We actually started testing the Sun Ringle Black Flag 26″ wheels in their original, top-of-the-line ceramic bearing’d version almost two years ago. By the time we had enough miles on them to do a full report, that model had been discontinued in favor of the newer and overall better Black Flags being tested here in full.
The new ones license Stan’s rim technology to make them tubeless out of the box, complete with Stan’s rim tape pre-installed. Compared to the old ones, the rims are much, much wider (yay!), but they’ve done away with the ceramic bearings for cost reasons. The good news is, there are still a few of those original hubs in their warehouse, and I’ll tell you why you want them at the end of this review.
First things first: The new Black Flag Pro wheels are phenomenal, and they’re a steal.
Available in both 26″ and 29er, the rims are wide and tires mount easily. They’re tubeless and hold air quickly and easily; we had no leakage issues during the test period, and we used just one small tube of sealant per tire during the initial install…that’s it. We also tested them with tubes (shown in the photo at left).
And by tested, we mean totally abused. This photo was taken during the SRAM 2×10 press camp where I raced the other press folks on the Ashland Super-D course. I was the only one on a 29er and happened to have Maxxis 2.1 Aspen XC tires mounted up. Oh, and I was running the fronts with the 9mm QR for the race, but have since tested with 15mm thru axle, too, on a bigger fork.
Jump past the break for specs, photos and see why these should be on your shortlist for wheel upgrades…
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
The wheels come packed securely and well protected from scratches.
The wheels are available with black rims/gold hubs (tested) or gold rims/black hubs. The gold is bling-tastic, and it matches other gold things (Chris King Headsets, etc.) fairly well.
They come with two tubes of Stan’s sealant, Stan’s valve stems, Chromoly skewers and adapters for both 15mm and 20mm thru axles on the front. Rear wheels come with standard 9mm QR, but end caps to change to 135×12 or 142×12 are available for $20 each. The skewers are decently light and clamp well. They never came loose during testing.
Claimed weight for the set is 1665g. Ours weighed in at 840g front, 920g rear for a total of 1760g. That’s 95g over claimed weight, but it’s still respectable for an XC/Trail wheelset.
The rims are 24mm wide. As mentioned, we tested them both with tubes and skinny XC tires, then tubeless with fat WTB Wolverine 2.2 tires. For the record, the WTB tires were not tubeless/TCS/etc, but they held air really, really well using one small tube of sealant per tire.
Spokes are straight pull Wheelsmith double butted with alloy nipples. They’re laced 2-cross with 24/24 on the 26″ wheels and 28/28 on the 29ers.
Over the Expert set, the Pro version has a full aluminum freehub body, straight pull spokes, higher quality bearings and larger diameter axle. You also have more adaptability with the rear hub, the Expert is standard QR only. Rims are the same on both.
Inside, there’s Ringle’s traditional three-pawl design with 24 engagement points. They’re not the quietest hubs, but they are fairly discreet when coasting. No complaints here. The freehub body is pretty easy to pull off, slightly more difficult to pop back into place, and all of the springs and pawls are securely mounted…they didn’t slip out and try to lose themselves in my living room rug (note to self: bad idea to do this over your rug).
Despite riding in some freezing, wet, muddy, dusty conditions (sometimes all in one ride, oddly enough), there was no gunk or debris visible inside the hub’s mech, so the seals do their job.
We used these wheels for more aggressive terrain than they’re designed for. After the Ashland Super-D last summer, I thought the rear rim was toast…it wobbled like a drunken chicken. Thanks to a little TLC from Watts’ crew over at Revolution Cycles, it’s been rolling straight ever since. From there, several of our friends borrowed the Niner RIP 9, this time with a Marzocchi Bomber 44 Micro Ti fork running 15mm thru axle, and rode Bent Creek in Asheville numerous times. All that, combined with local rides, put a fair number of jumps, wrecks, drops and aggressive miles on the Black Flags.
Swapping between axles on the front hub couldn’t be easier. Simply pop the end caps off and plug the new ones in. The complete operation is tool free and takes about 30 seconds.
The only complaint we have is how soft the aluminum freehub body is. The entire test was conducted with a SRAM X0 10-speed cassette, and after about 9 months of riding, here’s what it looked like. Honestly, performance didn’t seem to suffer, but getting the cassette off was a nightmare.
SPEC LIST AND PRICING
Here are the official specs in convenient, bullet point form:
- Stan’s NoTubes Rims (w/Rim Tape)
- 24mm Rim Width
- 26?, 29er
- Premium, Cartridge Bearing, Straight-Pull Hubs
- Quick Release, QR15, 20mm Thru-Axle Front Axle Options
- Quick Release, 135×12, 142×12 Rear Axle Options
- Wheelsmith Straight-Pull, Double-Butted Spokes
- Wheelsmith Alloy Nipples
- 24/24 (28 / 28 for 29er) Hole Count
- Cro-moly Skewers
- 26?-1585g , 29er-1665g (claimed)
Here’s one of the best features: MSRP is just $649.99/set for both 26″ and 29er. Look around at wheelsets with similar specs, particularly for 29ers, and you’ll see just what a bargain this is.
The Black Flag Experts are $459.99 for QR-only and $479.99 for the adaptable front. Expert Rear wheels are QR only. Given the changing industry standards, if you can afford the Pro set, we’d say do it…you’re getting way better hubs and some future proofness.
Other than the freehub body getting eaten up a bit, what’s not to like? The gold? Yeah, maybe, it would be nice to see an all black version with muted graphics on offer…something a little more stealth. Other than that, at just $650 for a wheelset that can take this abuse at a reasonably light weight with Stan’s rims standard, you’d be hard pressed to find something comparable at this price. Take finances out of the equation, though, and we’d still give them a high rating. They held up to all sorts of riding, including some light-duty DH, in some nasty conditions and the only maintenance needed was to true the rear wheel. Five Thumbs Up.
THE ORIGINAL BLACK FLAGS
If you visit Sun Ringle’s website and click on “Product Vault“, check out the Black Flag Ceramic Disc wheels. These were the first wheelset we received for review, and as mentioned, the write up got stuck in limbo as the model was discontinued.
As a whole, the wheelset was light, obscenely fast, ultra smooth and quiet. Unfortunately, it suffered from way too narrow rims. Claimed weight was 1421g. Ours weighed in at 1492g (686g F / 806g R) without skewers or rim tape.
But none of that matters. Truthfully, these wheels were next to impossible to keep true, very difficult to mount tires to because the rims were about 19.5mm wide with an internal width around 15mm, and because of that, the tires ended up rounded a bit too much anyway.
So why should you care about a wheelset that’s a) discontinued and b) has lousy rims?
Because the hubs are immaculate.
The Dirty Flea hubs with ceramic bearings are still the smoothest hubs we’ve ever felt. They’re ultra quiet, too, meaning you can sneak up on someone in a race and they’ll never know. They roll forever…and as much as some people may not want to believe it, there is noticeably (NOTICEABLY!!!) less drag when coasting. While others were pedaling, we could just draft them and coast with zero effort for what seemed like minutes.
Every hub should feel this way. Seriously.
Scott Boyd, Hayes’ product manager for Sun Ringle, says parts for these are still in the warehouse, so if you want one, have your shop contact Hayes or their Hayes distributor.
We’re currently running the wheelset on a hardtail that was raced for cyclocross this past season, and when the time comes to build up some sort of random project bike, it’s very likely we’ll be cutting the spokes and building up a freakin’ sweet wheelset on these hubs…and that’s precisely why you should get these before they’re gone.
Oh, and Scott, please put these bearings back in your wheels for 2012.