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Knight Composites 35 wheelset – review

Knight Composites are a relatively new American company but one that come with a big reputation. Wedding together the skill and knowledge from people who’ve worked for Reynolds, Enve and Cervélo the combined experience alone means there’s already a high bar set for such a new brand, and these wheels deliver impressive performance to back that up.

First things first. At RCUK we don’t have our own wind tunnel. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to borrow one for the day, either, so anything said about aerodynamics or speed of the wheels is purely subjective based on having ridden plenty of similar wheels in similar conditions. And anyway, if you’re buying 35mm rims hoping for an aerodynamic revelation then you’re only kidding yourself. The 35s are the shallowest wheels Knight offer (behind the 65s and 95s) and if you’re after something that’ll make a significant difference to aerodynamic performance, it’s best to look further up the range. These are pitched as all-round wheels, with a rim profile designed to offer some aero advantage over a bog-standard wheel, but with low weight and comfort also thrown into the mix.

There are a couple of build options with these wheels. The build we have on test here are constructed around DT Swiss 240 hubs, and come in at £1,648 with a claimed weight of 1,404g (more on that later). But you can also get a more exalted hub – DT’s 180 – which will bring the RRP by £500 up to £2,199, and drop the overall claimed weight down to 1,373g. Going on the claimed weights, that’s approximately £16 for every gram of weight saved. Now I love a super light bike as much as the next guy, but if someone offered me a 31g weight saving at £16 per gram, I know what my answer would be.

Weight-wise they’re pretty competitive. Zipp’s 202 Firecrest clinchers, which have a marginally shallower 32mm depth and a very similar 25.4mm width, come in at a claimed 1,395g and Enve’s 3.4 (with a 35mm front and 45mm rear depth) claim to tip the scales at 1,404g. And both of those price up at over £2,000 and so bear a direct comparison with the specced up version of the Knight 35s. On the scales of truth, our Knight wheels weighed in at 1,473g, which is a not particularly impressive 69g over the claimed weight, but still doesn’t bump the 35s up to anything near what could be criticised as heavy.

Rim profile is a fashionably wide 25.5mm, meaning that they’ll pair up nicely with a set of 25mm tyres, and I rode them with a set of 23s and 28s during testing as well. Knight say that during development they tested a number of rim shapes, from the traditional V-shaped aero rim, to the modern U shape that’s popular now, and they concluded that a ‘parabolic’ shape (said to be not as sharp as a V, but with a more gradual width increase than a U) worked best. Knight say this results in smoother, more attached flow across the rim. You can read more about that on the Knight website. As we’ve already said, these aren’t necessarily designed as full-fat aero wheels (the deeper 65s and 95s fill that gap) but the rim shape is designed with aerodynamics in mind.

One thing I immediately like about these wheels is the comparatively high spoke count. More spokes might mean a bit more weight, but it also means greater lateral stiffness and strength in the wheel which, as much as anything, means there should be less chance of brake rub. I like to set my brakes only a few millimetres away from the rim, and any flex from the wheel means an irritating noise when you’re putting the wheel under stress. It’s far from a terminal issue, but will obviously increase both brake pad wear and brake track wear if left unchecked over a large period of time (very large in terms of the brake track).

The other factor is that it will also sap a little bit of energy from each pedal stroke, so if you like to climb out of the saddle quite a lot (like me), and thus put a little more torque through the pedals, it can wear you down over a long ride, which is never a good thing, so top mark to Knight on the stiffness front. The Knights have 20 front and 24 rear spokes, all Sapim CX-Ray J-bend. Sure, the hook on J-bend spokes is that they’re easier to break, but that’s usually only if either the spokes are rubbish, or the wheel is incorrectly tensioned. And Sapim’s spokes aren’t poor quality; in fact, the CX-Ray spokes are regarded as some of the best around.

And now we come to braking. Breaking on carbon wheels is a subject guaranteed to garner more than a few opinions across the cycling spectrum, and not all of them will be positive. For the most part, carbon braking surfaces across the board have been improving a lot over the last few years and braking in the dry on carbon rims is now – on the whole – very good indeed. Part of the braking performance is down to the thickness of the brake track. Many carbon rims go with a 1.5mm track, whereas Knight have upped it to 3mm. This adds a bit of weight to the wheels, but also improves heat dissipation and therefore braking consistency. This should, in theory, mean they’re up to the task of a long Alpine descent, but we can’t vouch for that (all our testing took place in the UK, where the wheels performed admirably on descents), but if you’d like to see how they do in the high mountains, please email my editor and ask him to get the flights booked…

In all seriousness, I was impressed by the braking on the Knights. In the dry they brake powerfully and consistently. There’s no snatchy feeling and none of the shuddering you can find with poorer pad/rim combinations. Knight supply their own pads with the 35s and the compound is pretty hard, but I found braking to be marginally better when I used a set of the slightly softer Zipp Tangente Platinum pads. They’re good if you need to break in a hurry, too. I had one especially fun encounter out testing when a charming fella pulled out of a side road about 30 metres before I reached him, and not only did I come to a stop, but I did so smoothly and with a consistent braking arc.

They’re also pretty good in the wet. Zipp’s 404 Firestrikes are still the benchmark for carbon rims in the wet, in my opinion, and although these aren’t on that level they’re good enough that you never worry about the bike getting our of control when the heavens open. There’s no squealing either, which is always nice. Ostensibly, noisy brakes aren’t a problem as long as they do their job properly, but it’s always more confidence inspiring when your brakes don’t let out an ear-splitting screech as you head into a corner. It helps to preserve the serenity of your ride, too.

Moving on from braking, and one of the things that defines a set of wheels is the ride quality. You can have all the fancy tech in the world, but if they’re so harsh it feels like you’re in the Flintstones’ car, then you’ll be less inclined to ride them. Fortunately, these are comfortable to ride as well. Now, as we’ve been over before, tyres and tyre pressure play the biggest part in ride comfort, but wide rims help too. A wide rim with a wide tyre will, at the same pressure as a narrow rim with the same tyre mounted, will offer a better contact patch and lower rolling resistance, as well as giving a more comfortable ride. Nice, right? And running these with 25mm tyres at 90psi resulted in a ride quality that I was very impressed with. Carbon wheels don’t always lend themselves to all day riding, even with the right tyres and pressure, but going out for a long day on these was a lot of fun.

On top of that, they roll well. Like I said at the top, going out on these and expecting aero miracles would be massively optimistic, but you can spin along on these at well over 30km/h and I can say with certainty that they’re definitely faster for the same effort than a set of alu clinchers. Knight’s wind tunnel data claims a significant aero advantage over a standard box rim (Fulcrum Racing 5 – so given the £244.99 price tag of that wheelset, you’d hope for some kind of advantage) and while there might not be any joy comparing them to genuinely deep wheels, they’re a long way ahead of the standard wheels that a lot of bikes are specced with.

Uphill they hold their own, too. These are light wheels, no doubt about that, but they’re not in super light territory at 1,470g, however I was extremely impressed by how well they responded when I was out of the saddle. There was no brake rub at all, even with closely set brake pads, so flex is definitely at a minimum, and that stiffness and the the low weight combines to give the wheels a very sprightly feel. Handling is solid and, as you’d expect from 35mm rims, they’re no problem at all in crosswinds. Knight brand the 35s as do-it-all wheels and they’ve definitely hit that goal as, unless you’re desperate to go full aero, there’s nothing these can’t do.

Conclusion

The Knight Composites 35s are a quality set of all-round wheels. They’d be a huge upgrade on the standard wheels that so many bikes come specced with, and if you’re looking for a set of wheels that can almost do it all, thanks to the low weight, wide and aero-profiled rim and excellent ride quality, then these should definitely be in contention. £1,600 is never going to be cheap, no matter what spin you put on it, but the fact is that for what you’re getting they’re well priced by comparison to other brands that make similar wheels.

Pros

– Very good all-rounders. Don’t necessarily excel at one thing, but do everything well
– Wide rim profile makes it easy to get a comfy tyre/pressure combo
– Solid braking

 

Cons

– Still a big spend for comparatively small aero gains
– Reasonably light, but not the ‘extremely light weight’ that Knight claim

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