The Crankbrothers recently got into the wheel business and after previewing the Cobalt wheelset at Interbike back in September we knew we had to try them out. Sure, the wheels look pretty (they’re made by the Crankbros. after all) but we wanted to know how they would perform on the trail – fortunately we weren’t disappointed.
The first thing you’ll notice when looking at a set of Cobalt wheels (aside from the color) is the unusual spoke arrangement. Cobalt wheels turn the traditional spoke model on its head with spoke nipples attached to the hub rather than the rim. Crankbrothers uses “elongated nipples” to provide extra strength and to concentrate mass toward the hub rather than the rims meaning you’ll need less initial force to get the wheels rolling from a stop. At the rim the spoke heads are attached to fins on the rim unlike a typical wheel where the spokes actually penetrate the rim. The upshot: stronger rims and no need for rim tape inside to protect your tubes and tires.
Speaking of tubes, the Cobalt wheels are designed to work with tubeless tires which is great news for anyone looking to save weight and cut down on flats. I set up my Cobalt wheels with Kenda tires and plain old tubes and found the fit to be impeccable. The seal between tire and wheel was so tight that after inflating the tube I heard a loud hissing sound and thought I had a pinch flat. I quickly spun the tire around only to find the air was escaping from the space between the tire and tube – now those are some tightly sealed rims! (remember – no spoke holes)
The Cobalt wheels are very light (688 grams front, 852 grams rear) and each one is a good half pound lighter than my regular wheels. Despite the light weight the wheels felt super strong on the trail and even on a recent urban ride. Wobble was nonexistent in corners and rocky patches and the wheels rolled ultra true right out of the box. Although the Cobalts are billed as XC wheels I didn’t notice any flex on jumps and the ability to upgrade to 15mm thru axles means even downhill riders could consider these wheels (Crankbrothers also makes an all-mountain wheelset called Iodine with many of the same features).
Crankbrothers innovation is evident throughout the Cobalt wheelset. Beyond the unusual spoke and nipple arrangement, Crankbrothers uses a two-stage, split quick-release skewer that reduces the amount of force required to release wheels after a ride. I honestly haven’t made use of this feature but I suppose it could be helpful for riders with weak arms after a long ride. The Cobalt rear wheel hub is a “noisy freewheel” (similar to Chris King hubs) and sound like you have a baseball card in your spokes whenever you’re coasting. At first the sound made me feel like a badass but it got a little annoying on long, flowy descents. The wheels are disc brake compatible only so if you’re still rocking V-brakes you’ll need to upgrade your brakes before adding these wheels.
Aside from the amazing technical features of the Cobalt wheelset, what really makes a Crankbrothers product drool-worthy is the design. Opening the Cobalt wheelset box felt like I was unwrapping an iPhone – the attention to detail with something as simple as the packaging is truly amazing. These wheels also turn heads on the trail – on a recent ride at Heritage Park I spoke with the only rider we saw about the wheels for several minutes. No doubt about it, these wheels have substance AND style.
Upgrading the stock wheels on your mountain bike can give you a whole new ride and the Cobalt wheelset from Crankbrothers is a great choice for aggressive XC riders. The only thing about these wheels that will slow you down are the gawkers!