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REVIEW - FSA Gradient WideR Carbon Rim, Gradient Stem, Carbon 35 Handlebar

FSA's trail-and-enduro-ready Gradient components land on our test bike for a few months of smashing.

REVIEW - FSA Gradient WideR Carbon Rim, Gradient Stem, Carbon 35 Handlebar

Full Speed Ahead, most commonly known as FSA, has a long history creating components for all genres of cycling. Mountain bike drivetrain parts, cockpit controls and wheels come in alloy and carbon constructions with configurations for DH, enduro, trail and XC riding. FSA's Gradient group is focused on the trail and enduro crowd with carbon bars, forged stems, modular cranksets and their WideR 29 carbon wheelsets.

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One of the most interesting developments FSA's Gradient line is the WideR 29 rim-only option. The 29 refers to the internal rim width of 29mm. The Gradient WideR rims come on both 27.5- and 29-inch diameters. Many wheelset combos out there can leave a rider hanging when it comes to custom hub and spoke choices. FSA took note of this dilema by offering the Gradient WideR rim option at $399 each, available through FSA dealers. Hand-built wheels are a sure-fire way to custom-tune the characteristics of any mountain bike for the serious rider. Excited by the rim-only option, FSA flossed us out with the new Gradient WideR rims in 27.5-inch diameter on drool-worthy, silent Onyx Vesper hubs. The matching red hubs and red spoke nipples were icing on the cake.

FSA Gradient WideR Carbon Rim Features

  • 29mm internal width
  • 28 hole
  • 4mm offset
  • 29-inch (511g) or 27.5-inch (471g)
  • $399 per rim
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The WideR rims feature a 4mm offset, 28 spoke holes and a hookless profile. The subtle sticker graphics have us applauding. Loud rim graphics aren't our go-to style. 29-inch diameter rims weigh 511g each while our 27.5 hoops hit 471g. These aren't the lightest carbon rims on the market, but the price is solid considering the backing of an established brand in our sport. For comparison, Light Bicycle's 27.5 Recon Pro rim, similar in dimensions to our FSA, is $279 with a 425g weight.

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Along with the wheels, FSA sent us a Gradient ST Alloy 35 stem (50mm length) and Gradient 35 carbon handlebar with 30mm rise to mount up. The stem retails for $72.90, available in 35mm or 50mm lengths, while the handlebar retails for $129. The Gradient carbon bars have 20mm and 30mm rise options in both 35mm and 31.8mm diameters. The bars have a comfy 8-degree back sweep and 5-degree up sweep and arrive at 800mm wide. We trimmed ours to 770mm and appreciate the setup markings and textured grip surface of the bars. The 3D-forged CNC stem has a 6-degree angle with clean finishes and visibility through the faceplate to make bar-roll setup easy. Our scale shows that FSA is accurate with their listings of 250g for the bars (ours were 240g, cut to 770mm) and 157g for stem (our scale shows 159g).

FSA Gradient 35 Stem Features

  • 3D forged then CNC machined
  • 4 bolt AL2014 faceplate
  • CNC Faceplate
  • Chromoly bolts
  • 35mm handlebar clamp
  • 40mm fork clamp stack height
  • Bead blasted anodized black
  • 123 grams (L35mm); 157 grams (L50mm)
  • $72.90

FSA Gradient Carbon 35 Riser Handlebar Features

  • Carbon composite construction
  • Reinforced and texture clamping areas
  • 35mm diameter clamp
  • 20mm rise or 30mm rise, 800mm width
  • 250 grams
  • 8-degree back sweep and 5-degree up sweep
  • $129
5010 v3 with FSA setup
5010 v4 with FSA setup

We had the cockpit and wheels on two different Santa Cruz 5010 bikes over the course of a few months; a v3 and the new v4. Despite multiple mounts and remounts, the bar and stem are still clean with bolts and threads in good shape. The black bolts show typical finish wear that goes along with constant fiddling and remounting. The 50mm stem and its 10mm additional length worked nicely with our over-forked bike (150mm travel compared to stock 130mm on the v3 and stock 140mm on the v4). Raising the bike's front end up with our fork encouraged us to keep the stem pretty slammed while adding 10mm stem length for a balanced riding position. Cockpit stiffness with the Gradient bar and stem is what we'd generally expect for 35mm diameter bars. The Gradient 35 carbon bar wasn't overly taxing and provided precise steering. If you're a 31.8 lover and sensitive to stiff bars, however, take a look at FSA's non-35mm carbon cockpit options.

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The wheels with Gradient WideR rims and Onyx Vesper hubs are what we were really excited to try. The first tire mount up (Maxxis 2.35 DHR II EXO 3C MaxxTerra, front and rear) was brainless and only required a pump. Tires snapped to the hookless bead easily and seal was air-tight. Our first set of tires came off 27mm-wide Santa Cruz Reserve rims (our preferred width for 2.3 tires). The 29mm internal width of the Gradients gave an ever-so-slightly wider profile, but if we didn't know rim width numbers, the visible difference in tire shape and handling on trail would be hard to differentiate.

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Throughout spring and summer months, we mounted up a variety of Maxxis tires that were 2.35-inches (non-WT) and 2.4-inches wide (WT). We tried a 2.6-inch-wide Bontrager SE5 up front, and finally 2.4-inch-wide Kenda Pinner tires. Casing and compounds ranged from trail-level to full DH. Cushcore XC was used in a front tire for a bit, too. Every tire mount-up, regardless of brand or tire size was straight-forward and hassle-free. Tires gunked up w/ old sealant required a compressor to pop them on to the bead, but once set, seals were snug, ready to roll with little air loss over time.

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It's been a minute since we've had a hand-built wheelset. Patrik Zuest of FSA and former World Cup DH mechanic, laced them up and tensioned them to perfection. Paired with the silent Onxy Vesper hubs, our first on-trail experience was not what we expected. The entire experience was so freaking quiet. Instead of hub noise drowning out minor, audible nuisances, coasting sections of trail had us noticing every gentle rotor rub, cable rattle, tick and tock of our bike. It was quite comical and had us investigating how to make the bike quieter.

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The rear hub shines with engagement that is virtually delay-free. There's *soft* initiation when power is transmitted from the pedals to the wheel due to the hub's design, but don't let the word *soft* be a deterrent; it's more like a damped feel instead of that hard clunk of a traditional hub. We've gushed over the Onyx hub in the past, and it's tough to go back to noisy, slow-engaging hubs after being spoiled by these pieces of engineering and precision. Our hub had an XD driver, and we used both 50t and new 52t Eagle cassette during testing with stellar results.

Two intentional rock smokers...
...all in the name of testing, right?

Throughout the test, the FSA rims have been flawless. As noted above, tire swaps are easy and on-trail performance is snappy and precise riding both smooth, flowing trails and rockier rough trails. There is a carbon feel you get, that is a bit less compliant than alloy rims, but never did we feel like the ride was too stiff or chattery. We've purposefully aimed for rocks we probably shouldn't and dropped rear tire pressure to see if we could ding or damage them. After riding these wheels for months in a variety of conditions, the wheels are perfectly round, straight and true. The rim performance and hand-built attention of the wheelset lets us worry about other things like finding another noise on our bike to quiet.

 

Rolling in at $399 per rim, the carbon FSA Gradient WideR is a quality option for those looking to build up a trail or enduro wheelset with hubs and spokes of their choice. A respectable, durable ride quality with decent price will let the serious mountain biker focus on a custom-built wheel of their choice, rather than an off-the-shelf, machine-built option. Your FSA dealer can order the rims and then help you with the build, giving you the comfort of working with a local shop, or you can order the rims directly through the FSA Pro Shop. Throw in the Gradient 35 bar and stem combo and get that personalized build matched up nicely.

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Visit www.fullspeedahead.com for more details or to find a local retailer.


View key specs, compare products, and rate FSA's Gradient lineup in the Vital MTB Product Guide.

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