Cheap Chinese Carbon Rims, Long Term Tested: Light Bicycle Wide 38mm 29er Rim Review

I’ve had two sets of rims from the Chinese company Light Bicycle (LB) over the last two years, and I’ve broken them twice. That’s only made me like them more… I’ll get back to that later.

Light Bicycle 38mm wide rims with Hope Evo Pro2 and Specialized Ground Control Grid 2.3
Light Bicycle 38mm wide rims with Hope Evo Pro2 and Specialized Ground Control Grid 2.3

This review is of their 38mm (31.6 mm internal) wide 29er rim, which I’ve been on for the whole season, but I’m also running a set of their older 23mm internal rims, now on my singlespeed, and those have seen almost 3,000 miles. I purchased both sets as rim-only and had my local bike shop build them up–the “wides” on Hope Evo pro 2, and the older rims on Chris Kings, both 32 hole. The hubs have been flawless in both cases.

The wide rims came in as advertised at 450 grams each, and built up with the Hopes, tape, and stems, the pair came in at 1780 grams. Not light, but solid, and under $1,000 total.

The finish is available with surface weave as pictured, or mat.
The finish is available with surface weave as pictured, or mat.

There has been endless banter on the interwebs about the performance and quality of the Chinese rims. Some would point to the “knock-off” nature of their offering. I agree that if you want top-quality rims made in the USA, go with ENVE or Industry 9. Even in the generic Chinese rim market there seem to be a number of players now. After a few friends ran the Light Bicycle rims with great success, I sprung for a set for my old Yeti SB95, and those rims have stayed with me for three bikes. When I moved those to my singlespeed I opted for the new wide offering for my Ibis Ripley. They measure 31.6mm internal, which puts them between the Roval carbon at 30mm, and the Ibis rims at 35mm.

LB rims are made to order and take a few weeks to arrive at your door. Total cost was $430, delivered, for the pair of rims. While they will do a full wheel build, with lots of options, I decided to let my LBS do the build so I had some local support. Both sets built up with no issues and the mechanics, who started as skeptics, were generally impressed with the quality.

The new wide offering have a modern zero bead hook design, and were easy to set up tubeless. I have run Specialized Ground Control grid tires, Continental Mountain Kings, and Schwalbe Nobby Nics. All of them require a bit of muscle and at least one lever to get on, but seated with just a floor pump. While I didn’t measure them, each tire appeared much larger than on a narrower rim. The 2.3 Ground Control barely works in the narrow rear end of the Ripley.

Like most of the new wide rims, I have been able to run a few PSI less pressure than I used to: 22 front and 23 rear is perfect for my 185lb weight. The increase in grip and smooth ride is as you’d expect from a wide rim. The extra width made these wheels noticeably stiffer than the narrower offering, and stiffer than most aluminum rims I’ve run. They gave me an immediately-noticeable confidence boost on my first ride out, and I smashed my best time down a technical descent.

When you are able to drop pressures down around the 20psi mark, each PSI matters… a lot. On two occasions I set out on a ride thinking “huh, my back tire feels a bit low… oh well!” and on two occasions a high speed landing on a sharp rock brought an end to my fun. Cracking a carbon rim is immediately apparent, with a sharp “crack” and a hissing of air. But in neither case was it catastrophic, or even ride-ending. In both cases I put the blame squarely on myself, and on rear pressures likely in the teens.

Both impacts resulted in a lateral and vertical crack in the sidewall that leaked air, but never failed. I was able to put in a tube and ride on.

Sidewall of the wide rim with the epoxy starting to chip after a few hundred miles
Sidewall of the wide rim with the epoxy starting to chip after a few hundred miles
20150811_140245
The less severe crack in the older 23mm wide rim.

When I broke the newer wide rim, it was during a quick stop in Tahoe on my way to ride in Sun Valley. I came up short on a small gap near Northstar and “crack.” On day one of a trip, and with no prospect for an easy replacement, this was a huge bummer. While maybe not recommended, I smeared some 2-ton epoxy in the cracks and rode another 200+ miles on the rim, using a tube. The cracks never spread, and I didn’t ride any differently. Other experiences may vary, but I was impressed enough each time to order the $180 crash replacement rim and get the wheels back in action.

These will continue to be my primary wheelsets for both my personal bikes, and I’ve been pretty happy with them. Throwing $1,000 at an unknown and somewhat-maligned product is a risk, but one that’s worked out pretty well… sort of.

Crack across the bead of the wide rim, note the sidewall delamination as well.
Crack across the bead of the wide rim, note the sidewall delamination as well.

Pros

  • At about $500 less than the Ibis or Roval wheels, they’re a bargain.
  • The weight is competitive with the Ibis wheels, and could be lighter with different hubs
  • They held up to all types of riding, but couldn’t match my stupidity.
  • When they failed, it wasn’t as bad as you might imagine.

Cons

  • There are some aluminum wheelsets available less money and a similar weight.
  • You have to live with being the rider that bought the “cheap Chinese rims.”
  • Maybe a different set of rims wouldn’t have cracked, who knows?

Your Turn: Have you ever tried knock off Chinese rims? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below!

Andrew Galbraith resides in San Anselmo in Marin County, CA. A board member for Access4Bikes, Andrew has the best trails in Marin easily accessible from his back door.

Share This: