Joining VeloClub not only supports the work we do, there are some fantastic benefits:
by Matt Wikstrom
September 30, 2015
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Black Inc is a relatively new carbon wheel manufacturer that has the backing and support of some ex-professional riders, including Baden Cooke and David Millar. There are three basic models in Black Inc’s current catalogue, and in this review, CTech editor Matt Wikstrom tests one of them, called the Black Fifty.
Despite its short history, Black Inc boasts a healthy racing pedigree. Baden Cooke is one of the company’s owners while David Millar is an ambassador. The company is also the wheel sponsor for a few professional racing teams including Cult Energy.
Black Inc has a strong focus on performance-oriented wheelsets. The company utilises carbon fibre for all of its wheels, offering 30mm, 50mm, and 80mm rims, plus a rear disc wheel. Buyers get to choose between tubular and clincher versions for all spoked wheels, however the rear disc wheel is only suitable for tubular tyres.
Black Inc details a lot of the thinking that went into the design of its rims and wheelsets in a white paper published online. In short, the company has embraced a wide rim profile (27mm, one of the widest we’re aware of) for all of their wheels because of aerodynamics, enhanced the lateral stiffness of the rim, and provides extra grip and stability for the rider.
All of Black Inc’s rims are manufactured in Taiwan, and the wheels are hand-built in the same factory. The rim itself is designed by Black Inc. which they own the IP (i.e. not from an open mold). The company relies on consumer-direct sales via its website with after sales service offered by agents and ambassadors around the world.
For this review, I spent a few weeks riding Black Inc’s Black Fifty C wheelset that features a 45mm carbon clincher rim and DT 240s hubs.
Black Inc’s Black Fifty carbon clincher rims are 45mm tall and 25mm wide with an 18mm rim bed. The profile of the rim flares outwards from the tyre so the brake tracks are tapered, flaring to a maximum width of 27mm before narrowing for the apex of the profile. The final shape falls somewhere in between a contemporary rounded profile and a traditional V-shape.
The front rim has 20 holes while the rear has 24 holes. Black Inc uses straight-pull spokes and offers buyers a choice of DT 240s hubs with stock steel bearings or Black Inc-branded hubs with CeramicSpeed bearings. Radial lacing is used for the front wheel and a 2-cross pattern for the rear wheel.
DT supplies the spokes for the wheels. Aerolite semi-bladed spokes are used for the front wheel and the non-drive side of the rear wheel, while the drive-side is laced with 2mm plain gauge round spokes. According to Black Inc, the difference in spoke shape provides 55% extra stiffness for the drive side of the rear wheel with only a 1% weight penalty.
In addition to the choice of hubs mentioned above, there are a couple of other options Black Inc offers at no extra charge. First, buyers have a choice between 45mm clincher rims or 50mm tubular rims; and second, the Black Fifty rear wheel can be paired with a Black Thirty or Black Fifty front wheel.
One crucial consideration for any race-oriented wheelset is UCI approval, and Black Inc has gained certification for all of their tubular wheelsets (Black Thirty, Fifty and Eighty) as well as Black Fifty clinchers. At present, there is no indication that the company intends to pursue UCI approval for the Black Thirty and Black Eighty clinchers.
The Black Fifty rims have a matte black finish thanks to the use of unidirectional carbon fibre. Black Inc’s logos and labels are printed on the rims with reflective ink, a thoughtful safety feature, however the bold text may not appeal to all.
DT’s 240s hubs have a reputation for being reasonably light and extremely reliable. The straight-pull version of these hubs used for the Black Fifty C wheelset provides a contemporary feel to a hub design that has otherwise remained unchanged for many years.
Black Inc developed its own brake pads to suit the carbon rims, and like many other manufacturers, insist that they be used at all times with their wheels. Failure to observe this condition will void the warranty.
The Black Fifty C wheelset sent for review weighed 1,516g (681g front, 835g rear) with rim tape sans skewers. The recommended retail price for Australian buyers is $2,596, including delivery. The wheels are supplied with an 11-speed Shimano/SRAM freehub body (a Campagnolo freehub body is available for DT hubs at an extra cost), two pairs of brake pads, front and rear skewers, and a 12-month warranty. For more information, visit Black Inc.
I didn’t have any trouble setting up the Black Fifty C wheelset to use on my regular bike. The tyres were easy to fit, which means I was able to get them on and off without levers, as were the brake pads. Once the wheels were on the bike, I left them there and I never found a reason to take them off until it was time to return them.
The Black Fifty clincher wheelset was immediately comfortable. I spent the entire review period riding 23mm Clement Strada LGG tyres inflated to 80psi, front and rear, and I was able to ride on a variety of road surfaces without any complaints or misgivings. There was never any harshness associated with the ride quality of the wheels, just a mild buzz of feedback from the road.
The wheels were stiff under load with a minimum brake rub. They were also quite responsive, as good as any mid-profile alloy clincher. In absolute terms, however, they were still some way from challenging the class leader, Lightweight’s Meilenstein wheels (which are 400g lighter, considerably stiffer, but more than twice the price).
The Black Fifty had more to offer once they were spinning at 35km/hr or more. That’s when the aerodynamics of the rim started to offer a little extra speed and efficiency, which I can only verify with my legs in the absence of a wind tunnel. This is not something that is unique to the Black Fifty, of course, but it is nice confirmation that the 45mm rim profile was working in my favour.
No wind tunnel testing has been done by Black Inc. on these wheels as of yet, but they’re currently working with Bf1Systems on this. We’re told that CFD modelling was done in the design process.
I never felt like I was at a great disadvantage while climbing with the Black Fiftys. On mild slopes, the wheels continued to turn with ease but any time the gradient started approaching double digits, I sensed some inertia that affected my ability to accelerate. Pure climbers won’t enjoy riding the slopes with these wheels but powerful riders shouldn’t have any troubling muscling over any climb to enjoy a little extra speed on the descent.
Crosswinds were able to push around the Black Fifty wheelset, which is not surprising for a high-profile rim. In light-moderate conditions, I didn’t have any trouble controlling the bike—unless I tried to ride without my hands on the bars—but strong gusty winds were more of a challenge as the behaviour of the front wheel became unpredictable.
Interestingly, the Black Fifty C wheelset was much easier to handle in crosswinds than another high-profile wheelset, Mavic’s 50mm Cosmic SLE. The latter has a traditional sharp V rim profile and I found that wrestling with them in the wind was like trying to control a headstrong dog on a leash. In contrast, the Black Fifty wheelset was relatively well-behaved and much less likely to strain at the leash.
The Cosmics were 5mm taller than the Black Fifty clinchers—probably not enough to account for the extra susceptibility to crosswinds—but I can’t rule it out. However, I suspect that the wide rim design and rounded profile helped the Black Fifty to cheat crosswinds, perhaps in a similar way to Enve’s SES wheelsets.
Black Inc’s brake pads worked well, providing an effective bite on the rims with a smooth feel. I always allow a few extra lengths when riding carbon wheels but I never needed them until I was riding the Black Fifty wheelset in the rain. Once wet, the pads needed an extra moment to clear the water off the rims before they started slowing the bike down. Otherwise, the pads were generally silent and reliable, emitting only a light squeal under the heaviest braking efforts.
The external cam skewers that were supplied with the wheelset did their job well. While I prefer the feel and power of internal cam skewers, Black Inc’s skewers closed with a sure and smooth action. The lever was easy to use too.
At the end of the review, the wheels were still true and the DT hubs were spinning smoothly — not enough to predict the long-term reliability of the wheels—but certainly a favourable sign. I’ve been using DT 240s hubs (with standard flanges) for over four years without any issues, so I’d expect a long tour of duty from the hubs at the very least.
Would I consider buying these wheels with Black Inc’s branded hubs? The company has made a canny decision by offering their self-branded hubs with CeramicSpeed bearings, but in my view, it’s not quite enough to outweigh the reputation and brand recognition that comes with DT 240s hubs.
Black Inc’s Black Fifty wheelset is a fine example of how carbon fibre can be exploited to create a fast and aerodynamic wheelset with a minimal weight penalty. There are, of course, many other examples in what seems like a very crowded market, but Black Inc has done a good job in designing an effective rim profile for the Black Fifty.
Perhaps the most impressive trait is how well the Black Fifty C wheelset handles crosswinds. Cheating the wind in such a manner suggests the company has mastered the Black Fifty’s aerodynamics. However, buyers looking to maximise their marginal gains will want the assurance of comparative wind tunnel testing data to convince them of the value of these wheels.
There are other aspects that make the Black Fifty attractive. There is the price of course, which is reasonably attractive for an all carbon clincher rim, along with a wheelset that comfortable and easy to use. At face value, a 45mm rim may not seem the most versatile option for a carbon wheelset, but if speed and performance are a strong priority, then it is a better choice than a mid-profile wheelset.