3 Wheel Upgrades for your Road or Gravel Bike

Road, gravel and all-road offerings

THE HOOP GAME ROLLS ON

If there has traditionally been a single upgrade that cyclists would choose to improve their bike’s performance, it would first and foremost be a pair of lighter wheels. By minimizing the rotational mass, riders could experience improved speed and acceleration, while increasing lateral stiffness offers a noticeable shift in performance. 

And, even when compared to aluminum wheels at the same weight, the added benefits of carbon, like a higher spoke tension for a more responsive and stiffer feel, are evident. 

With the adaptation of disc brakes, many of the drawbacks associated with carbon wheels are now gone. This leaves performance, build quality, rim features, hub performance and warranty as the main sources of debate. 

We have three wheels here, each offering a different twist on the perfect wheel upgrade. What you want or need is subjective, but between the price, features, origin and performance, we think these wheels offer enough variety to help drive the selection process.

THE WHEELS

Token

The Token Ventous Disc is a 36mm-deep carbon wheel with hook bead. The rim has a 28mm external width with a tubeless-ready 20mm internal width. The wheels come pre-taped for tubeless applications, along with valves, leaving you to choose your favorite tire.

The wheels are built with 24 Pillar Wing, straight-pull spokes front and rear matched with alloy nipples. This is laced to a CNC-machined alloy Token hub that uses steel cartridge bearings for long life and smooth rolling. The disc brake rotors mount on the center-lock platform and Shimano/SRAM or SRAM XDR hub-body options are available. The rear hub offers 27 points of engagement, thanks to four pawls and 27 ratchet teeth. This means a very secure retention.

Princeton

As the name suggests, the Princeton Grit 4540 is a varying (sinusoidal)-depth carbon wheelset. At the spoke holes, the rim is 45mm deep and in between it drops to 40mm. The tubeless-ready rims are 28mm wide with a 21mm internal width and hook bead. Since there are no spoke holes in the rim bed, tubeless tape isn’t needed and Princeton supplies a 60mm valve. 

The wheels are built with your choice of White Industries CLD or German-imported Tune hubs. There are 24 Sapim CX-Ray spokes front and rear with alloy Sapim Secure Lock nipples, but the internal rim has only one drilled hole for the valve. Our wheels came laced to the White Industries hubs with 48 points of engagement. The titanium hub body is offered in Shimano/SRAM, SRAM XDR or Campagnolo with three pawls and 48 ratchet teeth for a 7.5-degree gap between engagements.

Corima

Famous for their minimally spoked carbon wheels, Corima’s production dates back to 1988, and of the three wheels tested here, the French-made hoops enjoy a solid pro peloton legacy (currently in use by the Astana team). 

Corima’s 30.5mm-deep G30.5 is a gravel- and all-road-focused carbon wheelset. A 21mm internally wide hookless rim is designed around a base of a 28mm tubeless tire. Corima includes Stan’s rim tape to complete the tubeless-ready system. In line with the latest tubeless carbon rim tech, Corima used a hookless bead design similar to the latest releases from Zipp and Enve. The design uses the natural forces from the tubeless system to secure the tire rather than relying on a hooked rim. This allows the sidewall to form flatter to the rim to reduce drag and increase compliance.

Without a tubeless rim standard in the cycling industry, Corima tested a swathe of tires and released a list of recommended rubber for the G30.5 rim shape. While their list includes many tubeless options for both road and gravel, it is a bit confusing. The confusion is due to the fact they also indicate a non-tubless tire is compatible with their hookless bead. The list also includes many tires under their recommended 28mm.

The 20 J-bend spokes hold the DT Swiss 240S hubs to the braided carbon rim. The hubs are a solid added value to the wheelset. It uses a star ratchet with 36 points of engagement and is built to last. Given that DT Swiss recommends the 240S for mountain bike and cyclocross applications, it’s a fair guess that they will be up to the task of enduring many miles.

THE RIDE

Token

We ran the Tokens with both tubes and tubeless, and they went on by hand and with a floor pump. At 20mm wide, the rims are not “wide” by current standards, but they pair perfectly with tires between 25–30mm, but larger will work well too.

The center-lock rotor position seems to be spot-on, and as we swapped them between bikes, there was no need to adjust the caliper position. First impressions were good, and the hub engagement is smooth but a bit louder than we like. The wheels have a noticeable damper quality that we didn’t expect to get from a wheel at the $1,300 price point. 

Lateral stiffness is good and was a definite improvement over most alloy wheels and on par for carbon. At 1,530 grams, the weight is also on par for a nearly 40mm modern tubeless wheelset. Crosswinds delivered a bit of deflection as expected, but overall the rim profile deflects the air around the rim efficiently.

Cornering and fast descents are where the wheels really felt at their best. The slight damper effect aided the tubeless tires in absorbing road imperfections, while the lateral stiffness held the desired line. We found ourselves trusting the wheels more than normal, even in less-than-ideal road conditions. 

Princeton

Setup and mounting on the 4540 was very easy—both tube and tubeless tires went on by hand—but a floor pump was not ideal for seating the tubeless tire. We got it to work, but since there is no rim tape needed, it also seems like there is a bit more room in the bed of the rim. Tubeless tires with a thicker bead were much easier to seat. The rims are a bit wider than the Token at 21mm but not pushing any boundaries in today’s market.

The White Industries hubs are a thing of beauty and truly elevate the build. The titanium Shimano/SRAM hub body should ensure years of durability; however, the center-lock mount seems just a tad narrow, and we had to adjust the clipper in on most of the bikes. This doesn’t mean they are out of spec; rather, just not as quick to swap.

On the road the Princetons put performance above all and are stiff, noticeably stiff. Laterally and vertically these wheels felt responsive and rigid, even with 32mm tires. This means that even on endurance bikes you get a race-like feel and a bit more road feedback. Many testers liked that feeling, as it offers the sensation of speed as well as the result.

Flats, high speed, cornering and descending all had one thing in common—noticeable performance uptick. Larger tires (28-32mm) at lower pressure felt very good by letting the tire handle the compliance duties, while the wheelset maintained a constant and stable base. At 1521 grams, the Princetons wouldn’t be confused with ultra-lightweight climbing wheels, but owing to their rigidity they got good marks for hard efforts.

Corima

Corima’s G30.5 wheels come with Stan’s rim tape and valves pre-installed. It’s a small but worthy acknowledgment that the French brand has been taking notes for one of their initial tubeless-ready wheelsets. We opted for the recommended Continental Grand Prix TL tires and were met with a straight-forward mounting process that’s finger-friendly and completed without tire irons. Given their tubeless nature and an air compressor, it provided the pressure du jour.

Initially, we noticed the greater feeling of grip with 25mm (measured 27mm) tires the Corimas provided over a narrower rim and tire setup. This allows much more confidence in corners due the handling characteristics of the tire for those upgrading to a wider rim.

Hard efforts are reciprocated by the shallow 30.5mm carbon rim. The rim flexes vertically with impressive compliance while maintaining lateral stiffness. Vibrations from small cracks and road imperfections are absorbed efficiently compared to narrower rims with 25mm tires. Longer rides are aided by the increased impact reduction provided by the extra vertical compliance.

THE VERDICT

At the end of the day, all three wheels offer a different experience and it comes down to personal preference. The Token offers a two-year warranty and lifetime crash-replacement program that offers a discount on the new wheel. Token is a solid price-point, mid-depth carbon road wheel. Those looking for aero gains for under $2,000 can consider Token’s Ventous.

Princeton is targeting the Grit 4540 toward a gravel/all-road customer, but in our opinion, it’s a solid road wheel. The overall lower profile compared to their original 6560 makes it a more well-rounded contender for all aspects of drop-bar riding. The undulating profile is said to help in aerodynamics and crosswinds, and this could be true, but for us, the big takeaway was the stiffness. Larger tires feel more responsive with the added rigidity the wheels offer, but the rims are still not “wide” but instead a great balance. Princeton also offers a two-year warranty, and their crash-replacement program is on a case-by-case basis. 

Corima has unveiled a swathe of revamped wheel designs throughout the year, with the G30.5 being the most well-rounded and moderately priced. At just over 1500 grams, the Corima brings some hand-built Euro panache and offers solid value as a tubeless-focused, low-depth, carbon wheelset. They are ideal as a focused race/training wheel on the road with a 25mm tire or as an all-road capable wheelset with bigger 30mm tires.

TOKEN PUNCH LINES & STATS

A price point that we like

Stiffness and compliance coexist

Tubeless-ready out of the box

Price: $1,300

Weight: 675/855 (1530)

www.tokenproducts.com

 

PRINCETON PUNCH LINES & STATS

Performance is priority

Better with larger tires

Premium hub options 

Price: $2,800

Weight: 693/828 (1521)

www.princetoncarbon.com

CORIMA PUNCH LINES & STATS

Tubeless performance

Compliance focused

Modern hookless rim design

Price: $2,000

Weight: 714/816 (1530)

www.corima.com

 

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