The ZTR Valor wheels have been long-awaited from the brand that brought us lightweight tubeless rims, and the ZTR Crest, Arch and Race Gold wheel set are be found on many marathon and stage racing bikes.
But light alloy rims aren’t without their downsides. Flex can be a problem, if not for lighter riders, for more aggressive ones. While I never really had a problem with ZTR Crest wheels feeling flexible, I have managed to put a big dent in one rear rim, proving that even at 55kg, it can take just one hard hit to damage a wheel. I know some other riders and racers who have finished off 2 or 3 rims in a year, and when you factor in spokes and labour for a rebuild that gets expensive. So it’s worth investing in a stronger rim – this year it’s saved me time and worry, as well as money.
The ZTR Valor wheels offer a similar weight to the Race Gold rim, stiffness greater than the Arch, and the same easy to set up tubeless rim profile using Bead Seat Technology as the rest of the ZTR range. All with much greater strength, and far better radial compliance than other popular carbon rims on the market.
While I didn’t have the equipment to test strength, deflection and stiffness ratings, I did have two bikes to use the wheels on, and plenty of time to race and ride on them. My last experience using carbon mountain bike wheels wasn’t that much fun – they were just too stiff and a bit unforgiving for long rides in rough terrain. Again, this could be down to weight, most wheels (and other products) are made for people about 75kg. The ZTR Valor wheels are different.
THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
Here’s what the wheels are made up of: They have the brand new Valor rim, which isn’t available on its own. Said to weigh about 300 grams, it’s very light. The hubs are the usual Stans Ti units, with 24 Sapim Race spokes front, and 28 on the back. The rim is wider than a Crest or race Gold, yielding a 21.6mm internal diameter. That’s perfect for supporting a full bodied 2.2″ tyre like the Maxxis Ardent Race and Ikon that I used front and rear respectively. Weight depends on what axle configuration you have but they’re about 1300-1350grams, which is similar to the Race Gold, or Bontrager XXX Lite, which I rode for a lot of the start of the year.
The wheels went onto my Bianchi Methanol 29 FS at first, for a ride on the trails at Ourimbah. First impressions count, and they felt supple and light, with super fast acceleration. Importantly for me, the radial compliance meant that over rocky sections and on gnarly descents I wasn’t getting bounced up and down instead of moving forward. The combination of stiffness and smoothness was impressive, and made for a very enjoyable ride.
With a long trip to Europe for racing and travel looming, I opted to take my hardtail. In hindsight, maybe I should have taken my full suspension bike, but either way, I had to get the rear hub changed from fitting the 142×12 standard on my dually to the normal 135 QR. I was surprised that this needed a different axle and bearings – not just end caps like some Bontrager and Hope hubbed wheels I’ve used in the past.
On my hardtail, the ride quality was better than any I’ve experienced before. I think that the best proof of really good equipment is how soon you forget about it, and the Valor wheels just felt smooth and compliant all the time, leaving me much more time to focus on riding and racing. This was a blessing because much of the riding we did was on the gnarly side of XC, and some of it wasn’t XC at all. On the Valor wheels I rode up and down mountain roads in huge Swiss marathon races, down red, black and competition downhill runs in the Verbier Bike Park, down scree slopes in the mountains above Zermatt, through bogs full of mud, and over rooty cliffs and down rock gardens that went for kilometres in the badlands of Poland during the Sudety Mountain Bike Challenge. The wheels just soaked it all up and provided the stiffness, speed, and acceleration I needed in competition, too. During this trip to Europe, I definitely felt the benefit of the wider rim and being able to run very low pressures helped a lot. I usually had about 18-19 psi in the front and not much more in the back.
But the thrashing dished out by the worst European summer in living memory, where I rode in rain and mud for hours and hours most days, I did have a problem with the rear hub bearings – much of it because of the quality of parts available to me on the road. The bearings developed play after about six weeks of use (and abuse), which is reasonable, but the next three sets of bearings I had installed in Italy didn’t have good enough tolerances to run with no lateral play, even new out of the packet, and they too wore out within days. After finally having some Swiss bearings installed at Imboden Bike in Lauterbrunnen (where I as assured the quality was the best and was in no position to argue about the wisdom of using Japanese bearings installed by Italians) this hasn’t presented a problem again, even after three more months’ hard riding. The wheels come with spare spokes that are the right length, but no bearings: They aren’t hard to replace, so maybe it’s worth taking a spare set with you if you are away from home for a while, or going to an important race.
I’m lucky enough to have a few sets of high-end race wheels to ride and test, but the Valors are the best set of wheels I’ve ridden, hands down, and I’m taking them to the Croc Trophy in a week’s time to see how much more punishment they can take. Replacement bearings aside, these wheels performed perfectly in every activity I’ve attempted on my bike and the advantage here is having equipment I could trust to perform better than I could. It freed me up to concentrate on my legs and my mind: the bits that are more likely to break down under pressure.
From: Jetblackproducts.com.au or notubes.com