American Classic Carbonator 29Bike products are really, by and large, getting very, very good.  And that applies to bikes as a whole.  There are very few stinkers out there these days, and as long as you stay within a decently high budget and you know the name on the box means something, then the chances of getting something good for your money is very high.

Wheels are pretty much there too, and while a cheap wheel is always going to be heavy and perhaps flexy and weak all at the same time, a good wheel will be fine for most folks and a great wheel will be just that…great.  And that is where I find myself with the American Classic Carbonator 29.  It’s a great wheel.  But now there are many great wheels to choose from, so distinguishing yourselves in today’s markeplace takes some doing.  We took them Out of the Box here, and laid out the details.

$1800.00 is a lot of money, but it is in line with the competition in that high end, carbon MTB wheel, marketplace.  If we look at a couple of competitors, the American Classic Carbonator 29 wheels compare well.

  • Enve M60 HV:  32 spokes, 26mm internal, DT Swiss 240 hub – $2718.00 and 1619g (no mention of rider weight limit)
  • Roval Traverse SL Fatty 29: 24/28 spokes, 30mm internal, DT Swiss 350 based hub – $1500.00 and 1570g (240lb rider weight limit)
  • Ibis 941: 32 spokes, 35mm internal, DT Swiss based Star Ratchet hub (number not stated…likely DT350) – $1500.00 and 1768g
  • AC Carbonators: 32 spokes, 26mm internal, AC proprietary hub – $1799.00 and 1676g (235lb rider weight limit)

So they are ‘in there’, as far as specs go, with the others.  While a DT Swiss Star Ratchet based hub is one of the best hubs on the market, the AC hubs have always been trouble free and solid performing wheels for me, and I have used nearly a half dozen sets, either on road or MTB, on test bikes or personal wheel sets (meaning more long term).  DT Swiss hubs are easier to quick-service (tool free) and the end cap swaps make configuration changes fast and easy as well.  They also engage faster, but the AC hubs are quieter, roll like a ghost…smooth and fast…and take up solidly and smoothly, never ‘glitching’ or popping like many pawl based hubs do.  I live in rather mild conditions for MTB riding, weather wise, but I have never had to service any AC hub yet due to contamination.

You also get a depth of understanding and engineering from company founder Bill Shook that is hard to appreciate unless you have sat and talked with him at length about wheel and rim design.  I do wonder, while he is at work, ensconced in his secret lab, whether he wears a pointy wizard’s hat.

So on trail, how have the American Classic Carbonator 29 wheels been to ride?  Solid.  Direct.  In fact, that is the word that kept coming back to me time and time again…direct.  You initiate a turn, they respond and hold the chosen line.  I never felt a hint of wiggle or flex.  They allowed me, even with the ‘moderate’ internal width, to run slightly sub 20psi on a 2.3″ Nobby Nic and have no problems at all.  Most of the time I chose to run about 21psi.  They set up tubeless as well as you should expect, that is to say there were no issues getting that done although I do not like the stock tape AC supplies with their wheels.  It works fine out of the box, but over time, as you nick it during tire changes, sealant will migrate under it and it is just a bit too fragile for my liking.  I have never had good luck re-applying it myself and I typically go to a single wrap of Gorilla Tape when I need to deal with new tape on a wheel. However, I did find out that American Classic is remedying that situation.

“For 2016 we will be using a new blue tape system on all wheelsets and it will be available for individual sale. The first layer is fiber tape for higher pressure tires in multi-use situations like gravel and cyclocross riding.  The second layer is a new stronger blue tape that is tear resistant, stickier and easier to install.”  Ellen from AC 

Now I want to call out that concept of using a fiber tape for higher pressure systems, road, and gravel, that sounds like it will resist dimple-ing at the spoke holes after the wheels are run tubeless for a while.  This dimple-ing makes re-inflating a tire after it’s removal much more difficult than it should be.  I like!

I ran them exclusively on a Specialized Camber with a 120mm Magura fork, so although it was not a heavy trail bike, it did mean the wheels were not so protected by a long travel fork’s supple give.  The Camber is the type of bike that also would be well suited for the Wide Lightnings, but I have to admit that the American Classic Carbonator 29 wheels gave me a devil may care attitude toward rim strikes and rock scuffs. Not that they are impervious to damage, but the thick rim walls and low profile bead height would take a bit of effort to hurt.

American Classic Carbonator 29

And honestly, I have little more to say.  They are just solid, solid wheels, light enough to race on and tough enough to trail ride on.  It seems almost odd to be so matter of fact about what, only a couple of years ago in 29er product development, would have been a stunning wheelset to aspire to, lighting up the internet forums with all kinds of buzz.  The American Classic Carbonator 29 wheels are still ‘that good’ but we have become a bit jaded with the wider range of choices in the 29er world.

I reached out to AC to get some feedback about the wheels, so we will close with that. -So who is the Carbonator intended for?  You have the Wide Lightnings which are a bit lighter and a bit wider (and a good deal cheaper), and then older product like the All Mountain wheels which are not as wide internally.  What factors should I consider before I make a decision on what wheel set is right for me?

AC – The American Classic Carbonator 29 is an incredibly stiff and responsive wheel designed for aggressive trail and enduro riding. The Wide Lightning is the best all around wheel for weight, width and price. It is intended for XC and Trail riding.  You can’t go wrong with either wheel. If you like super stiff wheels, Carbonator is great and if you’re a gram cruncher and want to drop a tire size the Wide Lightning might be a better option.

American Classic Carbonator – AC is not a stranger to carbon rims, but you did come late to the MTB game with this material.  What did you learn by waiting a bit before jumping in, or in other words, did that timeline allow you to refine the product to your advantage?

AC – For AC, it was important to allow the carbon wheel trend to develop in terms of durability and application that is best suited for the material. Bill Shook went with a wide carbon hookless, tubeless design after seeing the first go round of mtb carbon rims on the market. The hookless bead has been fantastic for durability and reliability. – Do you think we are seeing a sweet spot yet in rim width for ‘standard’ 29ers, not including Plus wheels?  The Carbonators are moderate in internal width, even compared to your Wide Lightnings, yet I was still getting good performance out of them at 20psi and slightly below that.

AC – Rim width depends on riding application, desired results and and tire choice. In the development of the Wide Lightning our president and engineer, Bill Shook, did a variety of testing with available tires on the market. By incrementally increasing the width of the rim he found that a 30mm internal provides the best results with the tires on the market today. It widens the bead seat, increases the air volume without depressing the crown  height of the tire and does not change the cornering knobs of the tire too dramatically on tires ranging from 2.0 to 2.35. When you get into smaller or larger tires rim width changes and also the crown height is a factor. The Carbonators are narrower and often run with a 2.35 to 2.5 tire for the volume and height of the tire, this is often a preferred enduro rider choice. – What does the rider get out of well designed carbon that aluminum does not allow for (besides a lighter wallet)? 

AC – Carbon can be a bit stiffer in application for larger travel bikes on pretty aggressive terrain. American Classic does aluminum wheels very well so it isn’t as much of a ‘which one is better’ it is a decision of ‘which style of riding’.  For AC, it’s about the rider having a great experience on the trail.

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Note: American Classic provided this review product at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches for test and review. We are not being paid, nor bribed for these reviews and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.