By T.C. WORLEY
Blingy, bitchin’, sweet, sexy, killer, and jealous — these were all exclamations aimed at my mountain bike recently. The bike itself is nothing to be jealous of but its new set of Crank Bros. Cobalt 29er wheels had instantly transformed my hum-drum ride into an object of desire. To be sure, each of the exclamations was true — my bike looked snazzy rolling on these bad boys!
The Cobalt 29er wheelset has an msrp of $950. What’s so special about them? These are the cross-country race version of the Crank Bros. wheel line, and where most mountain bike wheelsets have 24 spokes in a normal criss-crossed lacing pattern, the Cobalts use the same number of spokes, but in a side-by-side, or “twinpair,” design with only 12 points of contact.
The rim construction is also abnormal. Almost every rim on the market has spokes that pierce the outer rim wall and anchor to the inner rim wall. But the Cobalt’s spokes connect to a “vertical rib” for more stiffness and strength, the company touts. Aluminum (6061-t6) rims and alloy/stainless spokes join aluminum hubs for a combined weight of 1759 grams per set.
I ran the wheels with tubes, but they are tubeless-ready for further weight-saving if you so choose. Another bonus: Unique and trick split quick-release levers are included, and they make wheel mounting and removal just a little easier — nice touch, C-Bros!
Appearance aside, my goal for this test was to see if the gorgeous wheels were more than just “bling.” I wanted more speed and better handling. My first trail ride on the wheels would be a 9-mile mountain time-trial — essentially an all out sprint for the finish.
On the race, immediately I noticed that the Crank Bros. wheels were lighter and more stiff than my factory wheelset. Getting airborne on rocks and roots and lofting my front wheel over larger obstacles was a cinch. Firing into corners, the wheels felt strong and super stable with no noticeable flexing.
Any flaws? You’ll likely hear about early versions that had issues with the rear hub taking a dump, but Crank Bros has fixed the problem and says it is experiencing reliability now. For most riders, a $900 upgrade is pretty spendy, but for a cross-country racing wheelset, this is on par with the competition. Cobalts are disc-brake only — no luck for those of you with rim brake frames.
If you’re looking for a go-fast upgrade, any serious rider can tell you to start with a new wheelset. I’ve raced, commuted and ripped the toughest terrain my abilities can handle on these wheels. Having now logged 100+ miles on the wheels, I can confidently say that looks and performance go hand in hand here.