Project 24 Review: American Classic MTB 26 Tubeless wheelset
See all of our Project 24 posts and reviews here!
Seeing as the last thing I look for in a wheelset is on-trail excitement (especially in the middle of the night), American Classic were an easy choice for our Project 24 race bike. Thanks in part to founder Bill Shook’s unique and lightweight engagement mechanism, American Classic’s hubs have to be some of the most criminally overlooked on the market. At 225g, the high-flanged rear disc hub is among the lightest available- yet has proved surprisingly durable and remains reasonably priced. My own experience with Shook’s freehub mechanism consisted of several years’ worth of singlespeeding on a pair of WTB hubs (which license the same mechanism). Despite never seeing service of any kind, the rear hub was just quiet in coasting and solid in engagement when I passed it on as when the wheels were first built. I’d heard good things about the company’s recently tubeless complete wheels so asked if they’d be willing to loan us a wheelset for the race: click ‘more‘ to find out how they fared…
American Classic’s MTB 26 Tubeless wheelset uses the company’s lightweight disc hubset as a foundation. These are then built into wheels each using 32 standard double-butted spokes (hooray for serviceability!), aluminum nipples and the company’s own 26mm wide by 23mm tall rim and sealing strip to make for a 1,486g (claimed), $850 wheelset. The first part of our race bike to arrive, the MTB 26 Tubeless wheels have been in use for nearly three months at this point. With the rim strips installed (not included in the published weight) but without the sub-10g tubeless valves or steel QR skewers, our White Buzzsaw wheelset weighed in at 1550g- a variance that can be chalked up to those rim strips, normal manufacturing variances, and the marginally heavier (than black anodization) white paint. That’s certainly within spitting distance of the published weight and low enough to put them very close to the actual weights of most cross country wheelsets in the $750-$1,000 price range. The hubs are a flashy red ano and two spokes are painted white in order to help hypoxic riders locate the valve stem in an emergency. (Or just because they look cool.)
I had no problem whatsoever mounting tubeless-ready tires from Schwalbe or Geax- neither needed much wrestling or required topping off after initial inflation. Unlike with most UST wheelsets, there is not much of an audible pop as tires seat, but performance never suffered and once the tires were seated the rims’ Bead Hook profile kept the tires from moving at sensible pressures (25-30psi). In a nice touch, a number of the aluminum cassette body’s splines feature three steel inserts to reduce the liklihood of cassettes digging into the body. The included quick release skewers aren’t anything fancy (steel skewer, aluminum lever, nylon bushing), but its nice to see them included nonetheless. The 10s XTR cassette mounted up as it should, with no interference between the cassette spider and the spokes, as did the Formula disc rotors.
Despite their light weight, the ACs never once felt flexy. Another rider (who races on a lighter wheelset) had the opportunity to hammer the Project 24 bike for a bit commented on the whole package’s lateral stiffness- something to which the relatively tall and wide American Classic rims no doubt contributed. Though I did occasionally experience some front brake rub on the complete bike, replacing the provided skewer with a heavy Shimano skewer (usually my first fix) didn’t improve things, exonerating the stock skewers- and the problem never presented itself with different brakes or forks. It’s possible that the hub is a contributor, but it should be said that QR15 front ends have increased my rigidity expectations- and American Classic are happy to accommodate with a 15mm front thru axle option (kits to swap between standards run $35). Further future-proofing the wheelset are rear options for 135mm QR, 135mm x 10mm thru axle, 135mm x 12mm thru axle, and a 142 x 12mm thru axle. Whew.
After three months’ and several hundred miles’ abuse, the MTB 26 Tubeless wheels have held up very well. There’s a slight ding in the rear rim that I don’t remember causing (the tires have held air throughout) and an accompanying 2mm wobble. The front is as new. I’ve never once heard the crunch of uneven pawl engagement that most other wheels in this weight range exhibit, which (along with my past experience) speaks well for the hubs’ longevity. Care was taken when the wheels were built, as evidenced by the even spoke tension and lubricant at the nipples. The latter has the unfortunate effect of attracting dust to the pretty white paint- but it would be unreasonable to buy white mountain bike parts without expecting to do a bit of extra cleaning. In fact, the only disappointment came when it was time to send the ACs home: despite the steel inserts, the lower cogs of the cassette did dig into the aluminum splines, making them a bear to remove. It’s not a major issue- and is one that American Classic have obviously identified- but the fix doesn’t seem to be quite there yet. The company is keeping an eye on 10s Shimano cassettes and thinks that a spacer might be a good idea to ensure that the cassette doesn’t have the ability to move on the splines.
All in all, there’s no reason for me to think that American Classic’s MTB 26 Tubeless wheels wouldn’t be great for cross-country or moderate trail use. The freehub’s engagement isn’t as fast as some on the market, but as I’m not doing trials or gate starts, that hasn’t been an issue for me. I’ve heard concerns about the hubs’ small-ish bearings- but haven’t seen or heard credible first-hand accounts of any premature wear. The ready availability of replacement spokes is an added bonus. Although the weight will put some riders off, bigger racers, those who value solidity, or those who want one wheelset for tail as well as race use should be thrilled with the American Classics.