Hunt 42 Limitless Gravel Disc wheelset review: Tangibly fast, solid value
Smart shaping and clever construction pair perfectly with 35 mm-wide tires — and a wider version could be on the way.
Smart shaping and clever construction pair perfectly with 35 mm-wide tires — and a wider version could be on the way.
There is seemingly no limit to the variety of aero road wheels available today, and yet despite all the slight variations on the theme, there’s general consensus about one particular dimension: width. Or, more specifically, that the external width of the rim should be at least 105% the width of the tire for optimum aerodynamic performance.
Preferred road tire widths have ballooned in recent years, and so have the dimensions of wheels that are vying to stay on the cutting edge of technology. However, most of the gravel market is years behind in that respect, with external rim widths that are almost always substantially narrower than the intended tire width. In other words, these wheel-and-tire pairings may still be more aerodynamic than shallow-section wheels, but they’re nowhere near where they could (or should) be.
UK wheel brand Hunt is one of the few that is bucking that trend with its 42 Limitless Gravel Disc. The tubeless-compatible carbon clincher rim is modestly deep at 42 mm, and the 25 mm internal width is in keeping with modern trends (but with a hooked shape, instead of the increasingly popular hookless format, for better tire compatibility and security). But whereas most aero carbon wheels with that sort of internal rim width are about 32 mm-wide externally, the 42 Limitless Gravel Disc’s U-shaped profile puffs up to a more generous 36 mm.
Interestingly, Hunt doesn’t claim any big aerodynamic advantages for the 42 Limitless Gravel Disc’s ultra-wide profile as compared to some of its narrower competition, with just 0.05 W of average energy savings over a set of Zipp 303 NSWs (at 32 km/h with 38 mm-wide Schwalbe G-One tires), or 0.11 W of improvement over Enve’s SES 3.4 AR under the same conditions. Of course, the claimed advantage is a lot bigger compared to “non-aero gravel wheels”: 16.8 W.
Aerodynamic performance is but one major aspect of wheel performance, though; weight is another. Normally when there’s such a big difference between the internal and external rim width, the rim has to be built with a lot of additional carbon fiber to fill the space in between. Alternatively, you can build a hollow, thin-walled structure (like Roval’s latest Rapide CLX), though that doesn’t provide enough impact protection for something designed to hit the dirt.
The 42 Limitless Gravel Disc sort of mimics the hollow carbon construction of those Rovals, but the bead hook area is filled in with a low-density structural foam. According to Hunt, this adds the requisite toughness, but without adding too much weight.
“We could have used a standard rim construction with pre-preg carbon layers everywhere, but that would have increased the overall weight way past what is acceptable,” explained Hunt engineering and product manager Luisa Grappone. “So we asked ourselves, why don’t we look towards other materials like a low-density expanding polymer? In aerospace and automotive engineering, there are many examples of polymer-cored carbon fiber panels manufactured using 100% high-strength carbon fiber reinforcement on either side of a low-density structural core material. Having this as proof it could work, we set out to make it work on wheels.”
Going along with those rims are Hunt-branded “Sprint” hubs, built with forged and CNC-machined 6061-T6 aluminum bodies and 7075-T6 aluminum axles (and likely manufactured for Hunt by Taiwanese OEM specialist Glory Wheel). Freehub bodies are machined from 7075-T6 aluminum and feature steel inserts to keep cassette sprockets from digging in. Inside is a conventional three-pawl driver mechanism that uses a 48-tooth ratchet ring for a 7.5° engagement speed. Hunt offers the 42 Limitless Gravel Disc exclusively with Center Lock splined rotor interfaces, but with four freehub body options: Shimano HG/SRAM; SRAM XDR, SRAM XD, and Campagnolo (10/11/12-speed).
Two types of cartridge bearings are available. The standard option is stainless steel bearings from Japanese brand EZO, while those chasing marginal gains can go with coated hybrid ceramics from CeramicSpeed (which also come with a lifetime warranty).
Rounding out the package are Pillar Wing airfoil-profile bladed stainless steel spokes with aluminum nipples (24-hole front and rear), laced two-cross all around.
Included with each wheelset are a few spare spokes and nipples, tubeless valve stems, rotor lockrings, and truing tools. Tubeless tape is pre-installed at the factory. And what about wheel bags? Sorry, you won’t find them here. But I mean, come on, how many people actually use those things, anyway?
Retail price for the Hunt 42 Limitless Gravel Disc wheelset is US$1,379 / £999 / €1,329 with the EZO bearings, or US$1,929 / £1,399 / €1,859 for the CeramicSpeed version (Hunt doesn’t quote Australian pricing). Though that’s obviously still a lot of money, the wheelset is a comparative bargain.
Those Zipp 303 NSWs are slightly lighter, but cost a whopping US$3,200 — and that’s with steel bearings. The Enve SES 3.4 AR is more than 100 g lighter than the Hunts, and also a lot less expensive than the Zipps at US$2,550 (with the Enve hubs). But again, that’s still a lot pricier than the Hunts, and also comes with steel bearings.
Wondering what CeramicSpeed charges for those coated hybrid ceramic bearings on their own? That’d be about US$1,000. So yeah, the Hunts are kind of a bargain, all things considered.
Claimed weight for the set is 1,548 g, without rim tape or valve stems. The actual weight for my test pair? 1,548 g — and that’s with the factory-installed rim tape and aluminum-bodied valve stems.
By the numbers, these are looking pretty good.
I ran my test wheels on three different bikes (an Enve Custom loaner, my personal Allied Allroad, and my personal Canyon Grail AL) and with a variety of different tires, including Schwalbe’s first-generation G-One Speed in a 35 mm width, Schwalbe’s latest 40 mm-wide G-One R, and a few 40 mm-wide American Classics. For terrain, I kept it mostly to what Hunt intends for the 42 Limitless Gravel Disc to see most: unpaved dirt and gravel roads, plus a smattering of rockier — though still relatively mild — trails.
I’ve mostly been riding non-aero gravel wheels lately, so I expected these wheels to feel fast in comparison. They didn’t disappoint in that respect. As with all properly aero wheels, the Hunt 42 Limitless Gravel Disc is not only easier to bring up to speed, but easier to hold at those speeds, too. Are they dramatically faster than other premium aero wheels I’ve used? Well, no — but then again, even Hunt doesn’t claim them to be.
More impressive to me is the 42 Limitless Gravel Disc’s stability, which is not only truly exceptional, but more elusive in my experience. Big gusts? Swirling conditions? Steady crosswinds? None of those pose much of an issue here. Winds still blow the front wheel around a bit, of course, but it’s so manageable that it’s almost not worth mentioning. Does credit go to the U-shaped profile? The way the rim’s external width more closely matches the tire? I can’t say, but whatever it is, it sure seems to work.
Although the 42 Limitless Gravel Disc wheels proved plenty capable in a wide range of scenarios, I ultimately found them most satisfying in all-road mode with those 35 mm-wide Schwalbe G-One Speeds. The actual inflated width matched nearly perfectly with that 36 mm-wide rim profile, and the combo was absolutely amazing on both tarmac and smoother dirt roads: fast, comfortable, grippy, stable, versatile.
Most gravel tires are bigger than 35 mm now, and it’s worth pointing out that these wheels won’t actually satisfy the 105% rule when using higher-volume rubber. How much does it matter? That’s hard for me to say, though it seems reasonable to think that something even wider might further improve aerodynamic efficiency. But according to Grappone, it’s a little more complicated than that.
“The 105% rule is referring to the correlation between the tyre nominal width and rim external width which does not consider other aspects of the total system,” she said. “Most of the time, gravel tires have tread/knobs and these create noticeable turbulence as soon as the airflow hits them; the airflow separates almost immediately and creates a wake behind the tyre and turbulent vortexes, with no chance of re-capturing the airflow.
“However, aerodynamic drag is only a component part of the overall aerodynamic performance of a wheel. In our opinion, the consideration of steering moment, which the rider perceives as wheel stability, is extremely important in situations that arise in gravel riding.
“When descending at high speeds on loose, inconsistent surfaces, it is very important to have complete confidence in the handling attributed by the effect of wind on the wheels. The magnitude of the side force gives an indication of the stability of the wheel in a crosswind, and therefore of the comfort and predictability of the ride. The accepted downside of a deeper profile rim is greater side forces due to the increased surface area. When developing the 42 Limitless Gravel Disc to be paired with a large tyre, it was extremely important to minimize crosswind instability.
“A comfortable and stable wheel allows the rider to stay in their lowest, most aero position more consistently through changing wind and surface conditions, which can be as important as the wheel’s aerodynamic properties.”
I still get the impression these wheels were developed when gravel tire preferences were narrower than they are now, and I can’t help but wonder if Hunt might go even wider moving forward — and Hunt doesn’t exactly shut down the idea, either.
“When we went to the wind tunnel, we saw that a 42 mm tire was less aero than a 38 mm one, when combined both to our 42 Limitless Gravel Disc and some competitors,” Grappone said. “We have not prototyped yet a rim 44-46 mm wide to see how it performs when combined to a 42+ mm tire. Probably something to work on in the future.”
Notably, 3T’s Discus 45 / 40 LTD sports a 29 mm-wire tire bed and a 40 mm external rim width — 4 mm wider than the 42 Limitless Gravel Disc on both counts. They’re also about 120 g heavier (mostly in the rim) and substantially more expensive, but nevertheless, it feels to me like 3T won’t be an outlier in this respect for long.
Aerodynamics aside, the Hunt wheels are just plain good wheels.
One likely by-product of the rim’s extra-plump profile is stiffness, which is particularly affected by section width. They’re solid under hard cornering, but also wholly unfazed when bombing through rock gardens. That said, such solidity isn’t always a good thing. Riders that favor more of a brute-force approach to technical sections will likely be fine with it, but ones that prefer a lighter touch and a little more finesse might find these too rigid.
That rigidity doesn’t come with a rough ride quality, either. Although the wheels are stiff, the rims’ novel foam-filled, thin-walled construction seems to keep things pretty lively — certainly livelier than rims I’ve ridden with a lot more carbon in that area.
Adding a few sprinkles to what is already a pretty tasty cupcake, all of the tubeless tires I tried even installed and inflated pretty easily, and build quality was excellent overall.
As much as I enjoyed the rims on the 42 Limitless Gravel Disc, I was a little more disappointed in the hubs.
Earlier Hunt hubs were often panned for being too loud. This latest generation is better — and the 7.5° engagement speed was nice to have in some technical situations — but it’s still anything but quiet. It’s not just the volume, either; the nature of the buzziness just isn’t particularly pleasant. And while this is purely subjective, I’d argue the sound doesn’t convey a sense of being a premium product.
Up front, it was a different issue.
My test wheels came with the CeramicSpeed upgrade, and it wasn’t long before the front hub bearings developed a little play. It wasn’t enough to cause the brake rotor to rub, but I could feel it through the bars.
Technically speaking, bearing brands might argue that this isn’t a negative — if anything, that slight amount of play might even suggest an extra-fast bearing. But unless you’re only in it for the watts, I’m of the opinion that it’s not OK.
“It is correct that we would prefer a slight amount of play vs. the bearings being too tight, both for wear characteristics and efficiency,” said CeramicSpeed product manager Paul Sollenberger. “Between the grease fully dispersing and any firm contact spots on the seals, it wouldn’t be unexpected to have a slight difference in feel from first assembly through a few rides.”
“I have noticed this in the set that I’m riding as well, but really only notice it when I’m off the bike and decide to really move the wheel in the frame, from side to side,” added Hunt USA’s general market manager, Sam Johnson. “The CeramicSpeed version of our 42 Limitless Gravel Disc wheelset should be considered by those who are serious about the incremental gains when competing in gravel events. We offer an EZO bearing version which is quite a bit less money.
“Also noteworthy, you truly get more benefits from the CeramicSpeed coated version: a lifetime warranty on the bearings, service life that is much longer than a standard bearing due to the coated technology, and [better] efficiency and less rolling resistance, of course.”
Aesthetically speaking, I could also do with a less in-your-face graphic treatment. Let the performance speak for itself, I say.
Clearly, I have some reservations about these wheels. The CeramicSpeed bearings may very well be speedy, but the play is off-putting. The graphics? Meh. Should they be even wider? Arguably, yes. And that freehub sound … where are those earbuds again?
But even so, there’s an awful lot to like here. They’re fast. They’re quite light. They ride nicely. They’re built well and they’re appropriately rigid. And maybe best of all, they offer an awful lot of bang for your buck, especially for a brand that also has an actual customer service department and an accessible warranty.
If Hunt offered the EZO version with a more elegant logo treatment? Sign me up.
More information can be found at www.huntbikewheels.com.