Carbon Wheels that are Stiff but Flexible?? Crankbrothers Synthesis – First Look
We recently made the trip up to the Scottish borders to Innerleithen, for the Launch of Crank Brothers unique solution to Carbon Wheels-
Synthesis– Mountain Bike’s First Tuned Carbon Wheel System
Tuned Wheels! What, like tuned forks? Sounds mad eh?! Well turns out it’s not just marketing tosh. These wheels are genuinely tuned to a riders needs. Read on and I’ll explain.
So let’s explain briefly their concept-
Crank Brothers claim that their wheels are a Synthesis of two basic ideas-
Carbon Wheels should be stiff
Carbon Wheels should be compliant
Stiff and Compliant are two opposite things though?
Yes and that’s why they have taken wheels and looked at where you need these two opposite characteristics.
The rear wheel: For exit speed of turns, for ploughing over things, for slamming the back end into a dirty rut.
The front Wheel: For front wheel grip (no one likes under-steer), dampening ground feedback ( hands are way weaker than legs and suck at taking ground chatter, arm pump ring a bell?)
Dictionary Definition- “a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved.”
Crank Brothers Thesis –
Carbon Wheels should be stiff
Dictionary Definition- – “a person or thing that is the direct opposite of someone or something else.”
Crank Brothers Antithesis-
Carbon Wheels should be compliant
Dictionary Definition- “the combination of components or elements to form a connected whole.”
Crank Brothers Synthesis
Carbon Wheels can be both stiff while compliant.
Ems’s take on his 29er set
“Having raced downhill at world cup level for the last 10 years and converted to elite enduro racing this year, I’ve ridden Aluminium wheels for most of my career. I only switched to riding carbon carbon wheels the last 2 years. The difference is day and night.
Carbon is more responsive and faster rolling, making for a faster more controlled ride. Definitely a lot of positives can be said about carbon rims. But there are some instances that I would switch to a aluminum set of wheels. Wet rocky terrain, where I need rims to flex to follow the contours of the ground instead of pinging off in different directions”.
Conventional carbon wheels
Positives – Stiff, fast rolling, responsive.
Negatives – too stiff making for a “chattery” ride, not compliant tracking terrain.
But you can’t have it all right? Or can you?
Crankbrothers have designed a set of wheels that take away all the negatives of carbon wheels. Synthesis is stiff and compliant at the same time.
How is this even possible?
Wheels, well there’s 2 of them right? A front and a rear. Everyone has been designing rims the same for both even though they go through totally different forces and rider demands.
Ever thought why any Downhiller worth his skin will dent or buckle through at least 4 rear rims before they pringle a front?
Rear wheels need to be strong and stiff to take force and carry speed.
Front wheels need to be compliant and flexible to negotiate force, keep grip and minimize feedback.
This is exactly what Crank Brothers have done; creating a rear wheel with 32 spokes and a stiffer rim, and front with 28 spokes with more flex in the rim.
Out on the Hill
Innerleithen provides a set testing ground with a heap of trails and good uplift provided by Adrenaline Uplift.
The first thing I noticed was there is significantly more speed out of turns. Soon as you let off the brakes the wheels just keep rolling. A really great feeling. Literally feels like I have bought myself time on the track!
On the rough stuff these wheels took some hammering, running 22 and 25 psi. I gave them a few hits and they were fine. Feel wise, ground chatter feedback is something that is hard to compare with other wheels. I mean it’s easy if you feel harsh hits on your hands, but there wasn’t any real harsh feeling in my hands. And I wasn’t struggling with front wheel grip. This is one thing that a longer term test is needed to truly see the benefits.
Hubs were fast and made a lovely noise! One very special thing you can do with these is there is an option to fit a noisier freehub for those who love that classic clicking noise. Me: I’m a fan of the quieter option.
I rode the top end version which retails at RRP- £2500
For this you get Sapim Bladed Spokes and Crankbrothers Hub with Magnets that activate the free hub.
There is a lower spec version available for £1500. Same rims so you get all the good synthesis features. The difference being normal spokes and a DT swiss Hub.
Best of all these wheels come with a LIFETIME warranty! So once you buy ’em you’re sorted!
Crankbrothers know that failures do happen. I mean if you hit a rock hard enough anything will break. But they have your back and will look after you.
I have them for a long term test. So will let you guys know how they hold up to a welsh winter and a New Zealand Summer!
Jason’s take on his 27.5 set-
“Arguably one of the most important ingredients when it comes to building a bicycle are the wheels, let’s be honest about it. Wheels have such a major influence on a bikes riding personality, its handling, durability and weight. A good quality set of wheels allows the rider to feel more at ease and contributes to a pleasant all round experience while out on the trail.
I’ll be the first to admit I was a little skeptical at first about the whole carbon wheel phenomenon when they hit the mountain bike scene; even still to this day I often question the idea.
During my short little mountain biker life, I have always opted for an aluminium wheel set up when it came to building up a new rig or even upgrading an existing one. Aluminium for me made sense as it was the more affordable option that gave me reliability and strength; I knew exactly what I was getting straight out of the box.
My carbon cherry was about to be Popped!!!
I was lucky enough to be invited along to the unveiling of the Crank Brothers new Carbon Wheel set “Synthesis” an enduro specific carbon wheel set coming in 27.5 or 29 sizes. After having a quick glance I noticed what was a strikingly stylish, modern, but modest product in front of me.
Once my bike was set up I took it for a pedal around the car park, immediately I felt a difference. First off my bike was much lighter than before; also I noticed how quickly the bike was able to accelerate from a standing position. Everything about it felt so free, it was as if shackles had been lifted. Car park tests never give you a real indication of how well a product really works, so it was time to jump in to the uplift van and go test these bad boys out.
The first run down I found the bike to be more responsive on the trails, it was almost as if I had been wearing some form of skin suit, such was the improved acceleration. Memories of the 07 World Champs came gushing back to me. I found the bike to be really snappy out of corners but also the wheels offered that extra stability and grip within the corner itself. I could really feel the tyre grip into it.
As the day went on I slowly got the hang of the “Synthesis” wheel set by Crank brothers. I was able to pick and choose the lines I wanted to be on; the front wheel had no problem whatsoever dealing with the terrain that was thrown at it. I didn’t get that jittery feel that you would normally get with an aluminium wheel up front. When I reached high speeds the back was able to complement the front and finish out the task at hand.
I was eager to test them out in a competitive environment, would they hold up to the ground and pound of racing?. Immediately I felt a difference in my racing, line choices were easier rolling speed was exceptionally quicker than my previous alu set. The “Synthesis” gave me the confidence needed to push through them gnarly rock features and put in the times needed. I won’t lie when it comes to racing I really do work the bike to it’s maximum and sometimes a wheel or two comes out on the wrong end. I can say that the “Synthesis“ held their own, they went the full ten rounds today and came out glowing. Confidence was high thanks to these babies and in the end I managed to take the top spot at the last round of the Polygon Grassroots enduro series here in Ireland.
I was very impressed with what Crank Brothers had to offer in their latest product. I am really looking forward to testing the Synthesis wheel set out over the next few months, are they really what they say they are? Will they hold up in the cold, wet winter months here in Ireland only time will tell.”
Video Interview with Jason Schiers
Co Lead designer of Synthesis and original founder of Enve wheels and the head man of the carbon wheels movement. He now works with Crankbrothers.
“Crank Brothers have raised the game in the carbon wheels market. They have done what so many companies don’t bother doing: They’ve tested their prototypes and listened to feedback then reapplied it. The idea that front and rear wheels should serve different purposes is right on.
Stiff at the back while compliant at the front makes total sense. And it felt good too. From testing so far we have found no negatives. But there’s a long welsh winter ahead of these wheels so we will try our best for you guys.”
£2150 for the level 11 with the project 321 hub and bladed spokes.
£1500 for the Crankbrothers hub and standard spokes.
When can I buy ’em?
The enduro wheels should be available in the UK at the end of November and on crankbrothers.com
The DH / XC Trail will be available late December / January.
Ems has raced world cups for over 10 years is x3 time Welsh DH Champion and currently taking on Enduro racing. Having had a successful year taking numerous podium places and a highlight 2nd place at Ard Rock to Danny Hart. Looks like he’s headed in the right direction.
Ems also has a Degree in Product Design BSC. His brain takes a keen interest in bicycle design. But his heart loves hitting massive jumps and going sideways around North Wales!
Now owner and company Director of Ride.io.
Jason has years of experience when it comes to riding, having started riding bikes at the age of 11 hitting dirt jumps out the back of his Local bike shop (The Big Little Bike Shop) from there he progressed onto cross country and Downhill racing and eventually represented Ireland at an international level in his junior year. Taking a break from the racing side of things Jason went on to concentrate mainly on his studies, work and travel. He had never lost the racing bug and in 2017 he decided to try his hand at the enduro discipline where he now races back home in Ireland and here in the United Kingdom.