After a decade of tubeless innovation for mountain bikes, the guys at Stan’s notubes turned their attention this year to wheels for road and ‘cross.
Not surprisingly the results are quite good. If you happened to read my story on tubeless for ‘cross you may have noticed the conspicuous omission of Stan’s products. This was due to product availability, but shortly after that story ran we were sent a pair of Stan’s wheels and cyclocross tires.
Stan’s Notubes ZTR Alpha 340 comp wheels
- Comp: $615/ 1410 grams
- Team: $900/ 1330 grams
- Pro: $1,100/ 1200 grams
Raven cyclocross tire
700x 35mm/360 grams
More info: www.notubes.com
Three different hub and spoke configurations are offered, all using Stan’s new 340 rims. They run the gamut from tough wheels for ‘cross to featherlight climbers. Zack Vestal tested the Pro-level wheels on the road for the January print issue and I tested the ZTR Apha 340 comp, the heaviest and cheapest of the three. But heavy is not quite the operative word.
Wrenched: The wheels
The Comp wheelset as tested weighed in at a very respectable 1,410 grams. Right out of the box the wheels have rim tape and valve stems installed and are ready to go. The front wheel has 28 spokes and the rear 32. Both run Stan’s own ZTR hubs with two-cross DT Supercomp spokes and alloy nipples. The hubs aren’t anything earth-shattering but are simple and serviceable designs. The rear sports an alloy freehub body, a good press-in ratchet seal, a nice fat axle and a quartet of steel cartridge bearings, two in the hub and two in the freehub. High (58mm) and low (45mm) flanges help to even out dishing stress. The front hub is a straightforward low-flange item with a solid alloy axle and two steel cartridge bearings.
The rims incorporate Stan’s patented BST (bead socket technology) that helps maximize the volume of the tires, giving them a more tubular feel. Stan’s also claims BST reduces the weight of the rim and decreases the risk of pinch flats and burping the tire. They are non-eyeleted, 20mm wide and 22mm deep. As is almost standard these days, the braking surface is machined.
Wrenched: The tires
There is much debate over what is the best bead design for tubeless cyclocross tires. Hutchinson’s latest generation of Bulldogs and Piranhas have carbon beads and are so tight they can be very difficult or even impossible to mount. I have heard of people snapping tire levers and the beads themselves trying to mount the tires.
I feel that a good balance of bead security, sidewall compliance and rim design make a stable and supple tubeless ride. It’s obvious the guys at Stan’s have thought long and hard about this issue and have come up with a system that works well. The Raven cyclocross tires are accurately sized to work with Stan’s rims. Mounting them is nothing short of a Goldilocks experience: Not to tight, not too loose, just right. The tires inflated easily and seated with a nice pop. Ravens are rated at 35mm and measured the same with a caliper. The tread pattern is a decent all-rounder design. The Raven has 1.3mm knobs in the center and good meaty 2.4mm side knobs. In my opinion the side knobs are slightly too far apart. The tires’ average weight is 360 grams and the casing is 120tpi nylon.
Ridden: The whole shebang
At a test pressure of 33psi the Stan’s system rolled reasonably fast and handling was decent. The wheels are at the snappy end of the tubeless clincher range, but, as noted in the test of the Pro wheels, stiffness seems to be an issue. The rims have a claimed weight of 340 grams (hence the name). That’s pretty scanty considering most clincher rims come in around 400 grams. Low rim weight looks good on paper but comes with the trade-off of reduced stiffness and the 340 rims fall victim to their own light weight.
I found them to be flexy during accelerations to the point that when gunning super hard I could sometimes hear the tire rubbing on my frame. The rear needed minor truing after about two weeks but have remained straight since. The hubs stood up to the abuses of ‘cross quite nicely and needed no maintenance over the course of a couple of months.
The Raven tires, at a glance, don’t seem to have aggressive enough tread. But when the pressure is right they start to shine. I found myself letting more air out until I hit their sweet spot, which was right around 30psi according to my trusty digital gauge. That may sound kind of low but remember they are true 35mm tires. Coupled with the BST rim design, the tires perform well at lower pressures and don’t seem to develop as much tire roll as other tubeless setups at the same pressures. The Ravens are getting closer to the revered feel of a tubular. Dual compounds make the tire quite capable in most conditions, deep mud and loose gravel being the exceptions.
The Ravens are tough and durable. I routinely went off course to find bigger rocks and gutters to try to burp the tires. I rode the dreaded local Reservoir course, filling the tires with goathead thorns. No burping, no cuts, no flats, nada.
At $615 the Stan’s ZTR 340 Comp wheels are great for the money. This setup is definitely race ready and would serve well as a first set of race wheels. If you’re a bit farther along in your ‘cross set up, they would also make a great pair of spare bike wheels. With the likes of Mary McConneloug and Barry Wicks riding Stan’s wheels this year, they might just take you a lot further than you expected.
Editor’s note: Australian native Michael Robson grew up racing dirt bikes and flat-track and in his teens progressed to BMX. He first came to race in the U.S. in the early nineties and ended up in Europe as a workaday roadie. Now a professional photographer and rabid cyclocrosser, Robson is reliving his youth ripping it up in master’s ‘cross, making great photos for a living and testing gear for VeloNews.