It’s six months since we received a box of carbony goodness from the Mancunian purveyors of good value wheel upgrades, Sixth Element. The company has only been operating a few years, but in that time seems to have carved out a neat little niche, offering well respected and reliable hand-built, carbon wheelsets. Chatting to Sixth Element head honcho, Graham Stock, he is very open about his business model. Buying direct from a trusted source in the Far East, there is little truly unique about the rims, other than the Sixth Element decals. What the company does though, is rigorous testing and product research before selecting its suppliers, and offers a two year ‘no quibble’ guarantee as well as a £275 per wheel crash replacement within the first three years. It’s a clever strategy – sure you could take a punt on a carbon rim or wheelset purchased direct from the Far East for a chunk less cash, but there are fewer guarantees that you’ll get a decent wheel and should anything go wrong, you are left with a bigger headache. Equally, Sixth Element are able to offer a wheelset that undercuts many of the big names in carbon.
Sixth Element build each wheelset to order. This allows you to select your choice of hub, spoke and to an extent, decal colour. Our first look covers how Graham and I settled on our test pair. Let’s just recap on the specification though.
Our SE30CX Specification
- Rim // SE30/24 – 30mm external/24mm internal; 28 hole; weight 380g (claimed)
- Hubs // Hope Pro4 28H
- Spokes // Sapim Race DB (CX Ray spokes are an optional upgrade at £99)
- Tubeless // All rims come with Stans rim tape and tubeless valves
- Front // 15x100mm, two-cross lacing
- Rear // 12x142mm, three-cross lacing
- Total weight // 1724g (including tape and tubeless valves)
- Price // £979 (as built)
- From // Sixth Element
I’ve dropped the SE30CXs into most test bikes I’ve had this year. The ease of converting the Hope hubs to various axle standards has helped no end, as has how easy the wheels have been to set up tubeless. Tyres have been swapped on a number of occasions and only once did I have any issues at all. This was with the pictured Clement X’plor MSO tyres. They aren’t tubeless specific and given the lack of problems with any other tyre, I don’t think this was an issue with the rims. They sealed eventually, but bubbled around the rim/tyre interface for a good few days first.
24mm internal rim width is relatively wide for a ‘cross wheel. I personally found it a little too wide with a pure ‘cross tyre fitted. A 32c tyre such as the excellent Isla Greim Pro just felt a little stretched across the rim and the profile ended up a smidge too “flat”. Not to the point of the tyres being unusable, but just not quite at their optimum.
That wider profile came into its own with 38c and upwards gravel tyres though. Here, the edges of the tyres were squared off really nicely, where sometimes on narrow rims the tyre bulges at the edges, creating a vague cornering profile. The centre of the tyre didn’t feel too flat and there was a real ride benefit (more on that later).
Ok, so once shod, how did the wheels cope with six months of regular use? The first thing I noticed when swapping the SE30CXs for every stock wheelset was a drop in weight. 1700g isn’t exactly feather weight when it comes to wheelsets, but it generally lopped a fair chunk off the OEM wheels. There is little better feeling than the sensation of free speed that a light wheelset brings, and should you wish to shave even more grams off, Sixth Element offer “race” and “pro” wheelsets for more cash.
The next ride characteristic that shone through was increased stiffness. Steering felt more direct, acceleration more efficient, with less twisting in the rear wheel as I applied power. One downside to this stiffness was some compromises on comfort. When dropping the SE30CXs into a couple of slightly harsher frames, they amplified this feeling. The ride was far from brutal, and wider tyres obviously help offset this, but it is worth considering, especially if you have an already stiff feeling bike.
In cornering, the wheels tracked superbly, with less of the skittering that I’ve experience with even stiffer carbon wheelsets. It felt like there was still enough flex for the wheel to give slightly with the terrain and under cornering forces. Some of this may have been down to the two-cross lacing at the front end – something that Graham and I decided to try and I’d recommend.
The wheels have been subject to some spectacularly clumsy riding over the last few months and have shrugged off every bungled root hop, every iffy line choice without complaint. Those of you who are good at maths will have noticed that the difference between a 30mm external/24mm internal rim width is a 3mm either side rim-wall thickness. That’s pretty damn chunky, especially compared to an alloy rim. This adds to the stiffness of the wheel, but it also creates a blunter edge to the rim. Despite all those clumsy line choices, I never once suffered a tyre sidewall pinch – impressive as I ended up taking the Sixth Elements into mountain bike territory more often than not.
Finally, despite all that abuse, the wheels have held up remarkably well, both in terms of function and cosmetics. The rim decals (more muted colour options are available, and customs can be ordered at an additional cost) are applied during the manufacturing process, rather than stickers. This process has left them looking as fresh as they were the day the wheels were delivered.
A quick note on the hubs – Hope Pro4s are a firm favourite of mine. They aren’t the lightest, but look good, I like the loud freewheel click and they keep chugging with minimal maintenance. When parts do eventually tire, spares are reasonably priced and readily available in the UK.
If you are looking for a wheel upgrade for pure ‘cross racing, then there are probably better options out there. Some of Sixth Elements own more expensive options come with a narrow internal width, and they have hinted that a narrower version of the SE is in the pipeline for this year.
For all other uses, then the SE30CX is hard to fault in any way. You will be able to find lighter options for the price, but few that balance good weight, reliability and a reasonable price quite as well as Sixth Element. The wheels have brought an extra dose of pep to every bike I’ve fitted them to. What more can you ask for? Recommended.