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I test a lot of wheels in my role here at CyclingTips, and more often than not, the associated price tag is bigger than what most of us paid for our first nice bike. In contrast, the DT Swiss GR 1600 Spline 25 gravel wheelset is not only impressively reasonable cost-wise, but also one of the best gravel wheelsets I’ve had the pleasure of riding, period.
They’re not the lightest, the most aero, the cheapest, or the best at anything at all. But this is still all the gravel wheel most of us will ever want or need.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story
On paper, the GR 1600 Spline 25’s specs aren’t likely to get anyone’s blood pumping.
The actual weight of 1,776 grams (836 g front, 940 g rear, with tubeless valve stems and tape) falls right inline with claims, though it’s hardly in ultralight territory, and the 25 mm rim depth doesn’t exactly scream “aero”. However, the aluminum rims readily set up tubeless — and are compliant with the latest ETRTO industry guidelines for tubeless hooked rims — they’re quite reasonably wide at 24 mm between the bead hooks, and the hubs are based on DT Swiss’s 350 model, which is widely regarded as one of the most reliable hub platforms currently available.
The way it’s all held together is utterly normal, too, with each wheel using 24 DT Swiss Aero Comp Wide straight-pull stainless steel blades spokes and DT Swiss Prolock aluminum nipples, laced in a two-cross pattern all around. Triplet lacing? Hidden nipples? Nope and nope.
DT Swiss only offers the GR 1600 Spline 25 wheels with splined Center Lock rotor interfaces, but despite the modest price, both Shimano HG and SRAM XDR freehub bodies are included. Six-bolt adapters are included, too, as are tubeless valve stems, and the rims are pre-taped with tubeless tape. And as with all modern DT Swiss hubs, the end caps are swappable between a variety of common standards.
Perhaps best of all, the retail price is a comparatively attainable US$707 / €559 for the set (estimated prices for Australia and the UK are AU$949 and £508, respectively). That’s about one-half to one-quarter the price of most carbon fiber wheelsets currently on the market, and a veritable bargain for a solid mid-range option from a highly reputable brand.
The proof is in the pudding — and the pudding is very, very good
Truth be told, these DT Swiss wheels are yet another example of a product that I had intended to review pretty quickly, but the timeline kept getting pushed out for various reasons. On the bright side, though, those delays mean that I’ve now ridden these wheels regularly for nearly 18 months, with a bunch of different tires, and so I’m more than comfortable offering both my final conclusions here.
And the more I ride them, the more fantastic I think they are.
I’ve had countless conversations with various brands over the years about what exactly makes a good wheel. Is it low weight? What about where that weight is positioned? What about stiffness? Can you have too much or too little? What about radial vs. lateral stiffness? How much does aerodynamic efficiency matter? How much does spoke gauge, count, and tension matter for ride quality?
While the exact answers differ somewhat, the common theme throughout all the responses has always incorporated the idea of balance. With few exceptions, no one factor should be singularly dominant when it comes to wheel performance, and all of the various aspects have to be carefully tuned in relation to each other to achieve that elusive, yet somewhat amorphous, ideal.
It’s true that the GR 1600 Spline 25 wheels aren’t terribly light on the scale, and rarely do I spend time on a set of 700c wheels on the wrong side of the 1,700-gram mark and hop off feeling blown away by their wispiness. But it’s also true that the best wheels I’ve ridden over the years tend to feel lighter than the numbers would suggest, and generally just perform better overall than you’d expect.
Despite the somewhat modest underpinnings, the GR 1600 Spline 25 wheels are quick to accelerate under power, and agile and nimble when ripping through fast-and-tight singletrack. Ride quality is curiously excellent as well: not too stiff, not too soft. There’s just enough radial give to gently cushion the harshness of rough dirt and gravel roads, yet they’re still reassuringly stout in hard cornering and impressively sturdy when I rode them somewhere they had no business being.
They’ve also been remarkably durable. I haven’t had to true them once in all this time, nor has the rim suffered even the slightest of dings despite being repeatedly bashed hard enough into sharp-edge rocks and poorly installed up-and-over cattle guards to kill a couple of gravel tires.
This many years — decades! — in, the reliability of the DT Swiss Star Ratchet driver mechanism hardly needs to be mentioned, either. I serviced it once, after about a year, but only because I figured it was about time, not because it was acting up. The grease inside was a little dark, sure, but it was otherwise still intact and everything was still moving the way it should. DT Swiss recently announced a successor to this veteran system called Ratchet EXP, but if I’m being honest here, I like this older design better, if only because it isn’t nearly as obnoxiously loud when coasting.
If and when the time comes, parts are relatively easy to come by, too, and provided you’ve got a decent cartridge bearing press and remover tool set, even more major service is very doable at home.
Still some room for improvement
As happy as I’ve been with these things, it’s nevertheless in my nature to nitpick, although the list in this case is pretty short.
I’m a big fan of quick-engaging freehub bodies for mountain bike wheels for the way they more immediately come back to life when you apply power after coasting. However, DT Swiss equips the rear hub on the GR 1600 Spline 25 wheels with its slowest-responding 18-tooth ratchet rings. In other words, that means the cassette can spin forward freely for 20º after coasting or backpedaling before the teeth engage and pedaling power is actually transferred to the ground (and that doesn’t account for the fact that the wheel is also rotating forward at the same time, which slows things down further still).
In DT Swiss’s defense, rear hub engagement speed is rarely an issue when it comes to everyday gravel riding like it is for technical mountain bike terrain, and the 18-tooth ratchets are not only supposedly the lowest-friction of the various options DT Swiss offers, but also the most reliable. In other words, it’s not that big a deal.
I also wonder if the positive ride sensations I noted at my average 70 kg (153 lb) weight would also hold true under a substantially heavier rider (DT Swiss says these can handle someone up to 130 kg).
In addition … actually, that’s it. Really.
The magic combination
As I said earlier, wheel brands have different opinions on exactly what makes a good bicycle wheel. But whatever that magical combination is, DT Swiss seems to have found it here.
Perhaps it has something to do with the weight being more concentrated at those blocky hubs? Maybe some perfect mix of spoke tension and lacing pattern? The flange spacing? Hell if I know. All I can say is that never in the past 18 months did these things ever feel less than amazing whenever I put them on a bike.
You can certainly spend a lot more money than what the GR 1600 Spline 25 costs for a set of gravel wheels that are lighter, or prettier, or more aero, or wider, or ride more smoothly, or whateverer. And to be clear, I’ve definitely ridden gravel wheels that fit into any number of those categories. In fact, DT Swiss itself offers the decidedly swankier GRC 1400 Spline 42 carbon version that ticks a lot of those boxes.
But if it were my money, I wouldn’t buy those.
We all go through times in our lives when we have to make head-vs.-heart decisions, and while the latter options often seem more appealing, it’s usually the former ones that make a lot more sense in the long run. To my eye, the GR 1600 Spline 25 is a perfect example of that, clearly sitting in the sweet spot of performance and price with nary a hint of flash or flair. There was a time when I’d go with the heart pick every time, and maybe this is me showing my age, but based on my experience with these over the last year and a half, the head choice seems like an awfully good place to be.