HED launches more affordable Emporia GC3 Performance gravel wheels

by Dan Cavallari

photography by Dan Cavallari


If there was any doubt as to where the capital of gravel might be, cast those doubts aside. Emporia, Kansas is it. HED wheels started naming its gravel wheels after the home of Unbound Gravel last year, and now it’s expanding that range with the Emporia GC3 Performance wheels.

The Emporia GC3 Performance wheels borrow a lot of design cues from the top-end Emporia GC3 Pro wheels in HED’s lineup. But the Emporia GC3 Performance wheels bring the price down to US$1,650 — pricey, but certainly more attainable than the US$2,400 price tag on the Emporia GC3 Pros.

Emporia GC3 Performance wheel specs

Given the namesake, it should come as no surprise that the Emporia GC3 Performance wheels are designed to take on some chunky gravel, much like the daunting stuff you’ll find in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The rims feature a 26 mm internal rim width, a 31 mm external width, and a 30 mm rim depth. That gives riders a good combination of aero performance (and mud-shedding should conditions get really nasty), and width for grip and compliance. 

With tires mounted to these wheels, HED says the 30 mm rim depth combines with the tire depth to create an ideal ‘airfoil’ shape for aerodynamics. It’s unclear what tire size HED refers to here, but for racing, it seems the tire size du jour runs between 40 mm and 42 mm.

HED stresses that the Emporia GC3 Performance wheels feature a tire bed that accommodates a wide range of tire sizes and types to counter any and all gravel conditions. The spec sheet recommends a 32 mm minimum tire width and can accommodate tires up to and over 55 mm. 

The rims feature a hookless tyre bed meaning tubeless tyres must be used.

HED says the Emporia GC3 Performance wheelset weighs 1,523 grams, 128 g more than the premium GC3 Pro (rims are claimed to weigh 405 g each). They are of course tubeless-ready. And each wheel is built with 24 Sapim Race double-butted round spokes.

At the centre of the wheels sits HED’s Performance disc brake hubs with forged alloy hub shells. The freehub features a four-pawl design with a 27-tooth ratchet ring that provides 13.3° of engagement. These hubs offer center lock rotor mounting.

How HED competes with the rest

I haven’t had an opportunity yet to ride the Emporia GC3 Performance wheels, though I did see them in person in Emporia during Unbound Gravel. They largely look like any other high-end carbon gravel wheels, so what sets HED apart?

Price, for starters. It’s great to see major brands offer high-end products at lower prices than we have seen in the past, particularly in both the road and mountain bike markets. That’s out of necessity: a crop of companies — including Enve and Zipp, both of which manufacture wheels in the USA too — offer carbon wheelsets at this price or even lower. HED is, in a sense, keeping pace with a changing US wheel market. That’s a big deal in a crowded space for HED, and a boon for customers looking for high-end, US-made wheels at a competitive price. 

HED designs and manufactures its wheels in Minnesota. It’s an impressive feat for a carbon manufacturer to design and build wheels here in the United States, all while keeping prices on par with the competition. With all the supply chain issues happening right now in the bicycle industry and beyond, it certainly gives HED an edge to have the manufacturing process take place right here in the United States. 

The place of manufacture is still reflected in the price.

And of course, HED has a long history of developing reliable and fast wheels. Customers get the advantage of knowing where these wheels are coming from and knowing they are coming from a company with a long history of strong and competent design. That said, HED remains one of the few top-end wheel companies to not offer a free replacement policy that covers crash or impact damage, but they do have a discounted crash replacement service if such things go wrong.

The Emporia GC3 Performance wheels are available now.

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