“Strong, Light, Cheap. Pick any two.”
Keith Bontrager was onto something when he first coined his famous phrase, because those words are just as relevant now as they were 20 years ago. Sure, mountain bikes have progressed enormously over that time. Today’s modern race bike is lighter, faster and more capable than ever before. If you need any evidence, just take a look at the next World Cup XCO round to see how technical these courses have become. But no matter how much bikes have evolved, it still stands that if you want the strongest and the lightest, you gotta be prepared to pay for it.
Which brings me to carbon wheels.
Increasingly, riders are turning towards high-tech plastic hoops to drop rotational weight from their off-road steeds. Done right, carbon fibre can produce a strong and lightweight rim that can deliver higher impact strength than a comparable alloy rim. Typically they can support higher spoke tensions, allowing a wheelbuilder to build a tauter wheelset. On a 29er, a quality carbon wheelset can lead to faster acceleration and more precise handling.
As carbon wheels have increased in popularity, so too has their availability. Brands such as ENVE, Reynolds, SRAM, Roval and Shimano have staked their claim on carbon fibre for their top-tier wheelsets, though a sea of options from smaller and lesser-known brands has also flooded the market. Consumers are now faced with a dizzying array of choices, from a $3500 set of ENVE’s, all the way down to a $500 set of carbon wheels purchased online from China. But while the performance and reliability of the big-ticket wheels from the known brands is largely well documented, real world experience of the uber-cheap Chinese options is not as readily available.
Back in April, we built a set of mountain bike wheels that were built with Nextie carbon fibre rims. The idea was to put one of these cheap Chinese carbon wheelset to test to see how they stacked up against their pricier and better-known competitors. You can check out our first impressions here. In summary, we came away impressed with the wheelsets specs, but were a little sceptical about the quality of the finish.
At 1300 grams and $750 for the complete wheelset, the Nextie wheelset is certainly one of the lightest and cheapest 29er carbon wheelsets we’ve come across. But we wanted to find out just how strong they are, and whether Keith Bontrager would still be right after all these years.
Who is Nextie?
One of the new breed of carbon fibre wheel providers based out of China is Nextie. They’ve been around since 2013, and they specialise in selling budget carbon fibre rims for road, mountain and BMX bikes. They also offer several carbon fibre frames and additional accessories such as handlebars and seatposts.
They have a fairly no-frills website where you can purchase their rims directly, though each product comes with all the necessary information you could possibly need. For their rims that includes the ERD, the BSD, spoke hole diameter, and the Max spoke tension they can withhold. There are also options available, including the spoke hole count (24, 28, 32 or 36h) and the finish on the rims.
Nextie deliver their products all around the world, making it relatively easy for consumers to order their own rims and have their local wheelbuilder assemble them. That’s exactly what we did, with local Sydney store Summit Cycles helping lace up our new plastic hoops.
The Lure Of Carbon
Our wheelset is based around a 27mm wide hookless Nextie 29er rim. It’s worth noting that Nextie offer 9 different 29er rims. Some use a traditional bead hook, some are hookless, and they even have one that is for tubular tyres. They also offer rims in various widths and profiles, depending on the intended riding style and what tyre width you’re running.
The rims are built from Toray T700 carbon fibre, as are the rest of the Nextie rim range. The 27mm wide Nextie rim features a 23mm depth and a 22mm internal rim width. This makes it suitable for tyres between 2.0 – 2.4” wide. They’re certainly not as wide as the current crop of ultra-wide mountain bike rims that are so hot right now, but they’re not old-school either.
Nextie claim their rims are tubeless compatible, with only a thin rim tape such as Stans Yellow Tape required to seal them airtight. Our rims use a hookless profile that saves having to resort to any post-machining after the carbon has been baked in the oven. This simpler profile supposedly increases strength over a traditional hooked rim, while reducing weight too. It does leave the sidewalls quite dainty at 2.5mm thick though, which does leave us with concerns for longer term durability. As a comparison, the ENVE M50 rim features 3mm thick sidewalls, and the Reynolds XC Carbon rims use 3.5mm hooked sidewalls.
The real attraction to running a rim like this is the weight. Nextie claim the 27mm wide 29er rim comes in at 360 grams per rim. To put it in perspective, that’s 25 grams lighter than a comparable Stans No Tubes Crest alloy rim, and about 30 grams heavier than an ENVE M50 carbon rim.
All built up with the Circus Monkey hubs, our wheelset came in at bang-on 1300 grams, which is damn light in anyone’s books.
In all honesty, there haven’t been a whole lot of surprises since Mike’s first look at these hoops back in April. I can concur that the Nextie rims seal up tubeless with little fuss, with both Schwalbe and Maxxis test tyres offering up minimal resistance against popping into place. In terms of fitting the wheels to our test bikes, the loose end caps on the front QR15 hub are a total pain the arse. Whether it was pulling the wheel off to swap a tyre or fit the bike into the back of the car, having the end caps bouncing around the gutter was a constant source of frustration, and it was enough of an annoyance that I would recommend avoiding this hub altogether.
The rear 142x12mm hub did a better job of staying in one piece, but as with the front hub, you cannot change the axle configuration to quick release setup. The bearing play that Mike described in his initial impressions is still there, with both the front and rear wheels displaying a discernible amount of lateral side-to-side play. It didn’t worsen too much through the test period, but longterm it certainly won’t get better. Higher quality hubs would be my first recommendation with this wheelset.
But it’s really the rims that we’re interested in, and I can confirm that they proved their worth throughout the test period. I tested the Nextie wheels on both a Trek Superfly FS dual suspension race bike, and on a Niner ROS 9 hardtail trail bike, where they were subjected to plenty of hard and fast XC riding under multiple riders. As much as we tried, we didn’t manage to break them, though the rear wheel did require some truing after some time mounted to the ROS 9 hardtail, where it came in contact with its fair share of sharp quartz rocks.
As you’d expect from a 1300 gram wheelset, the Nextie hoops feel sprightly underfoot. What I did find throughout testing was that despite weighing 1300 grams, the Nextie wheelset didn’t feel as light as I was expecting. It’s a hard sensation to describe, but I’ve ridden heavier wheelsets that feel lighter than their numbers would lead you to believe. The overall placement of the weight (whether the mass is more pronounced at the rim or the hub), the quality of the wheelbuild, and factors such as hub architecture and spoke type can play a huge role in how a wheelset behaves on the trail.
In the case of the Nextie wheelset, the low spoke count and the chiselled hub flanges certainly don’t help with the wheels overall stiffness. They certainly accelerate well, but I couldn’t help but wonder what a larger hub shell and a 28 or 32 spoke count could have done for the overall ride quality.
In all honesty, I approached this review with a significant amount of scepticism. I’ve ridden some lovely wheels over the past few years, but nothing that matches the specs of these hoops on paper. At well under a grand and weighing in at just 1300 grams, the Nextie wheelset just screamed ‘too good to be true’.
As we found out though, the rims themselves were certainly up to the task. They built up well, they’re finished well and they had no troubles seating tubeless tyres. They also have a generous rider weight limit of 150kg, but obviously the rest of the build will shape their overall durability. From our testing, we would definitely recommend going for a 28 or 32 spoke build to get a stronger and stiffer wheelset. That said, they didn’t explode on us like some people may expect with a cheap Chinese carbon rim. The 22mm internal rim width isn’t that wide by modern standards, but it does give good support and volume to a 2.1″ racing tyre.
That said, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the hubs. Bearing play out of the box and a lack of adaptability left me off-side from the beginning. Of course you can build the Nextie rims with whatever hubs and spokes you like, but this is where the Nextie wheels get a bit tricky. As soon as you start factoring in a higher quality and more reliable hubset such as a DT Swiss 350, the price will jump up considerably, making these less of a bargain than they initially seem. It’ll also put them within spitting distance of the bigger brand wheelsets, such as the excellent value Control Carbon wheelset from Roval. On a side note, the specs of the Nextie 27mm rim is almost identical to the Rovals, but more spokes and heavier hubs see a 1580gm wheelset weight.
In conclusion, we can comfortably recommend the Nextie carbon fibre rims to anyone who’s looking at building up a lightweight custom race wheelset. From our experience, not all carbon rims are equal, and that’s especially the case when looking at cheap Chinese carbon. Despite common misconceptions, there is not one factory making all the carbon rims in the world, and as such, there’s a huge variance in finish and quality from the various options you can source online. Thankfully the Nextie rims slot into the higher quality bracket, and they’ll make a great upgrade for any rider looking for that balance between price, weight and strength. Keith Bontrager’s famous phrase may still be relevant today as it was 20 years ago, but modern carbon wheels such as those from Nextie are certainly bending the rules.