Plus size wheels. B+. 29+. 26+. Take your pick. It seems that no matter where you look these days, wider rims and tyre combos are taking over the world. As something of a convert to all things fat, the advantages of improved traction and control that come with increasing your tyre footprint now seem self-evident to me. However, one of the downsides is that the fatter you go, the more likely it is that you will need to invest in a new frame and / or fork. But what if you want to dabble in the world of plus size without going down the road of a new bike purchase? Enter stage left the Vapour wheelset from Halo.
Built around Halo’s 35mm external diameter Vapour XC / Trail rim, the Vapour 35’s afford Joe or Josephine Rider the opportunity to experience most of the advantages of a plus size set up without the need to go the whole hog. To put this to the test, I fitted them to my 29er bike of choice, a Turner Sultan. You can read about my experiences of going B+ here.
Halo describe the wheels as being optimised for 2.25 – 2.8 inch tyres. However, for the duration of the test, I have been happily running them with a pair of 3 inch Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres (which are on the large side of being chunky) to great effect.
In terms of design features, the wheels have a lot to offer the discerning rider. Heat treated for strength, the rims feature eyelets in their construction while the spoke nipples used are black brass ones and the spokes double butted. As someone who has come to curse alloy nipples and road salt, the inclusion of brass nipples is a welcome feature. Pre-taped, the wheels can be run with tubes or tubeless. I tried both and found fitting and removing tubeless ready Schwalbe tyres to be a breeze and tubeless set up a snap. No cussing nor broken tyre levers involved!
Versatility and future proofing are key features of the Vapours. 15mm / 20mm or 9mm QR can all be accommodated up front while you can go bolt thru or QR at the back. Boost versions are also available. For testing, I ran 15mm bolt thru up front and 12mm x 142mm bolt thru axle out back. The interchangeability of parts means that you can swap between frames with ease. The hubs are of a 32 spoke design and performed flawlessly throughout the entire test period with no play to speak of by the end of the test.
Over the course of the last year, I found the wheels to be utterly reliable. I tend to run plus size tyres soft and did experience more than the odd rim strike. However, it is a reflection of the quality of both the rims and their build that they show no visible signs of having been knocked out of true. As someone who has an unerring ability to smack my rims on rocks and sharp edges on even the smoothest of trails, it is usually only a matter of time before the truing stand has to come out. Despite my inherent lack of floaty skill, the spoke key has stayed firmly in the tool drawer. That is no mean feat in my book. Running hot soapy water and a sponge over them, they look virtually new despite having had a hard life.
Featuring a 35mm external diameter, the Halo rims are on the skinnier end of the plus scale with 40mm to 50mm being the more popular option. However, when mated with 3 inch Nobby Nic tyres, they gave an impressively large footprint and consequently terrific levels of grip and control on both loose climbs and rocky descents. At no point did I feel that a wider rim would have offered any discernible performance advantage. However, one advantage of being only 35mm wide was that I was able to run the wheels on my Turner Sultan 29er with no clearance issues on even the muddiest and filthiest of rides. For a rider such as myself who wants to experience the benefits of a wider tyre and rim combination without having to invest in an entirely new frame, that is a bit of a bonus.
Hitting mud or wet grass at speed, I did notice that the tyres would break away sooner than I might have hoped. Narrower tyres and rims do have an advantage in cutting through the slop to grab grip but the trade off in terms of increased traction and control for the vast majority of my riding was worth it.
In comfort terms, even riding a full suspension frame, I noticed that I was able to ride my tyres softer than normal which helped alleviate trail chatter that suspension doesn’t always deal with. This definitely contributed to improving traction but as with many lightweight tyres, this came at the expense of puncture resistance. With less material used in the tyre construction, I found that I had to play a bit of a delicate balancing game between hard charging down rocky, slate strewn trails in the Lakes and easing off the gas a little to minimise the chance of pinch flats. Whether this is due to their being less material in the sidewalls and the tyres being run at lower pressures, I cannot say for certain. All I do know is that I did experience the odd pinch flat during the test. Halo claim that the wider set up reduces pinch flats but I reckon that is a moot point. What I can say though is that they are no worse than my normal 21mm rim / 2.35 inch tyre combo which they replaced.
Setting the wheels up tubeless was a breeze. The 2.8 inch tubeless ready Rocket Ron tyres I used set up remarkably easily and once properly seated and juiced up, showed no signs of leakage nor mid ride burping. For those who have experienced the somewhat skittish experience of previous incarnations of the Rocket Ron, these are an altogether different beast and well worth a look if you want a large volume tyre that rolls quickly while still performing on muddy and wet trails.
Weight wise, the wheels come in just shy of 2 kg for the pair so are undoubtedly heavier than narrower rims. However, on the trail, I quickly forgot about the additional weight and came to love the performance benefits on offer.
So who should buy these wheels? If you are a rider on a budget who wants to experience plus size technology without breaking the bank, the Halo Vapour 35s should be at the top of your list. Strength wise, I have singularly failed to dent or bend the wheels despite some cack-handed line choices. They still look as good as new. I’m not convinced considerably more expensive carbon rims would have fared so well. The bearings still run smoothly while the hubs just work without fuss or complaint. Other than the odd pinch flat, they’ve performed flawlessly throughout the period of the test. I’m genuinely loath to give them back.
In summary, I have come away impressed by both the ride quality and strength of the Halo Vapour wheels. At less than £350 a pair, in a world where carbon seems to be king, they offer a brilliant option for real world riders who value quality and value over look at me bling. A pair of wheels or a third of a carbon rim for your money? It’s a no brainer.