Review by Brandon Turman // Action photos by Courtney Steen
When it comes to a good dirt jump wheelset, riders are often looking for a few key things: Are they strong? Are the individual components easily replaceable? Are they affordable? Do they match my ride? Will they slip in the rear dropout? Built using the same rims that Kyle Strait and Cam Zink rely on while hucking massive cliffs at Rampage, the Novatec Dirtride wheelset is clearly designed to take some serious abuse. I mounted up a pair to see how they'd fair during a summer of use at the Whistler dirt jumps and skatepark.
Dirtride Wheelset Highlights
- Designed for dirt jump, slopestyle, street, and skatepark use
- 31mm external rim width, 25mm internal width, 22mm depth
- Black micropeen rim finish
- Tubeless ready
- 20/15mm front hub, 10x135mm rear hub with bolt-on axle
- Anti-bite guard reinforced steel rib integrated into alloy cassette
- 4-degree engagement
- Replaceable Japanese made sealed bearings
- 6 bolt ISO disc mounts
- 14mm brass nipples
- 32 stainless 14 gauge spokes per wheel (also available in 36 spoke version)
- 3X lacing pattern
- Hand built
- Includes alloy sprocket and spacers
- Weight: 935g front // 1,145g rear // 2,080g total (4.6-pounds)
- MSRP: $679 USD
I've taco'd a fair number of wheels in the past, so I was pleased to see just how burly the Dirtrides are out of the box. Novatec used the same proven rim found on Novatec's Demon models (a downhill wheelset) combined with straight gauge spokes, brass nipples, and a solid bolt-on rear axle - all things that point to great durability.
They come in 32 hole or 36 hole spoke counts. I tested the 32 hole option. The relatively wide rims are drilled for use with Presta valves. While many dirt jumpers and street riders run Schrader tubes for emergency gas station air compressor fill ups, making the hole bigger is easy to do. At the same time, some may enjoy the convenience of running Presta valves/tubes on all of their bikes, and others may take advantage of the tubeless ready rim profile (a nice to have but not really practical for dirt jump or park use). The sleeved rims do not have eyelets, and the black micropeen finish is clean looking and doesn't scratch easily.
Novatec's polished red hubs really pop, which adds to the visual appeal. Out back you're limited to just one cog, clearly indicating which type of bike the Dirtride wheels are best suited to. Novatec provides two spacers to dial in your chainline. On my Banshee Amp dirt jump frame the center position worked best. The room saved by restricting the number of gears allows the hub flanges to be widened, which creates a stiffer and stronger rear wheel. It uses a BMX cassette lock-ring, so unfortunately that standard Shimano cassette tool you have won't work. A large pair of pliers works to tighten the lock-ring in a pinch. It appears that you'd be able to get away with a cog as small as 11-teeth.
The rear hub uses a hardened 10x135mm steel axle with threaded axle bolts that can be tightened using an 8mm allen key or a wrench. It's a very sturdy, heavy axle. Should the rear hub ever come loose, it's a simple matter of finding some cone wrenches to snug it up. The 20mm front hub is available without the 6-bolt disc mount for those seeking the ultra sleek no front brake look.
All of the 14 gauge spokes are black, save the two silver ones surrounding the valve hole which makes it easier to locate. They're a traditional j-bend spoke design which means they'll be easy to replace, and all of the spokes are either 255 or 257mm long. 14mm brass nipples provide plenty of surface to wrench on if they need to be trued as well as a few extra threads of spoke engagement.
Unfortunately all of these things come at a weight penalty, and at a combined 2,080 grams they're certainly on the heavier end of the spectrum.
Mounting up tires was a simple and painless process, and the beads set without any hassle. Time to session the jumps...
At The Jumps & In The Park
There was a point in time when all I did was build and ride dirt jumps, and during that time my ninja skills and flow were at an all-time high. Those days have passed, though, and I'll admit that I'm much more likely to case a few landings or hang up on the coping at the skatepark these days. That is to say, now that I'm more of a hack (and a heavier one at that), I'm a pretty good candidate for testing wheels.
I spent this summer up in Whistler, a place where it's possible to ride the bike park all day, bang out a trail ride, and still have time to squeeze in a solid session at the dirt jumps, pumptrack, or skatepark that are conveniently located next to one another. I'd estimate that these wheels have seen about 40 days of use.
During that time I've had a grand total of zero issues with slipping in the dropouts or my chain coming loose, even though I don't run tensioners and tend to land sideways more often than not. This is a testament to the stout axle design. There is a knurled washer on each side that helps to keep things squared up, and the ability to really crank down on the steel axle with an 8mm allen key or a wrench is awesome. It sticks out pretty far though, so if you're throwing tailwhips watch your ankles as the back end comes around.
The rear hub is pretty quiet. Hearing nothing but my tires on the ground is a neat experience and I prefer a silent bike. Hub engagement is very quick, which is nice when you go to put in a 1/4 crank for balance on the rear wheel before dropping back in to a quarter pipe, for example.
Wheel stiffness has been a non-issue. This is really apparent when you're railing a berm and trying to conserve every ounce of speed so you can make that next double. They came laced up tight and have remained that way.
Having recently switched from a steel dirt jump frame to an aluminum one, the stiffer ride qualities of the aluminum frame took me some time to get used to and I initially felt as though I was getting jarred around over small bumps. Shortly after the frame switch I mounted up Novatec's Dirtride wheels. The relatively wide 25mm internal width seemed to add some extra stability to typically thin dirt jump tires, which alleviated some of that jarring feel even at the same high tire pressures.
Things That Could Be Improved
Perhaps the biggest thing that could be improved is weight. These aren't light wheels. In this case it's a clear tradeoff between durability and a few hundred extra grams. If you're the type of rider that blows up wheels constantly or simply can't afford to rebuild wheels every few months these are a great option. If, on the other hand, you're a smooth rider or enjoy spin tricks, you may want to look some of Novatec's lighter wheelsets. In my case they actually added a little in-air stability to my ride. I'm still able to get the bike sideways with ease, and spinning pretty much anything other than a backflip has always been out of the question for me anyways.
The BMX cassette lock-ring is a minor hassle, simply because most mountain bikers won't own the correct tool.
Finally, while it's a bit petty and comes down to personal preference, the large "Dirtride" logos on the rims look like they were made in Microsoft Clipart, and the part numbers on the hubs could be printed in a way that blends in better.
Long Term Durability
As of today the hubs are nice and tight, and the spokes are still tensioned well with no major dents/dings in the rims and just 2-3mm of side-to-side deflection. The sleeved rim joint also appears to be holding up well. The use of traditional J-bend spokes means they'll be easy to replace if needed. I also appreciate brass nipples as they tend to not seize up as quickly as the aluminum alternative. The micropeen black finish still looks great with very few scratches, as do the heat cured graphics.
What's The Bottom Line?
All in all, the Novatec Dirtride wheels have proven to be solid and reliable for dirt jump and skatepark use. At $649 a set they're one and done for your hardtail or slopestyle needs, easy to mount up, and should last for several years. After a summer of abuse we have no major complaints. Just be aware that they're on the heftier side. They're simple, strong, look decent, and come at a fair price which is exactly what we're looking for in this type of wheelset.
Visit www.novatecusa.net for more details.
About The Reviewer
Brandon Turman likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike, and to really mash on the pedals and open it up when pointed downhill. His perfect trail has a good mix of flow, tech, and balls-to-the-wall speed. He loves little transfers, rollers, and the occasional gap that gives him that momentary stomach in your throat kind of feeling. Toss in some rocky bits with the option to double over them or risk pinch flatting and you've got a winner in his book. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. After finishing up his mechanical engineering degree, his riding focus turned to dirt sculpting and jumping with the occasional slopestyle contest thrown in for fun. Nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy, putting in saddle time on nearly every new platform and innovation the bike industry has to offer.