Jim’s Tech Talk
By Jim Langley
- Ultralight deep-rim gravel wheels (1,300 grams!)
- Ready for tarmac and dirt with 30-50mm tire compatibility
- Laterally stiff, lively and aerodynamic
- Elite’s high modulus carbon spokes
- Spare spokes included
- tubeless tape & valves installed
- 3-year warranty & crash replacement policy
- free shipping
- Elite offering a discount code which is JIMLANGLEY
- carbon spokes are new and you might worry about durability
- some front spokes turned into the wind (see video)
WEIGHT (pair): 1,300 grams
RIMS: 700c Elite’s own U N I G45 aero carbon tubeless clincher, 45mm deep; 31mm outer width/24mm inner width; 30-50mm width tire compatibility
SPOKES: Elite CS-01 high modulus carbon aero with alloy secure-lock nipples
HUBS: Front 12×100 / Rear 12×142; direct-pull spoke design with NBK ceramic bearings; double walled sealed with Shimano/SRAM XDR cassette compatibility (4-pawl freehub) and Shimano Center Lock disc compatibility.
RBR ADVERTISER: No
HOW OBTAINED: Sample from company
TESTED: 250 miles, one 30 mile gravel race with lots of very rough singletrack
Ultralight High Performance Wheel Upgrade for Your Gravel Bike
Back in February you may have read the review of my new Trek Checkpoint SL5 gravel bike. I said that one of the upgrades I was looking forward to was a second set of wheels so that I could have one setup for road and the other for gravel.
Having two wheelsets is the best and easiest way to make a G bike more versatile because changing wheels is much faster than changing tires, rotors and the cassette. And also because you can have two very different sets of wheels to completely change the ride of your bike.
Enter EliteWheels, a Chinese wheel maker who reached out to me because I have reviewed other wheelsets and asked if I’d like to test and review their new gravel wheels, their Drive G45s. When I asked them what the most noteworthy feature of the wheels was, they told me that they were the first company to build wheels with replaceable high modulus carbon fiber spokes.
I’ve ridden carbon spoked wheels before (and still own and sometimes ride a couple of the wheels) but not ones with standard replaceable carbon spokes that work similarly to how standard steel spokes work. That’s what Elite builds with. Elite also told me that they use their own carbon rims and hubs with ceramic bearings, which are lighter and more durable than standard steel bearings.
With all the high tech features, the G45s sounded like they would make the perfect second set of wheels because they were significantly lighter and most likely higher performance than the stock aluminum rimmed, steel spoked wheels that came on my Trek Checkpoint (not bad hoops, just pretty standard spec). So I told the folks at Elite I would be happy to test the Drive G45s out and review them.
Elite’s proprietary U N I carbon
Elite calls their own carbon that’s used in the G45 rims U N I. In case you’re wondering as I was, the initals don’t stand for anything, “U N I” is just what they call it.
Quoting from their website, “After two years of continuous experimentation with lighter carbon fiber materials and increased research and development of resins by the EliteWheels team, a set of optimal material ratios was finally reached. Our in-house designed U N I has properties that fall between Toray T800 and T1000 carbon fiber.”
Elite’s U N I carbon bests similar shaped carbon rims in lateral and vertical stiffeness. Plus their carbon can be made stronger at the spoke holes while retaining its light weight. The full details and graphs can be seen here: https://www.elite-wheels.com/the-technology-of-uni/.
The G45s are U-shaped rims with the aero advantages of road wheels plus the right width to accept 30-50mm tires so it’s ideal for both road and trail riding. They have a high gloss finish that looks marbled up close. The high gloss makes them easy to clean.
Double-sealed hubs with NBK ceramic bearings
The G45 wheelset boasts custom, high-end direct-pull hubs that use a double-walled waterproof design and premium NBK brand ceramic bearings. Compared to standard steel bearings, ceramic bearings offer less rolling resistance, less weight and much longer service life.
According to Elite, “the hub flanges have been specifically designed to be simple and practical in form. This makes for easy cleaning of the hub after riding in muddy conditions.” I haven’t had to clean the hubs yet but I can see how a small brush would fit in between the spokes. But the rotor and cassette can make it trickier to access so we’ll see when the time comes.
The hubs use premium NBK brand ceramic bearings for less rolling resistance and lighter weight. I’ve used wheels with ceramic bearings before and haven’t been able to feel the difference in rolling resistance but some riders swear they can and insist on using them. Saving weight in the bearings helps in keeping the overall wheel weight down. And ceramic bearings should last longer than steel bearings. I asked Elite if they had any how-to’s on bearing maintenance or replacement when the time comes and they said not yet but they have plans to create some soon.
The freehub on the rear hub uses 4 pawls. I thought it might make be loud when coasting. But, it’s quiet and I can barely hear it.
Featherweight ultra-strong carbon spokes
The most special feature of the G45s is the use of Elite’s replaceable high modulus carbon fiber spokes. As I mentioned, carbon spokes have been used in wheels before but they were usually integral to the carbon wheel (bonded to it), which meant that if something happened to a spoke the entire wheel would need to be repaired. Elite’s carbon spokes work just like standard steel spokes and can be replaced should you break one just as easily as steel spokes can.
While the specs say that 3 are included, the test wheels came with 4 new spokes which included the secure-lock aluminum nipples (a thread locking device is built into the nipples to ensure the spokes stay tight).
Because these were separate from the wheel it gave me a chance to weigh them and compare them to similar steel spokes I have. I found that Elite’s carbon spokes – even though they’re wider and claimed to be more aerodynamic (which makes sense) are actually 2 grams lighter than steel spokes.
Also, because the carbon spokes have a much higher tensile strength (they withstand up to 400Kgf before failing) and a higher stiffness to weight ratio than steel spokes they increase the lateral stifness of the wheels.
Elite says “the wheels are 7% stiffer than a comparable wheelset using steel spokes. Carbon spokes are also three times more fatigue resistant than their steel counterparts. All these performance increases mean that with carbon spokes the typical loss of tension experienced riding steel spokes over time use can essentially be avoided.”
As I said these spokes are new to me and I only have a couple of hundred miles on them so far. But, I did pound the wheels and spokes really hard in a gravel race about an hour of which was down a rutted, rocky, rooty singletrack that was so severe I thought I might break my carbon fork. At the end the wheels were as true and round as at the start and the spokes were unscathed. I also crashed a couple of times in the race and that didn’t affect the wheels or spokes at all either.
Overall, having carefully inspected the wheels (11 checks) and ridden them a fair amount on road and off, I can say that the Drive G45s are expertly built wheels comprised of impressive components and that they ride great. I think you’ll feel the boost in lateral rigidity from the U N I carbon rims and stiff carbon spokes just like I have on climbs and out of the saddle efforts plus while cornering hard. And of course, gossamer wheels like this just make a bike feel faster and easier to pedal.
In the NOT! section at the top of the page I mentioned that you might be wary of carbon spokes. While I’ve ridden the wheels pretty hard, I haven’t put enough miles or time on them to know how well the carbon spokes will hold up. But, here’s a video from a guy at another company using carbon spokes with some interesting tests and results that suggest they’re a lot tougher than you might expect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlW3P5pKd5o.
Such a high performance set of wheels actually presents a fun decision that I’m still mulling over, which is whether to make these G45s my dedicated gravel set or dedicated road set? So far, I’ve gone gravel (running Pirelli Cinturato 700 x 45c tires -sweet tires), but I’ve been thinking it might make more sense for superlight, super stiff wheels to be dedicated to road. What would you choose?
Please watch my video accompanying this review because in it I run the G45s through the 11 checks I use to grade the build of a set of wheels. I also provide a lot more views of the wheels and components.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. A pro mechanic & cycling writer for more than 40 years, he’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Tune in to Jim’s popular YouTube channel for wheel building & bike repair how-to’s. Jim’s also known for his cycling streak that ended in February 2022 with a total of 10,269 consecutive daily rides (28 years, 1 month and 11 days of never missing a ride). Click to read Jim’s full bio.