Taperlock carbon spokes with aluminum ends for easy truing; 44mm depth; 20mm inner rim width; tubeless compatible
Very affordable compared to competitors; excellent lateral stiffness; carbon spokes can be trued easily
Hubs are decent, but don’t engage as quickly as some higher-end options out there
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I seriously just did a double-take when I checked Hunt’s website to find out the price of the 44 UD Carbon Spoke Disc wheelset. At under $1,500, Hunt is making a play for your loyalty by appealing to your wallet, but the real selling point here is the technology packed into these carbon road wheels. Pro-level performance price tags are descending, and the big boys will have to play catch-up. The 44 UD wheels are proof positive that you can get tons of technology and performance without the massive price tag.
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44 UD Taperlock spokes
When Hunt launched the 44 UD wheels, much of the “wow” factor swirled around the carbon spokes, and rightfully so. The vast majority of high-end carbon wheels still use metal spokes, and for good reason: Carbon spokes tend to be expensive, and in the past they have been molded as one-piece units, which means if you break one, it often meant sending the wheel back to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. Other wheels simply molded carbon spokes into the rim and hub as one piece, which meant if you broke the spoke, your wheel was toast.
The 44UD wheels feature Taperlock spokes, which can be trued like any other metal spoke. Each spoke is fitted with an aluminum mandrel at the hub end, and a threaded aluminum spoke nipple at the rim end, which is fitted as the carbon spoke cures. The spokes therefore require no bonding to the rim or the hub and can be trued in the same way other spokes are trued. It’s a mechanical system, in other words, rather than a bonded one.
So what’s the big deal about carbon spokes anyway? For starters, Hunt says its Taperlock carbon spokes are 60 percent more “laterally responsive” than steel spokes at a significantly lower weight. Clear as mud, right? Basically, Hunt is saying the spokes increase lateral stiffness, so when you punch the gas, the wheels respond quickly. On top of that, Hunt says you get even more vibration absorption out of the carbon spokes.
The rims and hubs
The 44 UD wheels also feature 20mm wide (internal) hooked rims that can accommodate tubeless setups. As is the case with every wheel brand out there, Hunt touts its aerodynamic claims and states that this is one fast wheel, though, without independent wind tunnel testing, I can’t tell you whether the 44 UD wheels are any faster or slower than its competitors. I’m willing to believe, however, that Hunt has done its aerodynamic homework and that these wheels have been tested at various yaw angles to produce a rim that can compete with similar wheels out there. But I won’t be able to tell you if they’re faster out on the road simply by riding them.
The Hunt-branded hubs feature three multi-tooth pawls and a 48-tooth ratchet ring for 7.5 degrees of engagement. To me, engagement feels quick and solid, though perhaps not quite as instant as something like the Ratchet EXP system in a DT Swiss 240 hub. Of course, the DT Swiss hubs likely cost a lot more than Hunt’s included hubs, and unless you’re a stickler for instant engagement, this tradeoff likely won’t matter much to you.
Riding the 44 UD wheels
I first tested the 44 UD wheels in the spring in Colorado, so the wind was the narrative of most of my rides. That’s both a great testing point and a tough one, since it was easy to test these in crosswinds, but also easy to get lost in wind performance and forget about other aspects of the wheel.
So about those windy rides: Largely, I felt like the 44 UD wheels performed on par with its competition here. The 44mm depth means you get some buffeting in tough crosswinds, but this is by no means a nervous wheelset. While I had a few startling moments bombing down the backside of Lookout Mountain in Golden at 45 mph when a good blast hit the front wheel, I would say that’s fairly typical for a wheel of this depth. So while it’s not best in class (the Princeton Grit 4540 wheels take those honors; review coming soon on those), this wheelset certainly performs well enough to be considered among the better wheels on the market.
More importantly, the carbon spokes do seem to have an impact on ride quality in two different ways: first, in terms of comfort and second in terms of power transfer.
First, comfort: I rode the 44 UD wheels on two different bikes, one of which was your typical carbon race bike and the other was my personal bike, a titanium Merlin Extralight. Those are two very distinct bikes, and I had two very distinct goals: test the lateral stiffness on the Merlin, and test the comfort claims on the carbon race bike.
The 44 UD wheels are indeed comfortable wheels as deep-section wheels go, though I wouldn’t say you’ll find yourself slipping into daydreams of down comforters and feather pillows. The wheels seem to help eat up some minor vibration before it reaches the frame, and ultimately the rider, though this is always a tricky one to gauge, because tire pressure often has more to do with vibration absorption than any component that comes after it. In other words, I can’t prove or disprove Hunt’s claims here, but the wheels do in fact feel slightly more forgiving, subjectively speaking, than some other wheels I’ve tested at a similar depth.
Regarding the lateral stiffness/responsiveness claims, this was actually quite noticeable. My titanium Merlin rides like a dream, but since it’s titanium and has S&S couplers, it’s not exactly the most laterally stiff bike out there. Riding the 44 UD wheels on my Merlin changed the ride characteristics altogether, and while I certainly wouldn’t say it turned my really rad travel bike into a sprinter’s best friend, it certainly was possible to feel how much the wheels tightened up the ride, especially while climbing.
I like these wheels a lot, for one simple reason: They offer almost all of the benefits of a high-end race wheel at a much lower price than the competition. The 44 UD wheels tighten up the handling of my Merlin and feel plenty stiff laterally without becoming jarring or wooden-feeling. It’s cool that Hunt has found a way to make a carbon spoke that can be tuned like any other metal spoke on the market, too, though I wasn’t exactly complaining about my metal spokes before. Ultimately, it’s hard to pass these up given the price, lifetime crash replacement policy, and the high-end performance.