Hunt 54 UD Carbon Spoke Disc Wheelset review
Hunt's UD Carbon spokes bring something new to the market
With its UD carbon spoke tech, Hunt has brought the high strength to weight ratio of carbon spokes to a brand new audience with a much more affordable price tag. This is a stiff, responsive race wheel but there's enough compliance in there for long days out. We'd probably go shallower for hilly training rides, but for extra zip on race day, there are where it's at.
A little harsh on rough roads
The Hunt 54 UD Carbon Spoke Disc Wheelset was selected for an Editor's Choice award in 2020. This year's list contains 78 items which scored a 9 or 10/10 with our tech team - this gear is the best of the best, and has received the Cycling Weekly stamp of approval.
There are many things in life which are nice to have, but exceptionally hard to live with: most aero cockpits, internal cable routing, carbon spokes - until now.
The strength to weight ratio of carbon is significantly better than that of steel - hence carbon spokes are nice to have. However, in the small number of cases where wheel brands use carbon spokes, they're usually bonded to the hub and rim. As a result, if a spoke is broken or damaged, that's kind of 'game over' for the entire wheel.
Exceptions include Mavic's R-SYS wheelset, where the spokes are replaceable, but it's a very different rim. Hunt's UD Carbon Spoke approach is something of a game-changer. The brand uses a TaperLock construction method, placing an aluminum rod at the hub end of each spoke and a steel, threaded rod at rim end. The result is that the spokes can be trued, and replaced.
When Hunt compared the stiffness of these wheels with steel against carbon spokes at its (very impressive) Sussex facility, it found that a 44mm rim with the carbon spokes was six per cent more 'laterally responsive'. This means less power is lost through flex and translates to faster acceleration.
The carbon spokes are extremely strong, too, Hunt reports that they're 50 per cent stronger than traditional steel spokes (from 300kgf to 450kgf, if that means much to you). It'd be hard to confirm this without trying extremely hard to break them.
Finally, the brand said that when tested, the carbon spoke absorbed more road buzz than a steel competitor. Stiffer, and more compliant? Well, apparently so.
The rims themselves - 54mm in this case - use the 'Aerodynamicist' rims designed by Hunt's Engineering Manager, and former aerospace engineer, Luisa Grappone. Wind-tunnel testing showed them to be a fraction slower than the 48mm 'Limitless' rims from Hunt, but faster than competition from Zipp and DT Swiss. Comparative wind-tunnel testing against other brands needs to be taken with a pinch of salt though, as each brand has its own testing protocol. Regardless, we're talking less than three watts in the grand scheme of things.
As you'd expect, the 54mm rim was faster than the 44m UD carbon version so there is an uplift in going deeper (though it's small, just 1.38w at 45kph). These carry a claimed weight of 1456g - I got 1500g with rim tape - versus 1398g for the 44s.
The rims are tubeless ready, and each pair comes shipped with tubeless tape fitted, axle adapters (Hunt fits the correct axles for your bike at its Sussex HQ), cassette spacers for those running eight, nine, or 10-speed, tubeless valves, and a pair of six-bolt disc adapters. The rims are optimised to work with a 25mm tyre, but you can fit 23 or 28 in the 20mm internal/29mm external wide rim.
Hunt uses its own hubs, these have a steel spline insert re-enforcement for durability. The hub does tick pretty loudly (my husband once commented "I can't hear you over your hub" when I was freewheeling in his wake), but it's not excessive.
I chose to fit these rims to my dream race bike build, so it goes without saying that I'm a fan. In a racing 'incident', wheels can get pretty battered (just ask the rider who once put a foot through my front wheel, and broke basically every spoke), so knowing that the spokes are both replaceable and truable provides huge peace of mind.
Outside of having someone put their foot through my wheel, I've never broken a spoke - but if I was a heavier rider I'd be pleased for this added durability.
A 54mm rim is about as deep as I'd be comfortable going for road racing - there's always going to be those blustery days and at 56kg anything deeper would have me swapping the wheels, especially for circuit races on windy airfields. I did test these wheels on some pretty windy days - including one ride with wind at 20mph and 'gusts of 50mph'. Of course they caught the wind at those pivotal moments (gates in hedgerows etc.), but aside from that they were stable and easily controlled. In normal conditions, I had no issues.
I'd consider these race day wheels, however, and for general training over the cracked roads of Kent and Surrey I'd suggest swapping on a shallower rim. In the disc brake family, 44mm is the shallowest in the UD range, whilst rim brake users can go down to 36.
The vertical stiffness of the carbon rim means that these wheels accelerate quickly and corner well, I enjoyed testing them on my local descents and practicing a few town sign sprints.
The roads around me aren't in the best state. I fitted these wheels with the Specialized Turbo Cotton 26mm tyre, pumped to between 75 and 80psi conditions dependant. It's a tyre I know to be extremely supple but there was still some clatter on the worst sections of road. They were more compliant than other 50mm rims I've tested of late and I covered a 168 kilometre ride on these happily.
These wheels come in at £1189, weighing 1500g (with rim tape). There aren't a huge number of obvious comparisons.
Looking at carbon spoke wheels, Lightweight uses carbon spokes on its 48mm Meilenstein Evo Schwarz Edition Tubeless disc wheelset, these weigh a claimed 1380g but will set you back a very significant £5358. Drop the carbon spokes and there are comparable options on the market: Parcous' Strade wheels (49/54) weigh 1520g and cost £999, Scribe's AeroWide 50-D costs £870 at 1448g. Zipp's new 'more affordable' 303S 1555g with a shallower 45mm depth at £985.
What Hunt has created - an affordable, serviceable carbon spoke option - is a gamechanger. The weight saving isn't huge over non-carbon spoked competitors at a similar depth (though it's hard to get an exact match), but you do get greater strength and extra relief from road buzz, something welcome in a stiff, 50mm+ race wheel.
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.
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