BOYD’S TRAILBLAZER GOES BOTH WAYS
When it comes to making good investments to gain performance, wheels remain at the top of the list. While lighter wheels are always attractive to knock off a few grams, the true advantages come in by virtue of increased stiffness, durability and aerodynamics. Boyd Cycling was founded by Boyd Johnson in 2009 in his search for a better cycling experience in the way of new wheels.
Like the rest of the industry, Boyd, too, has been bitten by the gravel bug, and when we ran into him recently, he spoke of a new wheel called the TrailBlazer that was perfect for our gravel riding exploits. As the kids would say, our immediate reply was, “Send it!”
Funny thing is, weeks later, when we pulled the wheels out of the box, our first thought was that the wrong wheels got shipped to us owing to the “29” imprinted on them. We called Boyd to see if the wrong wheels were sent, but no, it turns out that the TrailBlazers, although originally designed as a 29er XC/ marathon mountain bike wheel, also happen to be a great option for gravel.
For those that might be confused at this point, remember that a mountain bike’s 29er wheel and a road bike’s 700c wheel share the same circumference. The real difference between them has always been the internal width. Owing to the demands of the gravel segment, many mountain bike products are now starting to bleed over.
The tubeless-ready TrailBlazer wheels have a hookless bead and boast a wide 26mm internal width. Externally, the rims are 32mm wide and have a depth of 25mm.
After years of building wheels exclusively with Sapim CX Ray spokes, after extensive testing, Boyd has transitioned over to Pillar Wing spokes, which Boyd believes offer better strength with no disadvantage. The TrailBlazers use 24 front spokes and 28 rear spokes in a 2x pattern on both sides. The asymmetric rims are used to offset the drive side in the rear and the disc side on the front.
The Quest disc brake hubs have a 5-degree engagement with Centerlock rotors and swappable end caps, as well as Shimano, SRAM XDR and Microspline freehub bodies. Because they are marketed as a mountain wheelset, the hubs are offered in boost or like ours in standard.
To repeat, these rims are wide, and we wouldn’t recommend using a tire less than 32mm wide. Since they are hookless, they can also only be used with a tubeless tire. This doesn’t mean you can’t use an inner tube, but that the tire has to be a tubeless type.
All of the test tires we used went on without a hitch and would have been easy to install with a floor pump. Thanks to the wide profile, there is plenty of room in the center of the rim to make tire install easy and tool-free. Once the tires are inflated and pop onto the bead shelf, they seal tight and remain there even when tire pressure is very low.
“At 647 grams for the front and 771 grams for the rear with valves and tubeless tape, these wheels are light for a disc brake offering.”
For setup, end caps are easily swapped with no tools needed and freehub bodies swap with no fuss. On the road, the wheels feel light and rigid. The added width of the rim boosted most of our tires out a few millimeters. The added volume is nice, but on a few 32mm tires the tread was so narrow that it left little rubber for deep cornering. For us we would probably only go down to a 35mm tire realistically. On the larger tires the bead and sidewall seem more supported, and even at lower tire pressures, rim strikes were nearly impossible.
Since these wheels are built for the rigors of more aggressive trail riding that comes along with mountain biking, even the most demanding routes we do on gravel bikes were no problem. We had a few instances that the rim struck a large rock, making a terrifyingly loud noise that made us cringe and stop to check integrity. Surprisingly, we couldn’t even find a mark on the wheels where the impact happened.
The side effect of this strength and durability is that they are stiff. There is little compliance built into the wheel; instead, you need to rely on the tire volume and design for compliance. For us, this is okay, because we normally ride at least a 38mm tire on our gravel bikes and have plenty of volume for pneumatic compliance. This also means that they go where you point them and feel very reassuring when cornering.
At the end of the day these wheels might be a bit overbuilt for gravel, but for us that’s a positive. We do plenty of rides in remote places that have no cell signal and where wheel failure would be a nightmare. The wide profile can boost a tire’s volume, just make sure they are the tubeless type.
If your bike is so stiff that you rely on your wheels as a source of compliance, then you might have to go up in tire size, because these wheels don’t flex much. At 647 grams for the front and 771 grams for the rear with valves and tubeless tape, these wheels are light for a disc brake offering. The profile isn’t what we would call aero, but in side winds, the tire size is the determining factor more than the wheel.
Built for more than your bike
Tubeless tires only
Hub options to fit most anything
Weight: 1418 grams