Novatec are a wheel manufacturer that are probably more common than many realise, often providing OE hubs for many of the big brands' factory built bikes. Now, they are starting to spread their own lines of wheels. Tested here are their CXD cyclocross disc wheels - a mid range wheel aimed at the fast expanding disc braked, drop barred portion of the market.
I've been riding mountain bikes for a very long time, and more recently have been racing cyclocross on a Kinesis Pro6. Many of the comparisons I'll draw are to Kinesis' similarly specced and priced CX Disc wheels that I've been using for the last 6 months (and not without their problems - but that's beside the point). I firmly believe CX bikes should be punished in the same manner a mountain bike is and as a result I am quite hard on cross wheels. So I was intrigued as to how the Novatecs would hold up when riding and racing some summer cross over the roughest terrain I could find in the West Country.
Out of the box these wheels look good. The different spoke count between front (20 hole) and rear (24 hole) is novel - and also smart as in my experience cyclocross rear wheels take far more of a battering when you're going full gas for 45 minutes plus a lap. The tension of the spokes and the truing were excellent from the moment I picked them up - and the wheels are still true as you like as I write at the end of the test. Quick releases were also supplied (something that is becoming annoyingly more rare with new wheels) and 4 spare spokes + nipples too. This was an unexpected and well-received bonus.
According to Novatec, the freehub body is "3 way compatible", that is it is capable of taking both Shimano/SRAM style cassettes, and also Campagnolo ones without having to change bodies. I've often wondered if this was possible - often as I curse spur of the moment ebay purchases without reading the blurb - and its good to see Novatec put it into practice. I can't say I tried the hub with a campagnolo cassette but various other reviews I've read say that it's easy to do.
The free hub body also comes with an 'anti bite' feature, which is essentially just a strip of steel on one of the cassette notches in the predominantly Aluminium body, to prevent the Steel cassette from digging into the softer Aluminium. This is a really neat idea, and at hardly any weight penalty seems like a no brainer. However, at the end of the review period I removed the cassette to find that some considerable digging in had occurred. If Novatec had considered more than one strip of Steel on the freehub body, I reckon this problem could have been avoided altogether. So, A for effort, but C for execution.
The free hub is quiet with a reasonably positive engagement. Some wheels I've ridden leave you having to turn the pedals quite a long way before you get engagement, which can be a nightmare on more technical climbs, or trying to remount and drive the bike forwards at the same time in a race. Here there were no such worries. One small thing, purely from a personal preference, I'm a fan of a nice loud hub buzz that the CXDs lacked, but that's really irrelevant to a hubs actual performance.
The bearings ran smooth and free both front and rear for the duration of my testing, despite some "summer cross" that would have been considered pretty wet even by last winter's ridiculous standards.
On to the rims. The CXDs are available in both tubular and clincher flavours, I had a clincher set to test. At 23mm wide, the rims accept a plethora of various tyre widths I tried. Generally though (and unsurprisingly really) I found that the fairly wide rims were more accepting of fatter tyres, 25mm and up.
The rims are also claimed to be tubeless compatible, once sufficiently taped. I'm all for the idea of tubeless but often find that in practice it just won't play along. My tubeless efforts with the Novatecs were not successful, but this is much more a reflection on my rim taping execution rather than the rim though. The tyres locked into the bead with relative ease using a track pump which is the main bonus, but my poor taping work led to leaking of air out of the spoke holes. Again, this is my bad and if I had actually bought proper rim tape such as Stans offering, I'm certain it's possible to run these wheels tubeless successfully.
I found the rims to be quite tight with WTB CrossWolf 32mm tyres (side note - they have not been good tyres to me). Switching out for summer cross to much nicer Ritchey WCS tyres and Conti Gatorskins for road duties has proved a much easier task.
One final point related to the rims. The rim tape supplied is god awful. It wasn't tight enough to stay put within the rim bed, and got stuck between tyre and bead when switching tyres over. I immediately replaced it with duct tape, as I often do with a new set of rims.
At 1521g, these wheels are pretty light. I found them to be quite a lot snappier to pick up speed than Kinesis' offering, both on road and off. This is unsurprising as the Kinesis wheels we tested a while ago came in at a shade over 300g heavier than these. Certainly when it comes to climbing I had no excuses with the CXDs.
However there's always the potential for a trade off of loss of stiffness with a loss in weight, especially on a wheelset made to be hammered. Novatec have handled this beautifully and the CXDs have been as stiff and strong as I could ever need in a cross race, as well as reliable for long road rides through the wet.
The wheels are finished off with Stainless double butted spokes, and alloy nipples. There's not too much to say about them really as I didn't have to true the wheels once during the test period. The two cross spoke pattern definitely helped boost the stiffness a little.
Finally, the price. At 350 quid the CXDs are 50 quid more than Kinesis CXDisc wheels (these names are too similar!), which I liked a lot. For this difference you lose a fair chunk of weight and get a set of wheels that (in my personal experience) are actually slightly more reliable. If you are in the market for a set of disc wheels - be it for cyclocross or road duties - I recommend the Novatec CXDs as an excellent choice.
Light, stiff, stiff wheels capable of long road rides, or taking a battering for 45 minutes plus a lap for disc braked bikes
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Make and model: Novatec CXD Aluminium Clincher wheelset
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Our CXD wheelset combines the best of our road and offroad technologies. A shallow, lightweight Tubeless Ready rim is mated to disc-ready hubs worthy of some real dirty abuse.
700c alloy rims are specfically designed for use with disc brakes – no wasted material
Off-road worthy disc brake compatible hubs
Oversized rear hub axle is light and stiff
Unique 3-in-1 rear hub is readily compatible with Shimano, SRAM and Campy
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
CXD Clincher Specs
CATEGORY Clincher Road CX Disc
RIM TYPE/DEPTH Alloy 23.3mm
ETRTO/ERD 622-17 589.2
RIM FINISH BLACK MICRO PEEN
WEIGHT FRONT / REAR 1,465g
SPOKE COUNT F/R 20/24
SPOKES TYPE Stainless Double Butted
SPOKES FRONT L/R (mm) L:10–287 R:10–289
SPOKES REAR L/R (mm) L:12–283 R:10–281
LACING FRONT/REAR F:2X/2X R:2X/2X
NIPPLE TYPE Black / 2 Red 14mm Alloy
EYELETS / VALVE HOLE NO 6.5mm
HUBS XD611SB XD622SB
HUB FINISH Black Ano. Polished
AXLE FRONT/REAR AL 9x100x108 AL 10x130x140 or 10x135x145
CONVERTIBLE TO TUBELESS Tubeless Ready
CASSETTE (SHIM/SRAM/CAMPY) UNIQUE 3in1, 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 S compatible
MATERIAL OF CASS.BODY/COMPATIBILITY Alloy ABG [D2]
QUICK RELEASE QR249
Stiff but not overly so.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very well. I thrashed them round a field a number of times.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The look great and the weight is a real help when climbing or chasing attacks.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The anti bite feature wasn't really as effective as I might have hoped.
Did you enjoy using the product? Definitely.
Would you consider buying the product? Definitely.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Age: 21 Height: 182cm Weight: 73kg
I usually ride: On-One Carbon Whippet Single Speed MTB/Kinesis Pro6 My best bike is: Scott CR1 Pro
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,