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Gravel Gear

Cadex goes gravel with carbon-spoked AR 35 wheels and AR, GX tires

Cadex AR 35 weigh 1,270g with ceramic bearings and claims of higher lateral and transmission stiffness than competitors.

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Giant’s high-end brand Cadex has been focused on performance on the road, with lightweight carbon wheels with carbon spokes and ceramic bearings. Now, Cadex is bringing that same top-end, ultra-light focus to gravel, with the 1,270g Cadex AR 35 wheels, two models of dual-compound tires, and a 185g gravel handlebar.

As with other Cadex products, the focus was on fine-tuning performance, not cost; the Cadex AR 35 wheels are $3,000.

“Lots of people are getting into the gravel and all-road world, but it’s it also really fun for us because we’ve been doing this kind of riding for a long time,” said Cadex head of product Jeff Schneider. “These ultra-light wheels built for gravel have been in development for a year and a half.”

The one-piece handlebar isn’t brand new, but the wheels and tires launch today.

Cadex AR 35 wheels

A claimed 1,270g for the set, we weighed this test set at 1,370g with rim tape and valves installed.

Schneider says Cadex designed the all-road wheels to be light, strong, and stiff in two ways.

“One of our goals was to reduce the lag in rim movement from the moment torque is applied to the freehub — we call that transmission stiffness — and also to increase lateral stiffness,” Schneider said.

Cadex benchmarked against sets of Zipp 303 Firecrest and Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V wheels, and claims its wheels were stiffer both laterally (with a load measured at the rim) and in transmission (with a simulated pedal load applied at the hub).

At 1,270g, the Cadex AR 35 is lighter than the 1,352g Zipp 303 Firecrest, the 1,296g Roval Terra CLX and the 1,355g Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V.

As the name implies, the Cadex wheels have 35mm tall rim. The hookless-bead rim measures 25mm internally, which Cadex rates for tires between 28mm and 45mm wide.

Like the road models, the Cadex AR 35 wheels use bladed carbon spokes.

While carbon rims are now common (and still expensive) in gravel racing, carbon spokes are not. Cadex has been using carbon spokes in its road line for years, and claims it can achieve high lateral and transmission stiffness without an overly harsh ride.

“The combination of what we are doing with weight and carbon spokes takes out a lot of vibration,” Schneider said.

The rim strength, in terms of impact resistance, is the same as a cross-country rim. Schneider said.

Helping with the quick engagement is a new 60-tooth ratchet freehub, which uses a flattened coil spring instead of the standard circular spring (think the springs on wheel quick-release axles). The flat spring accordions down flat instead of into itself like a circular spring, which Cadex says makes for faster, more consistent action in both directions.

No snap-on end caps here.

In keeping with Cadex’s ethos, even the hub’s dust cover was redesigned to keep the internals clean while keeping friction low as possible.

“We measure friction with a micrometer — how much friction does it take to move it one click?” Schneider said. “It might be 0.1w or 0.01w. But over time it adds up. If you use a stiffer or thicker seal, you get more drag and quicker wind down.”

Along those same lines, Cadex doesn’t use snap-in end caps on the wheel axles, but instead has a single piece, which Schneider says makes for a stiffer overall system.

The wheels are compatible with Campagnolo as well as Shimano as SRAM.

Tubeless compatibility and incompatibility

With its road wheels, Cadex makes a big deal out of the wheel/tire interface, insisting that the two are a system. (The full name of the wheels is the Cadex AR 35 WheelSystem.) And, granted, there is often a wide discrepancy in diameters of various tire beads and wheel rims, which can make installation frustrating when things are too tight and even raise safety issues when the interface is too loose.

Like Enve, Cadex lists tires on its website that are compatible with its road wheels.

“The list is growing. Our first step was to target manufacturers, like Maxxis, Vittoria, Continental, Schwalbe, Hutchinson, and Michelin,” Schneider said. “There are not many tire manufacturers out there. There are a lot of tire brands, but the number of actual manufacturers is small.”

Maxxis makes Cadex’s tires.

Cadex AR tires feature a 170tpi casing.

Cadex tests road tires on its wheels by inflating to 150 percent of the maximum tire pressure listed on the sidewall.

For mountain bike tires, Giant doesn’t have a rated system like with road, as the air pressures are so much lower. “Gravel falls halfway in between,” Schneider said.

As with the Cadex road tires, the Cadex AR and GX tires are designed to fit the Cadex AR 35 wheels perfectly, to the point you can ride them without sealant.

“Like with all Cadex tires, the sealant is just there to help against punctures, not to make it tubeless,” Schneider said. ”

Cadex AR and GX tubeless tires

The Cadex AR is a lighter, faster tire, while the GX is a beefier, more durable option. Both have a supple 170tpi (threads per inch) casing.

“Many tires in the category aim for 60tpi. WTB did a 120tpi. We are staying with our 170tpi because we believe it gives you a much better rolling feel and suppleness, and still with bead-to-bead protection,” Schneider said.

The GX at left is 445g and the AR is 425g in a 40mm width.

The 40mm Cadex AR weighs 425g with a dual-compound tread that is firmer in the center with a file tread, and softer on shoulders with trapezoids.

There’s a Race Shield+ puncture belt under the tread, with a more abrasion-resistant X-Shield layer behind the sidewalls to protect against cuts there.

“The goal was to maintain suppleness,” Schneider said.

The 40mm GX tire weighs 445 and has the same dual compound but with a bit more durability thanks to a chunkier tread.

Cadex AR handlebar

Not brand new but part of Cadex’s giant lineup, the AR handlebar is remarkably light, thanks to its one-piece construction. Most carbon bars are made in three or four pieces — the top and the drops — to accommodate for multiple widths without the manufacturer having to make different molds for each.

The AR bar has a 70mm reach and a 115 drop, with subtle sweeping.

Cadex makes its AR bar with a bit of shaping. There’s an 8-degree flare, a 3-degree out-sweep, and a 3-degree back-sweep. The drops extend back, too, a figure Cadex quotes at 40mm more than normal.

“We are easily 50g to 60g lighter than anything else on the market, but passing all the tests,” Schneider said.

Cadex AR 35 first ride impressions

The tires are not commercially available, and I haven’t yet installed the AR bars, but I did get a chance to do a few rides on the AR 35 wheels. They are indeed light and stiff and quick to accelerate. Low rotational mass plus super-quick hub engagement makes for a responsive wheel. That I can feel versus a heavier wheel with slower engagement.

Can I feel the claimed higher transmission stiffness versus other high-performance wheels? Um, no. I believe Cadex’s measurements, but the mass of a gravel tire wrapped around a wheel plus overall inertia is most of what I feel when accelerating.

How do the wheels feel? Pretty darn good, as they should.

The same could be said, on the first couple of rides, about the ceramic bearings, low-friction dust seals, and one-piece axles. Measurable differences? Yes. Differences a lump like me can feel on a bike? No.

But the combination of the two things — a huge stiffness-to-weight ratio, which is palpable, and many small improvements, which are not — forms what Cadex is all about: making the highest performing product they can. And for that in a gravel wheelset, the cost is $3,000.

I’ll be taking these wheels to The Mid South, and will report back afterward.