Seriously Elegant, Seriously Strong
Crankbrothers has been building wheels for nearly a decade, and in that time, it has made tremendous strides. Its wheels have always been beautiful, something that Crankbrothers prides itself on. It’s a little like the Apple of the bike world in that its components are not just functional but also aesthetically pleasing. The first couple generations of Crankbrothers wheels were not without their issues, which included durability and weight problems. But, it seems that these SoCal design freaks have sought to put those issues behind them with their new set of paired spoke wheels.
Tech Info: Crankbrothers makes wheels for everyone from the XC weight weenie to the downhill gravity freak. Its Iodine test wheels fit right in the middle and are designed for aggressive trail riding and enduro racing. They are available in either 27.5 or 29er versions at two different price points; one is slightly lighter than the other thanks to a lighter rim design. All Crankbrothers wheels come with a paired spoke pattern that keeps the mass closer to the hub to reduce rotating inertia. The straight-pull spokes are built with a steel half that connects to the rim with aluminum spoke pins. Think of it as a spoke with a very long nipple on the opposite side. The wheels also feature a tubeless-ready rim that’s not drilled and requires no tubeless conversion taping. The Iodine 3 wheelset we rode sells for $750, and the less-expensive Iodine 2 goes for $550. Both models come with most of the same technologies, but the more-expensive version sheds grams with a nicer rim extrusion. Both sets are available at any local bike shop or through Crankbrothers’ website.
On the Trails: It’s hard to believe that a $750 wheelset is a bargain, but in a world where a single carbon rim (before you even add the cost of the hubs or spokes) can cost hundreds of dollars more than that, we will go out on a limb and say that these are a relatively affordable upgrade. The fact that they also come in a less-expensive version with most of the same features makes this wheelset even more attainable.
We set out to bolt these wheels to one of our trusty test bikes and were pleasantly surprised with how easy the installation was. The rims allowed the new tires to slide on easily. There are no spoke holes inside the rim to tape up, which makes converting these to tubeless as easy as it gets.
On the trail, the hubs immediately impressed us with a snappy engagement that was loud and clicky but also felt precise. The three-pawl system only allows for seven degrees of rotation between clicks, which makes your pedal power engage the drivetrain as quickly as you’d ever need it to. On short and technical climbs, this engagement system allowed us to ratchet the pedals to climb with ease. With many of these hubs with tight engagements, there is drag on the system that causes chain-suck. Thankfully, the Iodine wheels didn’t have this issue at all and provided a smooth freehub to let the drivetrain do its work.
The rims are certainly eye-catching with their paired spoke design and unique rim-attachment system, but they’re not as unconventional as you would think. In fact, if you need to true these, you can use a standard spoke wrench. It’s just that the adjustments are made at the middle of the spoke instead of at the rim. The same wheel-truing principles apply—you simply put the wrench in a different place. The wheels stayed true during our test, but we put a wrench on to see if truing would be more difficult with fewer spokes. While you may not be able to dial them in quite as precisely as a standard 32-hole-spoked wheel, they offer more than enough adjustment—and you probably won’t need that adjustment often anyway.
These wheels are stiff, competitively lightweight and much more affordable than many other high-end wheelsets available today. They’re also impressively stiff and have a responsive freehub. Crankbrothers seems to have solved the durability issues it had with its first few generations of wheels, so we can recommend these as a trick-looking upgrade that no longer sacrifices performance and toughness for aesthetics.
• Very striking looks
• Competitively lightweight
• Relatively affordable
• With the two-piece spokes, it takes time to learn the truing process