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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset review

Is an American handmade wheel named after the world's biggest gravel race the right choice for your riding?

HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset
(Image: © Josh Ross)

Our Verdict

With an internal width of 26mm the HED Emporia GC3 Pro is wider than the current gravel wheel standard. If your gravel routes look wilder than the standard, this is the wheel to grab.

For

  • - 26mm internal width
  • - Aero considerations
  • - Spokes, hubs, and bearings are high performance but not exotic

Against

  • - Long lead time for delivery
  • - There are lighter wheels available for less money

In days past you'd be hard-pressed to find a handful of gravel wheelsets on the market. Nowadays though, there's a tonne of really good gravel wheels available; take a look at our list of the best gravel wheelsets available if you don't believe us. 

History counts for something, and HED has a decent historical reputation to trade on, but with so many great wheelsets available it can't be the sole selling point. The same goes for the fact that HED wheels continue to be handmade in America; for some, domestic construction is an important consideration, but it's not going to sell an inferior wheel. The HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset has to bring more than nostalgia to the table, so we've given it a thorough testing to see how it measures up to the competition. If you are considering an upgrade to your gravel bike, or a fresh build, keep reading to see our thoughts on what the HED Emporia brings to the table. 

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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset detail showing shadowed rim and tyre

In some light, the HED Emporia GC3 Pro looks like a plain black wheel. (Image credit: Josh Ross)
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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset detail of carbon in the sun

Catch the light right and you are treated to all the depth and detail of the raw carbon on display. (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Design and aesthetics 

Wheels don't present much in the way of opportunity for design flair it has to be said, but in terms of design I had some questions for HED. In this case, Andy, who goes by the title "Repository of Knowledge" at HED cycling, dropped the perfect summary into a response to a question of mine. 

I wanted to know why the seam in the middle of the wheels, left over from separating the moulds, was so prominent. The response covered a few details but what I found most enlightening was "You can see it because we don’t paint or clearcoat our wheels. Those processes add weight but don’t increase wheel performance. We don’t believe additional finishing adds any more value to the wheels."  

That kind of ethos is what you see in every part of these wheels from HED. These are the wheels designed for gravel riders looking for a no-nonsense take on design features. A good place to start showing that is with the choice of Sapim Laser spokes. "Light but not weird" means that while they are a high-performance choice, this isn't the kind of exotic solution you need to have spares stockpiled in case the worst happens. Laser spokes are butted for lightness and better shock absorption, but common enough you'd be able to pick them up without much bother.

While the designers have taken a no-frills approach to finishing, that doesn't mean the design of the wheel and the build has been a simple affair. The Laser spokes feature Sapim's 'Torsion Control Squares' which allow the builder to grip the spoke below the nipple to prevent any spoke wind up that could weaken the build. They've also utilised an internal, self-locking nipple for a smaller hole in the rim. While an internal rim keeps things neater and makes for a stronger rim, though it does mean on-the-fly truing is impossible.

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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset detail of internal spoke nipple

An internal spoke nipple allows HED to create a stronger wheel. (Image credit: Josh Ross)
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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset detail of line left from mould halves

It's apparent where the two sides of the mould come together. (Image credit: Josh Ross)
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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset detail of rear hub showing J bend spokes

Sapim Laser TCS J bend spokes are light with reasonable flex and easy to source if there's an issue. (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Another place where the design sticks to a tried-and-true option is the hub. Rather than a CNC billet hub, HED uses a forged design for the shell with CNC finishing. It's a less glamorous process, but effectively results in a hub that's just as strong but at a cheaper price. Internally there’s a somewhat standard, though precise, leaf-spring pawl system. For the GC3 Pro, there are five pawls with a total of 45 teeth resulting in an eight-degree engagement. The bearings used are stainless 6901 bearings that are both durable and readily available. 

The one choice that tends to show up in more exotic designs is the hookless rim profile. Even in that regard though, hookless is about strength, weight, and reliable manufacturing; you can get a stronger wheel that weighs less with tooling that’s less complex if you choose a hookless design.

At every turn, the design of the HED Emporia GC3 Pro wheelset is about grounded, well-proven, performance. Despite that, the look isn't down-market. These are premium wheels and they look like it. The finish is high gloss and looks black on casual observation. In the sun, the light catches the texture of the carbon and there's a depth to the finish that changes depending on the angle. Graphics are simple black vinyl over a rounded nose profile that's both 31mm deep and has an external width of 31mm. 

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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset detail of front hub

Front and rear hubs use quality stainless steel bearings. (Image credit: Josh Ross)
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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset detail of the rear hub

The rear hub has five pawls with a total of 45 teeth resulting in 8° engagement. (Image credit: Josh Ross)
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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset detail of centre lock disc brake mount

Disc brake rotors mount via the centrelock standard/ (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Performance

My testing for these wheels primarily covered long, paved and well-graded climbs, some calmer descents and a prolonged period on rougher logging doubletrack trails. In all cases what really struck me as a standout feature was the internal width.

Although HED claims that, aerodynamically speaking, the profile does pretty well, these aren't aero wheels like the Hunt 42 limitless wheels. They also aren't ultralight as in the case of the Roval Terra CLX. There's no exotic hub design, or spokes for that matter, like the Cadex AR 35. Instead, the special sauce is that internal width; at 26mm it's a good few mm wider than the average. 

If you want to run wider tyres, something over 40mm, then a wider internal width is your friend. It's not a totally unique feature, but it means when I'm riding double track logging roads I can bring the pressure down a little more and the extra width keeps the tyre in a plumper shape. A little less pressure brings a more comfortable and sure-footed riding experience. If you spend a lot of your gravel riding wondering if you should have brought a mountain bike instead then these are probably a good choice.

While I find the internal width of particular benefit when riding with larger rubber, HED position the internal width as a benefit for those on narrower tyres. The theory goes that the wider stance provided by the rim profile serves to reduce tyre flop in hard cornering, so while these may be great for those after a comfier ride on big tyres, they are also aimed at the gravel racer too.

Decal issues

Unfortunately, our test pair of wheels experienced an issue with the decals. In multiple spots the vinyl failed and showed bubbling in the vinyl clear coat or lost adhesion to the surface of the wheel. When brought to the attention of HED, they immediately took ownership of the problem and took steps to rectify it.

Obviously, no one wants to see peeling decals but there's no clear coat above them so they are removable and reapplication is a simple process. The brand is sending new decals in my direction and customer service will handle issues if others experience something similar. Problems like this do happen and HED handled it exactly how you'd want them to. It's my job to share that it happened, but I haven't otherwise integrated it into the review and I wouldn't let it weigh on your purchase decision.

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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset detail of pealing vinyl

In some spots the vinyl came away from the rim. (Image credit: Josh Ross)
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HED Emporia GC3 Pro gravel wheelset detail of pealing vinyl

In other spots the vinyl clearcoat seemed to pull away from the rest of the decal. (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Verdict

In a world with as many high-quality choices as we now have for gravel wheels, it's harder and harder to stand apart from the crowd. The HED Emporia GC3 Pro manages to differentiate itself through a design choice that brings a wider internal width to the table. For some that feature means wider tyres with less air, while for others it might mean roughly the same sized tyres get better sidewall support. Either way, these wheels are best if you plan to spend your entire ride out of the city on unpaved roads. 

They won't hold you back on smooth surfaces by any stretch, but if you are looking for an all-road wheel, there are better choices. Wider wheels are heavier and if you don't need the wide internal you can get something lighter for less money. 

 Tech Specs: HED Emporia GC3 Pro Gravel Wheelset 

  • Price: $2400/set
  • Tubeless: Tubeless-ready wheel includes tubeless rim tape and tubeless valves
  • Rim Material: 110 GSM Carbon
  • Rim Weight: 310g front and rear
  • Wheel Weight: 655g / 770g
  • Rim Depth: 31mm
  • Internal Rim Width: 26mm
  • External Rim Width: 31mm
  • Spoke Count: 24 front and rear
  • Minimum tyre size: 32mm
  • Hub: HED Sonic 510/545
  • Bearing Type: 6902 2RS Radial
  • Spokes: Sapim Laser
  • Spoke Type: J Bend

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Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minutia of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer will be yes.
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 137 lb.
Rides: Orbea Orca Aero, Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Trek Checkpoint, Priority Continuum Onyx