Weighing in a 1,650g, they are weight competitive for a gravel alloy wheelset, but they are some of the most laterally stiff we've found.

Reynolds ATR

  • Internal rim width: 21mm internal (700c)
  • Depth: 28mm
  • Sizes available: 700c and 650b
  • Weight: 1,685g (700c)
  • Brake mount: Centre-lock
  • Price: £1200 / $1299 / AU$2000

+ Lightweight, plenty stiff and well priced
- Possible frame compatibility issues with older bikes

Reynolds ATR or 'all-terrain road' are carbon fibre hoops designed to handle a bit more abuse than its Attack or Assault Aero wheels. Available in both 700c and 650b sizes the brand started with the carbon layup used for its MR5 MTB wheels and adapted it into a toroidal shape measuring 28mm deep, 21mm between the bead and 29mm outside. Reynolds claims they weigh 1685g (700c) on their website; however, in reality, they are closer to 1550g, which is pretty light for heavy-duty hoops.

They come out of the box with tubeless tape and valves pre-installed and feature external brass nipples for simple truing. The rims are built around Reynolds CNC machined TR3 hubs with 36 points of engagement, which will accept an XD Driver and can be installed tool-free.

Reynolds also backs its ATR hoops with a no questions asked crash and damage replacement policy.

Buy Reynolds ATR wheelset in the UK
Buy Reynolds ATR wheelset in the USA
Buy Reynolds ATR wheelset in AUS

Bontrager Paradigm Elite 25 TLR Disc Road Wheel

  • Internal rim width: 25mm internal
  • Depth: 24mm
  • Sizes available: 700c
  • Weight: 1700g
  • Brake mount: Centre-lock
  • Price: £750 / $1000 / AU$TBC

+ Wide rim makes for grippy tyre profile, high price to performance ratio
- Weight competitive but by no means light

With a 25mm internal rim width and 30mm outer, the Bontrager Paradigm Elite 25 TLR pair nicely with wide tyres, providing oodles of sidewall support and stretching the casing out for an overall larger tyre volume—in turn allowing you to run lower tire pressure. This also creates a wide contact patch, no matter what tyre you're using for tenacious grip.

The Rapid Drive 108 hubs offer rapid engagement the wheels are assembled in house at Bontrager Wheelworks and the brand ships the wheels with rim strips and valves (and a valve core remover) in the box. Once you get everything in place tyres can be mounted and inflated with relative ease, however, getting the rim strip to line up with the valve holes can be a frustrating affair.

They are weight competitive for a gravel wheelset, and a solid performer offering a comfortable ride quality while also providing plenty of stiffness through high-speed corners or hard efforts.

Buy Bontrager Paradigm Elite TLR Disc Wheelset in the UK
Buy Bontrager Paradigm Elite TLR Disc Wheelset in the USA


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