Mountain Bike Action Product Test: Crankbrothers Synthesis XCT 11 Carbon Wheelset
Crankbrothers Synthesis XCT 11 Carbon Wheelset
Crankbrothers is probably best known for its pedals, but the Southern California company is so much more. Its catalog has been growing, offering innovative products that set Crankbrothers apart from the competition. Whether you’re looking for a new multi-tool or a fresh set of wheels, the Crankbrothers catalog has you covered.
The team has been hard at work trying to optimize its wheel offering and, in the effort, realized that slight variations to the front rim versus the rear offer better overall performance. The Synthesis series of wheels rolls on this theory, and the line includes everything from XC/trail and enduro to downhill; there is even an e-MTB version. The line also offers different levels, allowing riders of all budgets to find a wheel that suits their style and price point.
The Synthesis XCT 11 carbon wheelset is Crankbrothers’ top-tier XC/trail wheelset. The carbon rims are optimized for weight and efficiency with a low-profile 19mm depth. That is all the front- and rear-specific rims have in common. The front rim has a 26.5mm internal width with a 31.1mm external dimension. There are 28 spokes that lace to an Industry Nine Hydra hub with Crankbrothers markings. In the rear, the rim has a 24.5mm internal width with a 29.5mm external width and 32 spokes. If you’re doing the math, that means the rear has a slightly wider rim wall. They are offered in Boost spacing and your choice of XD, HG or micro-spline freehubs.
The carbon layup is also different, with the front offering a slightly higher level of compliance. This is meant to enhance traction and control. In the rear, the stiffness is increased for power transfer and reactiveness. The rim shape, layup and spoke count all work in harmony to fine-tune the ride quality.
Field test results:
For a long time, a carbon wheel upgrade meant stiffness through the roof. Yes, it would transform a bike instantly, but it wasn’t always for the better. The Synthesis is a balance between extremes. When we first mounted the wheels, we noticed a definite improvement over the stock carbon wheels. The front end felt slightly more lively. The tire still does most of the heavy lifting in compliance and traction, but when pushing the limits, we noticed a bit more traction and support from the tire. In the rear, the nearly instant engagement of the Hydra hub is appreciated, but more than that, the wheels seem to transfer the energy extremely well. Exiting corners at speed, there was a snappy feel that encouraged us to lean deeper.
Tires of all brands seem to mount effortlessly by hand and with a floor pump. We tested sizes from 2.0 all the way up to 2.6, with the best results from 2.1 to 2.4. The lower-volume tires seemed to gain the most noticeable advantage, but even at 2.4 we could feel the difference the system offered.
The I9 hubs do use a six-bolt rotor, so for many XC and trail bike owners this means you might not be able to transfer your stock CenterLock rotors that seem to be the standard on mid- to top-tier builds. Other than that, these wheels are a top choice for those looking for small gains that can improve handling and confidence when pushing the limits. They are also a big improvement over most stock in-house brands of any level.
At just over 1500 grams for the set, they aren’t crazy light, but the rotational mass feels much lighter. This is because the I9 hubs and their high engagement push the weight up a bit, but it’s worth it. Along with the performance aspects, Crankbrothers also offers a lifetime warranty on the rims so you can ride with confidence that you’re covered. For us, this is a huge selling point, because we all like to ride hard and push the limits. We don’t want to worry that our investment will be lost because we got too rowdy on the trail.
- Light where it counts
- Super high engagement
- Independent tune and build
- Not a budget build
- Six-bolt rotor
Weight: 1570 grams (with valves and tape) 701 front; 869 rear
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