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Crank Brothers Synthesis Wheels Review

The top of the line carbon wheel market is getting a shake up from all angles recently. More brands are putting their offerings out there and many of these offerings are damn good. Rider perceptions and expectations of carbon wheels has also changed hugely. When carbon wheels first came out riders wanted a wheel that was light, strong and stiff. We’ve since learned that there is far more to a carbon wheel than this. Making a stiff rim can hinder ride quality as your bike fights against impacts. Making a rim that is stiff where you need it to be but also compliant to encourage a smoother ride isn’t easy. None the less it’s a challenge that the engineering team at Crank Brothers set themselves.

To achieve this stiff yet compliant ride Crank Brothers have designed a very unique wheelset. Firstly, they isolated the demands of the front and rear wheels. It makes sense doesn’t it? When riding you have different weight distribution over your front and rear wheel and subsequently the demands of the wheels are different. With this in mind the front wheel has 28 spokes, a lighter more compliant profile and a 31.5mm inner width. All these attributes creating a wheel that is tailored to increase compliance and traction. The rear has 32 spokes, a thicker and stronger construction with a 29.5mm inner width. A stronger wheel ready for greater impacts.

The Ride

Do all these unique design elements actually make a difference on the trail or is it just another load of marketing Bull S*&t? We bolted a set onto a bike and gave them a thrashing to find out. The wheels are right at home on the Yeti SB130 and have been pointed down some of the rockiest, nastiest trails we have. They also fronted up to some Enduro racing including Toowoomba’s famous rocky descents.

From the get-go pulling into a fast straight with some mild rocky chatter it was instantly noticeable just how smooth these wheels are. It’s not like these wheels added an extra 10mm of suspension and transformed the bike into a magic carpet. It’s a subtle difference. It feels like the impacts are almost slightly rounded and subdued… dulled down. Little moments like these left me pleasantly surprised.

Furthermore, braking hard in the rough of the Toowoomba downhill track to setup for a corner. I expected the back wheel to kick out and protest against all I was asking it to do. Yet, the Yeti’s smooth suspension platform combined with the E11 wheelset enabled the bike to hold its ground and give me the traction I needed to wash off my speed and setup for the corner as needed.

When in the corner the wheels once again held their line as intended. There was no sign of excessive flex that distorted your direction. Just a smooth action as the tyre rolled from side to side on the wide rim profile. A quality ride feel all round.

Durability

The big question that everyone asks when looking at carbon wheels, are they durable? Crank Brothers believe so and offer a lifetime warranty to back this up. After riding these wheels I’m also a believer. I smoked the rear wheel on a sharp rock time with a loud 'bang' to confirm it. I stopped, checked for the dreaded crack but both wheel and tyre were OK, I was genuinely shocked. 

Let’s be realistic though, everything can break. It’s a fact that us mountain bikers tend to neglect a lot of the time. Crank Brothers acknowledge this fact and have designed the rim in a way that if a failure should occur you shouldn’t suffer a ‘catastrophic’ failure. Rather dispersing the impact as much as possible so that the rim deteriorates instead of implodes like all the horror videos you’ve seen online. In the rare instance that a failure occurs your lifetime warranty will get you back on the bike promptly.

Conclusion

Crank Brothers have taken a very different approach to carbon wheel construction with the Synthesis E11 wheelset and it’s paying serious dividends. By far the best wheelset we have seen Crank Brothers make, stirring up the top end of the carbon wheel market. Even more exciting is the fact that these wheels are getting a hub upgrade. The wheels tested were built to 321 hubs which have worked well. However, the decision has been made to go to Industry Nine Hydra hubs. With 690 points of engagement these new hubs are a real head turner and the perfect match for a rim like the Synthesis.

Interested in bolting a set onto your bike? Contact us and we'll discuss your options.