by Steve Wentz
You have probably all heard this before, and you will keep hearing it. Great wheels are like magic for your bike. They can make you accelerate better, hold a tough line and they will hopefully also last for a good long while. When the Charger Pro SL wheels from Sun Ringle showed up looking like just the ticket, we were eager to find out if they were up to the task, so into the grinder they went.
Charger Pro SL Wheelset Highlights
- Stan’s NoTubes™ BST Technology (w/Rim Tape)
- 27-mm Rim Width
- Premium, Cartridge Bearing, Straight-Pull Hubs
- Quick Release, QR15, 20-mm Thru-Axle Front Axle Options
- Quick Release, 135×12, 142×12 Rear Axle Options
- Wheelsmith Bladed Spokes
- Wheelsmith Alloy Nipples
- 24/28/28 spokes (26"/27.5"/29")
- Cro-Moly Skewers
- 26″-1550g, 27.5″-1650g, 29"-1700g (based on the lightest possible configuration)
- MSRP: USD $899.00
I was looking forward to making my bike a little bit lighter, and the Pro SL's were the ticket for that. That ticket is not cheap though, as Sun Ringle's top of the line wheelset retails for $899.00. My Santa Cruz had wheels that were a couple hundred grams heavier on it before the Pro SL's arrived, and out of the box the 1550-gram weight felt downright airy. I rode a regular 26-inch steed for this test, but Sun Ringle offers these in 27.5- and 29-inch versions as well. In addition to the wheel size options, the Pro SL wheelset comes with axle adapters to fit almost any bike out there. 20-mm through axle, QR15 and quick release options were all included, which is nice with all the fork options out there. For the rear, regular quick release, 142x12 and 135x12 axle options were included. The axle options are nice, convenient, and nearly a prerequisite to any wheelset these days, and I was happy to not have to go hunting once I was ready to mount the wheels (15QR/142x12 combo was used for my bike). The wheels also come with four replacement spokes and nipples, which were put to good use after some mishaps I had (more on that later).
The Pro SL's are built with 24 spokes on each wheel (28 spokes are used for the 27.5/29 inch options), with straight pull bladed spokes lacing the cartridge bearing hubs to 27-mm wide rims. The rims have tubeless rim strips installed from the get go, and tubeless valves included with the other spare parts. Even nicer than the valves were two small containers of Stan's sealant for each wheel should you decide to go tubeless. The freehub is surprisingly absent from Sun Ringle's spec sheet, but it worked well and I had no issues throughout my time with the wheels.
On The Trail
Better acceleration, holding a tough line, longevity; desirable traits for sure, but I really like that last attribute. I like wheels that I don't have to touch, because I mess around with suspension and other things enough to make me not want to do regular bike maintenance. Due to the fact that I often neglect wheels, I often think mine are great, great, great, and then somehow they end up dead. I often let wheels get out of tension because I get lazy and think that since they are rolling well today they will be rolling well tomorrow as well. One of those tomorrows often ends up with me walking my bike a long while. Don't get into this habit. It is dangerous and not called for. Check your wheels, stem bolts, seatpost and cranks and you should at least not have anything catastrophic happen on your ride. This isn't about maintenance though, we've got to get back to wheels.
I mounted my cassette, rotors, tires and I was ready to go. There were no issues during installation and I'm happy to report that I even inflated the tubeless rear setup with a floor pump, no compressor needed. I've flatted quite a few rear tires while rocking tubeless because of burping, so I figured I'd try this right away to see if I could get it to budge.
On the trail my bike felt noticeably lighter right away, and I really liked the acceleration the wheels provided. I've run nice and light wheels before, but the Charger Pro SL's are really on the lighter end of the spectrum. However I don't think that the acceleration came just from the weight. My only gripe from the 'regular' Charger wheelset I used two years ago was a lack of stiffness. That has all changed with the Pro SL's. The wheels are incredibly stiff laterally, and every bit of energy used seems go to into forward motion. Cornering felt solid, climbing was great, and I went months without a hiccup. All of these good attributes also made me forget about my worry of burping tires. It never happened, and I've been on the same 2.3 rear tubeless tire my whole time with the wheels. If I were to search for a complaint, it would be the strictly run-of-the-mill engagement of the rear hub. This is a VERY nice wheelset, and everything about it is bordering on best in class unless of course you are considering carbon. The freehub lacks the engagement of a good Hadley, King, Novatec or Industry Nine wheelset however. To some people, this matters a lot. To me, not so much because I'd rather have fewer pawls and make them solid, dependable and not liable to cause me any headaches.
I checked the tension after a month and the wheels were straight, true and only had one small crimp in a rear sidewall from a rock. This is more durable than other wheelsets I've had, and I'd be inclined to think it is thanks to Sun Ringle's high spoke tension on the Charger Pro SL setup. The spoke tension stayed right where it should, and kept the wheels feeling light, stiff and solid throughout my entire time on them. In the end I was pleasantly surprised with the durability of this wheelset. I knew they should feel light, I had heard about the increase in stiffness, but the durability is what really surprised me.
Things That Could Be Improved
If anything could be improved on the Charger Pro SL wheelset I'd point out the hub engagement. I wouldn't complain about this for lower price points, but at $900, there is a lot of good competition. Also, I'd rather not have anything proprietary. I know that many shops now have more straight pull spoke options available, but the buck doesn't stop there. The hubs are proprietary and the rim is as well. If you run low pressure and murder the sidewall, then you can't just rebuild the hubs with an off the shelf rim and spokes. This is a big if, because the wheels have been perfect so far, but is something worth considering.
Long Term Durability
I mentioned being pleasantly surprised by how durable these wheels are. However, they are not indestructible, as I found out one day when I pulled my bike out of my car to discover I had broken a spoke in the front wheel. This did not happen while riding, but just from the bike being in the car and having a hydration pack and my helmet thrown on top of it. It was my own fault for sure, but being packed in a car is also a very normal thing to have happen to a wheel.
I would usually not be worried about a single broken spoke, but with a 24-spoke wheel this is a big deal. Having one spoke missing made such a difference that I couldn't spin the wheel through my fork. I couldn't ride, because I didn't have the spare spokes with me. I returned home and went to replace the spoke. I detensioned the wheel and replaced the spoke, everything came back into true and back to proper tension. It all worked out in the end, but broken spokes and nipples are issues that can arise more with higher and higher spoke tensions. Again, my only bad experience happened when not riding, and after a quick repair that I could do myself everything was all good.
What's The Bottom Line?
Aside from the one broken spoke that was my own fault, the Sun Ringle Charger Pro SL wheels have been perfect. They accelerate, hold a line, they don't need attention and they look pretty good too. I'd expect nothing less from a wheelset that retails for $900. And therein lies my only reason for not giving these wheels a higher rating. It pains me to give this fantastic wheelset only three and a half stars, but I've got to rate these wheels as exactly what I expected - not above. Those 3.5 stars are very bright, and I'd love to rate the wheels higher, but it comes down to the competition. For $900 you can build almost any wheelset you want. You can also buy almost any pre-built wheelset you want as well. Want a custom built bladed spoke Chris King wheelset? It will cost you about the same. Want an off the shelf Mavic or SRAM wheelset? It will be about the same. Want a fantastic custom Hope Pro II hubset with bladed spokes and top of the line aluminum rims? It will cost you lots less. Those wheels are not suggestions, they are merely noted for comparison's sake. With so many good options out there, you, the rider, have lots to think about. The Sun Ringle Charger Pro SL wheelset is great, works well, and will complement any trail bike out there. The next time you are in the market for some awesome hoops, don't count them out.
For more details, visit www.sun-ringle.com.
About The Reviewer
Steve Wentz has always done things and ridden his own way, and he's really happy about that. He grew up in the middle of Southern California and had to build his own trails to ride when he was too young to drive. To make a long story short, that's what he's still doing today, minus the California part. Now he tries to do that everywhere. He has been to every continent except for Antarctica, and has either raced, built trail or been able to ride all over. He loves seeing the world, for better or worse. He has been through ghettos where children beg for pennies, and that really gives perspective to our world where a pair of soft rubber tires costs $150. That being said, he's skidded on those soft rubber tires on so many race courses and trails he can't even count anymore, and he loves it. He'll always ride if he can, and race if he wants, but now he tries to do it with an eye on the course and also an eye to what is practical, what is worth supporting, and what he thinks can benefit the sport as a whole.