Easton Haven 29er Wheelset Review

Wheels are what make a 29er a 29er and despite early reports, big wheel bikes aren’t just for cross-country riding anymore. So it makes perfect sense that component manufacturers are looking to beef up 29er wheel options for more aggressive all-mountain riders. Easton is leading the way with 29-inch versions of the venerable Haven series and over the last couple months I’ve been using and abusing the 2011 Haven 29″ wheelset.

Materials and Tech

The Haven 29″ rims are made from Easton’s proprietary aluminum alloy and are UST/clincher style which makes them perfect for rolling without tubes. In fact, Easton recommends using UST or tubeless-ready tires exclusively for best results (in my experience, finding 29er UST tires can be difficult but I suspect that will change). With a 21mm internal rim width, the Haven 29″ wheels can handle tires up to 2.5″ which is perfect for aggressive AM applications. I got a tight fit with both UST and tubeless-ready tires and didn’t burp a tire once over hundreds of miles of often gnarly singletrack (including the infamous Snake Creek Gap course – twice).

UST and tubeless wheels are often heavier than standard wheels due to the required rim strip but the Haven 29″ wheels do away with the need for a rim strip entirely, saving precious grams. The wheelset officially tips the scales at 1785 grams which, for burly 29er hoops, is downright airy. That’s just 65 grams heavier than the old XC Ones from Easton but if you factor in the weight of tubes (say, 200 grams each) you’ll end up SAVING more than 300 grams (assuming you’re able to run the same tires).

photo courtesy eastoncycling.com.

The Haven 29″ wheels are laced with Sapim black spokes (24 front / 28 rear) in a 3-cross pattern for maximum durability and stiffness (more on that later). The spokes are regular straight-pull spokes which makes the wheel easy to true and maintain. Every wheelset is hand-built by Easton using a proprietary “acoustic method” to check for true. Needless to say, mine showed up ready to roll. The hubs feature silky smooth cartridge bearings and sport distinctive machining and Haven graphics.

Axle options include standard 15mm through-axle and 9mm quick release configurations PLUS a 20mm version that’s new for 2011 (which I’ve been testing). And unlike many 29er wheelsets available today, the Haven 29″ wheels can also be configured with a 12×135/142 rear thru-axle (in addition to the standard quick release option). Clearly these wheels are ready for aggressive 29er AM and Trail bikes.

On the trail

I like testing mountain bike wheels over an extended period because it’s important to see how they wear over time – do they need constant tuning, how do they hold up to big hits and crashes, etc. As I mentioned in a previous 29er wheel review, I’ve destroyed two 29er wheelsets in the past couple years so it’s important to me to find big wheels that are lightweight yet durable enough for everyday abuse. I started testing these wheels mid-way through my 29 trails in 29 days challenge which allowed me to put on a season’s worth of mileage in less than 2 months.

First things first: these wheels are stiff, exactly what you’d expect from an AM wheelset but not necessarily from set of 29er hoops. And that’s a good thing – these stiff wheels offer precise control through turns and dodgy rock gardens and send big hits right to your suspension system rather than bending (and potentially fatiguing/breaking your spokes and rims). I was able to land 3-foot drops to flat landings with nary a ping or bend on my hardtail, something I hesitate to do with XC-specific wheels. To date the wheels have stayed true and flat-spot free – zero maintenance required.

The freehub pawl system offers quick engagement in my experience which is great for navigating skinnies and low clearance sections where power and wheel control are key. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I’m not a big fan of super-clicky freehubs and along the spectrum I’d say the Haven 29″ hub is medium-clicky.

Overall impressions

Just looking at the Haven 29″ wheels you get the impression that this is a high quality product – from the hubs to the rims to the spokes, everything just looks and feels solid and well-built. My cassette slid on with ease for a solid fit, the thru-axle sits tight, and even the rear quick release lever is better than most. Yeah, the hubs are a little blingy and the rim graphics are over-sized but the neutral tones balance the overall look and feel.

At just 1785 grams, these UST/tubeless-ready all-mountain wheels should get the attention of the XC riders out there. And 29er AM and Trail riders can rejoice that the venerable Haven 29″ wheels are ready for black-diamond duty. At $925 MSRP for the set (front and rear wheels can also be purchased individually), the Haven 29″ wheels aren’t the cheapest but they’re easily some of the most versatile you’ll find. As Easton says on their website, “Yes, they’re that good.”

Thanks to the folks at Easton for providing the Haven 29″ wheels for review.