Scribe Aero Wide+ 42 disc brake road wheelset review
A feature-packed wheelset for just US$1,000 shipped.
A feature-packed wheelset for just US$1,000 shipped.
Once a high-priced and desirable performance product, carbon wheels have fast become a mature market with countless innovative and imitator options. Prices are forever coming down, and the advent of disc brakes has all but removed safety concerns over such cheaper options.
Scribe is a relatively young consumer-direct company from the UK that’s following in the successful tyre tracks of brands such as Hunt and Prime (Wiggle’s in-house brand). Scribe’s founder, Alan Graham, was in fact responsible for Prime wheels over a number of years.
I’ve had Scribe’s popular Aero Wide+ 42 disc brake wheels on test for almost a year and can report that these are an extremely well-thought-out and high-value option. However, those looking for a quiet ride should roll straight past these.
Scribe’s new Aero Wide+ wheels all share a modernly wide internal width for tyre support and volume, with an expanded exterior width for aerodynamic purposes. In the case of the tested Aero Wide+ 42s, the U-shaped rim offers a 42 mm depth, a 21 mm internal width, and reaches out to 30 mm wide on the outside.
That wide exterior profile has fast become a common trend amongst many of the latest aero rims as tyres have become wider. The basic goal here, commonly referred to as the 105% rule, is to have the rim exterior marginally wider than the tyre so that the wheel can control the airflow. In the case of these Scribe wheels, the rim width is aerodynamically at its best when fitted with a 25 mm tyre (typically closer to 28-29 mm measured on these rims).
Interestingly the rim was still (marginally) wider than the Continental GP5000 28 mm tyres I installed which measured an actual 29.3 mm wide at 80 psi.
Scribe is currently in the process of having its 32, 42, 50 and 60 mm depth Aero Wide wheels verified in a wind tunnel (testing was delayed due to the pandemic), and so the company didn’t have any data ready to share at the time of publishing. And while I’m not in a position to support any of Scribe’s aerodynamic claims or draw comparisons against other aero wheels, I can say that the NACA-based rim shape they’re using is widely accepted as efficient.
They’re impressively low in weight, too. My sample set of 42s weighed 1,420 grams (1,438 g claimed) with the supplied tubeless tape. That’s an impressively competitive figure that holds its own against a number of premium wheels, and certainly beats many of the new big-brand value options such as Enve’s 45 Foundation, Zipp’s 303s or Bontrager’s cheaper Aeolus.
That low weight is only possible through the sum of well-weighted parts, and there’s a surprising amount of quality here. The spokes are straight-pull Sapim CX-Rays, the same thin aero-bladed spokes you find on many ultra-premium carbon wheels (such as Enve’s SES range), and they’re laced with Sapim alloy nipples and rim washers. Meanwhile, the hubs offer a detailed CNC-machined flange design and a surprising freehub mechanism, something I’ll come back to.
The carbon rims feature a hooked tyre bead for use with either clincher (inner tubes) or tubeless rubber, and they’re said to conform to the new ETRTO standards. The wheels well surpass ISO fatigue and strength tests, and while they aren’t yet on the UCI’s approved list, Scribe is currently patiently waiting for them to be added.
I often get nervous when calling in smaller- and newer-brand carbon wheels for review. The sceptic in me often assumes the wheels are simply something bought from a company like Yishun but with a different sticker. And while some of these products offer incredible value for money, I’d rather spend my time reviewing products from brands that have invested in their own research and development.
Speaking with the company’s founder, Alan Graham, it quickly became apparent that there has indeed been great investment put into the creation of these wheels and that they’re not simply another open mould rebrand. And while it’s possible that Scribe is sharing a rim mould with other brands here, the exact specifications are unique to the company.
Perhaps most telling of the quality level is a fairly impressive balance and consistency in spoke tension, and it’s something that has remained that way through my test period. The rear wheel offers a 2:1 lacing pattern with 24 spokes, and impressively there’s a consistent 110 Kgf (approx) of tension from left to right and the whole way around on my sample. This points to the rim being wonderfully round to begin with, and attention to detail in the build.
Unfortunately, things up front are more variable and less impressive, with spoke tensions across the 21 spokes fluctuating by up to 15%. And while such variance isn’t ideal, it’s also not all that uncommon (even on some premium wheels). At least these tensions and the wheel trueness have remained consistent. Of course, this is all based on a single sample, and I don’t have any insight into how consistent or inconsistent this is across the wheels sold.
At the centre sit the aluminium-shell hubs which feature centerlock rotor mounts (six-bolt adapters included, too) and sealed bearings within. Access to those bearings is simply achieved by pulling off the press-fit end caps on the front, or with a couple of cone wrenches for the rear.
Open up the rear hub, slide out the green anodised aluminium freehub body and you’ll be greeted with a ratchet ring-style drive system. This system is extremely similar to DT Swiss’ new (and premium-priced) EXP hub system, but while the Swiss company uses a coil spring to push its single moving ratchet ring against the fixed position ring, Scribe’s design uses a flatter leaf spring.
Scribe currently has an exclusive license for this system, one which offers a speedy 54 points of engagement and is extremely easy to open up for cleaning and regreasing.
Some earlier reports of Scribe wheels complained about the aluminium feehub bodies being soft to cassette digging, but that has now been rectified. My sample features a small metal bite guard insert on the Shimano freehub that will prevent any major chewing from becoming an issue long-term.
Like many hubs, there are four sealed bearings in the rear hub, and two in the front. Scribe offers a choice between “Endurance” or “Race” bearings, with the former offering better sealing and thicker grease, while the latter being EZO bearings with a lighter grease. I opted for the latter and my sample wheels are still spinning smoothly, however, they never really saw atrocious weather.
Scribe applies the same three-year warranty available to its wheels to the bearings, too – something that’s rarely seen in the industry. This warranty means they’ll supply you with up to two sets of replacement bearings over the first three years of wheel ownership, however, you’ll still need a way to have them installed.
A slight tangent on the topic of warranties: Scribe also provides a lifetime crash replacement warranty for its carbon wheels. If you get caught in a wreck or slam into a curb then Scribe will replace all the damaged components without charge; the only expense will be paying for the postage to and from Scribe’s UK base. If those shipping costs are prohibitive then Scribe will send out the required parts without charge, and you’ll simply be out of pocket for the local rebuild.
Five of the six bearings are relatively easy to replace with common bearing tools, something an experienced shop mechanic could do without a bead of sweat. However, you’ll need a proprietary tool to access the right side bearing in the rear hub shell that hides behind the drive ring – thankfully Scribe offers this for a perfectly reasonable US$30.
As with most hubs, some simple and semi-regular cleaning of the hub internals will go a very long way to ensuring the bearings last. The Scribe hubs seem decent at keeping contamination on the outside, however the sealing is still vastly simpler than what something like DT Swiss hubs offer and so you should plan for more regular service intervals.
Beyond the choice in bearing type, Scribe also offers freehub bodies to suit Shimano, Campagnolo, or SRAM’s XDR. The front hubs can be converted between quick-release, 100 x 12 mm thru-axle and 100 x 15 mm thru-axle. The rear hub is available in 142 x 12 mm thru-axle or 135 mm quick-release.
Scribe ships its wheels in a single box with a handful of useful additions. There’s tubeless tape wrapping the wheels (although it did bubble after a few months of sealant exposure), alloy tubeless valves are provided, as are a few spare spokes and nipples. There’s the rotor adapters and centerlock lockrings, too. Finally, a spacer is provided for those wanting to run 8-, 9- or 10-speed cassettes on the 11-speed freehub.
Getting tyres on the Scribe wheels proved a bit of a struggle, and the rim certainly provides a fit that’s on the tighter end of the spectrum. This was most obvious in preparing for the recent Field Test where I installed 28 mm Continental GP5000 clinchers on a handful of different wheels. The Scribes were certainly the tightest-fitting of the small sample group and had me reaching for a tyre lever to pop them into place.
With the tyres in place, there’s a reassuring bead pop as the tyres seat in place. This is something I really appreciated when running road tubeless (Goodyear Eagle F1), and inflating such a setup was easy.
There were three things that were immediately noticeable when riding these wheels.
Firstly, there wasn’t a single pop or groaning sound of spokes seating into place, proving that these wheels were pre-stressed and pre-tensioned correctly at the factory. In fact, Graham says the wheels go through two rounds of pre-stressing during the assembly.
Secondly, there’s an immediate sense of positive system stiffness and security. There’s no annoying hub flex causing rubbing of the disc brakes when leaning the bike over or sprinting. There’s no bearing play at the hubs. And there’s a good direct feeling to the rims, too. Jump on the pedals and these wheels react as you expect them to.
And thirdly, these wheels just feel like a high-end racing wheel. That low weight spins up quickly and there just isn’t much to tell these apart from far more expensive hoops. The fairly stable handling in crosswinds is what I’d expect for a wide rim of this depth, and they seem to hold their speed as well as similar mid-depth wheels, too. I won’t pretend to be able to feel whether these roll as efficiently as a Zipp, Roval or Enve once at speed. I’m not a wind tunnel.
Wheels of this depth are my typical preference for general road riding. They offer a noticeable aerodynamic advantage over a truly shallow wheel while still remaining easy to handle in gusty conditions. They also offer impressive stiffness without being bone-jarring, and the lower weight keeps them feeling lively. The Scribes tick all of the boxes here.
However, it’s the freehub noise that I found to be even more noticeable. The freehub’s leaf spring design seems to keep the ratchet rings in close contact. Add in all of those points of engagement and this is one noisy coasting hub once at speed.
DT Swiss’ new EXP hub is pretty darn noisy as well, but Scribe has it beat in decibels. I’ve been jumping between a bunch of noisy hubs lately – the Hunt Sprint hubs, DT Swiss EXP, and Chris King R45s on my personal bike – and the Scribe is the most obnoxiously loud of the lot.
A small sample of freehub noises. Note that some of the noises overwhelmed the microphone and so the actual loudness is not well reflected here.
On more than one occasion I had random cyclists look back to see what was coming up on them. I had one riding friend ask me to keep pedalling as the noise was driving her nuts. And I can confirm that I found the noise overwhelming at times, too.
I’ve played a bit with quietening these down, and thankfully the mechanism seems quite tolerant of different greases without any sign of spline slip. Scribe recommends its “own” MV1 grease, while I found a thin grease like Dumonde Tech’s freehub grease to be perfectly fine, too. A generous application of grease took the hubs from “ouch, my brain” to “oh, that’s much better but still loud.”
Some people love loud hubs, and that’s great. Others prefer a quiet or dull noise as they relax on the pedals, and those people will absolutely not find bliss in these wheels.
These wheels sell for US$1,000 including international shipping. Depending on your location you may be stung with taxes and import duties, but still, the price is impressive.
Lower-cost carbon wheels have existed for a number of years, but a wheelset like these Scribes makes me really question what a far more expensive wheelset still has to offer. Ok, place of manufacturer or at least attention to sustainable manufacturing is one reason to still spend more. Or maybe getting a big-name hub knowing that parts will always exist is another reason. But beyond that I really start clasping at straws when it comes to a wheel for disc brake use.
The tight-fitting rims are probably not a good thing for people with average tyre-fitting technique. That hub noise is going to be extremely polarising. And that variance in the front spoke tension further proves these aren’t perfect. But geez, everything else here is darn impressive when you consider the price. And it’s exactly wheels like this that help to drive down the price of everything else, and that’s a trend I’ve been excited to see over the past couple of years.
You can find more information at scribecycling.co.uk.