by Nick Zuzelski
Reynolds has been around in the wheel game for some time, and with the recent release of the premium Black Label wheelsets, they bring their MR5 carbon rims paired with quality hubs and spokes to the market to offer a family of very high level wheelset builds. Available in 4 different models, 27.5" AM, 27.5" XC, 29" XC and 29" Trail, each Black Label offering has been specifically designed with a unique rim profile and carbon layup to cater to each intended use. We hit the trails with the 27.5" AM version to see what $2400 worth of wheels will get you these days.
Black Label 27.5 AM Wheel Spec Highlights
• MR5 Carbon rims
• Width: 31mm outside, 23mm inside
• Hubs: DT Swiss 240s straight-pull type
• Spokes: DT Swiss Aerolite, black aluminum nipples
• Centerlock brake rotor interface.
• 15mm through axle (F), 142mm X 12mm through axle (R), optional endcaps available.
• Shipped with tubeless tape and valve stem pre-installed.
• Weight: 1528/pair, 710g (F), 818g (R)
• MSRP: $2400 USD
After unboxing the wheels and giving them a once over, the Black Labels definitely live up to their name. This wheelset is fully murdered out. Sporting custom matte black DT Swiss/Black Label hub decals and black-on-black rim decals, the Black Label theme is played out well in all aspects of the wheel. The wheels felt light, well put together and ready for action.
A few things caught my attention during the initial inspection, the first of which were the bladed spokes. These are a bit of a rarity on mountain bike wheelsets and a well-debated topic of "are they better, stiffer, etc". I felt it only right to leave the speculation behind and see how they performed on the trail. The next was the rim/tire interface. These rims feature a pretty aggressive inward hook on the profile, and although the industry is moving more and more towards hookless designs these days I again felt that this was something to reserve judgment on until after some trail time with the wheels.
The DT Swiss 240s straight pull hubs feature the Shimano Centerlock brake interface, which provides for easy brake rotor removal and installation for travel and maintenance (there are adapters available should you need to or prefer to run a standard 6-bolt rotor).
The hubs were delivered with the standard 18 tooth star ratchet installed. I would have preferred to see a more precise hub offering on such a high-end build, especially since there is a 36 tooth star ratchet star available from DT Swiss. The hubs come with a standard Shimano freehub body while aftermarket 11-speed XD drivers are available directly from DT Swiss.
On the plus side, I was happy to see Reynolds deliver the wheels tubeless ready with pre-installed rim tape and air valves for those opting to run tubeless. Less time setting up = more time riding!
One last observation: the Reynolds Assurance Program (RAP) offers riders a no-questions asked wheel replacement coverage plan for an additional $250 (at time of purchase), which provides for one time per wheel repair or replacement during two years if you get a little too rowdy on the trail. And on that topic, time to saddle up...
On The Trail
I mounted a set of Maxxis 2.3 High Roller IIs with a tubeless set-up. The tires went on fairly easily without resorting to levers and they sealed right up with no issues. After fighting with various tubeless configurations in the past, this came as an enjoyable and refreshingly headache-free surprise.
During the first ride, it was immediately noticeable that these are very stiff wheels. I had just taken off my ENVE M70 wheelset with 2.4 HRIIs which provided me with an interesting opportunity to compare these two high end products. With very firm lateral stiffness exhibited in corners, through rocky sections and over off camber lines, the Black Labels wheels are anything but a noodly pair of hoops.
After some direct lap by lap comparisons at Highland MTB Park, the Black Labels proved that this is a strong wheelset that was designed to be pushed when things get rough. No flex in corners was detected and handling was razor precise as I was spit out of Highlands many huge gravity sucking berms – if you point it there, then that's where you're going. In terms of what these wheels can handle, they have proven themselves capable of withstanding a true “all mountain” beating. I usually run about 31 psi in the rear and 29 in the front and have had no issues with burping. The tires have stayed flawlessly seated on the rim despite a few sideways landings and harsh corners.
After a few rides, I decided to install a 36-tooth star ratchet to get a bit more precision out of the rear hub. The faster engagement instantly made things feel better, with the hub now up to the premium level that this wheelset aims to be at. Good riddance to 18-tooth star ratchets.
When cruising along on the trail, the freehub ratcheting does not reverberate through the wheel quite as much as on the M70s. These wheels have less of a “hollow” sound and feel more dense and damped when riding, so to speak. The smaller cross section of the rim (which means less hollow interior volume) could have something to do with this - it's not a bad or good thing, just an interesting note.
Things That Could Be Improved
The 18-tooth star ratchet feels like a big cut corner in regards to the overall performance of this wheelset. When you pay this kind of money for a premium pair of wheels, the sloppy 20 degree engagement feels cheap. The remedy takes only a few minutes with the simple installation of a new 36 tooth star ratchet, but it will also set you back an additional $100 in aftermarket parts.
With23mm of internal width, these rims come in a little on the narrow side compared to today’s increasingly wider standard. While my 2.3 HRII tires paired up with the Black Labels nicely, a slightly wider 2.4 might be better off mated to a wider rim.
The topic of high-priced carbon wheelsets has been debated to exhaustion these days across bike forums. When it comes to shaving off precious grams and squeezing that last extra little bit of performance out of a wheelset, the price tag jumps exponentially, which does cut off a lot of riders. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to determine the true value of these wheels, but regardless of your tax bracket, these are going to sting a bit.
Long Term Durability
I tend to try and take smoother lines and stay light on my feet through rocks when I can, so I have a fairly good track record of keeping wheels in one piece. So far, the Black Label wheels have held up despite riding a lot of rocky East Coast terrain where bad line choice bites you in a hurry. After hundreds of miles on the trails, no show-stopping damage has occurred. Rocks have left a few minor character marks on the outer layer of the carbon of the rims, but no structural damage has been noted. The wheels are still running true as ever and show no signs of needing attention anytime soon.
Owners that opted for the Reynold’s Assurance Program have the peace of mind of knowing that if they do destroy a wheel, they can get a one time free replacement. That peace of mind itself could easily be worth the extra $250 off the bat.
What's The Bottom Line?
Reynolds has stepped into the ring of high performance carbon wheelsets and come out swinging with their Black Label offering. This no compromise wheelset offers all-mountain strength and stiffness at XC weight and has proven to be a contender in this market. Aside from the 18 tooth star ratchet, these wheels leave little more to be asked for out of the box - but that should be expected in this price range where any flaws will definitely be reflected in the star rating. Ultimately, riders looking for that extra performance benefit that Reynolds has advertised in their Black Labels will not be disappointed with this solid set of modern day super wheels.
Visit www.reynoldscycling.com for more details.
About The Reviewer
Nick Zuzelski began riding motocross at a young age, a sport that would eventually lead him to the world of downhill. As a Colorado native, racing downhill, dual slalom, or a chill dirt jump session was never far away, and he eventually worked his way up the ranks to the Pro level. Now residing in Eastern Pennsylvania, he recently changed it up from the Rocky Mountain dust to East Coast loam, world class dirt jumps, and rocks... lots of rocks. If a trail has fast flow and some fun gaps, he is grinning ear to ear and getting after it. Living by the assumption that basically everything feels better with a short stem and wide bars, you can count on him keeping it real with a laid back attitude and flat pedals most of the time. Mechanical Engineer by trade, rider by heart, he enjoys riding it, finding out how it works, and making it better.