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Does aero even matter in gravel? According to Hunt, a UK-based consumer-direct wheel company, it sure does and Hunt has the wind tunnel data to prove it. And of course, that data comes with the release of a wholly new carbon racing wheel that’s aerodynamically optimised around 38-42 mm width gravel tyres.
Aero in gravel
The claim that aerodynamics matter in all forms of cycling is nothing new. And even in the relatively young sport of gravel, brands such as 3T, Open, Enve and Cervelo have touted the importance of aerodynamics in racing over varied terrain.
Earlier this year Hunt joined the list of brands who want you to consider aerodynamics when going beyond the tarmac. The company took a small number of popular wide road/gravel race wheels to the wind tunnel to see just how much aero mattered in gravel.
The company did its testing at a reduced speed of 32 km/h, with Schwalbe G-One 38 mm tyres fitted, and with Yaw angles between -20º and +20º used on a commonly accepted weighted average. The outcome of that test was that using a fast wheel (specifically the Enve 4.5 AR SES), over a regular non-aero gravel wheel (such as Hunt’s own 4 Season Gravel X-Wide) can save upwards of six minutes when raced across the 200 miles (320 km) of DK.
Ok, so six minutes over a brisk 200-mile ride really doesn’t sound like much, and for many of us mere mortals, it isn’t. After all, the winner of the 2019 DK race, Colin Strickland, maintained an average speed of 20.19 mph (32.5 km/h) and won by a nine-minute margin over a handful of WorldTour hitters.
Strickland won the top spot of the podium while rolling on Enve’s shallower 3.4 AR SES wheels, something that Hunt claims are some 77 seconds slower than the deeper Enve 4.5 AR SES over the DK course. And Strickland’s use of a shallower aero wheel has become quite common at the pointy end of gravel racing where weight and crosswind stability must be considered in balance with cheating the wind.
Still, the math suggests a speed and/or energy-saving advantage does indeed exist with some form of aero wheel, at least on a relatively fast course or under a fast rider.
And that’s where Hunt’s new 42 Limitless Gravel Disc wheels come in. Closely related to the ultra-wide Hunt Limitless 48 aero wheel, these new gravel wheels seek to find a balance of those aerodynamic gains with a ride that’s more stable, comfortable, and lighter than what a deeper road-specific wheel offers.
Details of the new Limitless Gravel Disc
The new Limitless Gravel Disc may look a whole lot like Hunt’s Limitless 48 Aero Disc road wheels, and indeed there are some undeniable similarities. The new Gravel wheels retain that truncated rim bed along with an extreme external rim width (an even wider 36 mm here). The ultra-wide rim uses Hunt’s patented design that employs a small amount of low-density foam to fill the width between the inner and outer rim bed without major weight gain. They have the same graphics. And they share the same spoke and hub design.
Despite the similarities with the Hunt Limitless 48 aero wheel, a careful look at the finer details reveals this is indeed a new wheel with a different intended purpose. Hunt reduced the rim depth to 42 mm in order to further improve crosswind stability from its wide U-shaped rim shape. Additionally, the internal rim width has been widened to 25 mm, designed with 38-42 mm tyres in mind. And Hunt has stuck with its ETRTO-compliant hooked rim bed, and while it’s optimised for use with tubeless, it doesn’t demand such tyres are used like Zipp’s and Enve’s newest wheels do.
Hunt latest testing suggests while its new wheels are indeed fast, the aerodynamic benefits over other quick wheels are marginal at best. Compared to the Enve 3.4 AR SES, the new Limitless Gravel Disc will save you just 0.05 W at 32 km/h and 317 watts of power output. Or in other words, you’ll have a six-second advantage after riding the DK at a race-winning pace. Like I said, marginal, and you’d probably save more time by removing your jersey zipper pull.
Also missing from the test are the new gravel-specific 3T Disqus 45/40 wheels with their ultra-wide 40 mm external width, something that Hunt admits wasn’t in production when they did their testing.
At the centre of the new wheels sit Hunt’s Sprint straight-pull hubs with a 7.5º freehub engagement from a pawl-based design. Hidden inside are CeramicSpeed bearings with more durable coated races and fitted with seals and grease intended for off-road use. Pillar Wing 20 bladed spokes tie it all together, and yes, the nipples are externally accessible for truing.
All told Hunt is claiming its new gravel race wheels will weigh 1,548 g for the pair, a little over 100 grams more than the Enve 3.4 AR SES. While heavier, Hunt isn’t shy in saying that its new wheels should prove more stable in gusty conditions.
And then there’s the consumer-direct pricing. Expect to pay £1,289 | US$1,619 | €1,489 / AU$2,299 including worldwide postage for these new hoops. And that includes Hunt’s lifetime crash replacement policy for the original owner of the wheels. They’re expected to ship in early 2021.
The 42 Limitless Gravel Disc wheels certainly sound promising on paper, but durability, handling and ride quality will undoubtedly play a more critical role than pure aerodynamics. James Huang will soon be getting a pair to review to see what they’re like to ride.