I recently bought a new titanium gravel bike. I must admit that I absolutely love it. I honestly had no idea whether or not I was going to fall for this new machine or not. The verdict is in and I couldn't really be much happier, with one exception, the wheels. This bike shipped with the new Ultegra R8000 group set which has been quite impressive, but it didn't ship with great wheels. So I sat down and designed what I think are the perfect gravel wheels.
For some time I wanted to put my company name on an amazing set of hubs and I have found them. Onyx. You've seen me blog about them and I now own a pair to put thousands of miles on. Onyx did a fine job of laser etching Cognoscenti Cycles into the hub shells. A permanent record of my personal endorsement of these incredible USA made hubs. If you're familiar with these hubs you already know what makes them unique and special. A German made sprag clutch that offers instant engagement and runs silently. In my books silence is golden. They come stock with German made ceramic hybrid sealed bearings as well. A very nice touch! Onyx powder coated my hubs in a deep lustrous dark indigo colour.
The next aspect of this wheel design were the rims of course. What to use? There's a lot to choose from these days and I had to think about it. My recent interest in ceramic coated rims led me to my eventual choice. The AForce AI 33 ceramic. It's shot peened surface covered flawlessly in ceramic is beautiful. The jet black finish with laser etched logos. The tubeless friendly design with aerodynamics paramount in mind. In fact, in independent tests at the A2 Wind-tunnel in the USA, it scored the highest of any alloy rim and challenged many carbon rims known for their aerodynamic qualities. So it not only offers a very durable finish but it's fast as well. The rim profile is 32.5mm deep, 26.2mm wide with an internal width of 19.6mm. The published weight of approximately 485 grams its definitely not a heavy rim at all. Their use of the proprietary AF9X T6 alloy is unique. I would like to know more about the make up of that particular metal. AForce offer rims with either internal or external spoke nipples. I opted for the external nipples which enable very quick and easy truing when necessary.
The next consideration was a lacing pattern and the choice of spokes. Since these are disc wheels that will get heavily used on old farm roads that can be at times a little gnarly. I figured that a tried a true 3 cross pattern was in order. It's been around for forever and lets face it, it delivers! I decided upon Sapim Race spokes which will prove to be ideal for a 32 hole rear wheel and a 28 hole front. A spoke that has plenty of strength on tap, even if I decide to mount some panniers and head off for a cycle tour. My go to spoke nipple of choice has been for many years the Alpina ABS 5.5 mm HEX head brass nipple. No other nipple can compare to this one. I bring them in from Holland especially because I refuse to use any other brass nipple. It ticks all the boxes and then some. The ABS plug at the top stops the spokes from vibrating lose and strengthens the bond between spoke and nipple. I love the 5.5 mm HEX head for adding some additional strength to the nipple as well as enabling easy truing from behind the rim. Alpina has stated that they use absolutely no mercury in the production of their nipples which is great from an environmental standpoint. Kudos to them for figuring out how to eliminate that toxic metal from the manufacturing process.
Lastly was the decision on what tires to use. The good thing is the fact that gravel riders are getting new tire options all the time as tire manufacturers are hip to just how popular gravel riding has become in the last few years. I thought I'd go with the Maxxis Refuse at 28 mm's wide. That's not a typical width for most gravel riders who often exploit much wider tires. I needed something that would work well for most hard pack roads in Ontario but could still be fast enough for a local club run on Toronto streets. So, the 28mm Refuse was the one. It's got a nice subtle diamond dimpled tread and the profile will work well with the AForce rim. I'll run them at about 100psi for club runs and less for farm roads. At a later date I'll probably start experimenting with some wider tires and maybe some more challenging roads along the way.