In my opinion, wheels are the best bang for your upgrade buck. Stiffer wheels will improve your ride quality, and reduced rotational mass will make climbs and all-day epic rides a whole lot easier.
Loaded Precision delivers on both fronts with the X-lite 29er Wheelset.
Rather than re-invent the wheel, as it were, Loaded instead hand-builds each one in their California facility using time-tested methods, while focusing on using higher quality materials and manufacturing prowess. At the heart of the X-lite wheel is the internal beam-reinforced, heat-treated, T6 alloy rim. This setup allows the rim to be thinner, and therefore lighter, while still maintaining excellent strength.
My test set arrived setup for 9mm QR front and 10mm QR rear, but converting the front to 15mm was a breeze. As expected, both wheels came out of the box trued, and with good spoke tension. The X-lite model uses a 21mm internal width rim and is mated to CNC machined hub via 32 standard j-bend spokes laced to the eyeleted rims. Should you manage to break a spoke on a road trip, any bike shop should be able to replace it for you from in-stock parts. All X-lite wheels come with adapters for both 15mm and 9mm QR front and 10mm QR and 142 thru-axle rear, so these wheels will fit most modern bikes. They are available in 26, 27.5, and the 29er size that I tested. The 29er set tips the scales at 1,740 grams.
Out of the Box
When I spoke with Mike at Loaded, he mentioned that they made the decision to include all the axle adapters so that consumers could just buy and ride, without having to choose from a bunch of different options and potentially get the wrong wheel. I applaud this effort, however when I got the wheels, I noticed that they didn’t come with rim tape of any kind. So I was unable to ride them as shipped, without either taping them or installing a rim strip. I spoke further with Loaded about this, and they indicated that they are looking at pre-taping the wheels as part of the build process, so stay tuned on that front. Other than that, the wheels were well-built, well-packed, and ready to rock.
The X-lite wheels are “tubeless ready,” which means they can be easily setup tubeless by taping the inside of the rims and installing valves. Loaded Precision recommends the Orange Seal tubeless kit, which you can read about here. As a fun experiment, I also sealed one wheel by using 1-inch Gorilla tape, which works perfectly and doesn’t require any trimming. In either case, my 29×2.25in Michelin Wild Race’r tires mounted right up and popped into place. They seem to stay well inflated between rides, and even at really low pressures I have not had any sidewall burps or flats.
The hubs are 6-bolt, so I mounted some new Shimano SLX rotors and my existing cassette. One interesting note: in order to reduce weight, the freehub body has fewer splines on it than other freehubs I have seen. I have pulled the cassette off a couple of times to check, and there has been no scoring or excessive wear on the cassette-to-freehub mating surfaces.
Out on the Trail
With the wheels freshly installed, I headed out to the cul de sac for some wheelies and curb hopping. The rear wheel spokes popped and twanged a couple of times as they settled in, and they have been tight and quiet ever since.
The first thing I noticed about these hoops is that they are stiff. While not in the carbon rim realm, they are definitely stiffer than any other alloy wheel I have tried. I have ridden my usual mix of Denver Front Range trails, as well as a trip to Moab for Outerbike, and the X-lite wheels have just kept turning mile after mile.
The only issue I have experienced is from dinging a rock after catching air. I was temporarily running a 29×2.1 tire, with a tube, and I came down on a rock and pinch flatted, denting the rear rim a little in the process. I was able to install a tube to get back to the trailhead, and at home I carefully straightened the dent and have been running it tubeless ever since. While this was clearly a mistake on my part, it’s nice to see that the rim held up with so little damage, and didn’t taco or develop a flat spot.
The 24 engagement points in the rear hub are okay, but occasionally restarts on really steep trail sections end up being false starts. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely work as advertised–there are just hubs out there that engage faster. On the other hand, the hubs and freehub continue to spin as freely as the day they were installed, with no discernible play.
Skewers aren’t the coolest piece of bike gear in the grand scheme of things, but the X-lite version bundles a lot of tech into a small package. Specifically, the shaft is crafted from titanium, while the lever is alloy in order to allow anodizing in the same seven colors as the rest of the X-lite product line. The tightening nut is minimal, but effective, and the levers lock down super tight. In practice, these are definitely feather-light, and they clamp down nice and tight with no issues between rides or after a bunch of rides. At 43 grams, Loaded Precision touts these as the lightest skewers on the market, and a quick google search brings up only the KCNC titanium model, which are a gram heavier. At $59.99, the X-lites are also $10.00 cheaper, so it’s a win/win.
While we’ve been over the build quality and durability of the X-lite wheels, they also look great! The rims and spokes are black, but the hubs and spoke nipples can be ordered in any of the seven standard Loaded colors, and can even be mixed and matched to complement your ride and your personal style. With the blue Loaded Precision components and wheels mounted on my blue and white Anthem X, I constantly get comments about how sharp it looks. And of course, a good looking bike is a fast bike, right? 😀
In their continuing mission to bridge the gap between light weight, durability, and price, Loaded Precision has come up with yet another hit. At an MSRP of $750, they are in line price wise with Easton EA70 XCT and Shimano XT, but they are stiffer than the Eastons and lighter than the Shimanos. Add in the included axle adapters, bling options, and hand-built quality, and you get a great-looking wheelset that is strong enough for your trail or all mountain needs, while still being light enough for cross country use.
Thanks to the folks at Loaded Precision for sending over the X-lite wheels for review.