CLIFFORD LEE MAY 9, 2019 CYCLOCROSS MAGAZINE
If Knight Composites is a familiar wheel company for our readers, it might be because it has been the wheel of choice for 15-time U.S. cyclocross national champion Katie Compton for her past four titles.
Compton rides the company’s tubulars for cyclocross, but Knight also offers carbon and now alloy tubeless clinchers for the gravel and even cyclocross crowds. We first saw Knight’s 35 Clincher TLA Disc carbon wheelset a year ago at Sea Otter 2018, and we also took an initial look at our review set of the tubeless wheels.
I have put the $2,200 35 Clincher TLA Disc wheelset through the cyclocross and gravel wringer for several months for this long-term wheel review.
Knight Composites’ 35 Clincher TLA Disc Wheelset
The Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc is a mid-weight wheelset with a tubeless-ready rim design that uses EPS foam core molding for fewer voids in the composite matrix, leading to a stronger lighter form.
The 35 Clincher TLA Disc rims are 35mm deep and have an internal width of 19.5mm and an external width of 27.5mm. The internal width of 19.5mm makes the wheelset ideal for cyclocross and gravel but still allows a 23 or 25mm road tire to fit snugly.
Knight developed its TLA tubeless system via a partnership with Schwalbe based on feedback the company received on its earlier design. The external sidewalls on the TLA taper inward at the top to make it easier to get tires on the rim. The internal profile has a triangulated internal pocket for the tire’s bead.
The company claims the design locks in a tubeless tire’s bead better than a square or rounded pocket and offers more sealing surface area. It also says the system allows installation of tubeless tires without tire levers and inflation with a floor pump.
The 35mm-deep rims are laced 2x to the hubs with 24 bladed spokes with internal nipples. They come as quick release or 12 and 15mm thru-axle with a change of end caps.
Knight offers several hub choices from Chris King, DT Swiss, ROTOR and local Bend company Project 321. Knight Composites sent our review wheels with the Project 321 CX1 hub, which the company offers as a stock option for U.S. purchases. The Project 321 CX1 hubs have a six-bolt disc rotor mount and a Shimano/SRAM cassette body on the rear wheel.
Our review set of Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc wheels can be described as a mid-weight wheelset, which is quite competitive given its aero profile. The wheels, as built, have weights of 740g for the front and 870g for the rear, giving a total weight of 1,610g. The rims have a claimed weight of 420g.
Project 321’s Magnetic Hubs
The Project 321 hubs have a freehub that uses 6 pawls with magnets embedded. In the standard configuration, 2 of the 6 are engaged at any time, but there is an option for 3 pawl engagement if your watt output demands it. With the 2-pawl choice, the engagement is every 1.7 degrees—that’s nearly instantaneous.
The magnets draw the pawls into the drive ring. Compared to springs pushing the pawls towards the drive ring, the engagement force of the magnetic pull is greater when engaged. With springs, the force is less when engaged than when compressed. The result is much less friction when freewheeling and less noise as well.
Magnets can be heavy, but Project 321 seems to have addressed that with listed rear hub weight of 281 grams. Inside the ratchet mechanism, the body is drilled to create an oil reservoir, aiding the engagement mechanism, reducing friction and making for a quieter operation.
Setup and Ride Impressions
The Knight Composites 35 Clincher TLA Disc with Project 321 hubs are true and evenly tensioned out of the box.
As a wheel builder, I’m always leery of rims with internal nipples. If the nipple head strips while building it’s difficult to extract. If maintenance is required, the tire has to be stripped off and in the case of tubeless, as these are, the sealing tape removed. However, internal nipples offer the best aerodynamics, and it is rare that I’ve had to true a high-quality prebuilt carbon wheel, carbon rims don’t dent, flatten or bend.
When you spin the wheels, the rear particularly, they are remarkably smooth. Out of the box, the rear wheel purrs quietly and spins effortlessly, longer than a few other wheels I used for comparison (Ritchey WCS Apex 38 and Bontrager Aeolus 3 ).
Knight Composites designed the rim bed for easy, reliable tubeless mounting. Our experience supports this, but as usual, tire choice makes a difference. Knight sent sealing tape wide enough to fill the entire rim bed wall to wall. I found that the bead shelf has no specific lip to hold the bead on, but the hooked sidewall helps with the tubeless installation.
I mounted a 40mm WTB Nano tire with some rigorous floor pumping but had to use an air compressor with the valve core removed to mount a loose-fitting 38mm Maxxis Rambler. Based on how the air compressor worked, I suspect a charger pump will snap the tires on easily.
Both tires held air without sealant but adding a bit of sealant closed up pores on the side walls and at the bead itself to literally seal the deal. The tires have been completely reliable on the Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc wheels since I mounted them, with riding time that has included the grueling Lost and Found Gravel Grinder.
I have ridden lots of gravel miles in on the Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc wheels over the past year and included some local cyclocross races in the past season.
I raced the dry early-season courses with the initial Nano/Rambler tire mix. Though they would not pass UCI tire width rules, the relatively narrow (by today’s standards) inner width of the Knight 35 Clincher rim makes those tires run a bit narrower than labeled. The Rambler measured 37mm and the Nano 39mm.
For some races, I mounted Donnelly MXP cyclocross tires labeled at 33mm. These mounted just as easily and reliably and measured true to label, 33mm.
Beyond 40mm, the tires begin to have a “lightbulb” effect that will affect maximum achievable tire width and some handling qualities. I noticed a feeling of the tire rolling, or folding, in a turn when leaning the bike over with a wide tire on a narrow rim. Adding more air pressure helps avoid that. With wider rims, the wide tire has more edge support so lower pressures can be run while minimizing adverse handling qualities.
The Project 321 hubs continue to impress with their silent free spinning. No added drag or noise has come up with all the miles under varying conditions. The new hub arrived oily on the surface, indicative of oil working its way out through the seals. I cleaned the surface oil and little more has appeared. The freehub has hardly changed its quiet purr or slowed its free spin after several hundred dusty miles in the dry offseason.
The wheels themselves have remained round and true without any maintenance. Internal nipples complicate wheel truing, but as mentioned, that has been a rare need with the well made pre-built carbon wheels we’ve ridden.
The Knight 35 Clincher Disc wheelset with Project 321 hubs is a solid choice for a mid-weight, aerodynamic wheelset that offers versatility to fit high-pressure road tires or low-pressure gravel tires. Consider the limits of tire size on the wide end and there will be no issues.
$2,200 for the set is on the higher end of this category, but not over the top, and you get the super smooth, silent Project 321 magnetic freehub. Reliable, versatile, aerodynamics and low drag, what’s not to like?
For more, see the specs and photo gallery below.
Knight Composites 35 Clincher Disc Wheelset Specs
Price: $2,200 (as tested)
Weight: Wheelset: 740g front, 870g rear, 1,610g total (actual)
Rim: Carbon, Knight TLA tubeless system, 420g (claimed)
Width: 19.5mm internal, 27.5mm external
Hubs: Project 321 CX1, 6-bolt disc
Spokes: 24 bladed spokes with internal nipples, front and rear
More Info: knightcomposites.com