Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Johan Hjord and Tal Rozow
Wheel makers have been perfecting their craft over the recent years, and there is no shortage of innovative, high-end wheels that provide DH race-level strength in relatively lightweight packages - but not too many can claim to achieve that goal at a sub-$500 price tag for the pair. Spank set out to do just that, and the result is the Spike Race28 wheel - needless to say, we were eager to lay our hands on a set to see if it would deliver on the promise.
Straight out of the box, the Spike Race28 wheels look the business. The colors pop, and the finish appears to be of high quality. Although quite traditional in overall design (three-cross lacing using standard J-spokes), the wheel does deliver a dose of understated “bling” - especially if you went for one of the more vivid colorways available. Closer inspection reveals no apparent flaws, the surfaces are uniform and the hand build seems very solid. Helen, we don’t know you, but we salute you!
Spike Race28 Highlights
- Spike Race28 EVO Dynamal alloy rims (500 grams per rim)
- 28mm outer rim width, 23mm inner width
- 9 or 10-speed rear hub (12x135mm, 12x150mm, or Standard QR with Adapter Kit*)
- Super-Lite steel CNC optimized freehub body
- Japanese bearing upgrade
- Alloy internal hub axle upgrade (135mm)
- 20x110mm front hub**
- 6-bolt disc mounts
- Hand built and trued with three-cross lacing
- 32 Sandvik T302 triple-butted 2.2/1.8/2.0 spokes per wheel
- Brass nipples
- Three color versions - Black/White, Red/Red, Blue/Blue
- Custom color coded hubs and spokes
- Weight: 1990 grams (with 135mm rear) or 1961 grams (with 150mm rear)
- MSRP $499
*142mm and 157mm rear adapters, and 10mm thru axle kits available separately
**15mm and standard QR adapter kits available separately
Probably the most important component of a wheel is the rim, at least where weight, stiffness, and durability are concerned. Spank makes the Spike Race28 EVO rim from what they call “Dynamal,” which is a specifically developed alloy meant to marry the best features of both traditional 6- and 7-series alloys - i.e. strong enough to withstand the hits, yet not brittle so as to avoid cracking. To make a 500 gram rim that is strong enough for DH takes more than just sexy alloys though - this is where Spank’s “Oohbah” profile comes into the picture. Instead of the traditional concave inner walls, Oohbah rims have a convex horizontal inner wall, which works to provide additional stiffness and resistance to the rim, ultimately helping to prevent buckling. What it can also do is prevent you from getting your tire onto the rim…we had to resort to brute force and choice vocabulary to get a Maxxis Highroller 2 onto this baby, but we got there in the end (a Minion DHF went on with relative ease).
Rather than pinned or welded, the Oohbah rims are joined using a pressure fit and bonded sleeve - said to provide the ultimate strength to weight ratio. Interestingly enough, the rim does not feature eyelets. Spank claims this is because a traditional eyelet is in fact used to provide a deformation zone for pressure points caused by poor nipple seat design, and that they can be avoided altogether by precision machining the nipple seats at the correct angle directly into the rim itself. This might seem counter-intuitive at first glance, but we have not had any bad experiences with this design, nor have we heard of any particular problems it might cause. In fact, we’ve seen enough cracked eyelets on other designs to know that Spank are probably on to something here.
A final point to make on the rims: Spank uses what it calls “Double Beadnip Technology” to make sure the tire stays on the rim even at low pressures or when running tubeless. In addition to the traditional beadnip found at the top of the vertical inner wall, the Oohbah rim profile places a second beadnip on the horizontal inner wall, which is meant to hold the bead in place from the inside, in addition to the outside. We didn’t test these wheels tubeless, but with tubes we encountered no issues with tires rolling off, even at very low pressures.
For the hubs, Spank has chosen to stay fairly traditional - in line with the weight and price-related design goals. A proven three-pawl, 27-tooth ratchet system provides strictly average 13-degree engagement, in a classic and proven system from an external supplier (Novatec). However, classic doesn’t mean you can’t push yourself, quite the opposite in fact - and Spank did go looking for that little bit extra on the hubs as well. Quality Japanese bearings were used both front and rear, the internal axles were upgraded to 7-series alloy, and specific “scandium alloyed steel” was employed to make the freehub body, with superfluous splines machined away. Also, should you require XX1 compatibility, you can get an XX1 version of the freehub directly from Spank (email@example.com) - soon to be available via retail as well.
The flanges were enlarged and the holes were redesigned to provide a better interface with the spokes (and to allow the use of triple-butted spokes for the wheel build). Finally, the hubs were drilled to save a little weight (drilling after anodizing does add that extra bling factor!).
Like we stated earlier, the workmanship and attention to detail on this wheelset are right up there. The finish is of excellent quality, certainly at least on par with more expensive offerings out there. All that’s left to do then is to choose a tire and go riding…
On The Trail
Apart from the aforementioned wrestling required to get a tire onto the rim, the Spike Race28 wheelset is easy to fit to your bike. Slap your cassette and your discs onto your wheels, adjust brake calipers and/or shifting if needed (there may be slight differences between different wheel sets from different manufacturers which may cause brakes and/or deraileurs to require alignment), and you’re good to go. Everything feels anchored from the outset, no issues with threads or axles, and the wheels immediately feel solid on the bike. Once on the trail, the wheels feel quite lively, surprisingly so for a wheelset close to 2kgs. We put this down to the relatively low rim weight and the good build quality.
Putting this wheelset through the paces, it becomes apparent that Spank knows its business. All that technology (and the marketing that goes with it!) really does translate into on-the-trail performance. We’ve been bashing these on rocks and roots, getting airborne at every opportunity, with very little damage to show for it. The wheels have remained true for two months, and show absolutely no signs of wanting to get out of true any time soon. Pinging them off rocks has left them dent-free so far, and even the finish appears to hold up well.
Whether it be holding a line through a rock garden or sticking big landings, these wheels never fail to inspire confidence. They’re stiff, but not overly so – helping hold aforementioned lines and providing a little extra comfort when the going gets tough. Off-camber? Go for it. Square hits? Check. Landing sideways? No sweat.
Things That Could Be Improved
We haven't found much to complain about - in fact, just about the only thing worth mentioning in this section would be the freehub engagement. We understand Spank’s decision to go with a tried and true hub in the search of reliability, but improving on the engagement would really elevate these to the absolute premium level of alloy wheels. That said, we remind you that this wheelset costs $500 at MSRP, is easily found online for less than that, and that this observation on the freehub engagement is really nitpicking at this price point - if anything, these wheels are a steal.
What’s The Bottom Line?
Spank set themselves a real challenge when they wanted to build a sub-2000 gram, sub-$500 wheelset that would be up for the rigors of downhill racing. After two months on the wheels, we are ready to state that they have succeeded in their quest, which makes this wheelset a must-have on ANY wheel shortlist. Sure you can drop a lot more cash on “fancier” wheels, but we’d be very surprised if any of those wheels would offer an equivalent improvement in performance for that extra cash. If you fancy a second opinion, you can always check in with pro downhiller and Spank rider Bernard Kerr who has reportedly been racing a single stock wheelset since the start of the 2013 World Cup DH season (anybody who saw his run at Val di Sole last weekend will tell you it was r.o.w.d.y.). We for one have no trouble believing that statement to be true, and think Spank has some real winners with the Spike Race28 wheels.
For more information, visit www.spank-ind.com.
About The Reviewer
Johan Hjord loves bikes, which strangely doesn’t make him any better at riding them. After many years spent practicing falling off cliffs with his snowboard, he took up mountain biking in 2005. Ever since, he’s mostly been riding bikes with too much suspension travel to cover up his many flaws as a rider. His 200-pound body weight coupled with unique skill for poor line choice and clumsy landings make him an expert on durability - if parts survive Johan, they’re pretty much okay for anybody. Johan rides flat pedals with a riding style that he describes as "none" (when in actuality he rips!). Having found most trail features to be not to his liking, Johan uses much of his spare time building his own. Johan’s other accomplishments include surviving this far and helping keep the Vital Media Machine’s stoke dial firmly on 11.