Gravel

The Grind: 9 gravel wheelsets on test

From $420 alloy wheels to $2,500 carbon hoops, here are some comparative thoughts on current gravel wheels I've been riding.

The Grind is a weekly column on all things gravel.

Although most gravel races were canceled this year, gravel riding certainly was not, and I’ve been testing a number of different wheelsets. Here is my comparative take on nine gravel wheels I’ve ridden, some commonalities, and some standouts.

Related:
The perfect gravel tire width
Shimano GRX Di2: What I love; what bugs me
SRAM vs Shimano gearing for gravel

What makes a good gravel wheel?

So aren’t gravel wheels just road wheels? Well, not really. Yes, you can ride a normal road wheel on gravel, but the main difference is in the internal rim width. Gravel wheels are wider than road wheels to better support a wider tire.

While most road wheels have internal rim widths in the 17-21mm range, dedicated gravel wheels are usually about 20-25mm. ENVE has a handy tire pressure chart that breaks down suggested pressure based on your weight, your rim width, and your tire width, for gravel and for road. It’s also a handy way to orient yourself on the relationship between tire width and internal rim width.

Relatedly, the overall rim shape of a gravel wheel better pairs with a gravel tire. Aerodynamics may not be a priority for you, but it’s a thing, albeit less important than on the road.

Durable construction is a must for a gravel wheel. While you can find an 18-spoke road build, 24 spokes is pretty much standard for gravel.

Low weight always feels good. As elsewhere with bikes, you often get what you pay for here. Heavier alloy wheels are in one price range; lighter carbon wheels are a step above that.

And lastly, in contrast to road wheels, some gravel wheels are decidedly not super stiff. The idea is that building a little give into a wheel designed for a non-suspended bike on rough surfaces is a good thing.

Here are a few wheels I’ve been testing.

DT Swiss GRC 1400 Spline

$2,479 — 1,620g

Photo: Ben Delaney

These puppies look and feel fast, and cost a pretty penny.

Fat, 24mm internal widths make for a solid base for 40mm tires, which blend right into the wide external rims, which stand 42mm tall. I enjoyed riding these on Canyon’s top-end Grail in California, and at home, I put Schwalbe G-One Speeds (read: virtual slicks) on a test pair, because fast felt right on them.

For such deep gravel wheels, the low rim weight means they spin right up like like climbing wheels, and DT’s 240 Ratchet hub with 10-degree engagement helps that instant-on feel.

Mechanics might raise an eyebrow at the internal nipples (read: truing a wheel means removing the tire and tubeless tape), but I haven’t had any issues despite a few months of riding like the bag of anvils that I am, so that doesn’t bother me.

DT Swiss CR 1600 Spline

$700 — 1,709g

Photo: Ben Delaney

These alloy hoops came on the Salsa Warbird I raced at The Mid South. The matching pink decals certainly counted for a few shaved watts, right? Technically categorized as cyclocross wheels, these have a slightly narrower 22mm internal rim width.

You get the slightly less higher-end 350 hub here, but with the same Ratchet engagement as on the GRC. And the 2x spokes are bound into the wheel normally with external nipples, so you mechanics can put your eyebrows back down.

DT Swiss G 1800 Spline

$492 — 1,741g

Photo: Ben Delaney 

I rode these on Canyon’s most affordable Grail, the Grail 7, and they’re okay. They have a three-pawl hub instead of DT’s swanky Ratchet hub, but the aluminum rim has a modern, 24mm internal width so you’re not giving up anything in terms of stance width. (Note that this wheel is labeled 1850 when it comes stock on bikes.)

If you’re shopping for gravel wheels, you probably already have a gravel bike that came with wheels of this quality. So if you’re looking to upgrade and not replace, spend a little more to get a lot more.

Roval Terra CL

Specialized Diverge
Roval Terra CLs come stock; you can buy the swankier Terra CLXs separately. Photo: Ben Delaney

Okay, so a little caveat here: These wheels are original equipment on the Specialized Diverge Pro Carbon, and are not available as aftermarket. But, you can get the Terra CLX and Terra CLX EVO, which both have a lighter carbon rim and the new, streamlined DT Swiss Ratchet EXP hub. The Terra CLs felt 100 percent raceable to me with a DT Swiss 350 hub and fat, 25mm internal rim width. The regular Terra CLX weighs a claimed 1,296g, and the CLX EVO wheels weigh a claimed 1,357g because they have a super-fat 30mm internal rim width, which puts them into XC territory.

ENVE G23

$2,500 — 1,500g

Evil Bikes Chamois Hagar
Photo: Dan Cavallari

I appreciate when companies name things simply. The G23 is a high-end gravel wheel with a 23mm internal rim width. I raced them at the event formerly known as the Dirty Kanza 200, and more recently rode them quite a bit on the Evil Chamois Hagar, with basically XC-width tires on them.

The feathery 300g carbon rims feel wonderful; they accelerate seemingly effortlessly, and the 24-spoke construction is decidedly soft. No, they’re not floppy or vague; when you accelerate out of the saddle they’re right with you, and they track true through corners. But they just don’t seem to transmit as much rough stuff up into the bike and body as other wheels. Maybe I’m just drinking the Kool-Aid here!

HiFi Remix Tape Disc

$600 — 1,660g

Photo: Ben Delaney

At 20mm internal, these HiFi alloy hoops are on the skinnier side of gravel, but still plenty up to the task. I rode them quite a bit with 38mm Schwalbe G-One Allrounds, and they acted the way a good chamois does — I never thought about them once outside of ‘Hey, it’s review time’. The made-in-Oregon build is no-nonsense; 24 2x Sapim spokes up front and 28 3x in the back. Plus you get the sweet reflective decals with HiFi’s old school speaker logo, which has to count for something…

Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Tubeless

$1,900 — 1,352g

Photo: Ben Delaney

Zipp’s 303 is a good example of the road/gravel crossover, as this wheel has long been a stalwart of the road racing scene. It’s just progressively wider internally (now 25mm), which works for 28mm and 30mm road tires as well as 35-45mm gravel tires. The model I rode (shown above) is the predecessor to the current super-Gucci edition. A few winter months of abuse and power washing didn’t seem to faze them.

Reynolds ATR

$1,299 – 1,620g

Photo: Ben Delaney

These are pretty similar in measurements to DT’s top offering, with 23mm internal and 32mm external rim widths, and a 40mm (vs 42mm) rim height. Also, on paper, the Reynolds Allroad hub boasts a 10-degree engagement, the same as on the DT 240. But note that while many companies use DT Swiss hubs, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Reynolds hub on a non-Reynolds wheels. So how do they ride? Honestly, pretty darn similar to the DTs, which are more than $1,000 more.

Shimano GRX RX570

$420 — 1,650g

Photo: Brad Kaminski

Shimano’s road wheels have been notoriously skinny for years, but these gravel wheels boast a healthy 21.6mm internal width. As with the DT Swiss G 1800, this is a wheel that you may get stock on a bike, so while it’s a perfectly good and durable option, it’s not a sexy upgrade.

My favorites

The DT Swiss GRC 1400 and ENVE G23 wheels are exceptional, both from the basic hoist-the-bike gee-whiz weight check to the feelings on the dirt. I’d gladly ride either off into the sunset. But they ain’t cheap. The DT Swiss CR 1600 or its gravel sibling the GR 1600 is probably the sleeper here, with a decent weight, a best-in-class hub, modern dimensions, and a brand you can trust.

Stay tuned for full reviews on some of these wheels.