WTB Road Plus Wheelset with White Industries XMR Hubs
- Brand: White Industries, WTB
- Product: WTB i24 rims & Horizon 47c Tires, White Industries XMR Hubs
- Price: £1388/$1720 (see review for pricing breakdown)
- From: http://www.wtb.com and http://www.whiteind.com
- Tested: Three months
The whole plus-sized mountain bike tire and wheel thing is definitely now a “thing.” We’re not talking truly “fat” tire mountain bike stuff, as that’s been a “thing” for a while. In case you’ve been staring at your drop bars too long (neglecting your mountain bike), the whole “plus-size” thing is essentially a tire size that’s not quite fat and not quite your traditional-width mountain bike tire. While this tire size has had its skeptics, it’s definitely gaining a lot of traction. (Get it?)
As it turns out, the whole “plus-size” tire thing has now found its way to our beloved drop-bar world, and Wilderness Trail Bikes is leading the way with its 650b Horizon 47c tires. It’s still an embryonic “thing” for drop bar bikes, but if the fun I had on these tires lends credence to any market forecasting, I’d venture to say we’ll see more brands hopping on the bandwagon down the road…and path…and trail.
The Set Up
I had the good fortune to test a Niner RLT 9 Steel gravel/adventure bike for the two months I spent in the United States this summer. While the spec’d Schwalbe 700×35 G-One tubeless tires (mounted to Stan’s No Tubes Grail wheels) were a nice choice for such a rig, I planned on some more rugged trail riding than those tires were up for. Thus I rang up Will Ritchie, WTB’s drop-bar guru, to see if he could send me some Nano 40c tubeless tires. He agreed, but not before talking me into also taking possession of the aforementioned Horizon 47c tubeless-ready tires. He promised these 650b shoes (with a width of 47mm, of course) would be mounted to the sweet carbon fiber WTB Ci24 rims. Those, in turn, would be laced up to a pair of White Industries XMR hubs.
The featured performer of this circular ensemble is truly the WTB Horizon 47c tires. The Ci24 rims and White Industries hubs are stars in their own right and perform to rave reviews here, but they already enjoy steady gigs in mountain bike narratives. The tubeless ready Horizon tires are supple, provide plenty of cushion when the road gets rough or turns to non-road. And they’re much wider than your usual gravel, ‘cross or road tires.
With classy gum sidewalls, a nice rubber compound and a subtle herring bone tread, these tubeless tires are so wide, if mounted to a typical 700c rim, they probably wouldn’t fit your bike – thus the main reason they’re made to mount to 650b rims. When all is said and done, this Road Plus wheel system measures out to be very close to 700c (700 x 28-30 tires, to be precise), leaving precious space between the tire and the seat tube/BB area.
Speaking of centerpieces, WTB doesn’t really make its own hubs, so Ritchie called White Industries to supply the hubs for this build. The XMR hubs are White Industries’ top-of-the-line off-road hub – for your, ‘cross, gravel and mountain biking needs. These 32-hole hub bodies are machined from 6061 aluminum and feature a 15mm chromoly axle. The rear hub uses a 6-4 titanium freehub body and enjoys three pawls and 48-point engagement. The black version of this hubset retails for £140/$174 for the front and £272/$337 for the rear. Published weight (the wheels were built when I received them) is 175g for the front and 298g for the rear.
Unless hubs are truly pieces of junk, and seize or fall apart within the short time we have to review them, it can be difficult to provide an articulate and authentic, positive review of a hub set. However, there are certain products that exude confidence, craftsmanship and performance out of the box – they just feel good, and quietly perform well – independent of the abuse thrown at them. The White Industries XMR hubs clearly fall within the high-end, drool-worthy side of the market. They’re elegant, engagement is swift and confident, and they remained play-free after several hundred miles of smooth riding and abusive adventure.
The rims on this wheelset are WTB’s carbon fiber Ci24 hoops. These 650b rims, according to WTB, were originally designed for…get this…mountain bike enduro riding. That right there tells you they’re going to stand up to some rough terrain. As you can gather from the name, these rims enjoy a 584x24c measurement. The WTB web site puts the weight at 389g each. This isn’t a light wheelset by any stretch, but such reliable girth comes with some heft.
Ritchie was quite clear when he told me, “Keep in mind these tires are not gravel-only tires so don’t go rock party slammin’ thinking so – they are meant for road and going into dirt and back, mixed stuff. Your stuff.” I heeded Will’s words and kept things rather modest during the test period. Well…mostly.
After getting the tires mounted and wheels on the bike, my first ride was a simple 25-kilometer road ride. I immediately noticed the bike handled a bit differently with the width of these tires and wheels. The best way to describe it is that instead of the nimble feeling with its original 35mm tires, the bike felt a little less nimble (but it’s all relative since 35mm tires are less nimble than, say, 25mm tires). This is not a bad thing, but it did feel different. Of course the width of the tires made it a much smoother ride. The wheels did take a bit more effort to get up to speed, but once they got going, they stayed going quite nicely. In straight lines, this plus-sized tire “thing” for drop bar bikes feels like a more smooth version of your 28mm (or more narrow) tires.
Since the Horizon is also designed for gravel, I took them on some rail-trails and bona fide gravel roads. As you can imagine, the width of the tires was a huge benefit here, smoothing out the roughness and offering less anxiety about punctures or flats. Of course the tubelessness of the wheels helped here, too. I could have ridden for days on gravel-only roads, but I really like the fact these tires obviously tackle the gravel well, but perform so nicely on the smooth tarmac.
But I had to try these wheels and tires on the trail, too. And I’m not talking old railroad bed kinds of trail. I had to ride these on some mountain bike trails. While I didn’t take them “rock party slammin’” as Ritchie had advised me to avoid, I definitely took them singletrack-slaying and multiple root-hoppin’. And, ok…some rock slammin’. But not much. I did a few laps on the beautifully flowy singletrack Hydro loop at Raystown Lake in central Pennsylvania in the United States. It’s only a couple-mile loop, but it’s an absolute blast – especially on a drop bar bike with mountain bike-sized tires.
Additionally, I hit the local Thursday night mountain bike training “races” in Philadelphia. One of my favorite areas of trails in the world, it’s super tight, super twisty and it’s littered with all kinds of logs and roots to get up, over and around. There are some rocks on the trail, but nothing skill and grace can’t get you through. I definitely interfaced with some rocks, but not of the “rock party slammin” kind of meeting. Thankfully the trails were in absolutely ideal condition, but I still dropped the air pressure in the tires to give me as much traction as possible. I sort of took it easy on my first lap, and gained a lot of confidence. Thus, I pushed it a lot harder on the second lap, and managed to wash out a few times on some tight corners that I hit too fast. Laughing with glee as I picked myself up, I was amazed at how much fun I was having on this bike with these wheels and tires. These are not mountain bike or ‘cross tires by any stretch – there is no real tread on them. But with some care, grace and creativity, you can have a lot of fun getting to, and riding in, the woods with them.
This WTB/White Industries Road-Plus wheel/tire system absolutely opened my eyes to a different wheel and tire standard on drop bar bikes. With these 47mm 650b tires, I tackled a few 100+ kilometer road rides, whipped around some tasty singletrack, did a few pub runs and rode all manner of gritty and grimy gravel and dirt roads. I am deeply impressed with this “new” combination of tire width and wheel size, and I will absolutely have such a wheelset in my personal arsenal of bikes sometime soon.