Product Test: Novatec Dragon 29 Wheelset
Novatec is one of the largest hub manufacturers in the world and has been building hubs under the name of different bike companies for years. With an abundance of in-house experience with everything wheel-related, Novatec has recently introduced its own line of mountain bike wheels, covering the gamut from cross-country to gravity applications.
Tech features: The Dragon 29 wheelset is designed for cross-country and light trail use. Novatec hand-builds all its wheels in-house at its factory in Taiwan. The Dragon 29 features a tubeless-compatible, alloy rim with an internal width of 18 millimeters and an external width of 22.5 millimeters. The rim has a black micro-peen finish and uses heat-cured graphics to shave weight.
The wheels use a tried-and-true, three-cross, 32-spoke configuration with high-quality Sapim Laser double-butted spokes. At the heart of the Dragon wheelset are Novatec’s own red-anodized hubs. Both the front and rear hubs use Novatec’s 4-in-1 technology, which allows for nearly every combination of thru-axle or quick release on the market today. The front is compatible with standard quick releases and 10-, 15- and 20-millimeter thru-axles, while the rear is compatible with standard quick releases and 10-, 12-millimeter and X12 thru-axles.
The hubs all use sealed bearings in a four-bearing configuration for durability and longevity. The Dragon’s freehub integrates a steel rib into the alloy body for extra protection against drivetrain forces, which can chew up standard alloy freehubs in some cases. The Dragon’s freehub features six pawls.
Our Dragon front wheel weighed 1.6 pounds and the rear weighed 2 pounds even, both with rim strips installed. The Dragon 29 wheelset sells for $680. The wheels come with extra spokes and nipples, along with all the press-fit axle adapters for the front and rear hubs.
Field test results: Perhaps we were just drawn to the shiny red components, but since Novatec is known for its hub manufacturing, it was only natural that the first thing we noticed was the stout design of the hubs and the very fast engagement of the freehub. At just over 3.5 pounds, the Dragon 29 wheelset is well within the range of what we’d expect from a lightweight, aluminum, cross-country wheelset.
With most of the mountain bike world moving toward wider and wider rims, the 17-millimeter internal rim width is a bit on the narrow side (Stan’s ZTR Crest measures 21 millimeters wide internally), even for a cross-country-specific wheelset. Our 2.1-inch Schwalbe Racing Ralph looked a bit more at home on the narrow rim than our 2.25-inch model. While the Dragons feature a tubeless-compatible rim bed profile, you will still need to use a system such as Stan’s NoTubes to shed the tubes.
On the trail, the Dragons performed as advertised. Just as we predicted when first pulling the wheels out of the box, on the trail, the freehub engagement was lightning fast under foot. While we have certainly ridden plenty of wheels with a more standard freehub engagement without issue, now that we’ve experienced a wheelset with such a positive feel, it will be harder to go back.
We couldn’t detect any abnormal lateral flex in the Dragon’s alloy rims, so they are certainly stiff enough for cross-country use. But even though we didn’t have any issues with the tires folding over because of the narrow rim profile, we couldn’t help but wonder if the Dragons were leaving a bit of performance on the table because of it.
At $680 and 3.6 pounds total, the Dragon 29s are very competitively priced and in the weight range of other wheels in their class. While their rim width is a bit narrower than other similar options out there, the high-quality hubs are a notch above the rest. If you are dead set on going with a wider option, Novatec also offers the FlowTrail 29 wheelset with a 20-millimeter width, the same hubs and only a slight weight penalty.