Novatec Factor 327 Complete Wheel

Vital Rating: (Excellent)
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Tested: Novatec Factor 327 Wheelset

Rating: Vital Review

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Tal Rozow and Johan Hjord

There is no shortage of options in the current carbon wheelset market. Ranging from almost “cheap” to “more than you’d pay for a really good used bike”, we’re nearly at a point where there’s a carbon wheelset for every budget, if you take into account the direct sales brands out of China. Where does that leave us as consumers though? Carbon wheels have traditionally been one of those areas of the bike where you could spend a lot for what appears to be marginal gains in weight and performance, and with most high-end offerings still commanding a premium price tag that may well still be the case. Novatec has recently entered the fray with its Factor wheelset, a do-it-all set of hoops positioned at the top of the company’s line-up.

Review by Johan Hjord // Photos by Tal Rozow and Johan Hjord

There is no shortage of options in the current carbon wheelset market. Ranging from almost “cheap” to “more than you’d pay for a really good used bike”, we’re nearly at a point where there’s a carbon wheelset for every budget, if you take into account the direct sales brands out of China. Where does that leave us as consumers though? Carbon wheels have traditionally been one of those areas of the bike where you could spend a lot for what appears to be marginal gains in weight and performance, and with most high-end offerings still commanding a premium price tag that may well still be the case. Novatec has recently entered the fray with its Factor wheelset, a do-it-all set of hoops positioned at the top of the company’s line-up. Eager to find out what an $1800 upgrade will do for your bike, we mounted up a pair and put them to the test.

Factor 327 Highlights

  • TYPE: CARBON MTB DISC
  • INTERNAL RIM WIDTH: 23MM
  • ETRTO ERD: 569-23 511.4MM*
  • SPOKE COUNT F/R: 28/32
  • SPOKES: STAINLESS DOUBLE BUTTED
  • SPOKES: FRONT L/R (MM) L:10X251 R:10X253
  • SPOKES: REAR L/R (MM) L:12X248 R:12X246
  • LACING: FRONT/REAR F:3X/3X R:3X/3X
  • NIPPLE TYPE: BLACK / 2 RED 12MM ALLOY
  • HUBS: XD601SB / XD602SB
  • AXLE: FRONT/REAR 4-IN-1 SYSTEM BY NOVATEC
  • TUBELESS READY
  • CASS.BODY/COMPATIBILITY: AL7075 6-PAWL W/ PATENTED A.B.G. SYSTEM
    • AVAILABLE IN SHIMANO/SRAM OR XX1
  • OTHER PARTS: 4 SPARE SPOKES, STANDARD QUICK RELEASE (PAIR)
  • COLOR: BLACK ON BLACK
  • MSRP: $1800.00 USD

Initial Impressions

Let’s start with some numbers, more specifically the number of dollars you have to part ways with to buy one of these wheelsets. There is no getting away from the fact that carbon manufacturing is expensive, and except for the direct-from-the-factory offerings like Nextie and Light-Bicycle, carbon wheelsets still cost a lot of money. Pulling the Factors from the box, we obviously couldn’t ignore the price tag, but at least we didn’t feel ripped off. This wheelset is beautifully finished and it was certainly built with care (there’s a spoke tension chart and a quality control report included as if to further underline this point). Also, when it comes to protecting your investment, know that Novatec offers a $200/wheel crash replacement program which includes a new rim and even the cost of the rebuild if you ship them your wheel (in the US).

Novatec uses a high compaction carbon rim reinforced with “Matrisilk”, mated to a pair of new hubs front and rear with bladed J-bend spokes (two of which are silver instead of black and feature red nipples). The rear hub now offers 120 points of engagement, which translates to 3 degrees or “pretty damn quick” in plain English. Novatec achieved this by giving the drive ring 60 teeth, and using 6 offset pawls that engage three at a time. Each pawl also features a pair of teeth to help distribute the loads better and to ensure slip-free performance.

The stated goal for the Factor wheelset was “to put power to the ground as quickly and efficiently as possible” – in other words, not to build the lightest wheelset out there. Our XD-driver equipped wheelset came in at 1799 grams with rimstrips, about 100 grams above Novatec’s claimed weight. Although not heavy in the traditional sense, that is still a fair bit more than the lightest competing carbon wheelsets out there, and even in line with or more than many aluminum offerings. Not necessarily what you expect to find with a carbon wheelset.

The rims are 23-mm wide internally, which is a bit behind in today’s wider-is-better market. But let’s not forget that until just recently, 23-mm was still considered a wider rim, perfectly well suited to anything up to 2.5” tires. The rim profile is deep, and the center channel is fairly narrow. Novatec went with a classic bead hook instead of the hook-less variety starting to pop up here and there these days.

We set our wheels up tubeless, which was not as easy as it can be on a standard aluminum profile. Notably, you need to make sure you have a long valve stem with a small rubber end to squeeze into the center channel. Tubeless rim tape also had a hard time sticking to the internal carbon surface, but it all came together nicely as soon as we added sealant. Time to hit the trails to see what it would all amount to in use.

On The Trail

There is something about a fresh carbon wheelset that makes you expect to fly down the trail. What we found with the Factors was not so much an improvement in out-and-out rolling performance as in stiffness and power transmission. From the very first pedal strokes, these wheels feel solid. The super quick engagement coupled with a stiff build translates to a very direct feeling on the pedals with no power loss or sponginess to report. Heading into a turn that same efficient feeling persists, with the bike reacting quickly and precisely to your steering input.

In two and a half months on the Factors we’ve pretty much done what we could to give them a hard time, stopping short of deliberately aiming for square rocks with 12 psi in the tires. They’ve been mounted to two different bikes, and they’ve seen some really rocky and rooty terrain, and they have yet to flinch. Pressures from 25-28 psi worked great, and the Factors shrugged off the occasional rim strikes when our lines ceased to be a matter of choice, or when we were too lazy to top up our tires. We ran 2.4 Highroller 2s with EXO casing as a “happy medium” kind of tire choice, and even though we went with the non-tubeless version we had no issues getting them to seat and stay on the rim. With sealant, they held pressure well too.

The 23-mm internal width worked well enough with our 2.4” tires. Having recently tested several 30+ mm rims we will say that a wider rim offers a lot of stability and does provide for extra grip under the right circumstances, but 23-mm is still a perfectly acceptable solution. The “just-right” stiffness of the Factors also adds to their surefootedness in rough terrain, and we found ourselves confidently charging lines and holding our off-cambers.

The super-quick, 3-degree engagement of the rear hub spoils you in a hurry. Ratcheting your way through technical terrain feels so much better when your bike reacts pretty much instantly to pedal input. The hub also makes a nice buzzing sound, like being followed by a swarm of angry wasps in the distance. If it’s a silent ride you want, look elsewhere, but the Factors are not loud to the point of becoming overbearing.

To summarize our riding experience with the Factors, trouble-free is the term that jumps to mind. 2.5 months is usually more than enough time for us to put quite a few flat spots in any aluminum rim, and by that time we’d certainly be reaching for a spoke key to true things up again. With the Factors, nothing to report. They spin every bit as straight and true as the day we got them, and that is easily their most impressive trait. Sure, we’d ask for them to be lighter and wider almost as a point of principle, but that would be ignoring our actual experience on the trail and the results we’ve seen so far. If they carry on as they have started, they will begin to look like a pretty good investment at some point.

Things That Could Be Improved

As we just alluded to, carbon rims have gotten wider and lighter over the last 12 months. It would be easy to say that the Factors have already been left behind with their 1800-grams and 23-mm internal width, but in truth, they have been very impressive both in regards to durability and performance. On the trail, they still feel like an upgrade.

We’d like to see a slightly wider internal channel to make tubeless set-up easier. By the same token, improving the internal finish of the carbon would make tubeless tape conversions easier as well. As it currently stands, the internal surface is a bit rough and there is some kind of greasy residue that doesn’t play nice with rim tape. We’d probably even argue that at $1800 they should be taped for tubeless out of the box.

The wheels currently use 4 different spoke lengths, which of course makes keeping spares a trickier proposition. Novatec do include 1 spare of each length with the wheelset, but that is effectively sort of like having 1 spare.

The main seal on the freehub side drags a bit. On the flipside, it has worked surprisingly well to keep moisture and mud out of the freehub itself, and if this small amount of drag is the price to pay for that, we’ll still take it.

The price then, you say? Well yes, $1800 is an awful lot of money to hand over for a wheelset that doesn’t automatically produce KOMs on demand, and that doesn’t drop a pound of weight from your bike. The reality is that most competing carbon wheelsets list for anything from $1500 to $2500, which actually puts the Factors on the right side of the average. We’re not including the Asian direct-sales brands in this comparison, since we lack any kind of first-hand experience with these products it would be unfair or at least non-founded to consider them equal in performance at this point. And sure, you can build a really high-quality aluminum wheelset for a lot less than $1800, but our experience with carbon wheels to date show that they give you a legitimate shot at running the same pair of wheels for a significantly longer period of time – at least if you don’t spend all your riding time bashing sharp rocks at low psi.

Long Term Durability

After 2.5 months of solid abuse including rock gardens and harsh landings, the Factors are inspiring confidence. They have held perfectly true, even the spoke tension seems very consistent still. The hubs are tight and the bearings spin smooth and free without play. Pulling the freehub revealed that the seals have worked to keep the grime out of the innards, and there was still plenty of grease in there too. Note that the drive ring is now held in place by notches in the hub shell, which should put a stop to the slipping drive ring issues that plagued some Novatec hubs in the past. 2.5 months is a bit short to give a final verdict on bearing service life, but we’re off to a good start here.

The surface of the rims picked up some scratches when we got into the rocky desert riding season, but any damage is purely superficial and cosmetic if that.

What’s The Bottom Line?

We wanted to feel strongly about the cost vs. weight vs. width equation with the Factor 327, but the truth is that we were won over on the trail. It is a solid wheelset that feels just right in terms of overall stiffness, and it has taken a lot of abuse in stride. It is not the lightest wheelset out there, nor does it score very high on the admittedly subjective bling scale, but what it will do is do its job, and it does so extremely well. The hub offers super-fast engagement and Novatec seems to have taken steps to address any longevity concerns here as well. All in all we feel this is wheelset that will stay the course and let you get on with just riding your bike, for seasons to come. That’s worth quite a lot in our books.

More information at www.novatecusa.net/factor.


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.

Specifications

Product Novatec Factor 327 Complete Wheel
Riding Type Trail, Freeride / Bike Park, Downhill
Wheel Size
Rim Material Carbon
Rim High Compaction Carbon with Matrisilk reinforcement
Inner Rim Width
Hole Count 32(R) / 28(F)
Tubeless Compatible Yes
Rear Hub XD602SB
Rear Axle
Front Hub XD601SB
Front Axle
Disc Mount Type
Spokes Stainless steel, double butter, bladed
Nipples Black alloy
Colors Black on black
Weight 3 lb 15.5 oz (1,799 g)
Miscellaneous 4-in-1 axle conversion.
120 POE (3 degrees), 6-pawl freehub
Price $1,800
More Info

​www.novatecusa.net/factor

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