Almost one year ago I placed an order for a carbon mountain bike wheel set from Light Bicycle. I used their online wheel builder and chose the XC923 asymmetric rims, 28 DT spokes per wheel, and the always reliable DT240 hubs. It was less than two weeks until the wheels were built and delivered to my door, along with tubeless tape and valves. Last year, I put up a first look of the XC923 wheel set.
As I stated in that first piece, I wanted to test a complete wheel and not just a rim from Light Bicycle. I have two sets of wheels with Nextie Bike rims that have been built by local wheel builders, so I really wanted to see what the build quality would be like for someone ordering a whole wheel set from China.
In a word, they were perfect. The set weighs about 1485g, the spoke tension was high and even, and the wheels were completely straight and round. They set up tubeless with my usual Maxxis Ikon and Ardent Race EXO/TR/EXC combination.
It’s been hard to go wrong with Maxxis.
Day in, day out on the Light Bicycle XC923 wheels
This wheel set have become my standard wheels I use. As I mentioned in my first post on the wheels last year, I’m lucky enough to own some 30mm Nextie wheels and NoTubes Valor carbon wheels. In short, the 30mm live on my hardtail, the Valor’s live in wheel bags awaiting a new axle and bearings, and the XC923 sit on my Norco Revolver 29 FS.
Since breaking an axle in my Valor in the final stage of The Pioneer, I’m yet to chase up a replacement. Instead, I’ve been more than happy with the performance of the Light Bicycle XC923 wheel set. That’s included about 9 race days since then, plus all other mountain biking on my Revolver FS.
I’ve been happily riding and racing on the wheels for months. Photo: Robert Conroy
Not all smooth sailing
This was also the case last year, when I had used the Light Bicycle XC923 wheels for a few months and was about to post a final review, but took them to Cape to Cape, one of the largest stage races in the world, first. Cape to Cape is fast, fun, and always a challenge. It attracts some of the strongest riders from around Australia. And if you don’t have it, you know about it. On stage 2 I’d found my rhythm and was riding with Paul van der Ploeg, who was having a ‘laughing day’, until we hit the next descent.
A post shared by MarathonMTB (@marathonmtb) on Oct 20, 2016 at 11:49pm PDT
I flatted and cracked the rim on the descent. Most likely, I hit a lump of limestone pretty hard, which I believe burped the tyre so the rim impacted the rock. It cracked through to a spoke hole. But, I put a tube in, inflated it, and rode to finish the stage. And then the next two stages.
A post shared by Mike Blewitt (@mike.blewitt) on Nov 19, 2016 at 11:46am PST
I thought a lot about carbon vs alloy rims on those days, and since. If I had hit and damaged an alloy rim at the same speed and with the same impact – it would need replacing. As this rim did. But an alloy rimmed wheel would have been more out of shape, and would have progressively got worse. I don’t believe I would have been able to finish the race on a similar light weight alloy rim.
Light Bicycle have a crash replacement option, and rim warranties. In this situation I wasn’t sure what the result would be. I had obviously hit the rim on something, but it didn’t seem that hard. I sent images, the serial number and invoice across to Light Bicycle. I was a paying customer, and they knew I was doing a review of the wheels. We had a few emails to and fro asking about riding style, tyre pressures, my weight, conditions where the wheel broke. In the end, it was deemed a warranty and I paid for the postage, and the rebuild at my local shop, Ashgrove Cycles, who did a great job.
Was this because I was doing a review? I’m not sure. In the 8 months since then I’ve ridden these wheels the most with no further issue or concern. So maybe that rim did have a fault? At the same time, a few readers commented on my first post about similar incidents cracking rims (in rocky areas) with the super light rims like the XC923. So it is hard to have a definitive answer.
Riding and racing the Light Bicycle XC923 carbon wheel set
The fact remains, since I had that rim replaced, the wheels haven’t skipped a beat. I even upgraded the DT star ratchet to the 54t model for faster engagement, as I was happy to be investing in the wheels. I did change the tubeless tape to yellow tape as the tape Light Bicycle offer to sell with their wheels is a bit narrow, in my opinion.
I do run a little higher pressure in these wheels than I did in the Valor wheels. But this is less about being concerned for damage, more about burping. I don’t tend to go below 22psi, whereas I used to go to about 21 in the Valor wheels – sometimes. This is a moot point as riding hard I found those pressures a bit squirmy anyway on either wheel. But I have found the Light Bicycle XC923 rims are more likely to burp a little earlier than the Valor rims.
While I’ve had the rear wheel rebuilt, the front hasn’t been touched. Spoke tension is still even, and the wheel feels solid. I think one reason I like to ride these wheels more than the Valors is the stiffness thanks to 28 spokes on the front, not 24. And with the upgraded hub the fast engagement is also excellent, making me look past the 200g+ weight difference.
The asymmetric profile may or may not help with the longevity of the wheels. In my head it makes sense, helping to keep the spoke tension more even between each side of the wheel. Considering the only work with a spoke wrench the wheels have seen is a rebuild of the rear, there is evidence that it makes a difference.
At times I do think I’d like to use a 30mm wide asymmetric rim at ‘XC’ weight. I really like the 30mm Nextie wheels I have, they just aren’t as light. But the 23mm internal (which is greater than the internal width of the Valor rims) let’s tyres inflate to a good shape. I do feel XC rims might end up settling closer to 30mm though. ‘Closer’ might be 28mm, we will see.
Should you buy a Light Bicycle XC923 carbon wheel set?
That’s the question, isn’t it? As I said in the first post, what you don’t necessarily get is the devoted warranty service by your local bike shop. But the initial saving on the product compared to the likes of say, Enve, can’t be ignored. This is something Mark H posted as a comment on the first post:
“I have had a few of sets of Enve wheels that are 4 years old now. I have hit these SO hard and not even marked the rim. No comparison in the toughness between LB rims and Enve. But you pay for it. You would have to go through lots of LB rims before you got up to the cost of just one Enve. Also, the Enve warranty policy is outstanding.
Having said all that, I would still recommend them if you are the kind of rider who “rides light”. I have a few more on order now. But I am not using their lightest model XC rim anymore. The 360g rim breaks too easily. The 390g model is the better choice. If you are over 80kg and like bombing stuff, then forget it, these are not the wheels for you. But if you like nice stiff race wheels and you are a pretty smooth rider then these are good value. Even factoring in a replacement once every couple of years they still stack up.”
And this is exactly how I feel. You can certainly get this wheel set a little cheaper by using DT 350 hubs, or the Novatec 771/772 options, both which I would highly recommend. Otherwise, this set at 1485 is only really beat by Valors, some Roval, DT Swiss and Bontrager models for the ‘big name’ wheels. And they all have their own issues with rims breaking if hit too hard. That just happens with light weight parts if you smack them into immovable objects.
I thoroughly recommend looking at some of the options if you’re curious. If you’re a keen wheel builder, order some rims and lace some up, see how they go. If you’re hunting some good value race wheels, then a model like this truly is hard to beat for the price. The hubs alone are worth close to $AUD800, and these wheels are about $AUD1350.
If you don’t want too much hub hassle… DT are a top choice.
But if you’re a heavier rider, or someone who does have trouble with wheels, it’s not what I would look at. Something like Shimano’s XTR wheel set is really strong for an XC wheel. Or the Stan’s NoTubes Arch wheels, if you want some more strength and alloy. Of course, there is Enve as well. You pay a premium but there is no doubt that with their latest models you get a premium product.
If you are reading this it is because you’re curious. As was I. And I’m really glad I bought a set to try out, as they do exactly what I want them to do. The hubs are some of the lowest maintenance around, the wheels don’t need constant truing like many light alloy wheels, and the ride is laterally stiff, unlike an alloy wheel, which is great on a dual-suspension bike.
Light Bicycle are continuing to develop their range of rims, but given the build quality of the wheels I bought, I’d have no qualms in buying rims or wheels from them again in the future. In fact, their new 280g rim looks pretty exciting!
Cost: $USD1036 for the wheels, tape and valves
From: Light Bicycle