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[Tested] Chris King ISO / Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Wheelset

[Tested] Chris King ISO / Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Wheelset

17/07/2019
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17/07/2019

Chris King is best known for their legendary headsets, hubs and bottom brackets – all of which feature incredible attention to detail and high precision, in house manufactured bearings. The Portland Oregon brand has been at it since 1976 – around 43 years now. What you may not be familiar with is the fact that King has a fairly expansive complete wheel program as well, with sets starting at just $1050. Additionally, in recent news, as of today they have extended their already generous warranty for the lifetime of their products. Some months ago, Chris King was kind enough to send us a set of their ISO hubs laced to Santa Cruz Reserve rims, neither of which we’ve tested yet. I bolted them up to a long travel bike, rode them a heck of a lot and also raced them to a rather unimpressive finish in a stacked field at the TDS Enduro. Here’s how they’ve been treating us.

Details

Rim: Santa Cruz Reserve 30 (27.5″)
External Width (mm): 36.4
Internal Width (mm): 30
Rim Depth (mm): 25.4
Available Hub Configurations: 28/28 ISO AB, ISO B
Hub Options:  Shimano or XD, 110×15, QR/100x15mm, 135QR/142×12/148×12
Spokes: Sapim D-Light
Nipples: Alloy Black (tested), Alloy Silver or Brass Silver
Lacing Pattern: 2-Cross
Rim Weight (g): 460 grams
Warranty: Lifetime on hubs and rims
Front Wheel Weight (g): 831 grams
Rear Wheel Weight (g): 1015 grams
Total Wheel Weight (g): 1846 grams (our scale, with rim tape and valves)
 
For years Chris King offered silver axles, but for 2019 they made the switch to a stealthier looking black anodized version. The polished silver hubs are still available with silver axles. Speaking of colors, they also added some very cool matte finishes to the 9 available colors.
Compared to the classic ISO, these hubs sport Boost spacing and a new shape that’s less bulbous, with hub flanges that have more cant to them, enabling a stronger wheel build. Another interesting feature is that with a quick swap of a few parts, you can switch from a 15mm to a 20mm axle. I’ve heard some murmurs of the possibility of things going back to a 20mm in the future, so the option could be nice.
“Responsibly lightweight” is how King describes their hubs. When laced to the somewhat stout Reserve rims, that is also a fitting description of this wheelset on the whole. You can find lighter options, but they’ll generally be more of a gamble.
Chris King hubs feature a threaded lockring to tension the hub shell bearings. There’s a 2.5mm allen screw and a little hole to the left of it, so you can use the end of the key to apply tension. Initially the bearings have a little bit of drag to them, and this is intentional – after a short break in they burnish nicely and spin effortlessly.
Continuing with the responsibly lightweight theme, King use one-piece axles with stainless steel end caps. Speaking of stainless steel, that’s what the SRAM/XD driver body is made from – it’s also heat treated in fact. This costs a few extra grams compared to aluminum, but it’s tough as nails and built to last. Machining it from stainless steel allows King to make the walls thinner, thus making room for much larger bearings than used in competitors’ aluminum driver bodies. The Shimano/HG driver is available in both aluminum and steel.

Chris King and Santa Cruz have a rock solid partnership which catalyzed over the years from King being a key partner of the Syndicate team. And thus, the wheels on test feature 30mm inner diameter Santa Cruz Reserve rims (which are also available in 27mm and 37mm). For average tire widths, 30mm is right where the industry has settled and for good reason. The Reserve rims are asymmetrical and feature a 5mm offset, which provides better bracing angles at the spokes from side to side, resulting in a stronger better balanced wheel. Finally, although you can’t see it in the photo above, the rather stout rims feature a hookless profile making for excellent resistance to burping as well as higher tolerance to rock strikes.

Last, but certainly not least Chris King use made-in-house sealed angular contact bearings. Although they are clearly a different size, in concept these are the same bearings which make their headsets so long lasting and legendary. Most hub manufacturers use radial bearings, which can’t be tightened as they wear – rather, they need to be thrown out and replaced. King bearings can not only be re-adjusted, but they’re also easily serviceable…All you need to do is carefully use a pick to remove the snap ring and seal, then you can clean and repack them with fresh grease.

On the trail

While the list of benefits from Chris King hubs are rather long, one of the first things that you’ll notice on trail is “Ringdrive” – the system that gives the hubs their iconic “Buzzzzz”. The basic stats are that 72 points of engagement provide bite every 5º, which is quite fast. One thing that’s unique about Ringdrive is that it sits entirely inboard from the driveside hubshell bearing. This allows it to be larger, thus providing more contact and an increased load bearing – a freakishly high torque load of 800 foot pounds to be exact. According to King, that amounts to 3X the load of competitors’ hubs. In any case, you’ll notice a pleasant, not-too-high pitched noise out back when coasting at speed. When coming out of corners, getting on the gas and fumbling through awkward sections of a climb, you’ll feel a very firm, fast and positive engagement.
This wheelset was tested in a 28 hole configuration, which is slightly leaner than a fairly standard 32 hole, but not as anorexic as 24 spoke wheels. It’s worth pointing out that as these are laced 2-cross, which results in a stiffer wheel. Santa Cruz lace their wheels as 3-cross which provides a little more compliance. In the 27.5″ size tested, these wheels were indeed quite stiff, which can mainly be attributed to the rims, although stout hubs with fairly tall, canted flanges do add some rigidity as well. Having tested a wide array of carbon fiber wheels over the last few years, I’d rate the Reserve wheels as being on the more rigid end of things. They handle brilliantly well and don’t deflect too much, but if you’re looking to carbon rims more for their damping characteristics than for their steering accuracy, these may not be the rims for you as they are a bit on the stiffer side. That said, they do take the edge off more than an aluminum wheel and provide that lovely, lively feel. It’s also a safe bet that the 29″ diameter version of these same wheels will be a bit more forgiving.
In terms of strength, I’ve had great luck over the past 6 months – no cracks and no flats to report. At TDS Enduro I absolutely freaking wailed my front wheel on a sneaky melon-sized rock in the high 20/low 30mph range, which resulted in the gnarliest, scariest rim bottom out that I’ve experienced. The wheel was unscathed and the tire didn’t flat – I was actually shocked thinking it had to have cracked. For what it’s worth, no tire insert was installed and the tire was a Schwalbe Magic Mary with a Super Gravity casing in the 23-25psi range. That incident as well as frequent abuse without ever using tire inserts on my longest travel bike meant that these wheels saw the worst of my pedal powered recklessness. In terms of rim/wheel strength and durability/longevity of the hubs, I’d rate this wheelset at 10/10. The hubs are spinning as smoothly and freely as they did at the beginning of this review. I keep checking to see if they need a rebuild, but they just aren’t there yet.

Overall

There isn’t a flaw to be found in these wheels functionally speaking, or in terms of handling. They’re tough, resilient, quick to engage, sprightly and light enough. At $2,199 they sit on the more expensive end of the carbon wheel spectrum, particularly when you consider the slow creep of a few decent contenders coming in at just over $1k. With that in mind, you get what you pay for, and both the rims and hubs not only have incredible reputations – they are now both backed by lifetime warranties (which you’ll likely never need to employ anyway). At the heart of it all is a set of hubs that truly are built to last a lifetime. Chris King’s excellent wheel building program, although perhaps not all that widely known, puts in the same painstaking attention to detail as they do with their own manufactured products. It’s also worth noting that within King’s offerings, the Santa Cruz Reserve option sits squarely in the middle – between a set of wheels with Stan’s Rims ($1,050) and ENVE rims ($2,980), leaving you a range of pricing options to get their hubs onto your bike.
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I got my reserve wheels last fall (with dtswiss hubs however) and I’m still impressed at how a great wheel can improve the riding experience. They are stiff but not too rigid, very precise and they take literall any hit.
King hubs were not available yet at the time, otherwise they would have been surely another option.