I’ve been torn between the answer to a question: What is the best upgrade to make on a mountain bike: Wheels or suspension? It’s not an easy answer, but I believe it comes down to one of the two. Obviously, some people might add the drivetrain or brakes.
On a gravel bike, it’s a simpler solution. The answer is wheels. Even for myself, with a budget-friendly 1x SRAM Apex 1 drivetrain that has upgrade potential, it was clear that when I switched from my OEM wheelset to try the new Industry Nine GRCX TRA wheels, that there wasn’t another upgrade that could make a bigger difference.
Weight was decreased massively, rolling efficiency was increased, and so was my bike’s “capability,” but more on that in a little bit. First, let’s talk about the Industry Nine GRCX TRA wheels.
The new rims are made to be tubeless and have a 24.5mm inner width and a 28.25mm outer width. Industry Nine gave the GRCX rims a wide and shallow profile, more so based off an XC rim than a road rim, and they work best with tires from 33-55mm in width. Overall, the GRCX TRA from a glance looks like a cross-country rim with a lighter spoke count, mounted onto a road hub, and that sounds pretty gravel to me.
Industry Nine used direct-thread, straight pull alloy spokes, 24-count front and rear. For the hubs, the GRCX wheels have TRA hubs, with 60-point, 6° engagement. They only come in a centerlock option for rotors and are compatible with QRx100/135mm, 12×100/142mm, or 9×100, and 15×100 axle spacing for the front, and 10/12x135mm in the rear.
The TRA (Torch Road Alloy) hubs also have options for HG11, SRAM XD-R, and Campagnolo freehub bodies.
If those aren’t enough options, then they can also be color customized, with anodized spokes and hubs from the magical i9 AnoLab. At a base level of $1,275 for the wheelset, the color customization can add up to $265, depending on how a buyer wants their hubs and spokes colored.
With a level one color upgrade, you can add up to eight accent color spokes for an additional $50. With a level two upgrade, a rider can upgrade the hub color, or customize the spoke color however they like, but only with one color, for an additional $160. For $265, buyers enter the level three color upgrade, and the wheel can be customized however the rider likes.
I set up the GRCX TRA wheels on my Salsa Journeyman gravel bike. I can’t remember the exact number, but trading the stock WTB i19 wheels for the Industry Nines took off around three pounds from the Journeyman, and those are three important pounds of rotational weight.
Now, it’s my assumption that the WTB wheels use heavy spokes, and they do have heavier brass nipples. They were also set up with tubes, and wire-beaded tires, and were basically rolling anchors.
People think of carbon wheels then they think of wheel upgrades, and carbon wheels are often lighter, but that’s not always the case. The GRCX TRA wheels, with alloy rims, ring in at 1,540g for the set. This still makes them a very competitive option amongst other carbon wheelsets out there, in terms of both price and weight.
On my first ride out on the GRCX wheels, I noticed the improved stiffness, rolling efficiency, and responsiveness. My Salsa got up to speed quickly and maintained its speed better. My bike also felt much more responsive to steering input, a sign of the decreased weight and stiffness of the Industry Nines.
The one downside I noticed to the stiff aluminum wheels compared to a carbon wheelset is that there is not a lot of vibration damping, and the GRCX TRAs can feel a little harsh over small bumps like roots, rocks, and trail chatter, or brake bumps in dirt roads.
The rims on these wheels are also rather wide for a gravel wheelset at 24.5mm of internal width. I haven’t had any issues with the 38c Maxxis Rambler tires I mounted on the I-9s. They have maintained a rounded profile with plenty of cornering traction. Most mountain bikers will likely enjoy the width, and the benefits of adding wider tires to their gravel bikes. This should increase your gravel bike’s singletrack limits.
The TRA hubs also feel familiar to a mountain bike hub. At 6° engagement, they are a far cry from premium mountain bike hub engagement, but perfect for the gravel and light-duty trail applications that I’ve found for the GRCX wheels. Inching up steep trail and making ever-so-slightly technical moves is easier with the high engagement Torch hubs. I haven’t noticed any drag on the hubs at speed, and the sound is more subdued than the I-9 Torch mountain hubs I have ridden before.
Industry Nine is also a fan of the straight pull spoke in their wheelsets and they use a one-piece, butted, 0.114-0.106 (2.9-2.7mm) aluminum spoke in the GRCX wheels. The spokes have an integrated nipple, inserted through the rim directly into the hub shell. Removing bends in the spoke should remove weak points where J-bends traditionally break.
The design makes the most of weight and strength, and ease of maintenance since the straight pulls are simpler to replace. On my scale, an i9 spoke weights 5.2g, or almost a fifth of an ounce. The downside is that it is a proprietary Industry Nine spoke, so if someone is on a camping and riding trip, and there are limited bike shops around, it could be trickier to find a replacement spoke if they do happen to break one. Industry Nine includes two extra spokes with the wheelset, so it might be a good idea to throw them in the trunk of your car, or a gear bag that you always take. Although there is plenty of debate over J-bend and straight pull spokes, my experience with the GRCX wheels has been a good one. The application in these wheels seems excellent.
With the 24-count spoke build, the wheels have been plenty stiff and plenty strong. On coffee shop runs, they haven’t let out so much as a whine popping off curbs or launching speed bumps, or the countless rocks and roots I’ve encountered on the trail.
I have to say that after more than four months and many miles on these GRCX wheels, I am a fan of the Industry Nine experience. From start to finish, there is a feeling that the rider is part of the wheel. Just want a straight black wheel? No problem. Want to really make the wheels a part of your bike through color customization? Excellent.
The internal width on the GRCX should suit riders who want a wide variation in tire choices depending on the terrain they ride, and they are light enough and tough enough for anything from easy going, endless strips of gravel to bumpy singletrack. They aren’t cheap, but I’m sure that plenty of riders will find that the GRCX TRAs are worth it.