American Classic MTB 29″ SS Wheels: Midterm- by Grannygear

I have a pretty good amount of time on the American Classic MTB 29 SS wheels now and I have formed some pretty good impressions about them.  They have been on the Specialized Carve Pro SS test bike for the duration and have been used on multi hour mini epics and after work rides across a decent range of dirt.  Here we go.

Now remember I was coming from the Easton EA90 XC wheels so the weights were very close.  The AC wheels were slightly lighter but not enough to make or break anything.  However, they WERE lighter so that was a win even if it was just a small one.  What I did find is that I needed to run a tire that was Stan’s rim friendly (I mentioned this in the last article).  I began with the new Conti X Kings and ran them for a while then swapped to a set of the revised Specialized Fast Trak 2.2s.  All were tubeless and typically ran at around 26psi.

What I have come to think:

  • These are fast wheels.  Really.  They roll really well and are right in the same class as the White Industries hubs I have on the single speed Blackbuck.  Besides that, they seem to snap right forward with little feel of spoke wind up or lag.  A light wheel is a good wheel….IF…
  • It is a stiff wheel.  And the AC wheels are exemplary, especially the rear wheel.  It is right in there with the White Industries/Flows rear wheel I have and may be even stiffer laterally with a higher spoke tension.  Just seat of the pants reckoning there, but ya gotta love what a wheel with less dish does for you.  I wish we could get a front wheel to be that way.  That would be a game changer.  Pesky standards!  I have felt the front wheel twist a bit when really stuffed into a corner, but no more than any other high end wheel I have ridden.  15QR helps there too.  I have heard a couple of pings from spokes like they were not as destressed as they should have been after tensioning?
  • They are quiet.  That may not be important to you, but I like it.  The free hub noise is nice, like a quality fishing reel, not a kids party noisemaker or one of those rain-stick things you get at the imports store.
  • They look great.  Yeah, I know that it is a personal thing.  But they are classy looking and I like looking down at the writing on the front hub as I climb long hills.  Weird.  Sorry.  Kinda hypnotic…”you do not feel any pain….this is eeeezy…
  • They are still perfectly in true, but then I have hardly abused them, but I have ridden them like they were not fragile and they have held up.  As well, in between tire changes, the rim tape looks to be staying tough.
  • The rim width is great.  Would I like it wider?  Well, the new Race rims from AC are both wider and lighter BUT they have a realistic weight limit.  If I did not give up too much stiffness (or ANY stiffness) I would like them wider for more tire footprint at low PSIs.

Now for the drum roll.  That pesky pachyderm on the divan, in the corner, or leaving footprints in the tub of butter (as in, “how do you know if you have elephants in the fridge?”).  Engagement.  Do AC hubs engage rather slowly?  Yes, at least compared to something like a Chris King, Hadley, or I9.  Compared to my Easton EA 90s and the White Industries ENO freewheel, they are just slightly slower.  Does it suck?  Well that depends, but I would say no it does not suck, but it may matter more to some than others.

If you are in a world of very techy trails where a lot of pedal ratcheting is the norm to get over or past rocks, roots, ledges, etc, or you are in a VERY twisty environment where you are constantly on and off the gas at high crank RPMs, then these may not jazz you and may even get in the way.  I have been on half day rides on trails with techy, rocky sections and I never even thought about it being an issue.  It was natural to backpedal and time it with no issues.  But if the whole trail was that way?

On the other end of things, if you are a gravel grinder and are pedaling bigger gears over flatter terrain, it is a complete non issue in my opinion.

So this is what it comes down to as far as I am concerned…YMMV.  Fast engagement is nice but hardly the holy grail.  It does not increase ‘power’ to the crank or make you faster unless you like to stop pedaling 4 times a crank rotation and need to catch up a lot :).  I think much of that is an emotional need more than a practical need.  “I like the way a fast engaging hub feels”  OK, I get that.  And truthfully, if I could magically make the AC wheels engage faster and keep the rest the way they are, I would.  I would prefer it even if I do not ‘need’ it.  There are times, maybe 2 or 3 times over a 2 hour ride, where I get a bit of slack and the next pedal stroke catches up with a solid ‘clunk’ before I get going.  It is like when you step off a curb and it is juuust a bit farther than you thought to the ground.  Not a big deal, but you notice it.  Compounding this is the way they do engage….very solid.  Compared to these, other hubs I have feel ‘soft’ on take up.  I am not sure why other than the design of the AC pawl system, but I noticed it.

In the end of the day, if I was a gravel guy and wanted a fast rolling, stiff, quality wheel, I would jump on these in a heartbeat as I think the taller gearing and nature of the terrain would tame the slow engagement.  For a guy like me that tends to climb long fire roads or trails and then run down fast double tracks and moderately techy single tracks…again, no biggy.  If I lived for the bash ring and no rock or stump was my enemy, but rather a welcome challenge?  Well, I might pass on these hubs.  As I had reflected on this over the test period, I was asking myself this question:  “Would I buy these wheels for my use?”  Yes.  The rest of the good or even great attributes overshadow the elephant for me.

“Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas…”

“…how he got in my pajamas I’ll never know..”

-Groucho Marx


Note:  American Classic sent over these wheels at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. We are not being paid, nor bribed for this review, and I will strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.