The Iodine, Cobalt and Opium wheels by Crank Brothers receive a major update in design, stiffness and reliability.

Crank Brothers invited a bunch of us journalists over to check out their new headquarters and to see their latest wheel creations.

Their wheel line-up is as follows:
  • Cobalt - XC and lightweight
  • Iodine - All Mountain and Enduro
  • Opium - Downhill
The changes for 2014 are fairly universal as every wheel was improved including carbon and aluminum. The wheel we actually rode was the Iodine 2 in 27.5 size. This wheelset retails for $600 and weighs in at 1845 grams. It includes the 15mm and 20mm axle end caps in front and 12x142 and 10x135 for the rear. Tubeless valves are included as well.

The Changes

Much of the changes this year occurred in the rims. With better testing, Crank Brothers was able to save weight where possible and add stiffness where needed.

First, the internal rim width was increased by 2mm across the board. This seems to be the silver bullet these days as internal rim width increases tire volume, increases tire footprint and improves traction. For the Iodine line of wheels, internal rim width is now at 23 mm.

Second, the sidewall height has been lowered by 1.7mm. We haven't seen this before from other manufacturers but Crank Brothers lowered the sidewall to improve ride quality and improve pinch flat resistance. Lowering the rim uses more of the tire during impacts and thus improves the ride quality, similar to the way tubular tires improve ride quality. And since a rock or sharp obstacle has to drive deeper into the tire to hit the rim, pinch flat resistance is improved as well.

Next, the rim was made deeper and bigger for better strength. The I-Beam was removed as well to make it lighter without sacrificing vertical stiffness. With better extrusion of aluminum, weight was saved as well. With all the new testing equipment that Crank Brothers has access to now, they are able to test changes and ensure that their stiffness numbers are improved.

The inner rim profile was improved to make tubeless mounting easier. Across the board, the cross section of the rims now get deeper towards the sidewall to help the tubeless tire position itself for better sealing.



Finally, the deeper rim allows for shorter spokes. Shorter spokes result in stronger and stiffer wheels.



The Design

No two ways about it, the twin-pair design of the Crank Brothers wheel is solid. Rather than have alternating spokes pulling the rim from opposite directions every few inches, the twin-pair design ensures that there is no stress on the rim from the spokes since the are pulling at the exact same spot and canceling out the lateral force on the rim. Rolf Prima uses a similar design with the spokes pulling the rim a few millimeters apart. This design allows Crank Brothers to use fewer spokes safely with 24 spokes instead of the traditional 32.

And with no nipple needed to go through the rim, Crank Brothers does not need to drill the rim for every spoke nipple. This result is a stronger rim and a wheel that is completely compatible with tubeless without the need for rim sealing tape. Sure tubeless tape can be applied to any rim but a sealed rim will always be simpler and more reliable.



But It Looks Funny and It's Hard to True

Just to dispel this myth, Tim Young entertained us by building a wheel from scratch in 20 minutes. It's certainly different from building a traditional 32 spoke wheel so some new tricks have to be learned. But in the end, it's definitely simpler and faster.

As far as the look is concerned, it's definitely different but it is a clean design and color options are plentiful. In the end, you'll either be a fan of the look of these wheels or you won't.

How was the ride?

I had two big rides and they were flawless. There were no leaks, squeaks, play or issues whatsoever. I put the wheels on a Scott Genius 720 that had heavy Syncros wheels. The bike really woke up in both climbing and handling. Descending the rugged and rutted trails of Laguna Beach really tested lateral stiffness and the wheels took them all in stride.

Of course that's only two rides and that just gives a very rough first impression. We'll update more after a couple of months in our local terrain.



Reliability

In the end, the success of this line of wheels will be won and lost in the area of reliability. Crank Brothers has invested a lot of time and money in FEA Stress Analysis testing to ensure their wheels are reliable. They've even simplified the hub with a much better spring and going with a conservative 3-pawl, 21 tooth freehub standard to increase reliability.

They admit that they had their hub problems with a 17% failure rate in the first generation of wheels. With an improved design and a much better manufacturer, they're now at less than 1% failure and they're aiming to improve that even more.

Value

Are these bling wheels that offer value? Well, I got the Iodine 2's and they're only $600. That includes tubeless valves and all the axle cups for a modern all mountain bike.

1845 grams is not light for a 27.5 but theses wheels are beefy and can take a lot of abuse from a heavier rider.



The new GM of Crank Brothers, Andy Palmer

Crank Brothers, which is owned by Selle Royal of Italy is under new leadership with new GM, Andy Palmer at the reigns. We asked Andy a couple of questions about the opportunities and challenges of Crank Brothers and this is what he had to say.

Mtbr: Where do the greatest opportunities for Crank Brothers lie in 2014?
Andy: Pedals, tools, and pumps are an obvious opportunity. Pedals in particular is an area where we can take significant market share. This being said, wheels are an important hero product that we are passionate about.

Mtbr: Crank Brothers is held in the highest regard in the areas of design and innovation and customer service. What steps have you taken (and will take) to build back Crank Brothers' quality reputation and win back loyal customers?
Andy: The way to gain people's trust back is simple: continue our excellent warranty service, but ultimately produce products that last. Trust and respect are earned, and we're committed to earn them.

Photos by Bill Freeman.