Test riding NOBL Wheels.
After testing both the NOBL TR33 and NOBL TR38 wheel set (thanks Dustin) and comparing the rim profiles to the ENVE M70/30-DT240S, that I had been riding for 18 months, I decided on the NOBL TR38 wheel set because it gave my preferred tyres a really good foot print with lots of vertical support for the side knobs. Dustin was great, meeting me in Squamish to lend me his set of test wheels, and generally being available to answer any questions I had about any aspect of the wheel set.
At one stage I had a completely packed workshop as friends tried to ‘trick’ the instant engagement hub into not engaging instantly and marvelling at the silence as the wheel spun on the ceramic bearings. It’s mechanical superiority more than compensates for it’s slightly heavier weight. Being able to hear just the tyres gripping on the trail is also lovely when riding.
The decision on which wheels to buy
I bought my NOBL TR38 wheel set, built with NOBL hubs (black) and DT Aerolite spokes, on 28th April. I fitted them with Continental Trail King Protection 2.4″ tyres and then continued to train hard for the 2016 Mavic Trans-Provence. They are running on my SC Nomad CC XL. I asked for them to be built with Aerolite spokes as I know that the bladed spokes provide a decent amount of lateral compliance which helps ameliorate the stiffness of the carbon rim and aid traction.
The NOBL TR38 wheel set has been used for about 150 km per week since fitted, including my usual training loop of Flank (climb)-Howler-Flank (climb)-Billies’-27 Switchbacks (down)-Binty’s which I thought would give me a good combination of hard climbing, rocky descents, rooty tech and tight switch backs. I was wrong this circuit is like a beginner trail compared to what I experienced at the Trans-Provence. I should have chosen double black trails I had never ridden before and tried to ride them as fast as possible!!
For the last week of training and for the Trans-Provence I fitted my long anticipated Continental Der Baron Projekt Protection 2.4″ tyres. They immediately earned the title of “best tyre ever”.
How did they fare in France and during the Trans-Provence?
I had never been mountain biking in the Maritime Alps so I had NO idea!! Rocky, I had never experienced anything like what I encountered in France previously, not even Pemberton came close to what was a ‘normal’ special stage in the Trans-Provence.
I rode with a guide (Greg Germain; 1001Sentiers.com) for four days in the week prior to the race. He introduced me to a wide variety of trails and terrain types as a taster, or “T-P warm up” as he called it, of what I would meet during the Trans-Provence. His first comment on loading my bike, and spying my NOBL TR38 wheel set, on day one was: “Nice carbon wheel set, not sure carbon is the best choice for the Maritime Alps, lets see if they are intact after the next few days and if they are they will never be as pretty again as they are now!”.
Knowing the speeds that Dustin is capable of and the test regime of the NOBL rims and wheel sets was the only thing that allowed me to keep my confidence high.
I was soundly thrashed up hill and down trail for the next four days. 120 km of burly trails, lots of carrying our bikes on our shoulders (very French and far more energy efficient than pushing), and a wide variety of rock types, narrow ledges, huge exposure, sniper rocks, off camber roots across six inch wide trails next to 300′ vertical drops and every else Greg could think of that might be useful for me to experience.
Oh and there was an endless succession of tight, steep, loose switchbacks. Welcome to France! It was a total mental eye opener. I thought I could get down a black trail in a fairly handy fashion and could ride most double blacks reasonably well (most of the time) but this was a whole new level of consequence if one put a tyre wrong! I was in the home of the nose wheelie and the drift into a skid cornering technique.
Anyway four days of a total wheel pounding and the NOBL TR38 wheel set did me proud. As a slower and heavier rider (98 kg with gear) this wheel set pretty much gets slammed into 90% of the trail (I have the skills to hop or pop over about 10% of the trail). As I have heard one person say “the reason the pros can race on carbon wheel sets is that they spend so very little time on the ground”. That is certainly not me. I am a good tester of a wheels durability! I bent one rear spoke on the ubiquitous “apex rock designed to smash your rear derailleur” when my rear wheel hop was not quite high enough and the tyre skipped off the rock and it tried to eat my spokes. The NOBL TR38 wheel set has stayed completely true.
If I thought that the four days of ‘TP Warmup’ were tough they were a gentle introduction compared to the six days of the Trans-Provence. 271 km, 9177 metres of climbing and 18003 metres of descending with 24 special stages. If one imagines that at least six times per day there is a section of trail where a small mistake will end in death and about 20-30 times per day there is a section where a small mistake will end in hospitalisation then one has an idea of the technical (and mental) difficulty of this race.
My NOBL TR38 wheel set (and tyres and rear shock) were the few parts that I honestly did not worry about at all each day. They were totally planted, solid and dependable at all times. They are still completely true and the bearings still roll with silky smoothness. Greg was correct, they are no longer as pretty as they were when I first arrived in France, they have scratches in many places but they have held up to serious abuse and some pretty impressive crashes including two crashes that led to a bent rear brake rotor.
I ran an average of 20-22 psi in the front and 22-25 psi in the rear throughout the race. This provided great traction and control in all conditions. Many of us forgot about the effect of elevation, on tyre pressures, on a day that we dropped from 2200 metres to 900 metres. I checked that I had the right pressures at 2200 metres, however, I finished the last stage at a much lower elevation. It was a long and extremely rocky stage and I found that I only had 15 psi in the front tyre and 18 psi in the rear. I had not suffered any punctures and the rims were perfectly sound. My NOBL TR38 wheel set has been ridden for just on 1700 km of hard trail riding in nine weeks and are totally true and running perfectly.
For the record, the race destroys wheels and tyres, on average there were 6-10 tyre changes and 2-3 rear wheel replacements at the feed station on most days and 10-15 tyre changes and 3-5 rear wheel replacements or re-builds each evening.
These are my tyres after five weeks of training rides and 10 days of trail riding in France (middle tyre is new for comparison):
The Mavic boys who support the race certainly earned their beer. I was too tired to keep track of the exact details but I saw at least three dead ENVE M70/30 rims and one Specialized Roval Fattie. There were many smashed aluminium rims as well.
I cannot say enough to praise the NOBL TR38 wheel set. If you are a bit lighter, are after a lighter wheelset and tend to run tyres in the 2.3″ range then jump on a set of the TR33 with NOBL hubs. They will be your “best wheel set ever”. If you are a bit larger, not so worried about weight, a known destroyer of wheels/ rims and/ or tend to run 2.4-2.5″ tyres and want the wider foot print then the TR38 wheel set will do you proud.
A bit of rant but it has been a pretty epic 10 weeks with this wheel set and I wanted everyone to know how good they are.