Cadex goes gravel with new AR 35 Disc carbon wheels and two new tires

25 mm internal width, hookless, ultra-stiff, standard ceramic bearings, and among the lightest in its class.

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It’s now been more than 2 1/2 years since Giant revived the Cadex brand name for a line of high-end wheels and components. To date, nearly the entirety of the collection has been focused purely on the road, but the debut of the new AR 35 Disc carbon all-road/gravel wheelset clearly signals Cadex’s longer-term intentions: go bigger.

Impressive specs

On paper, the Cadex AR 35 Disc makes a pretty compelling case in terms of performance.

The hookless carbon fiber rims measure a healthy 25 mm internally and 31 mm externally, with a versatile 35 mm depth. Thanks in large part to carbon fiber spokes, the claimed weight is an impressive 1,270 g per pair (although the actual weight with rim tape and tubeless valve stems is 1,363 g: 613 g front, 750 g rear). The Cadex-made rear hub boasts a responsive 6° engagement speed, hybrid ceramic bearings come standard, and the whole thing is covered with a two-year warranty and five-year “incident replacement” policy. 

The US$3,000 / AU$4,200 / £2,500 / €TBC retail price is just as premium as Cadex’s other wheel options, but there’s a similar level of engineering to go with it, too.

The carbon spokes might sound scary, but they’re supposedly much stronger than conventional stainless steel ones.

Much of Cadex’s wheel technology literally rests on those carbon fiber spokes, which feature aero-profile cross-sections and claimed weights that are less than half that of DT Swiss’s popular Aerolite stainless steel spokes (supposedly saving about 90 g per wheelset just in spokes). But instead of being directly bonded into the hub and/or rim like Lightweight or Partington, each Cadex spoke features “forged” ends that are mechanically locked in place with metal ends — a T-end at the hub, and threads at the rim — that make it behave much like a conventional stainless steel spoke when it comes to assembly and truing. 

The rims are built with laser cut carbon fiber pieces for more consistency just like Giant’s newest flagship composite frames, although those pieces are laid by hand instead of robots, “due to the nature of the complexity and tight sections of the rim,” according to Cadex head of product and marketing Jeff Schneider. Notably, each rim is left completely raw with no paint whatsoever. Claimed rim weight is 395 g.

The rims feature a 31 mm outer width and a prominent U-shaped profile.

The hubs are fully designed and manufactured in-house, and while the driver mechanism in the rear hub clearly draws inspiration from DT Swiss’s long-running Star Ratchet design with twin interconnecting ratchet rings, there are a number of key differences.

Much like DT Swiss’s latest Ratchet EXP configuration, the inner ratchet ring in the Cadex “R2” rear hub is stationary inside the hub shell, while the outer ring slides axially inside the machined aluminum freehub body. As compared to the old dual-sliding design, this layout is said to offer better reliability since there are not only fewer moving parts, but also more consistent alignment between the ratchet teeth.

But whereas DT Swiss uses a coil spring with a round cross-section behind that outer ratchet ring, Cadex uses a flat-wound spring that the company says offers a more consistent — and higher — spring rate that speeds up the action and reduces the chance of slippage, especially when quickly applying a lot of pedaling load after coasting, which is particularly noteworthy since the company is outfitting every AR 35 Disc wheelset with quick-engaging 60-tooth ratchets. Granted, DT Swiss has long offered 54-tooth ratchets, but Cadex says the 42 chromoly steel used for its ratchet rings is more durable and less prone to tooth chipping, and they’re also given a diamond-like coating (DLC) to reduce wear and friction.

The rear hub features predominantly aluminum construction, and rotates on hybrid ceramic cartridge bearings.

Although the AR 35 Disc rim’s appearance suggests some level of aerodynamic efficiency, Cadex isn’t explicitly touting any speediness credentials here. Instead, the U-shaped rim profile focuses on crosswind stability with a side benefit of some aero advantage over a shallower or boxier profile.

Cadex doesn’t offer up any wind tunnel test data with the AR 35 Disc wheels, but the company was more than happy to provide bench test numbers for stiffness comparing it to other high-end do-it-all carbon wheels with 25 mm inner widths. For example, Cadex says the AR 35 Disc is 28% stiffer laterally and 26% stiffer torsionally than the Zipp 303 Firecrest. And as compared to the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V, the AR 35 Disc is supposedly 33% stiffer laterally and 22% stiffer in torsion. Notably, the Cadex wheelset is also lighter than either of those competitors.

But are those differences you can actually feel? There are good chances the answer to that is yes. Sydney-based tech editor Dave Rome and I have spent a fair bit of time on the Cadex’s road wheels (which feature similar technology), and we’ve both noticed how particularly responsive and solid they feel on the road as compared to similar offerings. In fact, the general sensation of immediacy under power and sharp handling isn’t all that different from what you get with Lightweights (but at roughly half the price), and it’s exactly that sensation that still draws so many pro riders to the German brand despite other drawbacks.

It’s all about the spokes.

So taken in total, what do you get? Wide carbon wheels that are impressively light and unusually stiff, at a competitive — albeit still premium — price and limited stock that’s said to be in stores now. But is that stiffness a good thing? I’ve got wheels in for test right now, and am just waiting for Colorado to thaw out so I can put them through their proper paces. Stay tuned.

New gravel tires, too

Going along with the new Cadex AR 35 Disc wheelset are two new tubeless gravel tires, both of which are made for Cadex by Maxxis. 

The AR — as the name suggests — is more of a mixed-surface tire, featuring a low-profile diamond pattern down the center and a row of blocky shoulder knobs for surefooted cornering in loose conditions. The GX, on the other hand, is aimed at more off-road conditions with a low-profile, but fully knobbed, center tread paired with a denser row of shoulder knobs. 

The Cadex AR tire is clearly meant for less demanding conditions given the minimal center tread and low-profile cornering knobs.

Both feature 170 TPI single-ply nylon casings to enhance ride quality and reduce rolling resistance, separate reinforcement layers for the tread cap and sidewalls, non-stretch Kevlar and carbon fiber beads for use with hookless or hooked tubeless-compatible rims, and different dual-density rubber compounds. 

Cadex is only offering each tire in a single 700×40 mm size for now, with claimed weights of 425 g for the AR and 445 g for the GX. More sizes are being explored right now, though, with a larger size somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-47 mm likely coming soon.

The Cadex GX is more of an all-purpose gravel tire, though mud will clearly be its Achilles’ heel.

Retail price is US$85 / AU$130 / £60 / €TBC, and tires are expected to be available around June or July.

MTB or complete frames in Cadex’s future?

As a brand, the Cadex arc has certainly been interesting to watch. Though I certainly had my doubts at the initial launch, the company is supposedly growing faster than expected, and in fairness, all of the Cadex product I’ve tried so far has been legitimately excellent. 

So naturally for any up-and-coming brand, more of a good thing would obviously be better, right? Assuming Cadex continues to stick with wheels and cockpit components for now, one could assume that the company will focus on expanding within the drop-bar world, where the name recognition arguably has the most traction. 

But looking beyond that, what’s to keep Cadex from moving into the mountain bike space? There’s plenty of crossover between the gravel and cross-country worlds, after all — and not just in riders, but equipment. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch for this new AR 35 Disc wheelset to morph into a XC racing model with Boost-compatible hub dimensions and a slightly wider rim, no? 

Or maybe Cadex could instead expand downstream into somewhat more accessible price points? Or what’s to keep Cadex from developing an ultra-premium carbon fiber frame of some sort?

Regardless of where the needle actually points to for Cadex, it seems clear at this point that the brand has pretty big intentions. More to come, certainly.

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