It’s a long lasting truism that of all the upgrades you can make to a bike, it is likely that the most bang for your buck will be felt in the wheels. While stock wheelsets have definitely improved over the years, many OEM wheels can almost certainly be improved upon for those keen to spend a bit more money.
Sixth Element (SE) is based in Manchester and hand-builds its wheels there for just that group of people. Whether seeking extra rigidity, lighter weight or simply the mystical lure of carbon, the company has steadily built up a loyal customer base. Using rims imported from a small group of trusted suppliers in the Far East, Sixth Element works with its customers to select decal colour, hub choice and spoke lacing for a custom build.
The SE30CX is Sixth Element’s gravel/’cross/light xc 29er wheel build. The 28H rims are a relatively wide 30mm (24mm internal) and should be ideal for anything from a 32c tyre up to and beyond usual gravel territory of 40-50c. At a total weight of 1724g (verified on the trusty Kitchen Scales of Truth) they aren’t crazy light, but very respectable and likely to shave off a few hundred grams from many OEM builds.
After a chat with Graham of Sixth Element, we decided to run Hope hubs, partly because they are by far and away the company’s most popular choice, but also because they will make swapping between bikes and various standards relatively easy. The Pro4 hubs have come spec’d for 15mm x 100mm (front) and 12mm x 142mm (rear) and SRAM XD drive. At some point during the test, I’m sure they’ll end up running a Shimano freewheel and various axle diameters.
We chose a slightly lighter 2-cross lacing on the front, justified by the stiff rim removing any flex concerns. The rear is a more traditional 3-cross, but this is the kind of detail that customers can agree with Sixth Element on purchase. Double-butted Sapim Race spokes have been used; CX Rays are available for an additional £99.
On to the rims themselves. Sixth Element quote a weight of 380g each – it’s obviously a little tricky to verify this on a fully built wheel, but it sounds about right given the total wheel weight. Manufactured from uni-directional carbon weave for strength, additional carbon is then added to the spoke bead. The rims are hookless – so essentially have smooth internal walls – which maximises tyre/rim contact and reduces the chance of an air burp on tubeless set ups. Speaking of tubeless, the wheels come taped and with a valve fitted. Finally, the decals are applied at the factory and incorporated as part of the manufacturing process. This leaves a cleaner finish than stickers, but obviously makes colour choice a more permanent decision. Standard colours available are white, black or the bright green we have on our test pair. Customer colours are available for an extra £99 with a 4-6 week lead time.
As built, this wheelset retails at £979.
The wheels will be getting shod with at least two different tyres over coming weeks, starting with some Isla Bikes Gréim ‘cross tyres. Seems fitting as I stare out at another summer deluge. It might be a little too early for #crossiscoming, but ‘cross weather is already here. We’ll report back once the wheels have been used and abused.
- Front: 30mm rim (24mm internal); 28H; Hope Pro4 hub; two-cross lacing; 799g wheel weight
- Rear: 30mm rim (24mm internal); 28H; Hope Pro4 hub with XD free hub; three-cross lacing; 925g wheel weight
- Total weight: 1724g
- Total cost: £979
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