It’s no secret that cross-country riding and racing have been drastically evolving, and so have the bikes and components. With more demand on cross-country gear, brands have had to respond with products that are still light but also sturdy. Race Face has a long history in mountain biking with product lines ranging from cranksets to wheelsets. This year Race Face released its newest addition, the Next SL wheels, for riders looking to push their cross-country rigs as hard as possible. We installed the Next SL wheels, with their burly hubs and new lightweight carbon fiber rims, on one of our favorite XC rigs for a long-term review.
Tech info: Race Face has a broad range of wheelsets for everything from enduro to cross-country riding. Within Race Face’s line of components, the Next SL represents the top with the lightest and most purpose-built designs. The Next SL wheels use a carbon fiber rim with an internal width of 26mm and an external width of 31mm. This internal width is versatile enough to handle anything from 2.1-inch- to 2.4-inch-wide tires without ballooning the shape too much. Like most modern wheels, the Next SL rims are tubeless-ready. Race Face uses a 26-hole rim with three-cross lacing on straight-pull hubs for a finished product that is strong but quite stiff. The rims use a 4.5mm offset to help with the overall strength and stiffness of the wheel. For easier maintenance, Race Face builds the Next SLs using one spoke length.
At the center of the Next SL wheels are Race Face’s Vault hubs with a massive shell to house their oversized bearings. The hub flanges are also oversized to improve the bracing angle for a stronger wheel. The Vault hubs use larger bearings for increased durability as well. Race Face designed the rear hub with a very quick 120-point engagement and a main seal with lower friction to allow the wheels to roll quicker. The wheels use interchangeable, tool-free axle caps. The Next SLs are only available in Boost front and rear in a 29-inch diameter. Our set of test wheels came in at 1,565 grams, with an XD driver and a retail price of $1,550.
On the trail: Pulling the Next SLs out of the box, they had a unique design blending cross-country and trail, especially with the wider 31mm rim. We installed some wider WTB tires on our wheels—a 2.4-inch wide Trail Boss on the rear and a 2.5-inch Vigilante on the front. The tires seated on the rims without any extra effort and didn’t leak during our testing. The wider tires looked right at home with the 26mm internal rim width and a nice rounded shape. With the cassette installed and gears dialed in, the rear hub engagement was quick and had a nice buzz.
Hitting the trail, the rim width proved to work well with our set of test tires, allowing them to keep their shape in corners and over technical sections of trail. Pedaling, the rear hub continued to give us a very efficient ride, with the wheels responding to even the slightest pedal movement. This was noticed most when crawling up steep, technical sections of trail. When we were standing out of the saddle, the Next SLs felt stiff and held their line whenever we put power down into the pedals.
We spent a fair amount of time on steep and technical trails to see how far the Next SLs could be pushed. Dropping into high-speed and technical lines, the Next SLs were stable and didn’t stray or wander, giving our test riders all the confidence they needed. We experienced a few rock strikes on the rims during our testing, and, to our surprise, the Race Face wheels withstood the abuse. We are sure these wheels have their limits, but we didn’t experience any excessive wear. After several weeks of hard riding, the hubs didn’t have any play and the rims were true.
The Race Face Next SL wheels are a good option for cross-country riders looking for something a little burlier than the lightest race wheelset on the market. If you want to hit your XC race on the weekends and shred technical trails during the week, the Next SLs are a solid choice. www.raceface.com
• Responsive hubs
• Burly enough for hard riding
• No 27.5″ option
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