We take quite a lot of pride in our wheel building program here at Fanatik. We’ve recently partnered with Industry Nine as their exclusive USA wheel building partner. That means we are the only shop in the USA that is authorized to build full custom Industry Nine wheels using their proprietary aluminum straight-pull spokes and hubs. This opens up a whole new world of custom wheel options, with 10 different colors of anodized hubs and spokes, as well as the ability to pick your own spoke lacing color pattern. Since we are now performing these wheel builds in house, we can build Industry Nine hubs/spokes to a much wider variety of rims that we keep in stock, as long as the rim falls within a compatible range for the spokes offered by I9. Don’t worry, we’ve figured that all out, and programmed compatible options into our Custom Wheel Builder. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I’m sure many of you are curious, what are the benefits of Industry Nine wheels? Is it worth the added cost of the proprietary spokes and hubs? Let’s find out…
I’ve been riding a set of custom I9 wheels, and given them a proper thrashing. I really wanted to get some experience on the new Ibis 942 rims, so I opted for those along with orange I9 hubs and custom-laced orange/blue spokes. I grouped the spokes into quadrants, alternating blue and orange. The final build was nothing short of stunning, to say the least. Over the next few months, I did my best to give ‘em hell on my Evil Wreckoning. After several weeks on trail rides, DH shuttles, jumps, drops, etc, the wheels are still perfectly true and tensioned. I have not touched a spoke wrench since they were built. Right off the bat I noticed these things have very little flex. While there is such thing as a wheel that is too stiff, I did not find this to be the case on my setup. The Evil Wreckoning is one of the burlier 29’er frames out there, but there’s no avoiding the fact that as wheel size increases, frame and wheel stiffness tends to decrease. I would venture a guess to say that this is one of the stiffest 29” wheelsets you can build. There are a few factors at play here, so let’s break it down.
Industry Nine aluminum spokes are about 25% larger in diameter compared to your standard 14-guage steel spoke. I9 machines the spokes using 7075-T651 aluminum, giving them excellent tensile strength. Most traditional steel spokes are the “J-Bend” style, where the head of the spoke is curved 90-degrees where it seats to the hub. At the rim, the spoke threads into a spoke nipple. Industry Nine does away with all of this. Aluminum construction allows them to to machine the entire spoke body, threads, and nipple as a single piece. Instead of using the J-bend design, the spoke is straight, and threads directly into the hub. The wrench flats typically found on the nipple are now integrated into the spoke itself. By combining everything into one tidy straight-pull package, the spokes are less prone to fatigue and stress failure.
The 942 is Ibis’ 2nd-gen carbon rim, boasting a few improvements over the super successful 941. They switched it to an asymmetrical design, and squashed the rim depth a bit while maintaining the same 35mm internal rim width as the 941. This rim width is ideal for a new generation of tires such as the Maxxis “Wide Trail” series, which include popular options such as the Minion DHF, Minion DHR II, Shorty. The 942 will also provide a wide enough platform for plus-sized tires in the 2.8” range. Asymmetrical rims are gaining popularity, as it usually allows for equal spoke lengths on either side of the hub, which in turn provides more equal spoke tension throughout the entire wheel. The shallower cross-section improves impact resistance, which Ibis claims makes the wheel better able to distribute loads from localized impacts. With my setup, I was able to build up the entire wheelset with the same length spoke. That makes it a no-brainer should I ever need to replace a spoke. With the new profile and updated carbon layup, Ibis has knocked the weight down on this rim to 465 grams – about 10-20 grams lighter than the competing options from Nox and Derby. For those who are curious, ENVE uses a narrower spoke hole diameter on their rims, which makes them incompatible with the Industry Nine straight-pull spokes.
Industry Nine have been manufacturing high quality hubs for over a decade now, and are some of the finest we’ve had the pleasure of riding. They are machined in-house at their factory in Asheville, NC, and offered in 10 mouth watering anodized colors, giving them the boutique appeal. They use a six-pawl ratchet system, providing 120-point/3° engagement. The high engagement translates to a distinct BUZZZZZZZ on the trail – louder than most hubs. If loud hubs aren’t your bag, then you may want to look elsewhere. Personally I don’t really notice the noise once I’m out on the trail. The high engagement is great for making quick pedal kicks on climbs, and powering out of corners. If you feel like you don’t need 120-point engagement, you can remove three of the six pawls from the hub, effectively reducing your engagement to 60-point. Naturally this will also quiet the hub down a bit, and reduce rotational drag. The bearings and seals used are excellent quality, standing up to the nasty PNW wet/muddy riding we encounter on a regular basis.
So, back to the stiffness...
As I mentioned earlier, there is such thing as a wheelset that’s too stiff. Sure, it seems everyone is touting how stiff their frame is, how stiff their wheels are, etc, etc. Wheels are certainly a component on the bike where stiffness is generally a positive trait. A flexy wheel is a scary thing – it can lead to a bike not tracking properly through corners. On the contrary, a wheel that has no give can beat you up a bit, as it’s transferring more energy from the ground, through the wheel, and to your body. Another variable here is the bike. If you’re running a short travel XC bike, you’re going to feel the adverse effects of a super stiff wheel, as there isn’t much bike there to absorb the chatter. Alternately, on a long travel bike such as the Wreckoning, you’ve got a lot of cush to soak up the extra abuse coming at you. On my Wreckoning, I found the I9/Ibis 942 to be a solid combination. Yes, SUPER stiff, but not to the point that I feel like I’m getting beat up on the trail. The bike tracks very well, and snaps enthusiastically out of corners.
To sum things up...
I9 straight-pull hubs, alloy spokes, and wide carbon hoops will get you an incredibly durable, lightweight wheelset that is also highly customizable. If you’re on a shorter travel bike, you may want to consider some narrower carbon or alloy rims laced to the straight-pull I9 hubs to lend a bit more forgiveness There’s always good old J-bend steel spokes and traditional hubs too, which certainly still have their place for those on a tighter budget, or for those who don’t need the added stiffness of the I9 straight pull hubs and alloy spokes.
No matter which way you go, our powerful Custom Wheel Builder can get you dialed in with the right wheelset to fit your budget and needs. As always, please get in touch with us if you need advice, we’ve got decades combined experience building and riding various wheelsets, and we’re happy to offer our input!