Sixth Element are a Manchester based company that have made a bit of name for themselves producing carbon rimmed Mtb wheels. Sourcing their rims from Asia and then lacing them up over here, they are able to offer a level of customisation to satisfy the fussiest of riders. With all this experience in the world of off-road wheels, the Sixth Element Cross Wheelset should be able to cope with the muddy stuff, but I decided that a set of ‘cross wheels needs to be able to handle much more than an hour of mud.
First up let’s look at the specs for these carbon lovelies. The Sixth Element Cross Wheelset that I have been trying out can be had in two sizes, 35 or 55mm; mine were 55mm deep and came with Hope Pro2 hubs. Sixth Element have just upgraded their wheels and you will now get Hope’s Pro4 hubs, which come in six different colours. Spokes are round, black and double butted, either Swiss or DT. If you want you can add ceramic bearing to you wheels. The final choice you will have to make is what colour you want your rim decals; it’s the little things that count!
Unidirectional weave Toray T700 carbon is used for the main body of the rims, which is then enhanced with 3K weave around the internal spoke bead. The UD carbon fibre is stronger, but the 3K is used internally around the spoke holes as it is better at resisting any de-lamination caused by the drilling process. The rims are 25mm wide external and 18mm wide internally and have a Hookless profile. If, like me, you’re still a bit of a tubeless neophyte, then I’ll briefly explain what a Hoookless rim is.
A hookless rim has a raised bed either side of the central dropped channel. This is to prevent a small section of the tyre briefly popping off the rim while cornering under pressure and allowing air to escape; known as ‘burping’. It also helps centre the tyre during inflation. Doing away with hooks that used to be placed on the inner edge of the rim, has led to stronger, lighter wheels and removed a labour intensive stage from the manufacturing process; should mean cheaper wheels then…
My review wheels turned up with a set of Hope Pro2 hubs, as I said earlier these have since been upgraded and now you’ll get a pair of Hope Pro4 hubs. Take a look at the reviews for these and you’ll see their reputation is very good. Long lasting, reliable, smooth and easy to live with; what more could you ask for? The only problem I had was the freewheel; it’s LOUD! Descending on quiet country lanes, it sounded like I was being followed by a squadron of angry wasps! It’s not a performance issue, but the first couple of rides you do notice it, as will your ride buddies.
So straight out of the box and it’s time to get some rubber on. My review set had turned up without tubeless valves, so I made up a pair by cutting down a couple of inner tubes with long stems. If you’re going the diy route, make sure you get threaded valves as you’ll want to screw them down tight to the rims. With some Stan’s yellow tape applied it was on with a set of Schwalbe One tyres. These popped on first time with no fuss and some satisfying cracks and clicks. With some sealant installed they were airtight straight away and I was able to put in a short test ride without any noticeable air loss.
The first couple of rides I had planned for the Sixth Element Cross wheels were all road based; The Wiggle Super Series Ups and Downs, a round of the LVRC at the Dunsfold circuit in Surrey (as used by the bike loving Top Gear people), The Lapierre Tour of the Black Country, the Tour of Cambridgeshire and a round of the local Tuesday night crit series at Goodwood. A good mix of road based riding for some off-road focused wheels.
They handled all the black stuff could throw at them without blinking. These wheels are fast and supple, handling on the two circuits – neither of which are technically challenging – was superb. I had my brake blocks set nice and close, to see if I could pick up any brake rub. There was too much going on in the bunch sprint to notice it there, but I did pick up a small amount doing a mad sprint up a tarmac hill. Much less than I get from my Mavics, so those thirty-two spokes are doing their job and not losing too much power. Checking back over my Strava (I know!) records and I noted that there were a lot of PRs whenever I took the Sixth Elements out, make of that what you will.
Switching to some off-road rubber was simple and I was expecting to have some problems as I had been told that tubeless carbon wheels have problems achieving tight seals; something to do with the difficulty in forming straight beads in carbon. You can machine a nice straight edge with aluminium rims, but not with carbon. Well, I had no problems with my tyre swaps and I was changing them a lot, sometimes twice a week. I was using Schwalbe tyres all the way through the test, so can’t report on the fit of other brands.
Swapping to some off-road action and the Sixth Elements Cross wheels carried on impressing. Although all my test rides managed to avoid any mud – so I can’t tell you how they perform in the gloop – I was more than happy with them on my local patch of heaven, the South Downs. The riding here can be very tough, with flint and chalk doing their best to trash components. After some particularly hard impacts, I was convinced I was going to have to try and explain myself to the guys at Sixth Element, but every time the wheels held true.
This says a lot for the build quality of the wheels and although the weight weenies among you will be moaning about the excess of spokes, all that extra ‘weight’ goes to building a wheel that you can absolutely rely on. And at no time did I feel that I was riding on heavy wheels, in fact I was surprised at their weight – 1067g & 933g – compared to how they actually felt. Some of this extra weight is going to come from the hub, which has extra material to enable a disc to be fitted and you wouldn’t have this on a standard hub. If you want a lighter wheel, you could go for the 35mm rim and save some weight there, but on the road or trail, I didn’t feel it to be an issue at all.
The one part of the wheels I didn’t get to try out was how it handled with disc brakes, but from what I experienced and knowing the quality of the hubs that Sixth Element use, I don’t think you’ll have any issues there.
After three months of very hard riding, they were as true as the first day out of the box. Wear on the rims was pretty much non-existent, apart from some yellow smudges left by the brake blocks. So if you are after a set of wheels that can handle any type of cycling from fast crit racing to long distance trails, I can heartily recommend the Sixth Element Cross wheelset.
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