In terms of grams-per-pound, there’s not much else that can top the super-unique carbon-spoked design of the Hunt 54 UD wheels. The ride is definitely different—in mostly a good way.
Inexpensive (relatively), light, super smooth
Odd cornering characteristics, handling takes some getting used to
1510g (as measured)
Some Background on the Hunt 54 UD Wheels
Ok, so before we get into the review itself, we need to set the stage a little bit: U.K.-based Hunt has just released their brand new carbon-spoked wheelset, but they are far from the first to do so. While a slew of smaller brands in the last 15ish years have taken a run at carbon-spoked wheelsets, oftentimes they were made in such small batches that they were extremely expensive, or they were direct from factories with little support or quality control. Two main brands who have stuck with it and still make some decent carbon-spoked wheels include Germany’s Lightweight and the French brand Mavic. The former makes incredibly expensive carbon-spoked wheels in the $5k+/wheelset range but unfortunately the spokes themselves are unserviceable and the wheel cannot be trued by the user. You break one? You’re staring down the barrel of a crash-replacement situation. The latter of the two European brands makes two different carbon-spoked wheels: Their super lightweight Cosmic Ultimate wheelset runs that about $4,500 and suffers the same fate as the Lightweight pair in terms of adjustment; and their other pair, the R-Sys SLR, which is even more lightweight, but runs around $2k for a pair and has adjustable spokes. While I haven’t had the pricey pleasure of riding the Ultimates or any Lightweight wheels, the R-Sys’ are great on paper, but are notoriously flexy on the road.
Though Hunt isn’t exactly brand new to the wheel game, this is the first year they’ve really tried to make an impact on the U.S. tri market. Their latest wheelsets, the UD Carbon Spoke line comes in a 54mm, a 44mm, and a 44/54mm combination setup for disc brakes and a 36mm offering for rim brakes. Confusingly enough, the disc-brake versions cost in the $1,300 range, while the rim-brake version comes in at around $1,700; however the rim-brake setup comes only with CeramicSpeed ceramic bearings and tips the scales at a claimed 1,295g, while the others begin at 1398g and up. Either way, these are some incredibly light wheels (our tested 54mm pair was 1510g)—particularly for the price.
All disc versions have a monster 29mm externally wide carbon rim, while the rim brake version goes to a still-impressive 26mm—both are tubeless ready. So either way, check your fork/chainstay clearance before purchasing due to the width. Both flavors offer user-adjustable spokes, and both claim an upper rider weight of 240lbs.—two things that make the Hunt’s already unique in their small category.
Finally, the last Big Thing that Hunt is touting with their new seemingly do-it-all wheelset is how fast they actually ride. In their own wind-tunnel testing, they say that their 54mm versions have less drag than some competitors like the Zipp 303s and DT Swiss’ Arc 1100 Dicut 48s. While this is a great stat, both wheelsets also have a lower rim height and aren’t perfect comparisons—at the same time both of those wheelsets are also almost twice the price.
The Hunt 54 UD Wheels Ride (The Good)
Ok, so far we’ve seen a lot of numbers, and it’s safe to say that Hunt’s new wheels look incredible on paper. In fact, they blow a lot of other wheelsets out of the park in this weight/price range. But what about the ride? Well, it’s mostly good news. First, this 54mm wheelset does actually feel incredibly smooth. Hunt claims that by using carbon spokes, it helps reduce a lot of the high-frequency “road chatter” that you’d experience while riding over small bumps on rough roads. Here, they are quite correct. In fact, these are some of the smoothest rolling wheels that I’ve ridden above the 30mm rim depth range. While I have used some ultra-lightweight, low-spoke count wheels that were “softer” overall, in terms of a deep rim over 30mm, this was a pleasant surprise.
As triathletes, we often focus too much on aerodynamics and lateral stiffness when it comes to bikes and wheels, when in fact, we should be paying close attention to bikes and wheels that will get you to T2 in good shape. Particularly in long-course racing—half-IMs and higher—not getting beaten up by the road and being able to hold an aero and powerful position should be goal number one: If you’re sitting up on the basebars or “floating” above your saddle because your rear or back is killing you, for sure you’re losing that aero benefit and good, smooth power. Best case, you’re tired when you get to T2; worst case, you shift your weight too much and cause an imbalance that gets magnified on your run.
The Hunt 54 UD Wheels Ride (The Ok)
While Hunt did have some stats on the fact that their wheels are “6% more laterally responsive than identical steel-spoked wheel,” I did actually feel a little delay in wind-up when really putting down power. Here, I’m talking about over 600 watts of power, but most of the wind-up lag I felt was actually at moments of high torque—in other words, lots of watts (more than is probably necessarily for most tris) suddenly from low watts to high watts. Once over that little torque hump, the wheels actually felt like they snapped back in a way. I wasn’t feeling any lateral wobbling or flex while putting out watts over 500 for a longer amount of time—they actually felt quite stiff—but it was that initial spike that felt a little unresponsive.
The good news here is that I never felt any meaningful loss of power, which would be cause for concern, but I did feel a tiny delay in sudden acceleration. Again, this is very much not a big deal for triathletes: Even if you’re powering over small rollers or accelerating out of corners to maintain speed and momentum, triathletes aren’t trying to make big 800-watt attacks stick from a peloton. You’re not trying to break someone’s draft or win a group sprint, so I really wouldn’t worry about it.
The Hunt 54 UD Wheels Ride (The Odd)
Of course nothing is perfect, and there’s always got to be a gnat in the ointment. Hunt’s gnat seemed to be an unusual handling situation at higher speeds—around 30mph plus: First, on straight descents over undulating or medium-sized rolling bumps, there was a weird oscillation in handling. While it could be some odd perfect storm of wheelbase and vertical carbon deflection, it still happened more than once on different descents without a particularly exceptional road surface. The oscillating was just enough to move my center of gravity around a little bit, but in no way enough to make me feel unsafe. It was simply a strange feeling that I did get used to pretty quickly. I’ve had the same feeling on a TriRig Omni I reviewed that was similarly dripping in carbon. My best guess is that the same properties that make the carbon spokes great against high-frequency chatter also might make things a little weird over certain low-frequency humps and bumps.
The only other oddity I experienced on the pair of 54s that I tested was their sensitivity to crosswinds and slightly off-yaw headwinds. This still could be a feature and not a bug, but rather than feeling like 54mm rims, they felt more like 65mm rims in terms of handling over 30mph. Again, it only took a few miles to get used to, but for something that has a ride quality more akin to a 35mm rim, it actually caught gusts more like a rim deeper than its 54mm. This could be a result of the rim’s width—which is almost without peer (the only other major player with a wider road-focused rim is HED)—or it could be a signal that it’s actually as aerodynamic as a 65mm rim, but that’s just an unproven hypothesis.
Brace Yourself For Conclusions
All in all, I loved these wheels. It may not seem like it after two paragraphs talking about odd handling characteristics, but it just requires that much space to properly describe those unusual sensations. The inability to wind up torque super fast should also not deter triathletes who are realistic about their abilities. The big takeaway from my issues should be that they took very little time to get over, and that they absolutely should not minimize how great these wheels are for triathletes—especially for $1,300.
I actually had to recheck that price five times to make sure it wasn’t a per-wheel cost or in British pounds or something. To get a wheel that deep, that light, and that well-tuned for under $2,000 is truly fantastic. To get it for under $1,500 is almost ridiculous. No, these are not made in the USA like the recently released budget-friendly Enve Foundation series, but they do have a remarkably smooth ride quality, weight, and the adjustability that carbon-spoked wheels often lack.
If you’re a rim brake person, their $1,700 pair of 36mm is not a bad choice, given it comes with CeramicSpeed bearings, but of course that rim depth is not every triathlete’s cup of tea. If you’re a smaller, lighter rider who might not feel comfortable with a pair of 65mm pair of rims, I would suggest getting the 44/54 combo or even just the 44 if it’s a huge concern. Otherwise, this is a pair of wheels that will not only be a great conversation starter when you start riding with your friends again (“Carbon spokes? Aren’t they fragile?” No, as far as my testing went, they were not at all…), but they’ll also do everything a triathlete needs without costing as much as a new bike.
$1,319, Available for pre-order