For a time, I owned carbon rim brake clinchers. They were brutally difficult to mount tires on, but once set up they were worth it. The lingering fear of having to deal with a flat led me to ride them less and less, and ultimately I parted with them. If you’ve ever owned a light pair of deep carbon wheels, you know the gratification of buying speed. The PRs will prove it. So it was a little sad not to have them anymore. But also I was descending mountains on them, and melting them (!), and it was all not the right scene for Chris.
I bought a carbon Synapse last year and knew its destiny was to wear a pair of NEXT wheels. I already owned a pair of ENVE mountain bike wheels, and while shallow but very light, they were a ten speed hub, which necessitated some hassle to work with the Synapse’s eleven speed drivetrain. After months on the market, the ENVEs moved on to a new owner in rural California, and I moved into a pair of the Vermont-built NEXT D55, bearing a 55mm depth, 25mm external width, and 19.5mm inner dimension. I settled on the no-frills centerlock DT 350 hubset, so the package was a tidy $1,395.
My first impression of these wheels, right out of the box, was that they’re so light I didn’t even bother weighing them. I laughed and then went right to work mounting tires. I had some 23mm Continental 4000 S II clinchers hanging around that were looking for something to do. Tubeless could come later; for now, I wanted to ride.
What an effortless pair of wheels to ride. It had been a few years, but there it was – that good ol’ feeling of humming along and holding speed that I remembered from my last pair of deep carbon wheels. I got up on them to climb within a minute of leaving my house, and the best I can describe them in that application is that “they’re just there”. Such a solid feeling wheel, ready for you. Strong and tight; no sense that the great depth of these wheels is in any way holding you back, requiring you to “spin it up”. I climb a bit now and then, so I was enamored.
Little things are a big deal. They shipped with vibrant green rim tape, eliminating an extra step on my end. A red and blue nipple on each side of the valve hole. Some really trick skewers. But the biggest little thing – I could mount a tire and a tube on them without a priest. Not an entire package of tire levers and a fistful of sedatives as you pinch brand new tube after brand new tube.
I was unsure about the hubs – having less points of engagement than their DT 240 counterpart (a $300 premium) – but in practice I only notice unless I’m pedaling sloppy and trying to feel out the “lesser engagement” (=you’re probably not going to do this), and the hubs are unbelievably quiet. You’ll be a sniper on someone’s wheel riding a DT 350. No regrets on this decision.
Continental 4000 S II 23mm (224g) The first tires I picked were thrilling. Inflated to 90 PSI, they spread out to a solid 25.5mm. This was hugely exciting; free width is the best! As you look down over the tire while you ride, the size is just right as the tire and rim are both effectively the same lateral dimension. It’s aero, it’s fast, the wheels shine. I really want to take the pressure down in these – something in the 80s would be ideal for me – but I’m nervous about flatting. So they’re gassed up on the stiff side. 70mm is the right amount of valve stem you need for these wheels, but I’m making 60mm tubes work with a little creativity – I screw on a Schrader adapter when inflating from zero.
Michelin Pro 4 Endurance 28mm (290g) I have many miles on these tires, exclusively on my Langster, and they are wonderful there. On the D55, they offer the same muting, pavement mellowing effect, but they are noticeably slower than the Contis. It makes my bike feel a lot like a mid-level Diverge I tested last summer – a bike that I felt could take on quite a lot, but was absolutely uninteresting to ride. After hours on the Continental setup, adding 66 grams of rotating weight to each tire is immediately noticeable in the acceleration department. The wheels really don’t feel fast at all – they feel neutered. But the ride quality! It can’t be ignored. At 80 PSI, these really take the edge off the shittiest pavement, and instill heaps of confidence. I kept thinking the entire time – if could somehow marry this compliance with a 23mm dimension, that would be something. Would tubeless bridge that gap?
Vittoria Open Corsa EVO CX III 25mm (220g) Before I pull the trigger on tubeless, I did wonder how the sweetest feeling clinchers I’ve ever ridden would fare. I pulled my old 320 TPI Vittorias long ago as they were into the “chronic puncture phase” of their lifecycle, but some gorilla tape and superglue later, would they at least survive an hour for testing? At 90 PSI, these came out to 26.6mm; a bit of a boost, although not as dramatic as the nearly 3mm increase seen with the Conti. Incidentally, the Michelin plumped up to just a hair over 28mm – you can see there are diminishing returns on extra width as we grow the tire beyond the dimensions of the rim.
These were not a terrible choice. Admirable over 43 miles of service, but not electric. Low key. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t love them. Strava seemed to think they were fairly fast, but I didn’t feel it. I wondered if a 23mm version of these tires might actually be something special. I’ll keep that idea on the back burner. As you can see these are pretty blasted, so it may not have been fair.
Continental Grand Prix 4-Season 25mm (226g) (rear only) I wondered if staggering sizes might yield a remarkable change in ride quality. I retained a 23mm Conti up front, and put a 25mm 4-Season out back. This is generally not a compliant tire, but airing it up somewhere in the mid-80s, it spread out to 27.3mm and was reasonably comfortable; by no means the garden hose I’d experienced on narrower rims with this tire.
It was a peculiar experience actually – this setup made the front feel nimble and quick, but the back felt very planted. Almost as if the back was just following the front, instead of working together as a unit. In my head, over the course of 40+ miles, I kept picturing a farm tractor. I suppose the benefit of the setup is comfort, and to that end it did deliver. But all told, I don’t think I’m the biggest fan of staggering sizes; I prefer the feeling of everything working together – the rear as agile as the front. Everyone rides differently and has different expectations, so that’s the caveat.
For now, the 23mm Continentals have gone back on, where they’ll stay for a while as I experiment further with tire pressure. For me, the magic PSI is in that mid-80 range. I’d have gone tubeless by now, but with all the tire swapping it would have been a mess – I’ve probably pulled and remounted tires a dozen times so far. And while I’m leaning toward the 23mm Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless, nothing so far is calling out to me as a tubeless tire to go all-in for. But maybe more to the point, these aren’t hard wheels to change tubes and tires on! It won’t bother me much to change a flat.
I’ve owned a number of handbuilt wheelsets, and they never disappoint. Barring an untimely incident, these D55s should last an exceptionally long time. I own a pair of Open Pro handbuilt wheels that I purchased ten years ago, and thousands of miles later they’re still going, and I’ve never trued them. I don’t expect these will age any differently. They’re well made, light, fast, deep, wide, easy to work with, not sketchy in the wind, and they’re local – I have zero reservations about the purchase. The bikes will change, but the wheels will not. With versatile DT hubs, they’ll work with anything. If your budget permits, the Vermont-made NEXT D55 is by all means a worthy investment.