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by Matt Wikstrom
September 6, 2018
Photography by Matt Wikstrom
Industry Nine is best known for its mountain bike wheelsets that feature brightly anodised hubs and spokes with a loud freehub and rapid engagement. Their wheels also have a robust reputation, something that can be traced back to Industry Nine’s thoughtful hub designs and high-quality manufacturing.
Industry Nine has been feeling out the road market over the last few years, and it was enough to encourage them to take on the highly ambitious goal of developing a range of aero road disc wheels that could rival established brands like Zipp. In this review, Australian tech editor Matt Wikstrom takes a look at the effort that went into the design of the new wheels as he tests Industry Nine’s most aerodynamic road disc wheelset, the i9.65.
When Harvey Spiegel founded Turnamics, Inc. in 1969, I doubt he expected that his contract machine shop would ever house a premier bicycle wheel brand. And yet, that’s exactly what happened, though it would take 35 years.
Based in Asheville, North Carolina, Turnamics has always been in the business of providing manufacturing facilities and solutions for its clients. Harvey shares the business with his son, Clint, who grew up on the shop floor before joining the company in the ‘90s after graduating from college. By that time, Turnamics was losing business to overseas manufacturing, so Clint went to work on creating an enterprise that could capitalise on the workshop’s manufacturing capabilities to provide an additional stream of income.
Industry Nine was Clint’s ninth enterprise, spawned in 2004 by a fresh interest in cycling and an idea for a new hub design that offered rapid engagement. He also wanted to replace traditional spokes and nipples with an alloy spoke that was inserted at the rim and threaded into the hub flange. It was the first step towards a wheel system that could be adapted to any rim on the market, and it wasn’t long before consumers, and the industry, started to take notice.
In the time since then, Industry Nine has grown steadily to take up more room on Turnamic’s workshop floor. The original crew of four employees has grown more than ten-fold, and where once the brand was exclusively devoted to MTB, now it has hubs and wheels for the road market. Indeed, Industry Nine recently made the bold step of moving into the high-performance end of the road market by developing a suite of aero road disc wheels. The i9.65 is the flagship for the new range, and according to wind tunnel testing, it easily matches the performance of Zipp’s 404.
Industry Nine partnered with Reynolds Cycling to design its carbon road disc rims with a choice of three depths: 35mm, 45mm and 65mm (shown).
Industry Nine had very clear goals when it started working on the design of its i9 Road Disc wheels. At the top of the list was drag; there was no point in bringing the new wheels to market if they couldn’t rival what the leaders had to offer. However, it was also important that the wheels behaved predictably in crosswinds, so the company wanted to avoid any sudden changes in side forces at different wind angles.
Rather than going shopping for an existing rim, Industry Nine approached Reynolds Cycling to help with the design of the new wheels and to take care of manufacturing the rims. The two companies had already enjoyed a successful collaboration when bringing Industry Nine’s PillarCarbon mountain bike wheels to life for 2015, and with an ongoing commitment to manufacturing the hookless carbon rims for those wheels, Reynolds was the obvious partner for the work.
That the company also has extensive experience with designing and manufacturing aero road rims no doubt sealed the deal.
Industry Nine’s drag data for the i9.65 versus Zipp’s 404 Firecrest tubeless disc fitted with 23mm Continental GP4000 S tyres.
A change to a 25mm Continental GP4000 S tyre had a minor effect on the drag of the i9.65 and Zipp 404. At 80psi, this tyre measured 29mm on the i9.65 compared to 27.5mm for the 404, which has a narrower rim bed.
An overview of how Industry Nine’s i9 Road Disc range compares with Zipp’s 303 and 404 when fitted with a 25mm Continental GP4000 S tyre. The AR25 is a low-profile road disc wheelset from Industry Nine’s catalogue.
Reynolds made extensive use of computational fluid dynamics to model three rim profiles — 35mm, 45mm, and 65mm — that satisfied Industry Nine’s brief before prototypes were created for wind tunnel testing. Industry Nine made use of the A2 Wind Tunnel in nearby Mooresville to test each of the new rim profiles at 30mph with two different tyre sizes, 23mm and 25mm, in direct comparison with Zipp’s tubeless disc 303 and 404.
All of the results from that study are presented in Industry Nine’s white paper on its i9 Road Disc wheels, which shows that the i9.65 wheelset offers a little less drag than Zipp’s 404 at every yaw angle. Continental’s 23mm GP4000 S tyre, which measured 27mm on the i9.65, provided marginally better aerodynamics than the 25mm version at yaw angles less than 15°, while the latter was better for yaw angles 15-20°. With that said, the distinction between the two wheelsets and tyre sizes was never more than a few watts.
Side forces on the i9.65 essentially matched those for the 404, increasing steadily with wind angle before flattening out beyond 15°. Considering that the i9.65 is actually 7mm taller than the 404, Industry Nine was very pleased with this result.
Unsurprisingly, the shallower rim profiles for the i9.45 and i9.35 wheelsets were less susceptible to side forces, and they suffered more drag than the i9.65. Nevertheless, when compared to Zipp’s 303, the i9.45 proved to be a sound rival, while the i9.35 offered a clear reduction in drag compared to Industry Nine’s AR25 low-profile wheelset.
The i9 Road Disc range is built on more than just an effective set of rim profiles. The hub, spokes, nipples, and rims come together as a system to maximise marginal gains in mass and geometry to yield a lightweight yet robust set of wheels. This is the kind of approach that mass manufacturers like Mavic, Shimano, and Fulcrum/Campagnolo have been practising since the turn of century with wheel components designed to complement one another to achieve specific goals.
With the capabilities to literally machine the hub shells from the ground up, Industry Nine was able to carefully choose the size and position of each hub flange to maximise spoke bracing angles and the lateral stiffness of the wheel. The company even went so far as to increase the width of the front axle by 1mm (to 101mm) so that it could separate the flanges just a little more for extra bracing.
At face value, this kind of effort may seem pedantic, but when the design of the hub is compromised by the need to offset a flange to accommodate the front disc brake rotor and rear sprockets, millimetres make a difference. An offset hub flange not only reduces the bracing angle; it also creates a significant imbalance in spoke tension that is the primary cause of spoke fatigue.
That’s why Industry Nine company opted to use triplet lacing — dubbed 2/1 lacing in its marketing material — for the front and rear wheels. It’s a strategy that places twice as many spokes on the side of the wheel where the hub flange has been offset and the spokes are shorter. This is something that Fulcrum/Campagnolo and Shimano has been employing with great effect for its rear wheels, where tension on the non-drive spokes is much closer — 70% or more — to the tension on the drive-side spokes.
Industry Nine laces its i9 Road Disc wheels with 16 spokes in a two-cross pattern on the left side of the front wheel and the right side of the rear wheel; the remaining eight spokes are laced in a radial pattern on the opposite of each wheel. Straight-pull spokes are used throughout, and the rims are drilled not only to suit the lacing pattern, but to match the angle of the spokes from each side of the hub.
This kind of refined integration for each part of the wheel is what adds to the strength and durability of the system. That’s not to say that the wheels will be unbreakable, but it gives Industry Nine the confidence to offer a lifetime warranty on the wheels.
In the case of the i9.65 wheelset sent for review, there was ~15% difference in the amount of tension on each side of the front and rear wheels. Average spoke tension was ~125kgf on the left side of the front wheel versus ~110kgf for the right; for the rear, the drive-side spokes had an average tension of ~150kgf compared to ~125kgf for the non-drive-side spokes. That’s not perfect, but it is a significant improvement over wheels with standard lacing.
The 24 spokes that are used to build the front and rear wheels are divided 2:1 to reduce the difference in spoke tension that is caused by offsetting the hub flanges for the front disc rotor and rear sprockets.
As mentioned above, Industry Nine’s i9 Road Disc wheels are available with a choice of three rim profiles: 35mm, 45mm and 65mm. All are disc-specific and tubeless-ready with an internal width of 21mm. The external width starts at 29mm for the 35mm rim and increases to 31.5mm for the 65mm rim.
The same Torch Road Disc hubset, Sapim CX-Ray spokes, and alloy nipples are used for each build. Buyers get a choice of six-bolt or Center Lock rotor mounts; Shimano/SRAM, Campagnolo, or XD freehub bodies; and axle fittings to suit quick-release skewers or 12mm thru-axles. In addition, the hubs and nipples are available in a choice of 11 colours (black, silver, red, blue, orange, gold, turquoise, purple, pink, green, lime green) while the spokes can be silver or black.
Like all of Industry Nine’s hubs, the Torch Road Disc hubset is machined, anodised, laser-etched, and assembled on the floor at Turnamics. The only parts that are outsourced are the bearings. The hub shell is made from 7075 aluminium alloy while 7068 is used for the freehub body.
The i9 Road Disc hubs are designed for straight-pull spokes.
The axle end cap is easy to remove without tools.
This 12mm thru-axle cap can be replaced with one to suit a standard quick-release skewer.
The bearing sits close to the end of the axle, which reduces flex, but the elements do not have to penetrate far to find the bearing. A smear of grease will improve water-resistance.
The disc rotor needs to be removed before the left axle cap can be removed.
A decent grip on the cap is all that is required to lift it off the axle.
The left bearing sits deeper than the right, but a smear of grease is still a good idea.
The freehub body makes use of the same drive mechanism that has come to define Industry Nine’s rapid-engaging MTB hubs, however rather than six pawls, there are three. This reduces the amount of drag for the freehub, as well as weight and noise, while the angle of engagement increases from 3° to 6°. For road riders, that still counts as notably quicker than what most of the rest of the market has to offer.
Both hubs are easy to pull down since the end caps simply press on to the alloy axles. Once removed, the freehub body slides out of the hub for servicing, while a set of suitable drifts will be required to remove and replace the cartridge bearings. The pawls sit on small springs that are a little fussy to handle, but overall, Industry Nine’s hubs are relatively simple to service.
The weight of the i9.65 wheelset sent for review was 1,582g (front 727g; rear, 855g) with rim tape and tubeless valves. That’s a decent weight for wheels with 65mm rims, and Industry Nine is proud of the fact that’s significantly lighter than Zipp’s 404 Firecrest tubeless disc wheelset, which has a published weight of 1,715g (without tape or valves).
Industry Nine manufactures every part of its hubs except the bearings.
The left axle cap on the rear hub is essentially the same as the front, including the option to swap it for one to suit a standard quick-release skewer.
Don’t try pulling the cap off until the disc rotor is out of the way.
In the event that one of the non-drive-side spokes needs to be replaced, the bearing will have to be removed first.
The right axle cap can be pulled once the cassette has been removed.
Once the cap has been removed, the freehub can be pulled out of the hub…
…where it will slide off the axle. There’s a chance that one or more pawls may fall out at this point. Watch out also for the small spring that sits behind each pawl.
There are three pawls for engaging the drive-ring in the hub shell. These are cut from heat-treated steel, so they add a bit of weight, but Industry Nine prefers the material for its extra strength.
Once the freehub is out of the way, the drive mechanism can be cleaned up before adding some light grease.
Like the pawls, the 60-tooth drive-ring is cut from heat-treated steel, and according to Industry Nine, it can contend with 700 foot-pounds of torque.
As for the price, recommended retail for the i9.65 wheelset is US$2,525/AU$3,200. Buyers in the USA can save US$125 by opting for an all-black build, while those that want to personalise their new wheels even further can order custom rim stickers from Stickrd for US$75. Lastly, there is also an option to upgrade to Enduro XD-15 ceramic bearings.
As mentioned above, Industry Nine backs its i9 Road Disc wheels with a lifetime warranty, but it must be noted that the wheels have a maximum rider weight limit of 250lb/118kg.
I’ve long been a fan of anodised hubs, so Industry Nine’s pretty purple hubs (with matching nipples, no less) were quick to ring my bell. Likewise the sleek shape of each hub body and the way the radial spokes sprouted from within. None of these finishing touches really has any bearing upon the performance of the wheels, but I think they add value (and bling!) to the overall package.
That Industry Nine offers buyers a choice of 11 colours for the hubs and spoke nipples, plus two for the spokes, makes for a wheelset that borders on a custom build. Add in the choice of three rim profiles, and buyers have almost everything that they’d want in a wheelset, aside from a higher spoke count for heavier riders.
The data is also there to reassure buyers that the i9.65 wheelset is truly aerodynamic. When added to all of the other features, such as tubeless compatibility, a 21mm rim bed, and a competitive weight, these wheels are very attractive, on paper at least, compared to what the rest of the upper end of the market has to offer.
Putting the wheels to use did nothing to dispel that notion, either. I could not identify any major shortcomings as the i9.65 lived up to my expectations for a high-profile wheelset.
To start with, they were sturdy under load and reasonably responsive. Once up to speed, they were pretty quick, too, but if the wind was blowing, the front wheel would get pushed around. Handling was quite predictable, and with the confidence of disc brakes, I could brake aggressively without worrying about the perils of heat buildup in the rims.
With all of that said, the i9.65 did not ignite my motivation or elevate my performance on the bike. Given the asking price and the position of carbon wheels as a halo product in the marketplace, this might be what some buyers would be hoping for, but that’s pretty unrealistic. I’ve yet to install a set of wheels that could do the same thing for my performance as a fresh set of legs and some great form.
At one end of the i9 Road Disc range is the i9.65 (left) and at the other, there is the i9.35 (right). The i9.45 (not shown) completes the range.
It’s also worth acknowledging that some rim profiles will work better for a rider than others, depending on their demands, strengths, and preferences. I’ve consistently found that tall wheels like the i9.65 are a little cumbersome and demanding to use. I live in a windy part of the world and I don’t have the power to push tall wheels with ease, so I really couldn’t get the best out of these wheels.
Swapping to Industry Nine’s i9.35 — which I had on hand for direct comparison thanks to Industry Nine’s Australian distributor, Dawson Sports Group — I immediately enjoyed the extra agility and responsiveness of a lighter wheelset that was immune to the effects of crosswinds. It was an inviting wheelset that could be used on any course and in any kind of weather, but there was no strong sense of free speed, which agrees well with Industry Nine’s wind tunnel results.
This comparison was enough to convince me that the i9.45 wheelset would be the perfect wheelset for me. I’ve always enjoyed riding 45-50mm rims because they manage to offer much of the speed of a taller rim while retaining a lot of what a shallower rim has to offer. With that said, these kind of distinctions are highly subjective, but they shouldn’t be ignored. After all, there is more to the performance of a wheelset than aerodynamics.
The i9.65 was an easy wheelset to live with. Tyre installation was a simple matter, regardless of whether they were standard clinchers or tubeless tyres. I was able to inflate tubeless tyres with a floor pump, and found that the beads quickly found and maintained a firm seat, even after the tyres were deflated. The 21mm rim bed added to the width of the tyres, as expected, with a set of 28c Vittoria Rubino Pro clinchers measuring 29mm at 60psi, while 25c Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tyres measured 28mm at 70psi.
The wheels remained true throughout the review period while the freehub offered a rich buzz on par with Chris King hubs. Straight-pull spokes may present a problem in the event of a sudden breakage, but at least they are not a proprietary design, and there are a couple of brands that make suitable replacements. J-bend spokes will always be easier to replace at short notice, but honestly, for a modern wheelset like the i9.65, they would look horribly outdated.
I mentioned above that the front axle measures 101mm rather than 100mm, and it did give me some trouble, because the spacing of the fork on the bike I was working with was exactly 100mm. Trying to line up the disc rotor while spreading the fork legs could be a fussy operation, but this won’t apply to all forks. In fact, Industry Nine found that most of the forks they measured were 100.5-101.5mm, which is why they opted to add to the width of the axle. For those that would rather avoid the issue, it’s a simple matter to make this measurement before committing to a purchase.
Industry Nine may be a newcomer to the aero road wheel market, but its i9 Road Disc wheels tick all the boxes, starting with an effective aerodynamic rim profile. The performance of the i9.65 doesn’t slay Zipp’s 404, so buyers can’t expect to leave Zipp’s customers in the dust, but there are marginal gains up for grabs. As for other offerings from brands like Enve, Hed, Roval, DT Swiss, and Mavic, buyers will have to wait for more data, but Industry Nine promises to be a worthy rival.
The company is no stranger to building robust wheel systems, and there is every indication that the i9 Road Disc range will be just as hard-wearing and dependable. The wide tubeless-ready rim bed keeps pace with the recent evolution in aero rim profiles, and it will also provide buyers with a plusher ride and more grip from the tyres. The absence of proprietary components is another plus, and the hubs are as pretty as they are functional.
But it is the range of options that really elevates the i9 Road Disc range, with three rim profiles, 11 different colours for the hubs and spoke nipples, and even optional custom-coloured rim stickers among the wealth of choices on tap. It’s hard to see how any buyer that is prepared to buy a high-end road disc wheelset could be disappointed by what Industry Nine has to offer.