Essor USA may only been founded recently, but the story behind the brand stretches back some years. One starting point can be found in 2006 when Homayoon Farsi and Dan Barnes founded VeloVie. For those unfamiliar with the brand, VeloVie defied common market practice at the time to adopt a customer-direct sales strategy to sell framesets, and then complete bikes, at low prices.
Homay had already enjoyed success with online retail, so the new venture may have seemed a canny business choice, but after so many years of work, he wanted to indulge his passion. In doing so, he would provide inspiration for his two sons, Reza and Mehdi, in the years to come.
Mehdi recalls watching cycling on TV from an early age and travelling to Grand Tours with his father. The household was infused with the spirit of cycling and Mehdi and Reza grew up as fans of cycling, though they never really connected with the sport until they discovered fixed-gear bikes around 2008.
At the time, the two brothers joined with an old high-school friend, Eric Ferguson, to operate their own e-commerce-based furniture company. As they indulged their new interest in fixies, they could see an opportunity: great bikes were far too expensive for all but connoisseurs, while more affordable choices were lacking quality and distinction.
In that moment, State Bicycle Co. was born. Mehdi, Reza, and Eric set out to market fixies they would be proud to ride at a price that most could afford, and the formula worked.
State’s success fuelled the trio’s passion and they purchased VeloVie in 2012. Then they turned their attention to the carbon wheel market. Once again, they could see an opportunity for their business, so they founded Essor USA at the end of 2013.
There are currently three road wheelsets in Essor’s catalogue (32mm, 46mm, and 66mm deep carbon clinchers), three track wheelsets (tri-spoke, 46mm and 66mm carbon clinchers), carbon forks and bottle cages, and a custom apparel service.
According to Mehdi, they work closely with industry leaders and former pro cyclists to develop products for each brand’s catalogue. Essor wheels come courtesy of a relationship with a major US brand — which can’t be named — that gives Mehdi and Essor enormous confidence in the quality of the wheels.
For this review, Essor USA supplied a set of their Pace wheels, 32mm carbon clinchers that weigh less than 1,400g and sell for US$1,299.
Before the ride
The Pace wheelset uses all carbon clincher rims that are 32mm tall and 21mm wide, with a 17mm rim bed. The rims have a traditional ‘V’ shape construction with unidirectional carbon fiber, while the brake track utilises carbon weave.
The wheels are built with Essor branded hubs, Pillar double-butted round spokes and internal aluminium nipples. The front rim has 20 holes and radial lacing, while the rear rim has 24 holes with 2-cross lacing for the drive-side spokes and radial lacing on the non-drive side.
The hubs roll on cartridge bearings and hollow alloy axles that lack pre-load adjustment. The end caps are shallow and lack seals, so a little extra vigilance will be required to ensure that water and grit does not penetrate the bearings. Fortunately, the bearings are easy to access; all that is needed is a pair of 5mm Allen keys to remove the end caps. A smear of grease under the caps will serve as an effective barrier to the rain.
The freehub is easily serviced too once the endcaps are undone with a pair of 5mm Allen keys. The pawls are located in the shell of the Essor hub while the ratchet is built into the freehub body. Use a good mineral oil for low friction performance (and louder clicking) or some light grease for all-weather use. Overall, the hubs lack some precision and adjustability but they promise to work well.
The weight of the Pace wheelset is very competitive at 1,379g sans skewers and rim tape. After installation of a pair of Continental GP4000s tyres with latex tubes, I found that the wheels were only 100g heavier than Campagnolo’s Bora Ultra 35 wheelset shod with Corsa CX tubulars.
Essor supplies a specific brake pad (blue in colour) that must be used with the wheels, otherwise the owner will risk voiding the two-year warranty. A second condition is to never exceed 150psi when inflating the tyres.
Given Essor’s mandate for quality products at the lowest price possible, it’s not surprising that the Pace wheelset gets fairly rudimentary finishing. The rims have a matte finish to which a few Essor logos and pinstripes are added. Customers have a choice of colours (white, black, purple, pink, orange, green, blue, and yellow) for the company’s insignia when placing the order. Such customisation is a nice touch, though in this instance it only allows for a minor splash of colour.
The Pace 32 wheelset is only available online at Essor for US$1,199 (AU$1,290). The wheelset is supplied with an 11-speed Shimano/SRAM compatible freehub body, brake pads, skewers, and rim tape. Campag users will have to pay an extra US$89 for a compatible freehub body.
At the moment, Essor is offering free international shipping for its wheels, so the only extra expense for Australian buyers will be tax and duty that applies to imports over $1,000. For more information on the Pace wheelset and its other products, visit the Essor website.
After the ride
From the very first turn, the Pace wheelset impressed me with its low weight. The light rims make for low inertia that improved my acceleration and helped my climbing. I can’t say I was faster, but the cranks were a little easier to keep turning, especially when a climb steepened.
Adding to the ease of acceleration was the lateral stiffness of the rims. The wheels resisted every effort out of the saddle — zero brake rub — but I can’t guarantee this will be the case for heavier and/or more powerful riders.
There was plenty of radial stiffness too, making for a firmer ride that enhanced the poise of the bike. It makes for a little extra feedback and road buzz, but it heightens the senses — perfect for race-day efforts.
I was never uncomfortable while riding the Pace wheelset with 23mm Continental GP4000s tyres with latex tubes. Indeed, the tyres and tubes proved to be a great match for the wheels making for a delightful tone, especially on smooth roads.
The shallow rims were untroubled by the wind, as expected. The wheels behaved predictably in all conditions, and they remained surefooted, regardless of the terrain.
Braking was effective but some minor unevenness in the brake track could be felt as pulsing. The pads made a little noise when braking hard, but overall, I had no problems (or surprises) while braking, even in the wet.
After the first couple of rides, the rear wheel needed a bit of attention in my truing jig. It was only a couple spots, which I presume were the result of spokes or nipples bedding in. After another three weeks of use, I checked the wheels over again, and they were near perfect.
Final thoughts and summary
Two years have passed since I explored the value of carbon wheelsets and while carbon continues to satisfy the needs of high performance riders like no other material, I wonder if we’ve reached another tipping point in the evolution of bicycle manufacturing.
Once upon a time, carbon was an exotic material reserved for high-end bikes that couldn’t be trusted at lower prices; now it dominates the market all the way down to entry level bikes. Essor’s Pace wheelset suggests high-quality carbon rim manufacture is trickling down to lower price points and the time when mid-priced bikes are supplied with carbon wheels may not be far off.
The Pace wheelset is priced like a high-end alloy wheelset but offers the allure of carbon. There is a trade-off, though, that affects the quality of finish and the precision of the hubs. There is also the ongoing risk of excess heat generation that continues to haunt carbon rims. High-end alloy wheels (including custom-built wheels) suffer none of these afflictions, so the decision to buy one over the other becomes a matter of desire.
It is worth noting that during the review period, the Pace wheelset spent some time on a Colnago C60 instead of Campagnolo’s Bora Ultra 35s. I didn’t set out to compare the two wheelsets but as noted above, there wasn’t much difference in the weight of the two.
Out on the road, Essor’s wheels didn’t concede a lot of ground to the Boras, and indeed, all of the traits that defined the fine performance of the Boras could be found in the Pace wheelset. The difference was simply a matter of refinement.
- Low weight
- Untroubled by wind
- Stiff and smooth
- Internal nipples
- Braking track seemed uneven