American Classic MTB Race Tubeless Wheelset Review

by Brian Mullin on April 16, 2014

American Classic first showed the MTB Race wheelset at Interbike 2012 show, and it borrowed technology from their All Mountain brethren but were designed specifically around a lighter usage paradigm. I have been using the MTB Race on my Ibis Ripely 29er, and I have been euphoric with their performance, light weight, and flickability. They’re designed for general mountain biking and cross country use, and work very efficiently in that realm, offering excellent rollability and reliability.

The MTB Race 27.5 and 29 Tubeless wheelset retails for $999 and utilizes their Disc 130 front and Disc 225 rear hubs, Race Round 14/16 gauge stainless steel spokes in a 3-cross pattern and their innovative aluminum alloy nipples. The 32-hole aluminum rims have a 28mm external width and a 24mm internal and are 22mm deep, and they’re tubeless-compatible using their bead barb technology, which has a very shallow bead hook. In comparison to their All Mountain rims, they’re cut shallower and are made with a thinner extrusion. They come with their tubeless tape installed and removable core valves, along with a ring adapter to reinforce a brake rotor. They can be ordered with a variety of axle types, including a front 15mm or 9mm, and a rear 135x10mm and 142x12mm. The 27.5 wheel weighs 1435 grams, while the 29er comes in at 1459 grams.

Specs:

  • Rims: MTB Race Tubeless Aluminum
  • Spokes: AC Race Round 14 /16 Gauge Spokes Black, AC Aluminum Nipples Silver, 32-hole 3-Cross front, and rear
  • Weight: 27.5″ front 662g, rear 773g, total 1435g – 29″ : front 670g, rear 789g, total 1459g
  • Hub
    options: Front Disc 130 100 mm | 15 mm Thru Axle Disc 100 mm | 9 mm
    Thru Axle Disc 100 mm | Lefty Disc 100 mm (29”) – REAR Disc 225 135 mm |
    10 mm x 135 mm Thru Axle Disc | 142 mm Thru Axle Disc
  • Cassette body: Shimano 9/10/11 or SRAM XX1
  • Colors: AC Cloud Black with Gray Hubs
  • Included: AC Tubeless MTB Tape Installed, AC Tubeless Valves, Cromoly QR’s
  • Brake Interface: 6-Bolt International Standard
  • MSRP: $999

Like many of their counterparts, American Classic designs, prototypes and tests their wheels, rims, and hubs in the US, but has everything manufactured in Taiwan. Founder and head designer Bill Shock used the rigidity of a wide rim with its deep round convex shape and combined with thinner walls and flanges to create a lightweight and durable rim. The additional strength with this design allowed the use of lighter weight butted 14 /16 gauge spokes, which still offered toughness, stiffness, and quickness in a reliable tubeless system.

Impressions

When setting up the wheels tubeless, I found the rims to be a bit finicky, especially with some tire brands. They would tend to pop on without issues, but they wouldn’t seat properly and would wobble in a radial manner (out of round), meaning if you look on end the tire will move and down as it rotated. The solution was to overinflate to a relatively high pressure until the bead would seat uniformly around the rim. The rims were taped up with their see-through tubeless tape and utilized their lightweight aluminum valves with removable cores. The valves worked fine, but they’re too fragile, and I tore up the threads on one of them, so I worry about long-term durability for such small item that hardly needs a weight saving. They have two white spokes (the rest are black) which point to the valve hole, so no more wondering where the valve is when you need to check your tire pressure or fill your tires. The J-bend 14 /16 gauge spokes are set up in a 3-cross manner, and the body of the aluminum nipple is designed so that the threads go slightly past where the nipple is cradled in the rim so that the nipple is held in compression instead of tension, which reduces fatigue and breakage.

If you are using brake rotors that have separate flanges to each bolt hole (not circular), then you are supposed to use an included reinforcement ring to help stabilize things.

One of the first things I noticed when I got them out on the trail was how light they were and easy to spin up to speed. The acceleration and quick steering made them a delight to use, offering more control and less fatigue. Rolling around on most terrain, I didn’t feel any flex in them, and they offered some pretty decent stiffness for such a light wheelset. Push them into some All Mountain terrain, where they’re engaged in gnarly rock gardens and hardcore technical maneuvers, and they flex and give somewhat, though they still stay the course. They are fine on anything up to All Trail riding and excel on cross-country and more normal terrain, where they offer plenty of stiffness and responsiveness.

They climb well, which is greatly helped by the excellent rollability, and the decent 28mm width, which gives the tires a nice footprint onto the trail. The freehubs six-pawl ratchet was tough and durable and worked without any issues even when torqued and pedaled down extremely hard. The 12-degree engagement is old school and has a noticeable lag, but it works just fine and is dependable. Another of their innovative designs is the use of steel attachments on the aluminum cassette body to prevent galling and tearing of the cassette body. Aluminum cassette bodies are lightweight, but are soft, so they are prone to damage from a cassette’s interaction during drivetrain use. Owner Bill Shook came up with a brilliant idea to add a couple of steel inserts on the splines so that the tougher steel can take the abuse, and you still get the lightweight of the mostly aluminum cassette body.

On the left is an aluminum cassette body and the gouging damage that occurs through normal usage, while on the right is the newer steel faced American Classic aluminum cassette body, notice the significantly less damage that has occurred. The steel face design will increase the longevity of the cassette body and keep the tolerances tight with better drivetrain performance.

The rims had gotten some dings and small dents on the sides from my local abusive rocky terrain, and aren’t as nice looking as when they were new, but it’s mostly cosmetic issue. They haven’t needed much maintenance as yet, other than a minor truing. The axles are threaded so that you can adjust the hub bearing preload,
depending on your personal tastes or requirements, and you can even upgrade to ceramic bearing if desired. I found that the hubs rolled smoothly, and the freehub was low in drag and relatively quiet.

Measured Specs (with tape and valves):

  • Front – 677 grams
  • Rear – 792 grams
  • Total – 1479 grams

Bottom Line

The American Classic MTB Race Tubeless wheels are a light 1450 grams and offer excellent rolling, steering and acceleration characteristics. They’re designed for general mountain biking and cross country use, and work very efficiently in that realm, and if they’re tossed into rougher All Mountain terrain, they have a slight amount of flexibility. The hubs roll smoothly and are reliable, and even though the freehubs 12-degree engagement has a noticeable lag, it did its job adequately. The steel
facing on the aluminum cassette body is an innovative feature that will increase that life of the body and keep the drivetrain snug. I found the tubeless installation to be somewhat finicky and had occasional issues with seating of the tire being out of round.

Pros

  • Light – excellent rollability and acceleration
  • Steel faced cassette body
  • White spokes pointing to valve
  • Reliable

Cons

  • 12-degree freehub engagement
  • Tubeless installation can be finicky
  • Slight flex in All-Mountain Terrain

Visit American Classic at http://www.amclassic.com/en/

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