SRAM Trail House part 2: Skids and wheels in the desert
Last week I reported from the 2013 SRAM Trail House on the return, or more specifically the total reinvention, of RockShox’s Pike fork – classically the hardcore trail rider’s faithful companion and a product that has been brought back to cater for the emerging scene of adventure hunting, enduro racing mountain bikers.
Out in the Arizonan desert many strange and inexplicable events take place on a regular basis, including power vortexes opening out of nowhere and tie dyed hippies vanishing into thin air (read about this in my travel guide to Sedona, coming soon). The one thing that did make a lot of sense during my visit was that of the introduction of an entire range of trail-friendly wheels to SRAM’s product line.
Having already dabbled in the mountain bike wheel world (with the Rise carbon hoops), it was only a matter of time before Jesse Jakobait, SRAM’s full-time wheel design engineer, came out with several other offerings to cover further bases. In the haze that was an early morning jet lagged product presentation I was most impressed to find out that Jesse, along with product manager Bastien Donze, had been working on the wheels for the last three years – a considerable amount of time and surely a sign that they must have the wheels honed. Having chatted over beers I knew that Jesse pretty much defines ‘hardcore trail rider’, with a history of pro downhill and cross-country racing and ridiculous endurance riding feats he is the all-round mountain biker and with an engineering CV including several years at another major bike brand I was keen to find out what innovation he could bring to the table.
But are these wheels revolutionary?
As much as the marketing will tell us all that these hoops are set to revolutionise the sport, the wheel has been around for quite some time now so it would be foolish to expect a complete game-changer. However, SRAM’s offerings have been refined and then refined again, resulting in a line of 26", 650b and 29" wheels that, above all else, announce themselves as being…sensible. These wheels have been designed with the intention of being well balanced between weight, strength and the ability to source spares. Read on.
SRAM are now offering three wheel ranges – Rise, Rail and Roam. The latter two were the newly unveiled options so we’ll focus on those for now. The essentials: Roam 60 is a high spec, high price carbon wheel that is aimed at the hardcore rider, it’s “light enough for long climbs yet strong enough for the toughest enduro races" according to SRAM; then there’s the Roam 50 which is the alloy-rimmed version with all the ambition of its bigger brother; and the Rail 50 which “can withstand the most aggressive all-mountain/enduro riding while setting a new benchmark for lightweight in the category."
SOLO uno Spoke…
The feature that I like the most is the single spoke length in each size of wheel. By offsetting the rim SRAM have been able to work with one single (straight pull) spoke length for both front and back, left and right sides of the wheels. This, of course, has been done before in various ways, but it highlights SRAM’s approach for their 2014 ranges and their desire to lower the number of spares that both rider and retailer need to carry.
Engineer and test riders have worked a lot on getting the rim as minimal as possible where they can without sacrificing any strength. In effect what they have done is to analyse impacts and stresses on the rim through computer modelling and also, of course, by battering prototypes through piles of rocks around their base in Colorado.
Apparently they have approached their wheels with a view to making end products that are “not too light", especially where the carbon versions are concerned it must be tempting to go lighter and lighter, but as Jesse pointed out, they’d rather use the advantages of carbon fibre to make something of similar weight but much stronger than something much lighter and less strong.
They have also opted to ‘go wide’ on all their rims, which they have tagged ‘WIDE ANGLE’... As they put it, “This [wider] profile holds shape better, preventing tyre roll and giving you superior comfort and traction around corners." So for their trail rims (Roam 50/60) they’ve gone for 21mm (distance between the tyre hooks) and for the more aggressive Rail 50 they’ve gone for 23mm, which is on the wide end of the spectrum for each rim’s designated discipline.
The rear hub
Inside the SRAM branded hubs is the patented (DT Swiss) Star Ratchet system, a proven system which has had its issues ironed out (previously they had some issues with mud, but recent incarnations have improved) resulting in quality, weather-proof internal workings. Riding in the Sedona desert I certainly had no issues with the SRAM hubs, but then a two-day test is never going to be conclusive.
The new XD driver body allows for use of the wide XX1 cassette and “provides an improved interface" as well as still allowing for use of 9/10 speed cassettes. All three of the new wheels are available with the XD driver as are they all UST compatible.
SIDE SWAP is SRAM’s answer to a quick and simple axle conversion system – a cap either side of the hub that can be swapped to cater for all axle sizes. Not revolutionary but a nice touch and another box ticked for SRAM.
Out on the trail
As I’ve already said, a two-day test ride is never going to fully prove a set of wheels, but out on the dusty, rocky Arizonan trails I was more than happy with the 26" Rail 50s that were fitted to the shiny Devinci Dixon carbon I was riding. Quick to engage when I put the hammer down (in a failed attempt to catch up with our guide Lars Romig), stiff but not to the extent of feeling completely rigid (there’s a little ‘compliance’ as I heard it put) and I definitely gave them the full ‘smashing-into-rocks’ test on many occasions without any dents appearing.
Verdict? I’m not going to give one on the wheels’ performance as that would be ludicrous after a couple of days. However, I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by SRAM’s apparent drive to reduce the number of spare parts and ‘standards’ not only with the new wheels but across their 2014 ranges that were on display at the Trail House.
As a final side note, Roam 50/60 and Rail 50 are available in all three wheel sizes.
Ah yes, the prices. Oh so easy to overlook when in a slightly jet lagged state, although I was woken from my daze when I heard the figures.
Here we go then (deep breath):
Roam 60: Front £749.99 Rear £949.99
Roam 50: Front £369.99 Rear £449.99
Rail 50: Front £369.99 Rear £449.99
Big investments indeed, but is the price justified? What do you think? Let us know below.
We’ll have one last product launch story coming from the Trail House in several weeks’ time, but look out for the MTB Travel Guide to Sedona in the meantime.