You want me to review a set of carbon fiber wheels for BNA? Sure, what are they? Zipp 404s? Perhaps some lovely Shimano Dura Ace 900 C50s? Nope, some Chinese based direct-to-customer wheels from Far Sports, a company whose website includes marketing gems such as “The world is under your feet”, but who are known for carbon fiber wheelsets, frames, and accessories. Hmm…let’s have a chat about this first, shall we?
If you’re like me, you may be deterred by the Chinese based direct-to-customer brands, because their super low prices are attached to questionable quality and quality control. There are numerous examples presented in online communities worldwide about rims de-laminating and warping under mild braking, or even straight out ‘exploding’. This was my main concern heading into this review, the last thing any one wants is injury and/or damage to equipment, so I asked BNA Publisher, Christopher, to question Far Sports on this.
Far Sports acknowledged my concerns and claimed to have consciously improved their processes and quality control, backing this up with an 18 month warranty, which is quiet generous for a Chinese brand. Studying the online communities, reviews, and blogs confirms that reports on problems are generally a few years old. Is this a sign that Chinese-direct brands are coming of age? I was going to take this chance.
Before we jump into the review, let’s talk about carbon fiber wheels. When opting for carbon wheels we are trying to reduce weight, maintain or increase ‘stiffness’, and gain an aerodynamic improvement. After tyres, a wheelset upgrade will usually offer the biggest equipment driven performance advantage, though for good carbon fiber wheels you would traditionally orientate yourself around the $2000 (plus) price-point. But just as carbon fiber bikes have become common-place and cheaper, carbon fiber wheels are following suit.
I am a passionate cyclist and love cycling equipment, but I’m not out there to win any races, which makes $2k a pretty hefty investment for a wheelset. When an $800 ($679 USD)* carbon fiber wheelset is on offer, it is a tempting proposition; at this price I can finally upgrade from aluminium wheels to carbon. I suspect that many others are in a similar position, so let’s find out if it is worth it.
Far Sports FSC50-CM-23 First Look
When you get these wheels, your box will include the wheels (obviously), some quite modern-looking skewers, and a set of four carbon-specific Far Sports brake pads. The rims are 23mm wide/50mm deep and aero sectioned, with 20 spokes front and 24 spokes rear. They are listed as tubeless compatible, for those looking to run this system. The wheels we tested used the FSE 260 hubs, which are listed as an additional price option ($28 USD) on the Far Sports website.
Far Sports claim a sub-650gr front and sub-850gr rear weight (without any fittings). I’ve handled light alloy wheels before, but this was a new sensational level of light for me. Far Sports recommend a maximum weight of 100kg for these wheels, but don’t say if this includes bike and rider. Given that I am 87kg, I was well under their limit, so I didn’t expect any issue with this. The hubs were smooth and the spokes felt evenly tensioned out of the box. A 10-speed cassette went on nicely with the supplied spacer.
The tyres were a little hard to seat on the rims the first time…OK, they were very hard to seat and on both wheels. I consider a pre-ridden (hence pre-stretched) clincher a no-hassle fitment to almost any rim, but there was a large part of the tyre where the bead simply wouldn’t move any further. Cue gorilla thumbs, baby powder, and a brief inflation to 130PSI, which did the trick when left alone for a few minutes. Back down to 110PSI and they were ready. Far Sports state the rims are rated to 125PSI max. and their documentation lists suggested pressures for rider weights. For me, a pressure of 110-115PSI was recommended.
Interestingly, the Far Sports instructions included with the wheels state: “Be sure to deflate tires to under 100 PSI after riding, so as to minimize strain on the rim and possible fatigue and warping over time”. Given the nature of bicycle wheels and the stresses involved, this seems an odd request to make of the end user.
The supplied FSE ceramic brake pads are designed to fit Shimano pad holders and slotting them into standard holders is easy. The tricky part comes next; the brake track on the rims is low. Very low. So low, in fact, that the blocks are set to the very bottom of the standard SRAM Force calipers I use. There is a sticker on the rims with a red line that says ‘brake below this line’. This is where the meat of the rim section is and is indicated, presumably, to avoid braking on the thinner bead wall and giving rise to the tyre-popping, resin-melting heat you read about. If you run much more clearance than a gnat’s whisker, you may struggle to get the pads low enough. I got them as low as possible, just shaving the red line with the pads, and was ready to roll (and stop, but more on this later).
The Wheels In Use
I mounted the wheels on my road bike, went for a brief roll, and knew I had new wheels on. The freehub is loud! If you’ve never ridden carbon wheels, the noise is peculiar, more of a pulsing whoosh than a steady noise, and rather distinctive.
First time out, I was able to chase a friend up the first part of a local climb without as much as exertion as the last time I followed him. His Strava times, almost the same for both rides, told a tale; 40 seconds, give or take a little, was the difference between us last time, this time it was near to zero. So far, so good. It was only after I got home that I realised another interesting difference: I usually run a 12-25 cassette on my bikes, but my spare cassette was 11-23, which was the cassette I had thrown on to the Far Sports wheels. This meant I’d been effectively one cog down for the whole ride, and I still held on without too much redlining of the HR. This was good news. For racing, or for a long day on the bike, my perception is that the energy saving would be tangible.
What about downhills, the apparent bane of carbon wheels? Once you get used to the aural assault from the freehub, I eased into a solid descent to begin with, testing the braking ability of the wheels. Nothing exploded, nothing splintered, and once the slight drop in initial braking bite was figured out, I was confident enough to really bomb-in. I made sure to do two very long and hard applications of the brakes and no burning smell was evident. Plenty of dust accumulated on the pads on this first run, however, which I put down to the abrasive brake track and pad compounds. Time will tell if this is a continuous event or a once-off bedding in.
Getting up to speed is definitely easier with less rotational mass to have to shunt along. The 50mm aero section plays into one of the marginal gain areas that manufacturers like to hype up. There are papers out there to support this, but as a downside you can definitely pick up the cross winds with these wheels.
It wasn’t till late in the review period that I had a chance to the wheels wet, and by wet I mean riding in constant rain, not just a few splashes from road puddles. The wet braking, just as with many alloy rims, was reduced in its effectiveness. The initial bite point took longer to reach, not alarmingly so, but I found the need to introduce forethought into stopping with these wheels. At one downhill point I found myself looking for an escape route just in case, given the slowness of the braking bite. In constant wet conditions, such as continuous rain, you may find yourself really scrabbling for braking power. This was a bit of a surprise for me, but now that I know the limits, I am better prepared. Changing brake pads may assist in this situation (and you can upgrade to Swisstop Black King brake pads when ordering), but wet braking is the nemesis of the carbon rim from any manufacturer.
And what of the recently popular thinking of “23mm tyres on 23mm rims for less drag”? This is another marginal gain area, although the research looks to be consistent enough to support this, however slight [just google for a wealth of information and discussions on this]. I was certainly not slower on these wheels, with the combination of factors involved, that much was certain.
As I mentioned in a previous wheelset review, replacing spokes, should you break one, is far simpler if off-the-shelf spokes are used, rather than manufacturer proprietary items. In this case, Far Sports use Sapim CX-Ray spokes, which certainly aren’t cheap, but they are available and it’s certainly better than being unable to repair a wheel set.
Just for fun, I ran the Far Sports wheels briefly on a vintage steel bike with longer rear dropouts. These newer skewer designs are gaining a reputation for not having adequate clamping force to stop them slipping under load, and these were no exception. Change them to a set of enclosed cam skewers and you would cure that problem very easily. Something to be mindful of if you’re heading down the renewed-retro pathway.
After about 500km of use, the brake track has become very obvious on these wheels. In truth, it became pronounced after the first run as the pads bedded in. The basalt track does its job, once you get used to the braking bite point compared to alloy rims. Apart from that, nothing has shown signs of coming undone or becoming rough, but there was a tiny sub-1mm wobble in the wheels that a minor tweak with the spoke key would have dealt with easily. You would expect to check nearly any wheel after a running in period, particularly machine built wheels, so I’m not going to deduct points for that.
As an introduction to the world of carbon wheel rims, the Far Sports are a great start. They are not as pricey as some of the ‘brand name’ wheels, the price which will either tempt people or turn them off for being uncharacteristically cheap for carbon wheels. Is the lower price and indicator that the QC testing or factory backing may not be as rigorous? Or is it a more accurate reflection of the true cost of manufacturing wheels on such a scale? I’ll leave it up to you to decide on the answers to those questions.
Do you or don’t you?
Consider buying the Far Sports 50mm carbon wheelset if:
• You want a set of race wheels significantly cheaper than any of the big name carbon wheels
• You want carbon for the price of some high-end alloy wheel sets
• You just want some carbon bling for your ride
Since the review was first published, there are some updates as the original wheelset had a problem during certain riding conditions. Following this, a new wheelset was provided and tested – further details are included below.
UPDATE 1 – January 2015
The reviewer reported problems during faster descents on windy days – the front wheel suffered from wobbles. This was disconcerting and potentially dangerous and was been reported to Far Sports as this issue is a deal-breaker. The response was,
“It’s a dynamic equilibrium problem, which would not be found from rims. Only after wheels are assembled on bikes, and ride in high speed descent, the problem might occur. As the resin flows and the carbon fiber were hand built on the rims, some workers might missed to put more weight on the opposite of the valve part.
To solve it, we will prepare some weight like attached(about 5g) for you to be added in the opposite side of the valve part, just put it under the rim tape. However, this problem does not affect the safety of the wheels.”
‘Weighting’ carbon fiber wheels is not standard for cycling, so this inconsistency is considered unsatisfactory.
UPDATE 2 – July 2015
The brass weights had a marginal effect only and the reviewer wondered if the wobbles are a problem of the rim-profile (design).
Far Sports have suggested that an unbalanced tyre may in fact cause the resonance. Far Sport have been active in providing feedback and note that they guarantee that their rims are balanced before shipping. They suggest that in the past 6 months their testing concludes that tyre inconsistency is the probable cause. Far Sport offered to provide a replacement.
UPDATE 3 – November 2015
A new wheelset was provided and deserves a few comments. I used brand new Continental GP4000S 23mm tyres, new tubes and a new cassette
HUBS – it was agreed that different hubs would be provided, DT Swiss 350S and these were smooth and spun extremely well
RIMS – The carbon layup has changed – no longer the visible carbon cross-hatch, now aa flat dark grey look. And they look great.
RIM TAPE – No rim tape was provided. It should be because it is necessary and should be standard.
VALVE HOLE – On one wheel, the valve hole was not completely round, a little extra resin meant that the valve from the inner tube would pass through. A small sharp blade was used to remove this so that the valve could fit. Longer valves are required and I wrapped some black electrical tape around the valves (are pumping the tyres to 110psi) to limit any potential vibration of the valves against the rims.
BRAKING SURFACE – The warning notice to ‘brake below the line’ is no longer there and the braking area has more space than before. You still need to set up your brake brads. My brakes were set-up for a narrower aluminium rim so I had to adjust these out to fit the wider 24mm rims.
BRAKE PADS – Keep an eye when setting up to follow the L – left and R – right directions for the brake pads. I also needed to adjust to ensure that the brakes were ‘square’ when braking. During testing, the rear brakes were quite while the front brakes had some noise and need a little more ‘fine’ adjustment.
BRAKING – I was cautious however braking was good. I also had some damp riding conditions and the braking performance was good.
SPOKES – The wheel was true, some of the bladed spokes were slightly angled off-center and during wheel-building this could have been corrected.
SKEWERS – The same compact and lightweight skewer, however a little fiddly and not as easy to use regular skewers.
FREEWHEEL – A spacer is provided for 10-speed cassettes (which I used). The clicking noise of the pawls is relatively quite on the road.
CHANGING TYRES – No tyre levers are required, which is really good. The tyres can be edged into place by hand which is nice.
WIND – As deeper profile wheels, they are naturally more susceptible to cross winds. On very gusty days they are more difficult to control however very much on parr with other deep profile rims.
HANDLING – SLOW SPEED – Slower speeds are not the comfort zone for these wheels. While lighter than my low profile aluminium rims, the Far Sport wheels felt slow and edgy at slower speed, including ascending. This is a lot to do with compliance, these full carbon fiber wheels are stiff –
HANDLING – FAST SPEED – These wheels like to travel fast and rolled fast and cleanly at speed and on descents. Like many deep profile rims, they prefer to stay upright and.
NO MORE WOBBLES – This is the important one, and I tackles some hilly terrain around the northern beaches in Sydney – firstly taking descents with caution and then increasing the speed. On some riders there was gusty wind and the wheel felt smooth and true.
!! CONSTRUCTION – Far Sport confirmed the changes; “the new wheelset has the same mould with the previous one you tested, and the craftwork is also the same. We just modified the rim bed, to make it only clincher. While the previous one is clincher and tubeless compatible. We sold thousands of the prebious model, and the wobble problem is really occasional, about 4-5 feedback with this problem. And all solved by adding weight in the opposite of the rim valve.”
NEXT STEPS – These wheels feel good, though as new wheels I will also allow more time before riding to my limits, specifically in cornering and descending. I would like to confirm that these wheels last well and are reliable. So far, so good.
The sales website includes ordering options and detailed product specs: Far Sports FSC50-CM23 on Wheelsafar
*The wheels are listed with an introductory pricing of $679 USD (ca. $800) and Bicycles Network Australia is informed that this is subject to change.
Far Sports note that wheelsfar.com is their retail website.