Crank Brothers Synthesis wheels first ride


Front rim on the left and rear on the right is burlier, stiffer with thicker sidewalls.

The Crank Brothers Synthesis wheels aim to solve a problem with wheels today. They’re all good and it’s hard to distinguish the difference now between high-end wheels. Often riders buy based on warranty, brand, weight or decals. As long as the wheel build is dialed and the rim is solid, the wheels will usually perform well enough.

Crank Brothers has been looking for a win, albeit redemption in the wheel category and they came up with the Crank Brothers Synthesis, a tuned carbon wheel system. A tuned and optimized front and rear specific carbon wheel system that addresses the needs of each wheel is what they’re introducing today.

The key to unlock this puzzle is a compliant, tuned front wheel to enhance control and handling characteristics through increased dampening while maintaining the wheels contact patch. It “turns” is the Crank Brothers Synthesis mantra.

The front wheel is balanced with a rear wheel that is stiff and stout. This offers directional stability, anchoring for acceleration and shooting out of corners and responsiveness in handling at speed. It “tracks” is its anthem.

Tested on a Stumpjumper 29er. And no, the #stickstand is not for sale.

Before we get into pages of technical jargon and marketing romanticism, we find it appropriate to actually report on its performance. We’ve been riding it for 6 weeks now and have enough confidence to report on its performance.

Our conclusion so far is it’s pretty amazing. We’re not going to say game-changing cause no one believes that, but the performance is noticeable, especially in the fron.

The magic is in the front wheel as it has built-in flex to aid the bike in turning or changing direction. It does this indeed. But what it also does is allow the rider to choose a line and keep a line. As you hit a corner at speed, the wheel seems to heed the rider’s wishes and finds available traction to change direction. Then as rocks, roots, and holes tug and push and pull the wheel into different directions, the wheel is able to resist them and stay the course. It changes direction and resists deflection well.

Front rim is wider to allow more footprint, volume and grip. Rear rolls better.

A familiar example can help guide this discussion. Remember the very first Enve carbon wheels? Stiff as a board and responsive as heck? Riding them at speed on a rock garden was quite hairy right? Riders get bounced all over the trail as the wheels seem to get deflected all over the trail. I think most of us understand that a wheel can be too stiff to steer well. The Crank Brothers Synthesis front wheel addresses this by building flex and compliance in the rim itself.

Their genius is in uncovering that this behavior is desired in the front wheel but not in the rear wheel. The rear wheel has different needs like supporting the heavier weight, transferring bigger forces to the ground and driving better pedaling efficiency from the rider. They’ve made the rear wheel stiffer creating a beefier rim that has a thicker spine and with thicker rim walls. It is narrower too to optimize tire footprint and profile. It is not radically different from stiff rear wheels available today.

But they’ve improved it by creating a first-rate, tuned rear wheel build with Sapim spokes, perfectly tensioned for the job. And most important, they sought out one of the best hubs available today, the Project321 hub with low-drag magnetic pawls and 2.5 degrees of engagement. This hub delivers almost instant, quiet power engagement that is reliable in the most demanding conditions.

What does the Crank Brothers Synthesis system deliver?

    • Improved handling and ride quality • Specifically designed front & rear wheel system that turns and tracks • Tire performance optimizing tire footprints for the different duties of front and rear • Specific inner rim widths for front and rear • Less rider fatigue through smoother ride characteristics resulting in more control

    • optimizes strength and weight by building in more strength in the rear for higer demands

Downhill wheelset.

The front wheel is designed to improve handling and maximize grip. It achieves this by maximizing available grip with the tire and materials to change direction. And a bit of flex allows it to resist deflection. To achieve this, the wheel was designed to have:

    • Supports wider tire profile in front • Reduced spoke count • Lower spoke tension • Lighter weight spoke • Wider inner rim width

    • Lighter rim

The front TURNS while the rear TRACKS

The rear wheel is designed to support peak loads of the rider and bike since most of the rider weight and force is supported by the rear. Lateral stability and high speed tracking is designed in with:

    • Higher spoke count • Higher spoke tension • Heavier weight spoke • Narrower inner rim width

    • Tougher rim

Front rim is wider to allow more footprint, volume and grip. Rear rolls better.

Crank Brothers recruited some of the best talent in the category by getting the services of Jason Schiers and Mello Bouwmeester.

Jason Schiers has a long history in the bike industry and is a frontrunner in composite technology and application. The founder of Enve Composites, he pioneered carbon rims for mountain bikes and started the era of strong and stiff carbon rims the market offers today.

Mello Bouwmeester, also having extensive experience composites, has more recently pioneered the new trend of wheel design that offers more compliance for better control and ride quality. Founder of Bouwmeester Composites, Mello brought in the building blocks for the new Crank Brothers Synthesis wheels

The merger of these two schools of thought is what Schiers and Bouwmeester bring to Crankbrothers. The new Crank Brothers Synthesis carbon wheels offer the best of both worlds; an optimized wheel system with specific front and rear characteristics. The magic is is settling in the compliant front and stiff rear formula. It makes sense but no one has executed it before in this scale and effort. We will see if they can successfully patent this concept.

Project 321 wheels with excellent engagement and reliability

Crankbrothers has exclusively partnered with US hub manufacturer Project 321. Chosen for their precision and quality workmanship. 100% US made in Bend Oregon. Innovate freehub design using magnets creating low drag and super fine pawl engagement.

6 Pawl, 144 Points of engagement (2.5°)
Patent pending ‘Quiet or Loud’ pawl design. Quiet pawls standard on Crankbrothers wheels. Loud offered as an aftermarket accessory available from Project 321. Precision japanese bearings are used throughout.

Weight for the enduro 29er front is 1022 grams with tape and valve.

Project 321 hubs are expensive and some might not appreciate its benefits and price point. So Crank Brothers is also offereing a house brand hubset that is significantly cheaper. Its features are 3 Pawl, 21 Points of engagement (17°) Enduro® Bearings. It’s available for $700 less than a comparable Project 321 and premium spokes equipped wheelset.

Weight for the enduro 29er front is 850 grams with tape and valve.

The wheels are available in XC, Enduro and Downhill builds. Each wheel is available with Project 321 and high end spokes for about $700 more. Standard hubs with Enduro bearings and Sapim spokes are on the lower end wheelset. Weights below are for the Enduro wheelset.

SYNTHESIS E 11 with H U B Synthesis 11 (Project 321 internals with 2.5 engagement) SPOKES Sapim CX-Ray (front) sapim CX-Sprint (rear)

SYNTHESIS E 11 27.5” boost (XD) 1760g – $2,399 SYNTHESIS E 11 27.5” boost (HG) 1760g – $2,399

SYNTHESIS E 11 29” boost (XD) 1825g – $2,399

H U B Synthesis Standard ENGAGEMENT 17 degrees, SPOKES Sapim D-Light (front) sapim race (rear)

SYNTHESIS E 27.5” boost (XD) 1845g – $1,699 SYNTHESIS E 27.5” boost (HG) 1845g – $1,699

SYNTHESIS E 29” boost (XD) 1905g – $1,699

We used the Synthesis wheels on three different bikes now and it’s made a positive difference each time. The front wheel is is a noticeable advantage when it comes to changing direction and keeping a line, resisting deflection. The rear wheel is not as revolutionary compared to other good wheelsets but it’s built very well and its almost instant engagement and power transfer is noticeable. And we believe it will prove itself over time with the reliability of the Project 321 hubs and Sapim spokes.

It’s not the lightest wheelset around but it’s very competitive. Price is high at $2400 but we are very pleased to see a $1700 option so more riders can experience these wheels. Time will tell if these are durable enough to withstand the beating of the rowdiest riders but it’s good to have Crank Brothers warranty and support.

Explore the Crankbrothers Synthesis line at at http://crankbrothers.com/synthesis.

Downhill wheelset.
Enduro front wheel
Enduro wheel
Rim up close

Front wheel close-up
Project 321 hub
Soke entry holes are well reinforced.
Sapim spokes cross paths

Rim profile and graphics
Front wheel has the biggest effect since it allows the front to turn and keep its direction with confidence.
Tested on a Stumpjumper 29er
Weight for the enduro 29er front is 850 grams with tape and valve.

Front wheel with Project 321 hub.
Weight for the enduro 29er front is 1022 grams with tape and valve.
Project 321 wheels with excellent engagement and reliability
Wheels come ready for tubeless.

Tubeless tape with center channel for easy installation.
Rim profile is distinctive for front and rear
Great build with Sapim bladed spokes
Front rim on the left and rear on the right is burlier, stiffer with thicker sidewalls.

Front rim is wider to allow more footprint, volume and grip. Rear rolls better.
What does the Synthesis system deliver?
The front TURNS while the rear TRACKS