Sixth Element 27.5" Complete Wheel

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Tested: Sixth Element 27.5” Carbon Wheelset

A competitively priced carbon wheelset that is hand built in the UK, held back by reliability concerns.

Rating: Vital Review
Tested: Sixth Element 27.5” Carbon Wheelset

Sixth Element is a young company based in Manchester, England, and as anybody with basic recollection of the periodic table might deduce from the name, they specialize in carbon wheelsets for anything from trail to downhill riding. Offering “faster, lighter, stronger wheels” that are hand built in the UK, we were curious to see how Sixth Element would stack up in the ever growing carbon wheel market – and how they would fare on the trail. Read on to find out!

Sixth Element 27.5” Carbon Wheelset Highlights

  • Unidirectional weave Toray T700 carbon rims, enhanced with 3K weave around the internal spoke bead
  • Black double butted spokes (Sapim/DT)
  • Three choices of rim width are available: 24mm, 32mm and 45mm (internal)
  • Colors: Green, White or Black (stealth) decals; other colors by special order

Sixth Element is a young company based in Manchester, England, and as anybody with basic recollection of the periodic table might deduce from the name, they specialize in carbon wheelsets for anything from trail to downhill riding. Offering “faster, lighter, stronger wheels” that are hand built in the UK, we were curious to see how Sixth Element would stack up in the ever growing carbon wheel market – and how they would fare on the trail. Read on to find out!

Sixth Element 27.5” Carbon Wheelset Highlights

  • Unidirectional weave Toray T700 carbon rims, enhanced with 3K weave around the internal spoke bead
  • Black double butted spokes (Sapim/DT)
  • Three choices of rim width are available: 24mm, 32mm and 45mm (internal)
  • Colors: Green, White or Black (stealth) decals; other colors by special order
  • Hope Pro 4 hub: 4-pawl ratchet with 8.2 degree engagement
  • Sealed stainless steel cartridge bearings
  • Machined from forged 2014 T6 aluminum billet
  • Standard 6 bolt disc fitting, center lock on request
  • Other hub options available (King, etc)
  • Weight: 1723 grams (verified, as tested)
  • MSRP: $1270 USD as tested (Hope Pro 4)

Initial Impressions

Sixth Element builds their wheels to spec, using carbon rims sourced in Asia and a selection of hubs and spokes to suit your particular preferences. The 27.5” enduro wheel is available with 3 different rim widths, we opted for the middle of the road, 32mm internal width version (24mm and 45mm are the other two options). Our wheelset arrived with Hope’s tried and trusted Pro 4 hubs, laced up with black, bladed spokes for that little extra bling factor.

The Sixth Element wheelset ships ready to roll with tubeless rim tape and valves already installed. Pulling our set from the box, we were impressed with the general finish of the product, as well as the aggressive look of the tall, wide rims. On the scales, our set came in at 1723 grams, not the lightest out there but in line with what we expect from a wide rim wheelset that is billed as ready for any kind of riding. The rims are of the hook less bead variety, said to further improve the strength in this critical area.

In addition to being able to choose your rim width and hubs, Sixth Element will also let you pick the color of the decals for an extra fee. Green, white, and stealthy black on black are the standard offerings, Vital green was the obvious choice for our test set. The thin water decals are applied at the factory, and they certainly look the part with razor sharp edges and no apparent blemishes of any kind.

As expected, the wheels were true from the start, with even and fairly high spoke tension all around. Time to go get them dirty.

On The Trail

Mounting up our standard Maxxis DHF/DHR WT combo was straightforward, we were able to obtain a tubeless seal using just a floor pump without too much trouble. The wheels held air fairly well from the start, even before we added any sealant.

Hitting the trails, we found the wheels fast and stable. Hope’s excellent Pro 4 hub has little to prove, offering little drag and solid, reasonably quick engagement. Paired up with the Sixth Element rims the result is a snappy wheelset that moves out with purpose and holds a line when the going gets rough. The generous 32mm internal rim width works well in combination with the WT series of tires from Maxxis, which features a slightly tweaked knob pattern to accommodate the squared off tire profile created by the wider rim. The advantage of this combo is that you can get away with running slightly lower tire pressures for a confidence-inspiring feeling and lots of grip. Additionally, we found the rim to offer some vertical compliance, and the wheelset was comfortable enough even with fairly high spoke tension. Lateral rigidity is excellent, which provides plenty of support in turns and through rough sections of trail where precision is paramount.

Over the initial two months of testing, we put the wheels through all kinds of riding, from long days out in the saddle to shuttle runs on the local DH tracks. Thanks to the snappy handling and low rolling resistance, we were enjoying ourselves no matter what was on the day’s riding menu. We were getting good results with barely a flat tire to show for our efforts, and we were at the point of declaring victory when an ominous, cracking sound signaled the abrupt end of our honeymoon. Pinballing through a rocky section of desert trail, the rear rim had cracked. We could not detect a particularly sharp impact of any kind, and the since the crack ran along the sidewall and into the spoke bed, we feel that it was more related to the general load on the rim as opposed to being caused by a sharp, penetrating object. We were running tubeless with about 26 psi in the tire at the time. The rim actually still held air and the wheel was still essentially true, so we were able to finish the ride which is always a plus, but of course a replacement was on the cards.

Sixth Element backs their wheelset with a two-year warranty, and in the absence of crash-related damage, this rim would have been replaced for free for any customer (while crash replacement runs $360 per rim including wheel rebuild and European shipping). We took delivery of a replacement rim, and proceeded with the test. Unfortunately, about 1 month later, we cracked another one while touching down in a notoriously difficult rock section that has left plenty of dents in many of our aluminum rims over time.

At this point, we feel it is appropriate to look back at some of our recent experiences with carbon rims. During the course of our testing over the past 12 months, we have documented the following carbon rim failures: three SRAM wheels, one Giant wheel, one Intense wheel, one e*thirteen wheel, one ENVE wheel, and one Factor (Novatec) wheel. Whilst it is probably too early to call an end to the carbon wheel trend, as a rider you should know what you are getting into. Compared to aluminum, carbon wheels will at some point break as opposed to dent or deform. Both scenarios can be ride-ending, although chances are much higher of being able to salvage an aluminum rim trailside or at all for that matter. And of course, in case you do end up needing to replace a rim, your wallet won’t like the carbon option. In the case of the wheelset on review here, our two incidents would both have been covered by warranty, but you’re still looking at potential downtime and the general inconvenience of extra faffing that comes with it. Choose knowingly, especially if you ride hard!

Things That Could Be Improved

Apart from the durability issues described in the previous section, we have little to complain about with the Sixth Element wheelset. It is reasonably light, stiff, and competitively priced, and had it held up a bit better, it was looking every bit like a winning option.

Long Term Durability

With two cracked rims over the course of 4 months of testing, these wheels were unable to show us their true potential in the durability department. As noted in the riding impressions section, the rims failed during fairly “normal” riding conditions, particularly given that this wheelset is billed as a do-it-all enduro option. Far from being the only carbon rim we’ve cracked this year, this unfortunately seems to be part of the equation when it comes to the fantastic plastic. Some you win, some you lose. Aside from the cracked rims, the Sixth Element wheelset looked good for the long haul, with the graphics remaining fresh and a proven set of hubs to keep it rolling smooth.

What’s The Bottom Line?

The carbon wheel market is brimming with options, and new companies seem to pop up almost weekly sometimes. As much as we enjoy lighter, stiffer rims, we do feel like carbon rims are still a bit of a gamble, particularly if you ride hard in rough terrain. Hand built in the UK, the Sixth Element wheelset has a lot going for it, if the rims can be made a bit more reliable. As it stands, two cracked rims keep us from being able to deliver a positive verdict.

More information at: http://www.sixthelement.co.uk.


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.

Photos by Johan Hjord and Nils Hjord

Specifications

Product Sixth Element 27.5" Complete Wheel
Riding Type Freeride / Bike Park, Trail
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b)
Rim Material Carbon
Rim Unidirectional weave Toray T700 carbon, enhanced with 3K weave around the internal spoke bead
Inner Rim Width
  • 24mm
  • 32mm
  • 45mm
Hole Count 32
Tubeless Compatible Yes
Rear Hub Hope Pro 4
Rear Axle 12mm x 142mm, 12mm x 148mm (Boost)
Front Hub Hope Pro 4
Front Axle 15mm x 100mm, 15mm x 110mm (Boost)
Disc Mount Type 6 Bolt
Spokes Bladed, Double Butted (DT/Sapim)
Nipples Aluminum or Brass
Colors Many
Weight 3 lb 12.8 oz (1,723 g)
Miscellaneous
Price $1,270
More Info

​www.sixthelement.co.uk

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