by Jeff Brines
Lesser known Cole threw their hat into the carbon wheel ring last season with the introduction of their IBEX line. I’ve had my hands on a set for the better part of four months in a 29er application. How did the wheels fair? Take a look…
IBEX Wheelset Highlights
- High-compression carbon rim material
- 27.5mm external, 20.5mm internal (measured) rim profile
- 24 straight pull, double butted 2.0/1.8/2.0mm spokes per wheel
- EZ-Snap tool-free end cap replacement - 15mm front, 135 QR or 142x12mm rear included with wheelset
- Traditional 36 tooth, 3 pawl system with 10-degree engagement
- Hard anodized alloy freehub
- Dynamic Spoke Alignment System (DSA2s)
- Available in 26 (1,430 grams), 27.5 (1,680 grams), and 29-inch sizes (1,650 grams)
- MSRP $1,905 to $1,987
Setup & Initial Impressions
The wheels were hung onto the likes of a custom made 29er hardtail. Yes, this particular hardtail is my XC race bike but also has more in common with a slalom bike geometry wise. Confused? So are most people when they look at it. Point is, although XC in function the bike is often ridden with a downhiller's mentality. The bike is smashed into corners, thrown sideways whenever possible and pumped hard through whatever transition can be found on the trail. Put another way, it's ridden like a proper mountain bike, not a road bike with knobby tires.
To start with, let's look at the on-paper specs of the Cole Ibex 29er wheels. This carbon-hooped, XC race-oriented wheelset comes in at 1,650 grams (1,658 on my scale) - not the lightest XC carbon wheelset on the market but far from heavy. The price follows suit, coming in at $1,940 for the set, which is in the mid to high range for carbon wheelsets these days. Comparable wheelsets from Cole's top competitors range from $1,229 to upwards of $2,500, with the more expensive options offering better hub performance and less weight.
When unpacking the wheels I was happy with the attention to detail and overall finish. Although they are not tubeless ready out of the box, the wheels were properly tensioned, trued and even came with a wheel bag and various end cap adapters. I’m not a spandex clad XC guy (most of the time anyway), so I ended up using the wheelbag to deliver all the pizzas I was going to need to sling to pay for the wheels.
Rim width was on the narrower end; coming in at 27.5mm outer and ~20.5mm internal as measured by a set of calipers (vs 21mm claimed). This is fine for tires about 2-inches in true width, but I wouldn’t suggest going much larger than 2.3-inches because they'll get too rounded off. When compared to much of the competition, this seems to be a trend and although I’d personally like to see a slightly wider rim, the profile of the IBEX is in line with its intended use and other market offerings.
On The Trail
I’ve been on multiple sets of carbon wheels over the past year. This particular set came to me late into the summer and served me well in a few XC races and a for whole bunch of trail riding as well.
Most would agree I’m an idiot when I ride my bike. I never lost that “I think I can do that” part of my brain that most move past when they hit 22-years-old (also known as the “hold my beer and watch this…” part of your brain). All that to say, these wheels weren't babied. My 200-pounds of want-to-be-fast slow-pro put them through the proverbial wringer.
On the trail the IBEX wheels were noticeably lighter and stiffer than the $500 budget aluminum wheels they replaced, this should come as no surprise. The question is, were they $1,495 lighter and stiffer? I ran them with tubes throughout the test as I wanted to test them in the “stock” configuration. Even with tubes (and dumping my tubeless tires) I saved about a ¼ pound per wheel compared to my prior setup. Not a ton, but enough to notice on an extended climb or accelerating out of a corner. If you are racing, ¼ pound of rotational weight per wheel is a big deal. If you aren't racing, you’ll likely need to be very into your setup to really notice this difference in weight.
Stiffness too was improved. Again, it wasn’t mind boggling but there was noticeably less flex than in my previous wheelset. It's no secret wagon-wheeled bikes can suffer more from flex due to the tall wheels and the increased leverage they exert. Going to a carbon wheelset certainly can negate this to some extent. The IBEX, although not the stiffest on the market, helped the bike hold a line better and rail a corner with a bit more authority. The insides of my seatstays are a lot happier as a result, too.
At 10-degrees per click, hub engagement was just okay. It wasn’t awful, but it's certainly a far cry from the high-end, fast engaging offerings much of the competition puts forth. I wouldn’t say it's a deal breaker, but it's certainly an area Cole could improve on in the future.
Long Term Durability
I’m not sure if there is a hell but I’m pretty sure being reborn as the rear wheel on a hardtail piloted by me is probably pretty close to the fiery inferno. Well, despite my best efforts, I broke zero spokes and the wheels are still running dead true. That’s a pretty amazing statistic for me and one I can largely attribute to the company’s DSA2s system. In laymen’s terms, this system uses some ball-shaped washers between the hub and spoke with the intent of keeping spoke load as consistent as possible, thus resulting in less snapped spokes and better performance. It is also noteworthy that Cole has achieved this with non-properietary straight-pull spokes. In my experience, it simply worked. In a carbon wheel application, spoke breakage can be a problem as the rim is so stiff that it puts additional stress on the spokes, often leading to more breakage, especially at higher tension. My current 26-inch carbon wheelset has succumbed to this problem, snapping no less than 12 spokes over the course of a season. To be fair, the Cole wheelset didn’t see the same amount of trail time as my 26-inch bike, so I’ll be sure to update this if undue breakage becomes a problem over time.
Turning to the bearings (pun intended), the wheelset is still running well despite being exposed to plenty of wet fall riding conditions. This is of course nothing exceptional, as a top end wheelset should easily withstand the number of miles I put on it before showing any signs of bearing wear.
Finally, rim durability has been awesome, with no visible cracks, delamination, or grossly out of true sections. That said, tire pressures were on the higher side due to the fact I was stuck running tubes throughout the test.
Things That Could Be Improved
Cole brings forth a viable competitor to the carbon wheel market, but there are still a few areas where the wheelset could be improved. As mentioned previously, we’d like to see tubeless compatibility off the shelf. Yes, it's true, much of the competition doesn’t supply this either and it's likely a piece of Gorilla Tape per rim could prove to be a perfect solution to this problem. Even so, there are some that do and any wheelset over $1,000 should be tubeless ready with parts supplied in the box.
Also, although 1,650-ish grams is competitive among 29er carbon-hooped offerings near this price point, there are aluminum wheels for half the price that are tubeless ready and hundreds of grams lighter. I’d like to see 100-150 grams lopped off the wheelset to really make it worth my while, and to further justify to mid to high price point. The dollar-per-gram weight/performance gains could be improved.
What's The Bottom Line?
Overall, Cole has a viable contender in the carbon wheelset marketplace with their IBEX wheels. Although not the lightest nor the cheapest wheels, the product’s silver lining comes by way of durability. The combination of the carbon rim and the unique Dynamic Spoke Alignment system creates a wheelset that can withstand a lot of abuse.
Those with ~$2,000 to spend on wheels have several options at their discretion, however, and the IBEX wheels don't provide the same level of stiffness, weight reduction, or hub performance as all of their competition. In a way, these wheels are like some of the sports cars out there, and what it comes down to for some people is having a product nobody else has that still performs reasonably well. This product does just that.
For more details, visit www.colewheels.com.
About The Reviewer
Jeff Brines didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. Living in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, WY, Jeff works in financial intelligence and spends his winters as head ski gear guru and content manager over at earlyups.com.