Carbon wheels are the ultimate upgrade to an already great ride. They do come a substantial cost though, with top level wheels nearly matching the price of a carbon chassis. Considering wheels often take the most abuse of any component, are carbon wheels worth the cost? Fortunately I didn’t have to destroy my bank account to find out, as Reynolds Cycling sent over a set of their flagship Black Label MTN Wheels over for me to ride.
The BlackLabel MTN wheels that arrived were the 27.5 Trail Model. The 27.5 Trail wheels feature an asymmetric rim design and hookless rim with an internal width of 25mm. Optimized for use with a 2.2″ to 2.35″ tire they weigh in with an impressive listed weight of 1568g.
Similar to the wider Enduro wheels, the Trail are pared down in weight and dimensions to better match the needs of XC and high paced trail riders.
- Reynolds asymmetric hookless MR5 carbon rims
- Reynolds designed hubs by Industry Nine
- Width — External: 30.00 mm , Internal: 25.00 mm
- Listed Weight: 1568 g
- Rim Depth: 28.00 mm
- Spokes: 28 front / 28 rear
- Compatibility: 9/10/11 Shimano, XD
- Available in Boost and non-boost spacing
- Includes tubeless valves, tape and rotor adaptors
Industry Nine built hubs feature the center lock mount for disc brake rotors. As I didn’t have center lock rotors for both wheels, so I picked one up. I should have looked closer at the accessories kit packaged with the wheels – Reynolds includes a cleverly designed adaptor that allows the use of 6 bolt rotors without the need of additional parts.
The adaptor and the packaged accessories are a nice touch; this is an expensive set of wheels, so it’s great to see all the thought that went into the kit. Everything you need to get on the dirt is packaged with the wheels. Just add your favorite flavor of tubeless sealant, lube up the bead and air them up.
Rotors and cassette installed, I then moved on to installing the tubeless setup. The fit of the tires was spot on and I was able to seat the tires with a minimal amount of effort.
Trail or All Mountain?
Before I continue, a bit of back story: I initially planned to pair the Black Label wheels with a Santa Cruz 5010 c. The wheels would be been the ultimate upgrade for the bike, and though the 5010 was the lower grade carbon option from Santa Cruz, the Black Labels would have put it into a competitive weight.
The nature of sample product being what it is, we didn’t hear anything about the review wheels for some time, and I simply forgot about it, or assumed they weren’t coming. Then one day I came home to a large box sitting at my door step. The downside? The riding season was just about over. More importantly, I had already moved on to a 29″ wheel platform as my primary trail rig. Ideally these wheels would have been 29″ as they would have been amazing to pair with the Evil Following I’m currently running as my trail rig.
So what bike was I going to put them on? The box containing this crazy light wheelset sat in the corner for the next few months, and throughout our move to our new place. One day though, enough was enough — I had to try them. So I mounted some tires up and stuck them on the remaining 650b rig in my current fleet, my Santa Cruz Nomad.
At this point the Nomad had already made a transition to northwest style riding. Unlike my prior setup in the bay, climbs in the northwest on our go-to trails are easy, allowing us to access technical trails filled with rocks, roots, drops and jumps. Weight isn’t as much of a priority for this riding experience, which focuses on having the most fun going down — unless you’re setting a bike up for competitive enduro use.
Either way, the optimal spec would have been to run the wider Black Label Enduro wheels on the Nomad. The lighter Trail wheels weren’t an ideal match for the 7″ travel MRP Stage fork I had been running for the more aggressive riding. So going with the flow, I pulled the Stage fork off and replaced it with a Rockshox Pike on the front.
Although it wasn’t the ideal scenario for the lighter and narrower wheels, I took it as an opportunity to lighten up the Nomad to create an efficient all day, all mountain beast. The heft of the bike dropped considerably, and with the Black Label wheels the total weight of the bike came in a little over 28lbs. — And that’s with an MRP chain guide with a bash guard, plus a front tire with a heavy carcass. If I was going for minimal heft I could have easily gotten the Nomad in the low 27s with a few more part swaps while keeping the all mountain capability.
Or I could just hit the trail and shred this thing.
On the trail
On the trail, the light wheels gave the bike a new personality. The 3-degree engagement on the Reynolds freehub makes for super fast response while pedaling, and the loud buzz riding down the trail was hard to miss. Combined with a low gear courtesy of OneUp Components, I was a climbing machine. Well, for an enduro bike. As expected, the premium wheels were stiff and performed like top level hoops, even when squaring off and railing them into berms.
After months of riding 29″ wheels with wide rims, it was a bit strange to be back on 650b with relatively narrow rims in comparison. The smaller wheels don’t have anywhere near the grip of the larger wheels. The minimal heft did however make the bike super jibby and it was hard not to pop off of every bump in sight.
After months of bashing berms and banging through roots and rocks they’ve remained completely straight. Even after a major mishap that cost me a practically new Maxxis Ardent rear tire.
Coming through the rock garden at Sandy Ridge, I came off the last rock and instead of rolling it, elected to huck it, landing upon an unfriendly sharp rock at the bottom. The 28-30 psi I was running in the rear simply wasn’t enough, and upon landing felt that unpleasant rim bang feeling, followed by the all-too- familiar hissing of air.
Other than the blown out tire though, the wheels showed barely any damage other than a small ding at the point of impact. If it was an alloy rim, I’d expect one heck of a flat spot.
To finish the ride I stuck a tube in and pedaled the rest of the ride without further mishaps. When I finally got the bike into the stand to do a real inspection, the rim appeared to be fine and the spoke tension was still good. Carbon rim durability: tested. Results: damn.
Who they’re for
What do you say about top of the line, performance mountain bike wheels that hasn’t already been said? The Black Label Trail Wheels performed as promised, and have held up. After months of riding I haven’t even trued these things.
That said, they are pricey wheels. Even if you can afford them, they’re not for everyone. With wider wheels being the current flavor of choice, many riders would probably be happier on the wider, slightly heavier Enduro models.
If you’re coming off wider 30 or 35mm rims, the old standard of 25mm feels narrow in comparison. More notably though, I had to go back to running significantly more tire pressure than I was running in the bigger wheels. It’s definitely a trade off – you need to choose corning speed or straight line speed.
While the snappy wheels were a hoot, they’d be even better in 29″ form. I have noticed a lot of flex in my rear wheel on my Evil Following. Regardless of what model or wheel size is your flavor, durability shouldn’t be an issue though, as much as dialing in the ideal trail experience desired. If I was looking to lay down some miles in Bend, these wheels paired with the right chassis would result in a trail rocket. I was buying a set of these for myself, it would be for a light weight 29er trail bike dedicated to fast lap times at the local trails, that I could also line up to dabble in some XC racing. These wheels would kill it on a Santa Cruz Tallboy.
The Reynolds Cycling Black Label Trail Wheels list for $2400. For those concerned about abusing their gear, Reynolds offers a bit of additional insurance options, called the Assurance Program. For an additional fee you’re covered under a “no questions asked” replacement program. Black Label MTN wheels are available in Dean, 27.5 plus, 29 trail, 29 enduro, 27.5 trail and 27.5 enduro models. Learn more at Reynoldcycling.com