Crank Brothers Synthesis Wheelset Review- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Crank Brothers Synthesis Wheelset Review

    Disclaimer: I am not an ambassador for CB. I spent my hard-earned money on these wheels. That being said, I did purchase them at heavily discounted rates due to being a member of a specific mountain biking organization and the use of a 'professional sales' website.

    I was in the market for high end carbon wheels for my bike(s) with a lifetime warranty. I narrowed it down to We Are One or SC Reserves. But after some reading, I came across the seemingly forgotten Crank Brothers Synthesis Wheelset. Reviews only had great things to say about them. Compliant front end. Stiff rear end. People have been doing this for years! But they're from pubs and were from the initial release last October. Very few recent reviews. Which meant that buying these is taking a HUGE chance with my money. I'm glad I took the chance.

    Synthesis E11s. 1880g with XD driver, tubeless tape, and valves.

    The enduro wheelset. With I9 Hydra hubs. I don't need to say much about Hydra. They're awesome and a worthy successor to the Torch. Everyone wanting high end hubs will have them soon enough. The E11s went on my Slash. To replace a set of Bontrager Line Pro 30 carbon wheels, now out of its 2 year warranty period(seriously Trek? get with the times). Now you may think, 'Oh you're going from carbon to carbon? Blah blah blah, all carbon is the same, all made in Taiwan, aLuMiNuMz f0r tEH wINz!', but you couldn't be more wrong. The Bontrager carbon wheels are a great wheelset. They were lightweight, stiff, and pretty damn sturdy! Why the hell would I even 'upgrade'? And why would I take a weight penalty of 150g? The Line Pros weighed 1700-ish grams with normal tubeless tape and valves.

    Because the Synthesis wheels are that good. I've used the same exact tires and same exact tire pressures between the 2 wheelsets. 2.5 WTB Vigs front and rear, 24f/27r pressures. No stupid tire inserts. Absolutely no changes to suspension were made. First thing I noticed on the trail was how 'quiet' they were. I'm not talking about the sound of the hubs. It's hard to explain. The Line Pros were really 'chattery' I guess? Maybe vibrated more? The E11s felt... more peaceful to ride. Anyway, the rear wheel of the E11 has 32 spokes. It's pretty stiff. Stiffer than the Line Pros. The front E11 has 28 holes, and not as stiff as the Line Pros. Just pedaling along, you're not going to notice much difference. They are wheels after all. But cornering is where the E11s shine.

    See, with the combination for the compliant front, and stiff rear, I was able to take flat and off camber corners faster and more confidently. The front end digs in while the rear tracks. At the limit of grip, the rear gives out first, which initiates a controllable, mellow drift and the front stays tracking in its original line. It's engineered oversteer, which can take a little getting used to. The front end doesn't get knocked off line by bumps mid corner. It somehow absorbs these bumps and keeps me tracking where I want to go. The rear end feels like it's constantly gripping and losing said grip, but in a manner that is mostly unnoticeable and works together with the front end to keep the intended line. It's 'floating' so to speak.

    With the Line Pro 30s, I had a tendency to run wide. The stiff front offered incredibly quick steering. But it's easily knocked off line by a bump mid corner forcing me to adjust or run wider than intended.

    In berms or supported corners, the E11s were superb. I initially thought there wasn't going to be much difference in berms because you're generally not exclusively on your cornering knobs while taking berms. Again, the front end digs in, while the rear wheel tracks. It's a very similar feeling to flat cornering except that the rear is planted just like the front. Again, it's hard to explain the feeling. I can only make a comparison. The Line Pros likes to run high on berms so I have to make mid corner corrections if I don't want to launch off of the side of the hill. The E11s maintain its line the entire way through a berm. Braking bumps aren't nearly as noticeable on the E11s. They go through them as if they weren't even there.

    I can't comment on durability yet as I haven't had them for a long time. But they have a lifetime warranty, so that has to mean something. Aesthetically, I think they look great. No stupid 'look at me' logos. Just nice, understated branding. Very classy design we've come to love/hate from CB.


    So I liked these so much that I bought a second set for my SB100.

    The XCT11s. XD, Hydra, and 1590g with tape and valves.

    My SB100 came with the DT Swiss XM1501 25mm IW. Already a phenomenal aluminum wheelset. Probably some of the best completes you can get out there. But retails for almost as much as I got the XCT 11s for. I shaved about 150g by going to the XCTs. Definitely a nice bit of weight saved. Again, tires, air pressures, and suspension setup was identical as when I had on the DTs.

    Now going from aluminum to these carbon wheels specifically had the biggest difference. The traits were identical as the E11s. So I'm not going to re-iterate what was said already. I will say that the jump from aluminum wheels to the XCT11s transformed an already phenomenal bike in to a perfect(to me) lightweight trail bike. The XCT11s are stiffer than the DTs front and rear. And I definitely notice it. It's much more willing and quicker to turn than the DTs. But it's not overly stiff that it's uncomfortable. Pair that with the 'wheelset tuning' and I have the same cornering traits as the E11s, in a lighter weight package.

    My SB100 is now a rip-roaring cornering machine, but still maintains the comfort I had with the aluminum DT wheels. It's frickin fast. Crank Brothers literally 'downsized' the E11s in to an XC/trail package. A lot of XC carbon wheelsets are usually just stiffened up, lighter versions of the enduro version. Or the enduro version is a beefier version of the XC wheelset. With different ride characteristics even from the same brand. Like say the enduro wheelset may be more compliant. While the XC version is stiff as a board. The Synthesis wheels feels the same from each category, so long as you use the wheels for its specific purpose.

    Overall, I'm very, very impressed. I spent a lot of money on these 2 wheelsets. But not as much as buying one CK ENVE wheelset brand new for retail. I got each Synthesis wheelset for less than a WAO or SC Reserve with the I9 Hydra hubs at retail. There will always be naysayers and armchair engineers that will say, 'There's no difference! It's all in your head!', having never ridden these wheels. And that's fine. Live in your cave for all I care. But with first experience with these wheels, I think I'm qualified to say that Crank Brothers' claims certainly hold true. Can you make a 'tuned' wheelset of your own? Abso-****ing-lutely! People have been doing it for years. Aluminum front, carbon rear. 28h front, 32h rear. Or any combination thereof. I suggest you do it too if you don't want to spend money on these. But for those with a bit of money to spare, and want a lifetime warranty, and one of the best wheels money can buy, I highly recommend these.
    I no longer like to party. But I like the idea of it.

  2. #2
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    I believe you bought the best product out there and I don't fully understand why these are not phenomenally popular.

    I'm trying to build a set of wheels using braid for spokes cause I'm a WW, however my performance goals are really to match the performance of the Synthesis wheels and they really are my target.

    There are so many components that go in to wheel compliance, and since I'm starting with a totally different depth of wheel which greatly effects compliance, I'm just guessing trying to obtain similar performance. That said I'm going to weigh .9# less than Synthesis using a DH rear rim so that counts for something.

    What I'm spending on my wheels, well it's going to cost just as much as what I see Synthesis for sale online for and I won't have the warranty.

  3. #3
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    I can see many people's reluctance to pay so much for these wheels. The '11' series are $2400. And the standard ones are $1700. MSRP. Very, very expensive to say the least. And Crank Brothers doesn't exactly have the best reputation for wheels in the past. Hopefully once the long term reviews from publications come out, people will be more willing to spend the money. Or at least entertain the idea of building a more compliant front and stiffer rear wheelset. These type of 'tuned' wheels don't turn the MTB world upside down, but it definitely makes a positive change in the right direction.
    I no longer like to party. But I like the idea of it.

  4. #4
    Bodhisattva
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    Nice review.

    I've had this wheel set for two weeks now and am too extremely impressed.

    27.5, Hydra hubs, XD driver. With tape & valves: 1810 gm

    These replaced a set of e-13 carbon rims on e-13 hubs. I also own, or owned, Enve and Light bike carbon hoops.

    Finish is impeccable, as you say. The muted graphics under the clear coat, combined with the bladed spoke, molded spoke holes and black hydra hubs are dead sexy.

    These wheels are definitely not all about the hype. It's hard to describe the unique feel of these wheels (although you do a very good job). Through bumps, it's almost like I gained a bit of suspension compliance. And I also notice the bit of understeer, and have learned to adjust accordingly. My prior wheel sets felt stiffer and handled a bit sharper, but was harsher in the corners and through off camber rocks. Whereas the Synthesis wheels more compliant and less jarring.

    Again, it's hard to explain. I read all available reviews prior to purchasing, and all seem to agree that there's definitely a tangible performance benefit to these wheels.


    At 170 lbs geared, I'm running a 2.5 Assegai WT front at 20 psi, and a 2.4 Bontrager SE4 at 20 in the rear (with a stupid Vittoria airliner insert which I really like).

    Crank Brothers Synthesis Wheelset Review-img_2269.jpg

  5. #5
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    Any updates about your wheels?

    Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk

  6. #6
    Bodhisattva
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    Still loving mine.

    Broke and replaced a spoke (stick to RD, RD into spoke), and had to do a minor true one other time, otherwise no issues to report

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Squeaky Wheel View Post
    Still loving mine.

    Broke and replaced a spoke (stick to RD, RD into spoke), and had to do a minor true one other time, otherwise no issues to report
    I ride a ton of roots and rock gardens here in the east. You?

    Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk

  8. #8
    Bodhisattva
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    Quote Originally Posted by bogeydog View Post
    I ride a ton of roots and rock gardens here in the east. You?

    Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk
    In Colorado, chunky rocks galore
    Roots, not so much.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by bogeydog View Post
    Any updates about your wheels?

    Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk
    Absolutely no issues with the wheels. My XCT11 set on my SB100 has seen 3 days of bike park, and my E11 set on my Slash has seen about a week of bike park. Both wheelsets have been through practically all kinds of terrain. Still true and no signs of potentially catastrophic damage.

    I've been flirting with getting a set for my Chameleon C hardtail, but a carbon hardtail with carbon wheels is pretty unforgiving. Theoretically, the rear of a hardtail is already significantly stiffer than the front end because of the solid connection. So I don't believe that the Synthesis wheelset would provide much of a difference compared to the XM1501 wheels I have on now. Except of course, a much harsher and unforgiving ride.
    I no longer like to party. But I like the idea of it.

  10. #10
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    I have ridden a pair of XTC11s on my new SC Blur for the summer. I agree 100%. These wheels are amazing.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rocky Mountain Racer View Post
    I have ridden a pair of XTC11s on my new SC Blur for the summer. I agree 100%. These wheels are amazing.
    Tell us more.

    Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk

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