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All photos by Chris Daniels

With plus-size bikes gaining so much traction these days, it’s hard not to be a little plus-curious. Hell, with so much positive feedback on the mid-fat size, I’ve gone completely plus-envious of the wider wheel and tire combination. Alas, most of us are not ready to drop heavy coin on another bike just for the sake of trying the latest technology, but you can still apply most of the benefits of a plus bike to your outdated, obsolete, and washed-up standard axle size by simply swapping out wheelsets, like I did with the American Classic Smokin’ Gun.

Bottom Line: American Classic Smokin’ Gun wheels are for those seeking the advantages of better traction, enhanced tire stability, and improved suspension characteristics provided by wider wheels without the weight penalty from which many other wide alloy wheels suffer.

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American Classic Smokin Gun

Specifications

  • Rims
    • Aluminum, 27.5″
    • 43mm outer, 40mm inner width
    • 24mm deep
    • 32 hole front & rear
  • Spokes
    • Aluminum spoke and nipple
    • 14/15 gauge
    • 3-cross pattern front & rear
  • Hub Options
    • Rear: 12 x 142mm (reviewed), QR, 10 x 135mm thru, Boost 12 x 148mm thru
    • Front: 15 x 100mm thru (reviewed), QR, 9mm thru, Boost 15 x 110mm thru
    • Brake: 6 bolt IS
  • Weights
    • Front: 810g
    • Rear: 923g
  • MSRP: $899
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Countered rim protector between washer rim and a stock, non-silver valve

To clarify, I am reviewing a 27.5″ wheel with a whopping 40mm internal width laced to a traditional 12x142mm rear hub with 2.5″ tires mounted on a 650b full suspension trail bike, making this my pseudo-27.5 plus bike, or as I call it, my mini-plus. That said, the versatility of this rim reaches beyond my bandwidth, as 27.5″ wheels with similar widths and true, plus-size tires (~3.0″) have been used with varying success converting 29er frames to 27.5+. Or, if you have a Boost rear triangle, American Classic (AC) offers the Smokin’ Gun with their Boost 148mm-wide hubs.

American Classic consistently produces some of the lightest alloy wheels on the market, which becomes increasingly important when rotational mass get larger. At 1,733g, a pair of Smokin’ Guns weigh the same as my narrower (30mm) DT Swiss XM 481 alloy set. In his review of the Wide Lightning–a 30mm-wide 29er AC wheel–Aaron noted a 350g difference between it and a narrower Stan’s Flow EX set. As long as durability does not become an issue, going wider without a weight penalty seems like a no-brainer.

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AC disc 130 front hub. Rear (not pictured) is AC disc 225

Perhaps more interesting than their lack of heft is an innovative pawl-and-ratchet, cam-actuated hub design patented by AC President, Bill Shook. Simply put, six dual-tipped pawls simultaneously engage a 24-tooth ratchet when an underlying cam plate is advanced in response to forward movement of the cassette body. Conversely, when the cassette is silent, the oversized pawls disengage completely. Because the pawls have two tips instead of one, when you pedal they contact 12 points in unison instead of six, but free themselves of any ratchet contact when you coast, thus reducing friction. In other words, the pawls are on when putting down power and off otherwise.

Your American Classic Smokin’ Guns will come pre-taped with tubeless valves and detailed instructions for mounting. The valves are alloy with a fat O-ring seal and a contoured rim-protecting piece seated between the washer and rim.

Oh, and the valves red!

There’s nothing particularly unique to the mounting process of the Smokin’ Guns, and I was able to slip on my trusty 2.5″ Maxxis Minion DHF, both front and rear, without throwing a single tool across the room. I wasn’t as lucky seating the bead for a better chance with the floor pump so, as I have a very low tolerance for struggling, I resorted to an air compressor with quick and successful results after a splash of Stans sealant.

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Beefy look with lean-cut performance

The Ride

Between a recent long-term demo on a pair of 45mm wides, my personal setup on wheels with 30mm, and now the AC Smokin’ Gun at 40mm, I’ve completely lost sight of what narrower wheels feel like, while broadening my understanding on the wider standard.

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Smokin Gun performing as good as their name suggests

I began my time with the Smokin’ Guns with tire pressures in the mid-20s and, over the course of a month’s riding, settled in at about 16psi, bringing tire stability and overall bike handling to where I like it–on the edge of control. This drop in tire pressure had a significant enough effect on passive suspension that I was able to increase fork pressure to compensate. Despite intense, rocky terrain, appreciable drops, and average-at-best riding technique, not once did they burp or spontaneously explode, and only on the firmest of hardpack could I feel a squirm and the nastiest of downhill sections did I bottom out a couple times, for which I would’ve pressurized (in both instances) higher than 16psi beforehand under non-test conditions. In short, depending on tire and terrain, 18psi seems to be a happy low for the Smokin’ Gun.

In regards to durability, I remain skeptical due to their featherweight scale reading, but after two months of riding the wheels are holding true, dent-free, and without signs of premature degradation despite the punishment to which I’ve subjected them. More time will tell if the Smokin’ Guns will be as unshakable as their name suggests.

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Cutting rocky laps on the Syncline trail, Bingen, WA

Plus size tires (think 2.8-3.0″) on wider rims (think 35-50mm) are super badass, but together are noticeably heavier to a point where you may not appreciate the advantages in some scenarios (climbing, slow tech maneuvers). On the other hand, when you stretch out a normal-size tire (2.3″-2.5″) on wider rims like these 40mm-wide Smokin’ Guns, you effectively make the tire bigger, increasing contact area with the trail.

Sure, the 2.5″ tires widened by nature of the Smokin’ Gun width, but the dynamic nature of this match up doesn’t just end when you’ve mounted them. With the ability to run 7-8psi lower than a narrower wheel combined with the increased width, it’s the weighted contact that further enhances grip.

Out on the trail, it was as if the advantage of the 40mm width was exponential! As more rubber gripped to more ground, the Smokin’ Guns gave me incredible control through blown-out, brake-bumped corners as they bit in places I would typically skid, deflected bigger obstacles, allowing me to hold better lines through the loose, and boosted (sans Boost) my overall descending confidence. All this at close to zero weight penalty.

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Holding steady through corners on which I typically skid

Adding the benefits of better traction, enhanced suspension, augmented tire stability, and overall better handling without adding weight, at a retail price of $899, the AC Smokin’ Gun wheelset is a more than attractive alternative to a true plus-size frame. And if you are currently running Boost spacing, the Smokin’ Guns easily make as much sense considering the undesired weight a 2.8-3.0″ tire carries. The wheel market is quickly making room for more and more wider wheel options, and if you’re ready to upgrade, I highly-recommend getting yourself caught with a Smokin’ Gun from American Classic.

Thank you, American Classic, for providing the Smokin’ Gun wheelset for review!

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