When people ask me what upgrade they should make to their mountain bike, my first suggestion is to start with the wheels. Above all else, go tubeless. If you’ve done that and are looking for even more performance, it’s time to look at a new wheelset. There are infinite choices when it comes to wheels. Prebuilt or custom? What spoke count? What brand of hub? Which lacing pattern do you choose? How wide should the rims be? Aluminum or carbon rims? All those options can lead to analysis paralysis.
Luckily, Reynolds narrows down the choices for you with their line of Blacklabel mountain wheels. Within the Blacklabel series, Reynolds offers wheelsets for Trail (27.5″ or 29″), Enduro (27.5″ or 29″), Plus (27.5″), and Fat (26″). Last fall, they sent over a set of Enduro 27.5 wheels for me to thrash through the winter.
All of Reynolds’ Blacklabel wheels share some similar features. Notably, the carbon fiber rims are asymmetric, which allows for more even spoke tension between both hub flanges. The rims also use what Reynolds calls “Mountain Rim 5 Technology,” or MR5 for short. Here’s the description of MR5 from the Reynolds site:
MR5 (Mountain Rim 5) is the precise method of assigning unique carbon fiber lay-ups to these five rim regions: the sidewall, spoke face, nipple bed, tire channel and hookless rim bead. Reynolds specifies fiber type and orientation, adjusting the specs to achieve the perfect tensile strength, stiffness and elongation for each rim model. Each batch is certified according to Reynolds’ specifications.
Essentially, what they’re saying is, they put more material where it’s needed and less where it isn’t. Additionally, they orient the plies of carbon in specific directions to achieve their desired ride quality. Looking at the cross section of the rim is the easiest the way to see this in practice. The sidewalls of the rim are much thinner than the tire channel, for instance. Of course, all the Blacklabel wheels are tubeless compatible, and like many other carbon manufacturers, Reynolds opted to eliminate the bead hook on the rim.
Internally, the rims measure 28mm wide. That may sound on the narrow side by today’s standards, with the mantra “wider is better,” but in reality, it’s ideal for their intended use. What many neglect to consider is what a wider rim does to a tire’s profile. Wider is better up to a point, but eventually you reach a point where the rim is too wide for the tire, causing it to become too square.
Why is that big deal? When a tire gets squared-off like that, the side knobs are no longer on the side of the tire – they’re on top. That means when you lean the bike over – like in a corner – there’s nothing there to provide traction. And then you fall on your head. An overly-square profile also leaves your tire’s sidewalls more exposed to trail debris, increasing the chances of a cut or tear. We’re starting to see tire tech catch up to rim widths with tech like Maxxis’ Wide Trail casings and trail tires in 2.6″ widths. My preferred tire width for trail riding is in the 2.3-2.5″ range, which is the sweet spot for these wheels.
Another shared feature of the Blacklabel wheels is the use of Industry Nine hubs. I’ve had the pleasure of riding their hubs on a variety of bikes, and I can confidently say, you won’t find a finer product. Engagement is lightning-quick at just 3°–fast enough for ratcheting through the most heinous, technical terrain you can find. Their end caps come off with a firm tug, so swapping between axle sizes can be done relatively quickly.
The hubs on these particular wheels are 28-hole front and rear with center lock rotor mounts. My personal bike is from the pre-Boost era, so I opted for the 15×100 front and 12×142 rear spacing. Reynolds does offer Boost-spaced wheels, though. Reynolds chose Sapim CX bladed, straight pull spokes, laced three-cross. The nipples are of the standard alloy variety, which should make mechanics happy – nothing proprietary here. I opted for a Shimano driver, but a SRAM XD driver is available as well. Swapping out the driver is as easy as removing the hub’s end cap and pulling the driver off the hub. Just make sure not to misplace the springs and pawls.
Claimed weight for the 27.5″ wheelset is 1,660g, although I measured the set sent to me at 1,750g. Note that I weighed them with tubeless tape and valves installed, along with the lockrings for the brake rotors, which explains the 90g discrepancy. Retail pricing for the Blacklabel wheelsets is $2,500.
On the Trail
For reference, I rode these wheels on my Kona Process 153, a 6″ travel enduro bike. I used a few different Maxxis tires on them during the test, including: Minion DHF, Minion DHR II, High Roller II, and Forekaster. Tire widths varied from 2.3″ to 2.5″. All tires were set up tubeless with pressures in the 25-30 PSI range.
The wheels came pre-taped, so all I needed to do was install the valves, tires, and add sealant. Seating the tires was easily accomplished with a floor pump. After that, it was time to hit the trail.
From the first ride, it was apparent that these are a special set of wheels. They are lighter than my personal wheels, which helped to liven up my Kona’s personality. It’s still a bruiser of a bike, but the Reynolds wheels spun up quicker and were easier to flick around. The Industry Nine hubs invite you to lay down as much power as you can, with surprisingly little drag.
Ride feel is a difficult trait to quantify, but simply put, these wheels felt exceptional. The rims were plenty stiff railing corners or charging through chunky terrain. Even with 28 spokes – my personal builds always use 32 spokes – I never felt the rims waver or heard the telltale sounds of spokes flexing under load. And they managed to accomplish all this without feeling harsh, in spite of the higher tire pressures I prefer to run. Compared to ENVE’s wheels, the Reynolds seem to have more vertical compliance, creating a smoother ride.
On several occasions I managed to bottom out the tire on the rim, particularly when running the Forekaster tire. However, the Forekaster is intended to be a sloppy conditions XC tire, so it was admittedly a bit out of place compared to the sturdier Minions and High Rollers. But after each cringe-inducing “thunk!” I’d check the rim for damage and breathe a sigh of relief when I couldn’t find any. In fact, apart from a few rock scrapes here and there, the rims have held up great. Based on my experience with these Reynolds rims and my past experience with Industry Nine hubs, I have little concern about their long-term durability.
All Reynolds wheels carry a fairly standard two-year warranty for the original purchaser, that covers manufacturer defects. However, they now offer something they call the “Reynolds Assurance Program.” For an additional fee of $149 for one year, $229 for two years, or $299 for three years, Reynolds provides the original purchaser with a “no questions asked” repair or replace policy. So, should you forget to put your front wheel in the car and back over it leaving the trailhead, you’re covered. It’s certainly worth considering for such an expensive wheelset.
I really can’t say enough good things about these wheels. Reynolds knocked it out of the park with their rim design, layup, width, and hub choice. If I could pick on anything, I would suggest using a custom spacer on the valve stem that matches the rim’s asymmetric profile. With a standard tubeless valve, the nut doesn’t sit squarely on the rim. It didn’t impact the tubeless setup, but it did irk my OCD tendencies. Plus, it would look pro, which is what I would expect from a wheelset of this caliber.
As for the price, I’m not going to defend it, as that’s not my job – I don’t set the prices. What I will say is that I’ve now ridden several wheelsets in this class and the Reynolds Blacklabel can go toe-to-toe with any wheelset at any price. If you have the means and the desire to equip your mountain bike with the absolute best of the best when it comes to components, look no further.
Thanks to Reynolds for providing the Blacklabel wheels for review.