by AJ Barlas
The lightest aluminum downhill specific wheels on the market?! That should be enough to pique your interest, as it did for this individual just over a year ago when Easton announced their latest DH wheel. Now add in the fact that these are being raced all over the world under the likes of Steve Smith, Sam Blenkinsop and Loic Bruni, and these wheels certainly deserve your attention.
When the opportunity presented itself to attempt to crush a set by ripping about the classic Whistler Bike Park trails for a few months, you can bet that I jumped at the opportunity.
Havoc UST 150 Wheelset Highlights
- Easton's EA90 Alloy Material
- Internal Rim Width 23mm // External Rim Width 28mm
- Front Wheel: 24 3X Sapim Double-Butted Spokes
- Rear Wheel: 28 3X Sapim Straight-Gauge Spokes
- Front Hub: 20mm Axle
- Rear Hub: 12x150/157mm Axle Compatibility // 3-Pawl Design with 32 Points of Engagement
- Seal Cartridge Bearings with Adjustable Tension
- Weight: 1,870 grams
- MSRP: $1,000 ($555 rear, $445 front)
It should be noted that Easton offers the Havoc wheelset in two versions. One with 24 spokes per wheel made for trail and all-mountain use known simply as the Havoc, and one with the same 24 spoke front wheel and a beefed up 28 spoke rear wheel with 150mm axle spacing known as the Havoc UST 150.
Differences between the Havoc and Havoc UST 150 are in the rear hub, rim and spokes. The obvious difference is the wider hub spacing, and visually you can see that the flanges are larger as well. What's not obvious is the increased size of the 12x150/157mm rear hub allows the use of larger cartridge bearings. Easton also uses straight-gauge spokes on the Havoc UST 150 rear wheel instead of double-butted spokes, prepping it for DH use and abuse.
Right out of the box it was easy to see that Easton isn't messing around - these are indeed light! Much like many of Easton's high-end wheels that came prior to the Havoc UST 150, straight-pull spokes are used to lace the classy looking wheels together. The spokes wind through a unique large diameter hub body, which allows for nice, big bearings for longer life.
The Havoc wheels come with eyelets in the rims too, which can be a critical feature for many riders (myself included, in the past). These are no ordinary eyelets though - because they are UST (Universal System Tubeless), there is no way to push a nipple through the bed of the rim. Instead, Easton developed double-threaded nipples that are wound into the eyelets, with the spoke then wound into the nipple as usual, allowing for an air tight rim. Concern were had with how this would work once it came time to true the wheels, but more on that later.
Slapping these bad boys onto the trusty DH sled was a breeze. The disc rotors paired up well with the anodized hub interface (no facing or removal of uneven paint/surface blemishes necessary), and the cassette body slid on easily and locked into place well. Being a UST wheel, it would be a shame to test them with anything other than a tubeless setup - so I did. That said, they were not setup with UST specific rubber. 2.3-inch Specialized Butcher DH tires (equivalent to 2.5-inch Maxxis tires) were used with two scoops of tubeless sealant. So far there have been no issues. Thanks to the UST rim profile, seating was easy to do with a floor pump and the tires sealed up fine. Win, win!
Aside from the light weight being immediately noticeable, wheel bearing quality was also clear. Spinning these wheels in your hand will have you waiting quite some time for them to stop! Overall quality of the wheels seemed fantastic, showing great attention to detail, some great machining and what appeared to be a super well built 'stock' set of wheels.
On The Trail
Once on the trail, a lack of noise from the rear hub was quickly noticed, especially compared to the Hope Pro 2 EVO hub I've grown accustom to. It's not dead silent, but it is mellow like a DT Swiss hub, or perhaps a tad quieter even. There are ways to make hubs louder, if that's your thing. Engagement when getting on the gas has been nothing but reliable, with no slips, skips or faint moments with the quite standard 3-pawl, 32-point system.
Another thing I noticed was the improved acceleration offered by the lighter weight hoops, especially when compared to the old beaters that were on my DH bike prior. At just 1,870 grams, these get up to speed faster, regardless of whether you're pedaling or pumping out of corners or slower spots on the trail. Not everyone will care too much about this - after all, we're not all racers - but the benefits of lighter wheels can lead to more fun on the trail with the bike being a little easier to maneuver, pick up and throw about.
The Havoc UST 150 wheels are quite solid, though not as stiff as some of the others I've ridden recently. A downside to a wheel having more flex is the possibility of not holding lines well and not providing an adequate amount of snap out of corners. Often people overlook the ride quality of products, choosing to focus solely on weight and stiffness. Wheel flex is an attribute that I think will begin to be meddled with much more in the future (or we'll at least be more aware of it), as riders play about with spoke tension to help dampen the roughest of trails, then perhaps firm them up for more smooth, high-speed trails. Personally, the Havoc UST wheelset is great in terms of stiffness/flex, providing a happy medium. This quality shone through in the rough and ragged conditions we have had in Whistler this summer, yet they've been stiff enough to hold lines and provide sufficient snap out of high speed, bermed corners.
Long Term Durability
Being such a light wheelset, we'd be lying to say that we didn't have our concerns about durability. The wheels made it through a month of the roughest conditions the Whistler Bike Park has seen all year - possibly even to date - before requiring any attention with a spoke wrench and truing stand. Once in the stand, a couple of flat spots were noticed in the sidewall of the rear. It's been a while since I've done that to a set of rims. Even so, it was as straightforward as usual to true the Havocs, with nothing odd happening due to the dual-thread nipple. They straightened up very well and were ready for more abuse. This lasted another few weeks in the park, and at the time of writing the rear wheel requires a little love again. The rear rim may not last a full season of consistent riding in the Whistler Bike Park (or similar environment), but then again, what will? Most of the regulars up there go through two hoops a year in the rear (40+ days/year), so it's nothing out of the ordinary.
The rear hub has been faultless, despite many whips gone wrong and bouncing off all sorts of obstacles on the trails. Also, the previous woes with the old hubs appear to be gone, with no issues or play after months of abuse.
The front rim has remained straight as an arrow, with the spokes only requiring a quick twist during the initial touch up. The front hub, however, worked its way loose. Although it needs a tool similar to the Mavic hub tool, it was successfully tightened with a couple sets of circlip pliers.
For some, the Havocs should last for a couple of summers. I don't see why this set won't roll into next summer, possibly the whole season with the right kind of affection.
Things That Could Be Improved
Weight savings on a downhill bike are hard when you seek durability from your products as well. Moving some material around in the rim could result in a stronger sidewall and potentially a stiffer wheel (for those seeking extra rigidity). Nevertheless, the dents currently in the sidewalls are small, and the rims still hold a seal.
We also have to wonder, would using 32 double-butted spokes, as opposed to 28 straight-guage spokes, keep the weight similar while potentially being stronger?
What's The Bottom Line?
The Havoc UST 150 is a great, lightweight wheelset. They ran true after many days of abuse on some of the roughest, most ridden trails on the planet, with only a little more than typical attention. Personally, the flex is pretty much dialed - enough to make it comfortable while stiff enough to hold a line. There have been no issues with burping, despite not running UST specific tires, and the tire profile with the 23mm internal width is just right. The weight is admirable and the wheels feel great on the trail as a result.
If you're normally quite hard on your hoops and ride a lot, these may not be for you, but if you're seeking a lighter set of wheels to make your bike more lively, or are a racer looking for that extra second or two, then the Havocs are definitely worth a gander.
For more details, visit www.eastoncycling.com.
About The Reviewer
AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.