Testing the Crank Brothers Synthesis E11 wheels to the extremes!
Words and images: Ryan Walsch
In late 2014 we first saw a rim like no other, it was low profile, wider than the norm and resembled a motorbike rim. Bouwmeester Composites' unique Tammar wheel set was an industry first with a solid profile carbon rim with the right amounts of lateral and radial compliance not achievable with conventional rim design. With a focus on ride quality and durability, this lightweight and sought after wheel surpassed impact tests where others failed.
The industry took notice and the announcement was made that head engineer and founder Mello Bouwmeester was making the move to the Selle Royal Group. He would be working on projects across brands such as Crank Brothers, Fi’zi:k, Brooks and Selle Royal. Crank Brothers are no stranger to exploring new ways of doing things and their previous line up the Cobalt, Iodine and Opium wheel sets were examples of that
With proven concepts on the table and footage of a crazy looking low profile carbon rim onboard the Unno Factory DH race team bikes who are running Crank Brothers gear we could only assume and wait.
At a glance
With a striking resemblance to the Tammar and a very stylish finish that has become synonymous with Crank Brothers quality the Synthesis has a long list of finer details. These details show that Crank Brothers are committed to producing a truly exceptional wheel set. With XC, Enduro and DH wheels available in two spec levels, we had one of the higher spec Enduro wheel sets delivered to review.
Tyre fitting is pretty simple, the tubeless tape is high quality and adhered perfectly to the rim. With valves already in place it was as simple as adding tyres, sealant and inflating.
Due to the low profile of the rim, the internal rim well is not very deep and I found that ensuring the bead of the tyre is smack bang in the centre on the rim well the entire way around the rim made for easy fitment. Nothing more than a track pump was required to pump up our tubeless Maxxis rubber with the bead snapping into place easily.
On the Trail
Smooth and silent are the two words that first spring to mind and noticeable from the very first moment you hit the singletrack. The Synthesis E 11 is laced around the boutique Project 321 hubs which a produce a near silent 216 points of engagement produced by magnetically sprung pawls.
The slightly wider 31.5mm internal width front rim holds the Maxxis DHF 2.5” tyre nicely with good volume and without a square profile, the rear rim is narrower by 2mm at 29.5mm and is a perfect match for our Maxxis DHR 2.4” keeping the profile round and the sidewalls less exposed than rims with a width over 30mm. I have found that rear rims over 30mm when used with tyres under 2.5” in width tend to expose the sidewall and destroy beads.
The compliance of the Synthesis rims is like nothing else I have ridden, so much so that it feels like the bike has extra pop or a spring in its step when hitting lips. Slowing down the low speed rebound 1 click on both fork and shock toned this character back slightly and helped the bike track along high off camber lines without wandering. With back to back runs between the Synthesis wheels and another high end carbon wheel set, both shod in exactly the same tyres and pressures the trail feel and overall fatigue experienced on a 600m vertical descent was in my opinion noticeable.
A compliant rim, so isn’t stiffer better? We so often hear this expression and take it as gospel and truth be told it sometimes is a bad thing. With vertical compliance tuned into the Synthesis rims lateral stiffness is taken care of by the higher spoke count and thicker gauge spokes in the rear wheel ensuring fast exits from deep berms and ruts alike. With my bike riding smoother, more stable and most noticeably more silently than ever the need to go faster grew.
The carbon rim market growing faster than hubs standards and spewing out lots of TLAs (three letter acronyms). More and more wheel companies are offering unconditional guarantee periods or even laying it all on the line and offering lifetime rim warranties such as Crank Brothers. We were lucky (well, unlucky) enough to experience this first hand and see how it all works for you. Before going on, I need to explain that everything breaks, and unfortunately I seem to have a knack for destroying nice things. Call it lack of skill, pretending I’m on a motorbike or just not planning where I land lots of things break under me and I have learnt over many years of frustration to accept this fact and to focus more on how this sort of thing is resolved from a customer service perspective rather than whining about “this shouldn’t happen”.
To explain, I took my Synthesis equipped 140mm trail bike down some raw singletrack with a Santa Cruz V10 hot on my tail. I took a shitty line and bottomed out in a rock filled gully with a bang. The V10 rider claims I was sideways and way off line when it happened and a flat tyre and cracked rim confirmed the line was sub-optimal.
With a lonely walk to the carpark, I had time to think this through, I hit a rock due to user error, is this even a warranty?
I jumped onto the Crank Brothers site and clicked the service/warranty portal and filled out the claim as honestly as I could. Behold in under a week a replacement wheel had arrived and a shipping label shortly after for the damaged wheel.
We have since learnt that Crank Brothers are developing relationships with service centres globally to ensure customers around the world share this high level of customer service. Stuff breaks and a transparent and speedy turnaround is what really counts.
We reached out to the team at Crank Brothers after an assessment of the rim and received the following response, free from excuses, finger pointing and full of old fashioned customer service.
“Our rims are designed and tested to hold up to heavy impact and loads: there is no indestructible structure in the real world and in this case the impact reached the limit that the composite structure has. Due to the strength and durability of our rims, we offer a lifetime warranty for those rare cases where the rider is able to hit the rim that hard to cause a damage to the rim itself. As we would do for any rider who purchases our products, we would immediately rebuild the wheel with a new rim to have the rider back rolling on the trails as soon as possible.”
Since the wheel was replaced, I have continued pushing the Synthesis wheels on a variety of trails including shuttled downhill runs, jumps and natural rock. After regaining confidence, I dropped pressures back down to 25psi front and 26.5psi rear with Bontrager’s SE5 with a reinforced enduro casing fitted after numerous damaged tyres have been replaced for sidewall gashes and damaged beads.
By identifying the different requirements of both front and rear wheels, Crank Brothers have put rider experience and quality above all. Available at two price points, the Synthesis E11 and Synthesis E wheel set rims are both covered by lifetime warranty and customer service experience to match.
If you are after a no compromise wheel set built specifically for the demands of modern day trails, then the Synthesis wheels will change how your bike rides.
Synthesis E11 $3699
Synthesis E $2699
From: Lusty Industries
– Lifetime rim warranty
– Meets the demands of modern trails
– Excellent customer service
- How much!?