The Thesis: Carbon wheels should be stiff. The antithesis: Carbon wheels should be compliant. The Synthesis: Carbon front wheels should be compliant, but rear wheels should remain stiff. The result? A clever concept that offers noticeable advantages on the trail.
During Crankworx Whistler, I got the scoop on Crankbrothers’ brand new Synthesis carbon wheelsets and their development story (check out that article here for all the specs). That day I took the E 11 enduro wheelset through the Whistler Bike Park, and then spent a few weeks shredding my local trails on them.
The idea behind the Synthesis wheelset is that the two wheels are built differently; the front wheel was engineered to offer a compliant ride, while the rear was kept stiff and solid. Throughout my testing, I may have noticed a little extra traction in rough rocky sections due to the compliant front wheel, and felt the stiffness of the rear every time I thumped it into a big rock or root! I think Crankbrothers is on to something with their ‘two wheels with two different jobs’ theory…
I took the Synthesis wheels down a bunch of particularly rocky trails, and I found the compliance in the front wheel was the most noticeable difference between these wheels and others I’ve ridden. During Crankworx, the media crew went straight up to the Whistler Bike Park’s Top of the World trail, which has a very rough, rocky alpine section. I bombed a steep rocky pitch, and right away noticed a bit more compliance in the front wheel. Thrashing through the rocks didn’t seem quite as jarring as it usually does, and I easily tracked a solid line through the rough stuff.
Soon after I rode another rock-strewn trail, and found the limits of the wheel’s compliance. While the wheel will slightly soften impacts, it’s not like it bends around rocks and corrects poor line choices! When I got into a bad line through some large wet stones the wheel held stiff enough to buck me around for a few seconds.
What I’d like to stress is that the front wheel definitely offers some compliance, but I wouldn’t call it ‘soft’. Now I’m not a heavy guy at 145lbs, so bigger riders will probably get a bit more give out of this wheel. The Synthesis wheelsets will accommodate much heavier riders, as there is no specified weight limit.
At my size, there’s no lack of support while cornering and I only noticed the wheel deadening impacts when I pushed it hard through rock gardens or gnarly root beds. My front end found a little extra traction in those situations, which encouraged me to charge full-tilt through the rough… and there’s no better compliment I can give a component than ‘it makes me want to ride faster’!
The 2mm difference in rim widths front-to-back is an interesting design feature. I have a set of 2.5” Maxxis Minions on my test bike, and side-by-side you can see that the front tire is spread slightly wider than the rear. I didn’t notice any significantly unique feeling from the 2mm difference, but it’s a clever way to incorporate the advantages of running rounder, narrower rear tires that roll in and out of corners smoothly and wider fronts that will provide maximum traction.
The Synthesis rear wheel is built for strength, and showed its stiffness whenever I plowed into a big straight-on hit. Each large rock or trail-crossing root was met with a dull ‘thunk’ that I could feel in my pedals, and the wheel would defiantly bounce off the obstacle. Despite those hits, the rims are both running straight and true. The only damage I can report after months of riding in Whistler and Pemberton is a few scratches and small chips in the rims’ finish from pesky rocks.
I like the quiet running Synthesis 11 hub that comes stock on the E 11 wheelset. It’s not dead silent, but its buzz is quiet enough that you can hear your tires ripping into the dirt as you ride. If you enjoy hearing your bike buzzing along, there is the option of adding a ‘loud kit’ to the Synthesis 11 hub.
The E 11 wheels aren’t the lightest carbon wheels out there (Crank Bros admits they favoured durability and ride characteristics over minimizing weight). However, installing the E 11’s did save me a little over 200g versus the stock aluminum wheelset on the Trek Remedy 8 I’m currently test riding. The difference was enough that they felt noticeably lighter anytime I lifted the front wheel or hit a jump.
I was pleased to find that the Synthesis wheels do offer a unique ride that makes good on Crankbrother’s claims. The front wheel’s compliance made a definable difference and improved traction in rough sections of trail, and the rear wheel hasn’t taken any damage except a few small scratches. I’ll be keeping the E 11’s on my trail bike, and I look forwards to trucking harder than ever through the gnar!
Crankbrothers’ Synthesis E and E11 enduro wheelsets will be available online on October 1st, and at select dealers worldwide in November. The DH11 downhill and XCT/XCT11 trail versions will be available in late 2018.