Light Bicycle Heavy Duty Carbon Rim
As the banter increases around 29-inch wheels in downhill, we've decided to throw it back to 26-inch days and offer up a very long-term review of Light Bicycle's Heavy Duty Carbon rims designed for downhill and enduro use. With key players like ENVE, Industry Nine, e*thirteen, SRAM, Reynolds and others holding the majority of the carbon wheel market, Light Bicycle has been building steam over the years by creating a price point rim they claim performs like the big names at the fraction of the price. At just $181 per rim, we decided to purchase and abuse a set of rims to see how they would hold up to the others. Grab a beverage and we'll get to it!
Carbon Wheel Basics
Before venturing into specifics, let's address some basics about carbon wheels in general. The first question most riders ask is, "Will a $3,000+ wheelset really make that big of a difference? Is it really worth it?" This depends on a few criteria, mostly based around your experience as a rider and what you're looking for in a wheelset that you may not be getting with your current wheels.
You will notice the most difference if you're a skilled rider who likes to charge lines and are generally aggressive with your bike. Carbon rims are laterally stiffer than aluminum and therefore decrease flex of the wheel in a corner, etc. As a result, many carbon wheels are characterized by a harsher but more precise ride, so if you're looking for comfort in your wheelset carbon may not be the right option for you. This wheel feel is often desired among racers and others looking to make up seconds, so the tradeoff is worth it to them.
Wheel and frame stiffness play a big role in taking the forces you apply at the handlebars / pedals and ultimately directing them to the tire to generate traction and control. The bigger the wheel diameter, the harder it is to keep stiff. Of course it's possible to go too stiff, so there's a balance needed in a carbon wheelset between compliance and stiffness. A wheel of any material needs to flex to a certain extent. This is where high performance carbon wheel testing has proven that a stiffer wheel may be more powerful, but a compliant wheel will stay on the ground, deflect less, and provide better traction. Another argument is having "give" where you need it to eliminate the common issue of overly stiff wheels exploding rather than flexing.
The move to carbon can also aid with quicker acceleration due to less rotating weight. These are the main differences in carbon wheels and they can be substantial. This brings us back to our product at hand, the Light Bicycle Heavy Duty Carbon rim.
- Full carbon Toray T700 rim material with hookless profile and beadlock
- Available in 26 (tested), 27.5, and 29-inch sizes
- Designed for downhill, enduro, and freeride use
- Internal width: 31.6mm // External width: 38mm // Depth: 32mm
- Tubeless ready (tape and valve optional)
- 16, 18, 20, 24, 28, 32 (tested), or 36 spoke holes
- Max rider weight: 26" - 342lbs (155kg) // 27.5", 29" - 308lbs (140kg)
- Max tire pressure: 40psi
- Max spoke tension: 180kgf
- 3k, 12k, and UD weave options (rim strength and weight are virtually identical)
- Matte or glossy finish
- One year warranty
- Weight: 26" - 485g // 27.5" - 505g // 29" - 515g
- MSRP: $181-193 per rim
This is Light Bicycle's widest (38mm outer, 31.6mm inner) and tallest (32mm) profile made for aggressive use, and the stiffest and strongest as well. Compared to their previous model they have improved the current one by using a hookless rim profile. This increases strength. There are "beadlock ridges" on either side of the drop channel to help reduce the possibility of a tire rolling off or air burping.
One benefit to the wide profile is improved tire sidewall support, which allows for lower pressures to be run without burping. There's a balance in tire pressure and rim width – too much or too little pressure can decrease rolling speed and traction.
After their first couple years in the industry and many months of testing, Light Bicycle decided to overhaul the manufacturing process. "During the redesign, we focused on five main improvements: carbon length/layup, carbon base ring removal, air bladder removal, internal uniformity improvement, and enhanced testing protocols." From what we've read in other reviews and forums, this overhaul seemed to solve prior manufacturing defects the company had.
Light Bicycle allows you to choose from three carbon weaves, two finishes, and seven decal colors to customize the look of your rims. The layup schedule is predetermined for each model, but you can choose the outer weave layer. There are also an impressive seven hole counts to choose from, allowing you to create some truly unique wheels if you choose. We opted for the matte UD option with stealth graphics, which have been updated since the time of purchase over two years ago.
Light Bicycle offers a custom build program with similar components, and the total cost of the wheelset would run close to $856 with valves and tape with a claimed weight of 1,833g.
The 26-inch rims we tested come in at a claimed 485g per rim, which is comparable to many market leaders. We built them up using Hope Technology's Pro 2 Evo hubs and straight-gauge DT Swiss spokes. Light Bicycle offers a custom build program with similar components, and the total cost of the wheelset would run close to $856 with valves and tape with a claimed weight of 1,833g.
On The Trail
How do all these improvements and dorking out actually pertain to the riding experience? Having the time to carry out a proper long-term test allowed us to see how these wheels performed in various locations and different conditions. We were able to ride gnarly, rocky, muddy trails in Colorado's Rocky Mountains as well as moon dust, fast, and loose conditions in the same areas. California offered typical terrain and some of the driest conditions we saw last season. We also spent time smashing through Angel Fire, New Mexico's lava gardens and some truly rugged trails in Utah, giving us a multitude of terrain to test on. We weren't disappointed.
Just as expected, the wheels felt stiff, responsive, and very quick at regaining speed when it was lost. Cornering was improved greatly and exit speeds were increased due to not losing momentum where a typical aluminum wheel would flex. We also noticed a harsher ride, yet a small change in tire pressure and decrease in compression in the suspension allowed the wheel to do its job and decrease the harshness as well.
Cornering was improved greatly and exit speeds were increased due to not losing momentum where a typical aluminum wheel would flex. We also noticed a harsher ride, yet a small change in tire pressure and decrease in compression in the suspension allowed the wheel to do its job and decrease the harshness as well.
Once everything was dialed in we noticed the wheels dissipated typically chundery and bumpy terrain. We were able to take more aggressive lines and the bike was able to keep traction better as the wheel held true at high speeds, especially in corners. When pumping and pushing we also noticed improved acceleration and the bike felt much more responsive and playful.
We've ridden this wheelset for almost two years, being mindful to adjust tire pressures before riding. Compared to others we've tested there are some notable improvements. As long as we paid attention to maintenance of the wheel, including spoke tension, we hardly had to mess with any truing. The rim has not cracked, broken, or delaminated. We've worn out three sets of tires while testing and didn't have ANY burps or tires rolling off despite several marks on the wheel from entering rocky sections at full speed.
As long as we paid attention to maintenance of the wheel, including spoke tension, we hardly had to mess with any truing. The rim has not cracked, broken, or delaminated.
Things That Could Be Improved
This brings us to things that could be improved, which is usually easy enough to distinguish with past reviews of carbon rims simply cracking or breaking. We had zero problems with the structure of the rim. They are wider and deeper than other large competitors and comparable in the weight game. Compared to other brands that offer five year or lifetime warranties, Light Bicycle offers just one year of coverage.
Long Term Durability
These rims have proven themselves in the durability department by lasting much longer than other carbon rims we've tested.
If you decide to purchase just the rims, using a professional wheel builder with carbon-specific experience will help ensure the strongest wheels due to specific spoke tension requirements. Careful hub and spoke selection is also key, as they are not created equally and you will get what you pay for.
The addition of Hope's Pro 2 Evo hubs kept our test wheels rolling fast and smooth with sealed stainless steel bearings. The hub shells are machined from forged aluminum billet and have excellent reliability. The engagement and sound of the rear hub is also amazing with a 4-pawl system featuring 40 points of engagement at 9-degrees.
The other caveat we'd like to revisit since the beginning of this review is wheel size. The bigger the wheel, the harder it is to keep strong. We tested 26-inch rims and they took a serious, long-term beating without breaking. This speaks well for Light Bicycles 27.5 and 29-inch versions, though we can't vouch for them without an additional test.
What's The Bottom Line?
Carbon rims have the potential to increase the performance of any bike, and riders with a good amount of experience and skill are most likely to notice the various benefits. At the relatively "cheap" cost of $181 per carbon rim, Light Bicycle's Heavy Duty rims offer notable performance gains for a small price jump compared to a nice aluminum rim.
Based on our positive experience we can suggest giving these rims a go, especially if you've been on the fence about carbon. They're also a good option for those who've experienced issues with more expensive rims and want to try again with one that won't break the bank. Paying attention to small details like the wheel build, tire pressure, and spoke tension will make your investment last longer.
About The Reviewer
Matt Swenson - Age: 34 // Years Riding MTB: 27 // Height: 5'11" (1.80m) // Weight: 160-pounds (72.6kg)
He's a ColoRADo native who's been shredding bikes since the age of two and his life revolves around two wheels. He currently works at Winter Park Resort running both the Gravity and XC race series, as well as a new Junior Development Race Program at Trestle Bike Park. He's worked in the medical field but has also built and judged slopestyle events like GoPro/Teva Games, the Colorado Freeride Festival, Crankworx and others. Growing up working in bike shops as a mechanic, he's always been a nerd when it comes to bike components and tech. These days he enjoys the bike park, trail riding, skatepark and dirt jump sessions with his wife and puppy. He's always down to shred a lap at Trestle Bike Park, so don't be afraid to say hi! "Hold the throttle wide open ‘til you see God...then brake."
Photos by Dillon Lemarr