Lighter weight and less expensive: When was the last time you heard those two phrases in the same sentence?
It’s what makes mountain bike wheels from Stan’s NoTubes so miraculous. They tend to be lighter (often much lighter) than other wheels. And through some magic manipulation of cosmic economic forces, Stan Koziatek sells his wheels at blue-collar privateer prices.
While high-end mountain bike wheels with carbon fiber rims and ceramic bearings push the money meter to $2,500 and more, the most expensive stock wheels on Stan’s web site are $950.
It’s remarkable. For less than a grand, you get less wheel weight than other company’s equivalents. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.
So it’s no secret that my colleagues and I here at Singletrack.com are huge fans of Stan Koziatek and his wheel goods. Aside from the fact that he almost single-handedly created the “tubeless-ready” wheel and tire category by inventing a latex-based sealant solution, he’s developed an entirely new approach to the rim and tire bead interface. The net result is aluminum rims that can be built much lighter than most others available.
In addition to a customizable array of rim, hub and spoke combinations, which allow riders to order wheels with NoTubes rims in any configuration, NoTubes offers standard, in-stock wheels builds. One of those is the $950 ZTR Race 29er AC wheelset, which I’ve been riding off and on since spring, wrapped in Stan’s Raven 29er 2.2 tires.
If you are a 29er racer and you’re not already on board with Stan’s wheels, I can’t think of why this wheelset wouldn’t be at the top of your shopping list for 2010. The combination is so light and feels so fast, it’s like cheating. The downside is that this setup is really built for cross-country racing, so don’t get too fired up if you’re a brutal, epic rides kind of wagon-wheeler.
The ZTR Race 29er AC wheels are built with, you guessed it, ZTR Race 29er rims and American Classic Disc hubs (130 front, and 225 rear). The hoops and hubs are held together by 32 DT Swiss Revolution spokes (butted 2.0/1.5) per wheel, laced 2 cross front, 2-1 cross rear, with silver aluminum nipples. I weighed the wheels at 720 grams rear, and 650 front. The Raven tires were 570 grams each. The entire wheelset weight of 1370 grams is spot on with what the NoTubes web site claims, and is remarkably lighter than many road wheelsets I’ve been testing lately.
The ZTR Race rim is a 29er rim from NoTubes, with no 26-inch version, but it’s roughly equivalent in design to the new 26-inch Podium rim. ZTR Race is a newer 29er rim, following the original ZTR 355 rim, which in a 29er version weighs about 410 grams (according to a NoTubes company rep). By contrast, the disc-only ZTR Race weighs just 335 grams.
Stan’s rim design is built on several engineering elements that recur through the product line. The most notable is short sidewalls and Stan’s own “bead socket technology,” which provide better tubeless performance and air sealing capability. The curve of the rim sidewall is the same as the bead of the tire, so they fit like a ball and socket joint, allowing the tire to flex and roll without burping air. Added benefits of shorter sidewalls include less weight and less opportunity for tire bottoming on the rim. Essentially, there is an extra 4mm of tire between you and the ground, since the rim is shorter and the space is filled with tire sidewall rather than rim material.
Stan’s wheels arrive ready to set up tubeless, with air-sealing yellow tape wrapped on the tire bed, and valves in place. Standard tires tend to work best with Stan’s wheels, as the rim is profiled such that they fit tightly and seal air very well. UST tubeless tires and “tubeless ready” tires with UST beads will be much tighter, but still fit.
Indeed, with the Stan’s Raven 2.2 tires and NoTubes sealant, setup was easy. My method: Put the tire in place, mount both beads except for a small section on one side. Pour a scoop or two of sealant directly into the tire, and finish mounting. I use an air compressor to rapidly inflate the tire so the beads lock into the rim, but there’s a great video demonstration on the NoTubes website for tubeless setup using just a floor pump.
The Raven 2.2 tires are non-directional, for front or rear use. They have a very low profile tread, with slightly taller side knobs and file tread. The casing is a supple 120 tpi, and the tires are meant to be ridden tubeless at low, mid-20s pressure. I ran them at 28 psi rear, 26 front. That’s higher than NoTubes recommends, but I don’t like the sidewall flex in corners that seems to accompany lower pressure.
Riding the ZTR Race 29ers and Ravens can be summed up in one word — awesome. Between the ultra-light weight of the wheels and the lightweight, fast-rolling Raven tires, this combination feels faster, more responsive and racier than any 29er rolling stock I’ve ever used.
I raced a cross-country and several short tracks with this setup and it honestly felt like I was cheating. On straights and gentle hills, I easily rolled up behind other riders as if I had an invisible tailwind. Stiffness, handling and acceleration are all top notch.
Clearly, the reduced rolling resistance of the low-profile Ravens deserves a load of credit. But I give props to the light rims for fast acceleration and none of the sluggish, wallow-y feeling I’ve had from heavier 29er combos. Plus, the tire is supple and conforms to terrain rather than bouncing off it.
I didn’t get a chance to run the hubs through nasty conditions, but they stayed smooth all summer. We’ve not always loved American Classic hubs, but these remained silky, and of course contribute to the class-leading light weight.
Likewise, the wheels stayed true all summer. I weigh about 165 pounds and pick lines carefully, so I didn’t hammer the ZTR Race’s as much as I might have. I used them in some early season races and a couple of rocky, four-hour mountain bike rides and had no problems.
But at the end of the day they are racing wheels, with a suggested upper rider weight limit of 170 pounds. The rims are ultra-light, without eyelets, and built with lightweight spokes. If you must have these wheels (as I do!), I suggest you reserve them for races.
My only other note is on the Raven tires. They perform superbly on smooth hardpack and surprisingly well in moderately loose dirt and rock. But I did find them a little slippy in corners. There’s a gap in the tread transition from the crown of the tire to the side knobs, and it became apparent in loose corners and the high-speed, sand-on-hardpack corners of our local short track series. Lower pressure might have helped.
If you are on board with 29ers, take the next step and try an ultra-light, but not ultra-pricey, wheelset from Stan’s NoTubes. It will make you love your big-wheeled bike all the more.