Ever since receiving the GT Force Carbon Pro for review last winter, I’ve been methodically checking off 27.5/650b review parts one by one: forks, tires, and last but definitely not least, wheels.
However, this wheel review will be quite different than your average wheel review. Unlike reviewing a factory-built wheel or even a built-by-hand package from a single company, the Stan’s ZTR Arch EX 27.5 rims, the White Industries MI6 Hubs, and the DT Swiss Competition spokes were hand-picked and assembled by Singletracks’ own dgaddis.
You might have noticed that dgaddis has been keeping a relatively low profile on Singletracks of late. That’s because he’s been busy running a burgeoning wheel building company, dubbed Southern Wheelworks. So read on for the builder’s view of these parts, and then my own analysis of how they perform in real life, out on the trail.
Dustin’s Take on the Components and Build Process
The White Industries MI6 MTB hubs are the most affordable hubs available that are made in the USA. Their main focus is durability: they’re built to last. They aren’t very light, and the 24 points of engagement isn’t slow, but it’s certainly not fast. Where they shine is the bearings: not only are they super smooth, but they’re super durable. Last year I rebuilt a set of their hubs, and even though those hubs were ~6 years old, they were still using the original bearings, they were still incredibly smooth, and the wheels spun forever. The MI6 hubs will get better and faster rolling once Greg wears them in a bit. They just started producing them in color late last year, and they aren’t actually stocking any of the MI6 hubs in colors (just polished silver and black), but they can be special-ordered in colors, which can take a few weeks.
DT Swiss Competition spokes are the go-to spoke for pretty much any mountain bike wheel I build with alloy rims. DT’s spokes are arguably the highest quality available. The Competition spokes are double butted, they are 2mm diameter on both ends and 1.8mm in the middle. Butting the spoke saves some weight, but it also makes for longer-lasting, more durable spokes. The thinner section absorbs flex and movement, whereas a non-butted spoke transfers more of that load to the elbow of the spoke, which causes the non-butted spoke to break sooner from fatigue.
I used a mix of two and three cross lacing on Greg’s wheels. Fewer crosses are slightly stiffer and lighter since the spokes are shorter, but it doesn’t translate torsion from the hub to the rim as well, which is why I used 3-cross on each wheel as well. The rear drive side and front non-driveside are 2-cross, the other sides are 3-cross. If Greg happens to break one in a crash it’ll be super easy to get the wheel fixed, since these are not proprietary spokes: any shop should be able to get him back on the trail quickly. The spokes are cheap, too: only about $1.50 a piece. Still have to pay labor, of course.
Alloy nipples are one third the weight of a brass nipple. Brass is better for really heavy riders, and anyone whose wheels will see corrosive environments (salted roads, riding near/on the beach, etc.). With alloy nipples, it’s important to get the spoke lengths just right, or the nipples will fail.
Stan’s rims are really high quality. They’re always very round and very straight from the factory, which makes building them up a breeze. About a year and a half ago Stan’s made a running change to the Arch EXs: they increased the thickness of the nipple seat and increased the recommended spoke tension from 100kgf to 125kgf. The extra material bumped the weight up by about 15-20g, but it’s well-worth it since it allows more spoke tension. Some of the weights on their website haven’t been updated with the new weights: the claimed weight for the 650B rim is 420g; Greg’s were 435g and 436g. For tubeless use they work well with standard non-tubeless tires and most tubeless-ready tires. They do NOT work with UST style tires: the tires are too tight to get on the rim. The rims have an internal width of 24.6mm.
The rims are taped up with Stan’s tape, the valves are installed, and there’s a quart of Stan’s sealant in the box (which all came over from Stan’s).
Greg’s wheels weighed in at:
- Front: 829g
- Rear: 987g
- Total: 1,816g
If you were to buy these wheels from me, they’d be $741 plus shipping and/or tax.
Over the past six months I’ve logged hundreds of miles aboard these custom-built wheels, and they’ve proven to be exceptional! I’ve thrashed these wheels mounted onto my 6″ travel all-mountain rig, the GT Force. Let me be honest: I’ve ridden these XC/trail rims way above their intended application!
In addition to my normal thrashing, I’ve raced these wheels in three of the Big Mountain Enduro races, the last of which was held at Keystone Resort. Keystone is notorious for destroying bikes and wheels… you can read about all of the ridiculous gnar there in this article.
Suffice it to say that I’ve raced these wheels down double black diamond downhill trails… and they are intended to be XC/Trail wheels. Given that, no one would blame the Arch EX rims for groaning, giving up life, and dying on me. But they didn’t!
The worst issue I’ve experienced with these wheels is that the spoke tension has loosened up twice during the brutal downhill punishment I’ve been doling out. During Day 1 of the BME Durango race, I felt my wheel go all soft and sloppy as I was ripping through the half-hour-long Stage 1. Well, I still had another stage to go, and I just prayed that I wouldn’t do any lasting damage. Despite not holding any punches and pinning it through the rocks and drops with a loose rear wheel, the worst damage I did was put a tiny wobble in the rim. After getting it trued and tightened, it was rolling along again just fine!
However, the wheels did loosen up again after a full weekend of downhill race runs at Keystone… but like I mentioned, those runs don’t even qualify as normal use. No, that’s certified abuse. If these wheels were a living organism, I’d probably be going to jail for what I did to them! Thankfully, though, they’re inanimate objects and don’t feel pain.
As for the White Industries MI6 hubs, I can confirm Dustin’s assessment: these are durable hubs that can stand the test of time. Despite the above-mentioned abuse and neglect, I have had zero complaints from these hubs. Rolling speed has been great, and while maybe they don’t offer the engagement that a super-spendy hub might offer, for the price the engagement isn’t bad at all.
Thanks to the White Industries XD driver, I was able to mount up a SRAM X1 drivetrain with these wheels, and the combination has been stellar thus far! Stay tuned for the final review of the X1.
As for the build quality from Southern Wheelworks, I can’t say enough about the workmanship that went into these wheels. Hand-chosen parts, matching bits and pieces, excellent construction, and quality shipping with great protection: I have nothing but good things to say. And if you compare Dustin’s prices to other custom builders or even comparable wheels from the factory, you’ll see that these wheels are a pretty awesome bargain.
This custom wheelset has performed way above its intended use and has done so admirably! All of the parts and the quality construction have come together to provide a cohesive wheelset that I’ll be happy to ride for years to come.