These wheels have had the details sweated to make them not only a top performing set of hoops, but also ones that are extremely easy to live with—two things that don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. The choice of spokes, nipples and hubs make long-term servicing a straightforward affair, while the lightweight, deep and wide rims make the ride responsive, fast and—above all—fun.
Interchangeable dropouts and freehubs
By Stefan Abram published
Fast, fun and good value for money, what's not to like?
The Parcours Alta 650b gravel wheelset is designed as a high-end pair of hoops, with a low weight, robustness, and easy liveability all on the design brief. The confluence of these qualities doesn’t lend itself to a low price—but in terms of value for money, there aren’t many close competitors.
The UK-based brand has built a reputation in delivering top quality wheelsets at a much more affordable price than other big-name wheel manufacturers.
The construction: Parcours Alta 650b
Parcours’ own windtunnel testing has shown that the most significant gains in a wheel’s aerodynamic performance are made when going from a box section rim to a shallow section. Going deeper does make a wheelset more aero, but the subsequent gains are not as large as the step up from box section to shallow section.
But that’s not the reason the Alta 650b wheels are 35mm deep. Parcours makes the point that knobbly tyres have the effect of disrupting airflow, which diminishes the aerodynamic gains made by a deeper section wheel. Couple that with the slower speed of gravel riding and aero within the gravel bike arena becomes quite a secondary concern.
The reason for the profile of the Alta rims is really down to the ride quality it produces. The shape is actually stronger for the same weight than a shallower section rim would be—the depth also allows the spokes to be shorter, further strengthening the wheel and making it feel a little more taut for snappy accelerations.
At 25mm wide internally, the Alta 650b is very much on the wider end of the spectrum, plumping out any tyres mounted on them nicely. The external width is 30mm, but this measurement is of lesser significance here than with road wheels, as it’s only when the external width is 105% of the width of the tyre that any significant aero gains are made. To confer any aerodynamic benefit to a gravel tyre, the rims would have to be monstrously wide.
Do note that the rim profile is hookless, so you do have to use a tubeless gravel tyre with these wheels. There aren’t many gravel 650b wheels out there that aren’t tubeless ready, so you shouldn’t really find this presents much of an issue—unlike with road specific rims. Should you not want to muck around with sealant though, you can of course use a tubeless ready tyre in combination with inner tubes.
Spoke count is 24, which is a little on the low side for this kind of wheelset and contributes to the impressively now weight. But this shouldn’t be cause for concern regarding the wheelset’s robustness, the strength of the rim profile allows for this lower count—and anyway, I’ve taken these wheels down some questionably rough descents and haven’t heard a ping in protest.
Onto the spokes, here we have the much loved—and well regarded—Sapim CX-Rays. Their bladed profile gives them the dual benefits of being both strong and lightweight. As these are straight pull spokes, being bladed confers the additional benefit of being able to hold the spoke while turning the nipple, making tension adjustments a lot easier. Lightweight butted spokes have a tendency to simply spin when you try turning the nipple.
Aluminium nipples are used, which Parcours says saves 30g over brass alternatives, which isn’t an insignificant amount—especially considering it is rotating weight far from the hub. Aluminium nipples do have a reputation for being more prone to corrosion than brass, but this isn’t really an issue provided that the aluminium nipples are properly treated, which the Sapim Double Squares are.
The hubs come with replaceable end caps and so can be converted to take 9mm QR, 12mm Thru Axles, and even 15mm Thru Axles. This is a size more commonly used by mountain bikers (although now in combination with wider 110mm hub spacing, but that’s by-the-by), but we are starting to see it crop up on more gravel bikes these days, so this capacity could very well save a headache down the line.
Disc rotors mount using the centre lock standard, which makes mounting and dismounting disc rotors a far faster business. If you’re feeling dismayed because you happen to have a stash of 6-bolt rotors tucked away, don’t worry, as it’s still possible to mount these using an adaptor. The freehub is interchangeable and there are options for Shimano HG, SRAM XDR and Campagnolo freehubs.
With regards to the freehub, it has 4 pawls and a 26T ratchet ring, giving a 13.8° angle of engagement. This might not sound particularly flashy and that’s because it isn’t—but with good reason.
For one thing, a fast engaging freehub isn’t as noticeable on a gravel bike compared to a mountain bike, as the gears of a gravel bike tend to be a fair bit larger. Although gearing is starting to come down, it hasn’t yet reached the 30 x 50t ratios that are common on mountain bikes.
This means that the actual distance the crank moves before the freehub engages with these hubs on a gravel bike isn’t too far off that of a snappier hub on a mountain bike. Added to that, reducing the angle of engagement means smaller parts, making the hub less robust and more expensive—without a significant gain in performance.
The bearings used are EZO steel items, with the front hub taking two 2 x 6803 and the rear hub and freehub both taking 2 x 15267 each. The particular ones that come in the hubs have been specifically chosen for their weather sealing properties, meaning they shouldn’t need replacing any time soon.
Out on the trails, the Alta 650b wheels were simply great. Their low weight and a taut feel made them excellent for sprinting out of corners and quick accelerations.
There’s an almost uncountable number of different ascents you can take up the side of the South Downs, with many of these being extremely technical, with roots, gullys and large rocks all conspiring to make you take a weaving line to avoid them all. For these slow speed manoeuvres, being able to quickly snap back up to speed from a near track stand was very useful.
On the road, they held their speed well, making the tarmac sections between the woods a distinctly unsluggish affair. The 35mm depth is not so deep to cause any significant buffeting from cross winds, and I always felt stable, even when exposed out on the hill tops.
Even with some hard hits from unseen roots and careering down rocky descents, the Altas have remained completely true. Even better, thanks to the well-chosen spokes and nipples, they should be easy to adjust should they develop any wobbles over time.
This, combined with the interchangeable freehub and end caps, makes this wheelset really easy to live with, offering flexibility for changing standards down the line. With just a bit of care, this is a wheelset you should be able to take with you from bike to bike.
The Parcours Alta 650b stack up great against Hunt’s 650b Adventure Carbon Disc Wheelset. The Hunt wheels are shallower, have a smaller internal width and have a heavier claimed weight. Coming in at £829, they are only £20 cheaper too.
The Stayer Gravel / Adventure Disc Wheelset is available in 650b and has a near identical spec sheet regarding rim profile and hub features, but the total weight is a claimed 1,480g and they cost over £200 more at £1,095—making the Alta 650b significantly better value for money.
Prime’s Kanza 650b Carbon Gravel Wheelset is an interesting proposition, with a similar rim profile and RD020 hubs which have similar features to those specced with the Alta 650b wheels. The Kanza Carbon Gravel wheels are significantly heavier, however, at a claimed weight of 1,570g, but then you do get a cheaper price at £599.99.
Starting off riding mountain bikes on the South Downs way, he soon made the switch the road cycling. Now, he’s come full circle and is back out on the trails, although the flat bars have been swapped for the curly ones of a gravel bike.
Always looking for the next challenge, he’s Everested in under 12 hours and ridden the South Downs Double in sub 20. Although dabbling in racing off-road, on-road and virtually, to date his only significant achievement has been winning the National Single-Speed Cross-Country Mountain Bike Championships in 2019.
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