Chris King has offered complete wheelsets for a while now, but this is the first time the rim itself has worn the Chris King label.

Chris King GRD23 R45D carbon gravel wheelset review: Built for the long haul

In typical Chris King fashion, these wheels are crafted with long-term implications in mind instead of fashion and flash.

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Story Highlights

  • What it is:The first carbon fiber gravel wheelset to wear the Chris King brand name.
  • Wheelset features:Thermoplastic carbon fiber rims, 23 mm internal width, Chris King R45D hubs, Sapim CX-Ray bladed stainless steel spokes, optional Chris King-built hybrid ceramic bearings, lifetime warranty.
  • Weight:1,505 g (698 g front, 807 g rear) with tubeless tape and valve stems, Shimano HG freehub body.
  • Price:US$2,650 / AU$3,990 / £3,000 / €3,100 (with stainless steel bearings).
  • Highs:Subtly smooth ride quality, proven Chris King track record of bearing durability, recyclable rim material, lots of hub color options, generous warranty coverage.
  • Lows:Quite expensive, heavier than other top competitors.

Chris King has been selling hubs since 1991, and for almost a decade, the company has also been offering complete wheelsets built with rims from Zipp, Enve, HED, and NoTubes. However, it’s only been since earlier this year that the company has finally started selling complete wheelsets using its own rims. 

The brand kicked things off with just two models to start: the MTN30 for all-around trail riding (offered in both 27.5″ and 29″ diameters), and the gravel-focused GRD23 being reviewed here (700c only). Both are carbon models, but instead of the thermoset composites more commonly used, Chris King is using rims made of thermoplastic carbon fiber. They’re are manufactured for Chris King by CSS Composites in Utah, which also makes the rims for Revel, Evil, Knight Composites, and Atomik under the “FusionFiber” brand name.

Why thermoplastic, you ask?

The carbon fibers in traditional composites are held together with thermoset resins, which are permanently hardened once cured. Thermoplastics, on the other hand, can be re-melted. They’re also less brittle than thermoset resins, so the rims can be more impact-resistant and tunably flexible. And — at least in theory — a damaged rim can be chopped up, melted down, and re-made into another thermoplastic component.

Chris King actually sounds pretty serious about recycling these rims if/when one is damaged.

The GRD23 rim itself is actually identical in shape to the FusionFiber rim used by Revel, with a 23 mm inner width, a 29 mm outer width, and a shallow 24 mm depth; even Chris King is open about its rim using the same mold. As such, the GRD23 also uses a hookless format that conforms to the latest ETRTO guidelines for “tubeless straight side” rims. Chris King says it’s designed for tires from 28-50 mm-wide (which is, interestingly, a slightly broader range than what Revel lists), and the claimed rim weight is 404 g — not quite as light as top-end thermoset carbon fiber rims, although that’s not uncommon with thermoplastics. Currently, the GRD23 is only offered in a 700c diameter.

Although the rim shape is shared with other brands, Chris King design and events manager Jay Sycip says the lay-up schedule is unique to Chris King. 

“We wanted a rim that would excel on gravel, but that would provide exceptional performance on the road,” said Sycip. “The lay-up of the material is proprietary. It took four versions to come up with the ride quality and characteristics we wanted for a good 700c gravel/all-rounder rim. The compliance characteristics allowed us to really dial in the vertical forgiveness while keeping the lateral stiffness high, while FusionFiber’s thermoplastic technology’s tunability, durability and recyclability (in addition to being made in the US) really made this a no-brainer.”

The GRD23 thermoplastic carbon fiber rims sport a modern 23 mm internal width, a 29 mm external width, and a relatively shallow 24 mm depth.

In typical Chris King fashion, the wheels use standard components throughout. Anchoring each GRD23 wheelset are the company’s venerable R45D Center Lock hubs, each of which are laced two-cross with 24 Sapim CX-Ray bladed stainless steel spokes and externally accessible aluminum nipples for easy servicing. The rims use conventionally drilled spoke holes, so tubeless tape is required to keep things airtight.

Retail price for the complete wheelset is US$2,650 / AU$3,990 / £3,000 / €3,100 with standard Chris King stainless steel angular contact bearings. The hubs are offered in nine different anodized color options at no additional charge, although Chris King hybrid ceramic bearings cost an extra US$100. Rear hubs are only available with either Shimano HG or SRAM XDR driver bodies (Campagnolo bodies were discontinued in 2020).

Actual weight for my test wheelset is 1,505 g (698 g front, 807 g rear) with tubeless tape and valve stems, and with a Shimano HG freehub body.

The ride

Chris King doesn’t make any claims at all that these are the lightest carbon fiber gravel wheels around, or the most aerodynamic, or the most anything, in fact. So in other words, if you’re the type to shop mostly by comparing numbers, you can probably stop reading now as the GRD23’s performance characteristics are more subtle than a few digits on a screen. 

They’re light — but not that light — and I’d say they feel about how you’d expect in that regard. Those pleasantly svelte rims spin up quickly and are quick to change direction, but unless you’re coming off of something significantly heavier, I wouldn’t say the GRD23s stand out amongst other carbon wheels of similar weight (although I wouldn’t say they feel more sluggish than something moderately lighter, either). 

The rims feature a hookless profile. Although the concept is a bit controversial for road rims, it’s less of a big deal for gravel.

The rim dimensions are also about as normal as can be, offering a conservatively broad base of support for higher-volume tires while still being narrow enough for all-road rubber. Tire fitment is less of a distinguishing factor these days as more brands fall inline with the latest ETRTO technical guidelines, too. The various tires I used on the GRD23s all installed easily by hand, inflated and seated with a high-volume floor pump, and could be removed with no more than a single tire lever. Good stuff.

Not surprisingly, it’s business as usual with the Chris King R45D hubs. The 8° engagement speed strikes a nice balance between responsiveness and drag, and unlike the company’s mountain bike hubs (which use a slightly different driver), these don’t sound like a swarm of angry bees. The rear hub is quieter and less buzzy — more like a bunch of slightly perturbed bees — and should be better received by riders who prefer to keep things a little more peaceful. 

The bearings are the usual Chris King quality, too, and the adjustable preload is a nice touch to keep things spinning smoothly. As is typical for Chris King, the initial seal drag breaks in quickly, and past performance has demonstrated that the bearings should be exceptionally durable, too. That slightly slower engagement speed noticeably decreases mechanical drag relative to Chris King’s mountain bike hubs, too.

Not a fan of the matte slate grey I chose for my loaners? Easy: there are eight other options to pick from.

If the GRD23s stand out anywhere, it’s in ride quality. As promised, they do have a slightly more muted feel underneath you. They’re smooth and quiet, and hard hits are especially well tempered, resulting in more of a dull thud instead of a harsh stinging in your hands. Whether someone else will notice the difference will probably depend a lot on the frame of reference, though.

For example, I found the GRD23s to be softer and more comfortable than something like the Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3V, DT Swiss GRC 1400, or Cadex AR 35 — all of which either feature large-section carbon fiber rims and/or carbon fiber spokes. However, the difference between the Chris Kings and something like a Roval Terra CLX or Enve G23 is far more nuanced. And as compared to the NoTubes Grail CB7 — another carbon fiber wheel purported to be softer-riding — it’s basically a wash. 

The far more interesting question is how the GRD23 rides compared to a good aluminum wheel, like my go-to staple, the DT Swiss GR 1600. After all, I think it’s more likely people would be moving to a carbon fiber gravel wheelset from an aluminum one, not another carbon model. 

The aluminum axles are capped with stainless steel ends.

In all honesty, the GRD23 wheels don’t feel all that different. They’re still a bit more damped and settled than the GR 1600, but they feel similar when the going gets rougher — softer, more forgiving, less jarring. That said, I was still far less worried when charging through rock gardens on the GRD23 than on the GR 1600. While it’s true that carbon fiber rims can crack whereas aluminum rims bend, it’s also true that the impact required to break a modern composite rim would also destroy a good aluminum one — and that aluminum rim would also usually dent or bend at a much lower force.

That also leads me to one other high point of the GRD23 wheels: Chris King covers these with a particularly generous lifetime warranty. 

“In the unlikely event they get damaged because you’re just too gnarly, contact your local Chris King Dealer or email info at chrisking.com,” reads the policy text on Chris King’s web site. “We’ll send an RA# and shipping label to send us back the wheel. Once we receive it, we will rebuild your wheel with a brand new, box fresh rim, and give your hub a proper once-over to make sure it is in tip top shape (free of charge, of course). We ship your wheel back to you so you can get back to having fun on your bike and ship the broken rim off to be recycled.

“There it is in black and white: free shipping both ways, a hub tune up, and prioritized rebuild scheduling. We know it’s a big investment and we want to keep you on your bike and stoked on your purchase, for life.”

In it for the long haul

Chris King is hoping that people will be drawn to the GRD23 wheelset for the same reasons they’re drawn to the company’s hubs: the promise of long-term durability and serviceability, the reassurance that things are being sourced and manufactured responsibly (Chris King is one of just a handful of certified B Corporations in the cycling industry), and the simple hope that it’s a carefully considered purchase that will stand the test of time.

The GRD23s aren’t likely to appeal to buyers who are only comparing specs on paper, but they should have a lot to offer for those that think more long-term.

Again, on paper, the GRD23s are not a standout. But they do ride better than average, they’re built well, they look good (and have lots of color options), they’re up-to-date in terms of dimensions, and they’re covered by a killer warranty — not to mention the fact they’re backed by a company with an exceptionally solid track record for durability and long-term product support.

Looking for the latest shiny thing? These aren’t it, and given the premium pricing, it’s clear Chris King isn’t going for the volume play here, either. But if you’re one to buy things once and be done with it, these might be a good option for you.

More information can be found at www.chrisking.com.

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