In 2015, choosing which wheelset to use for The Transcontinental Race was a simple choice. There was only 1 wheelset in Hunt’s disc-brake range, and none of those were in stock as everything had sold out! So, I fitted a pair of the original Hunt x Mason 4 Season Disc prototypes to my Mason Definition (shod with 28mm Schwalbe One tyres) and set off to ride across Europe. I covered 2615 miles (4208km) in 9 days, 23 hours, and 57 minutes... passing through 11 countries on everything from silky smooth tarmac roads, to rocky mountain tracks. Somehow, all without a single puncture or mechanical issue. Not bad going for a wheelset that already had a good few thousand test miles on it!
That 2015 Transcontinental journey was the catalyst for many of the developments in our disc-brake wheelset range, and also for Hunt more broadly. Hunt has grown from humble beginnings (in 2015 I was the only full time Hunt employee) to over 12 full-time staff, and the growth in our disc-brake wheel range has reflected this. We now offer 8 disc wheelsets, with some very exciting new developments in the pipeline (if you haven’t seen our wind tunnel stream on Facebook, check it out!).
So which wheelset is best for The Transcontinental Race?
The tried and tested benchmark is the Hunt x Mason 4Season Disc wheelset. This wheelset has a TCR win under its belt already, and is a great wheelset for any ultra-endurance race. It’s strong, reliable, and light enough to get over the mountains. With a weight limit of around 95kg, these will be great for those riders who want to carry minimal luggage.
It’s worth remembering that wheelset weight limits take into account the weight of the rider plus any luggage (sometimes referred to as the system). When working out which wheelset is best for you, take your body weight plus your luggage weight before checking the wheelset limit. For example, in 2015 I started the race at 71kg and took approximately 5kg of luggage plus 2kg of water when fully loaded. My total was 78kg all in, way below the 95kg wheelset limit.
Being close to the wheelset weight limit does not necessarily mean that your wheels are in danger of breaking. However, over the course of a 2000+ mile bike race on all kinds of roads, it’s always worth being conservative in kit selection. The most important consideration when selecting race kit is making sure it will go the distance. When you are tired in the last few days the slightest lapse in concentration could lead to you clipping a large pothole, which could end in disaster. Spares are harder to come by the further east you go and you don’t need to be dealing with a mechanical issue with the finish in sight. My advice is always be to make sure you wheels are more than strong enough for your needs, so that is why I would recommend trying to stay within 10kg of the wheel upper weight limit for this particular event.
This is where the 4Season Gravel Disc wheelset come into play. It uses the same hub as our 4Season Disc wheelset but with a higher spoke count and a slightly wider rim profile. The rider weight limit on this wheelset is 115kg. If you and your kit weigh over 85 kg then I would consider this wheelset over the 4 Season Disc for that extra peace of mind when the going gets rough.
What about a Dynamo wheelset?
For those who are not familiar a Dynamo is a small generator which is built into the front hub of a wheelset. This can be used to run a dynamo light or to charge gadgets such as phones and GPS devices. It makes for a very self-sufficient riding experience as you do not need to stop to recharge. The payoff is a slight increase in drag front the front hub (approx 3-7w depending on what you are powering). This extra drag can slow you down over the course of the event, however the extra time gained by not having to stop to recharge can more than make up for this.
Using a Dynamo depends on your riding style and the amount of time you expect to finish the race in. I have completed 2 editions of the TCR. The first year ,2014, I used a Dynamo and in 2015 I didn't. My view is that if you plan on finishing the race quickly (8-10 days) then you can benefit from not using a Dynamo hub. However, this does require very careful battery management and I would also advise using a GPS unit that runs on AA batteries (e.g Garmin Etrax). Lights such as those from Exposure Lights can be programmed to give 30+ hours of usable light which is more than enough to see you through 10 days of riding, especially if you have at least 1 night in a hotel for a quick battery top up.
However, if you want peace of mind that you will never run out of lights or battery then the Dynamo is the way to go for you. If finishing the event closer to 2 weeks is your goal, as most will probably aim for, then I would suggest that having a dynamo is one less thing to think about and manage, especially in the later stages of the event when mind and body are equally tired.
Our SuperDura Dynamo Disc wheelset utilizes a proven Son Dynamo hub with a super tough wheel build based around the 4Season Gravel Disc rim. We developed this wheelset with self-supported long-distance riding in mind. It offers a fit and forget solution those who want lighting and charging on tap with a super strong and reliable wheelset that will go the distance. This will be the wheelset of choice for the vast majority of the TCR competitors.
Presently we only produce one Dynamo wheelset, however if you did what the benefits of a dynamo front hub with one of our other wheelsets we do sell individual rims, however you would need to source your own dynamo hub and wheel builder.
But what if I want a lighter wheelset, will it help?
The quick answer is yes, a lighter wheelset will help you go faster and make climbing easier. However, what you will need to take into consideration is that lighter wheelsets do have some compromises.
For example, our Aero Light Disc wheelset was actually developed as a result of the 2015 Transcontinental Race. It is almost 100g lighter than the 4Season Disc wheelset with the same weight limit however it does have a narrower rim profile. Although 1 mm internal rim width doesn’t sound like much, a wider rim profile can give a much larger tyre volume which results in more comfort. Are those 100g saved going to as much time as the extra comfort of a larger tyre volume over 2000+miles? I would suggest they probably wouldn’t make a significant saving.
A better option maybe to opt for a set of carbon wheels. Our 30Carbon Aero Disc wheelset weigh in at only 1378g with a whooping 21mm internal rim diameter. This saves over 200g compared to our 4Season Disc benchmark with a 4mm wider internal rim profile. This gives the best of both worlds saving weight and gives a much larger internal tyre volume for extra comfort. This is exactly what you need on a journey of this type. They are even rated to 100kg rider weight limit so really are a fantastic wheelset. We also produce a 30Carbon Gravel Disc wheelset which utilizes the same rim but paired to our 4Season hub with a higher spoke count and a rider weight limit of 115kg. These are for riders who want that extra piece of mind on rougher roads and a sub 1500g wheelset.
Some riders may be considering a deep section wheelset such as out 50Carbon Aero Disc. Personally I would always opt for the 30Carbon Aero Disc wheelset for a race of this distance. The 50Carbon may be more aerodynamic, however, this is not enough of a benefit compared to saving weight for the climbs and the aero advantages are less when travelling at slower endurance speeds anyway.
I hear great things about 650b wheels, what about those?
650b, Road+, call it what you will, is now a very valid option. The benefit of 650b wheels is that you can run a much larger tyre (such as the WTB Horizon) and still achieve the same diameter as a 700c tyre. The benefit of 650b tyres is that they offer a lot more comfort and grip, plus the extra tyre volume and smaller rim diameter means that the wheelset is much stronger and less susceptible to those sneaky potholes in Eastern Europe. Plus, if you do happen to find yourself off piste it will be much easier to ride. Of course there is a compromise and in this case it is the rolling resistance. The tyres just won’t roll as quickly as a 28-30mm 700c tyre so if your aim is the fastest possible time then maybe these are not the right choice for you. If your race aim is to complete the distance in comfort and style then the 650b Adventure Sport wheelset should certainly be high in the list of wheels to consider. We are also introducing a Dynamo 650b Adventure Sport wheelset (I covered 8000miles on the prototype this summer with zero issues) which will tick as lot of boxes for a number of TCR riders.
So what would I use?
If I was to race The Transcontinental Race again I would certainly use a Carbon Wheelset. The weight savings are significant and there are some aerodynamic benefits to be gained. I am confident that I can manage the battery life of my lights, GPS and gadgets in order to not need a Dynamo setup. Out of our current models the 30Carbon Aero Disc would be my wheelset of choice. I would definitely run a tubeless tyre setup, however, which model to choose is a whole new debate which I will cover in a further blog.