Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 Wheels Review
By Nic Hall and Drew Rohde
It’s been a long time since Crankbrothers have produced a wheel that has gotten us excited, but their new Synthesis E11 has done just that. Like most other riders out there, we were fans of their old wheels’ form over function mentality coupled with strange proprietary design features, compounded by many failures stories heard out on the trail. It was tough to understand since the brand is clearly capable of producing top-end products. For example, their Mallet E pedals are the reviewer, Nic Hall’s favorites. When we first got the email invite we were optimistic that they’d seen the light.
Drew Rohde first picked up the wheelset in Whistler at a private, media only clubhouse where he sat through an interesting and exciting presentation, while team mechanics installed the wheels on his bike. After that, it was time to dive in the deep end with countless runs in the unforgiving Whistler Bike Park. About a month after Drew’s return and some local testing, he passed the wheels off to me and said, “I’m excited to see what you think.” I was thoroughly surprised and impressed by the looks of the wheelset and was anxious to see just what their “tuned” philosophy meant on the trail.
Crankbrothers opened up a new facility in Utah called SR56 to develop the Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 wheels. The individuals who were at the forefront of designing these wheels came from two very different schools of thought and the melding of their philosophies created the “Synthesis” these wheels are named after. Jason Schiers (Founder of Edge/Enve Composites) and fellow carbon wheelmeister, Mello Bouwmeester headed up the secret SR56 lab and bashed heads as they tried to explain to each other why stiffness or compliance was the most important trait in good wheels. After all the arguing, head-bashing and test rider reports, the light bulb came on…People like the traction, confidence and tracking benefits of a compliant wheelset, but also love the stiffness, efficiency, and durability of a stiff wheelset. The decision was made to build a wheelset with two uniquely different wheels to handle the varying demands that a front and rear wheel experience on the trail. Compliance and tracking at the front with stiffness and durability in the back.
The Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 wheels are offered in five variations from a slightly more affordable XC build to a full-blown DH wheelset. The XC and Enduro wheels are offered with a standard hub or can be upgraded to 11, Crankbros top of the line designation, which features Project 321 hubs for an impressive 2.5 degrees of engagement and retail for $2,399. All wheelsets come with Sapim spokes but the 11 series wheels come with Sapim CX-Ray spokes in the front and CX-Sprint spokes in the rear. Crankbrothers also sells rim only options for $699.
We tested the high-end Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 carbon wheelset with Project 321 hubs. In every way, they look like a luxurious top-shelf wheel should. The subtle gold patches highlight a flat black carbon layup, with understated graphics and logo placement. Whoever took over the color selection at Crankbrothers is headed down the right path.
The key to Crankbrothers’ tuned ride philosophy begins at the rim. No matter which discipline of wheel you choose, the front and rear have different widths and layups to offer the desired experience and performance. The Enduro wheels inner rim diameter (IRD) is 31.5mm front and 29.5mm rear. The ideas behind this correlate with the normal tendency to run a bit wider front tire with lower PSI. The wider IRD allows for a better tire footprint to maximize the contact patch. Out back, where higher pressures and sometimes narrower tires are mounted, the IRD compliments the intended use and profile riders seek, lower rolling resistance, nimbleness, and durability.
Spoke count also comes into play as the front has 28 Sapim CX-Ray spokes while the rear has 32 Sapim CX-Sprint spokes. The rear is stiffer and a bit heavier, the front is lighter and more compliant. Along with the additional four heavier duty spokes in the rear wheel, spoke tension is also higher. This makes the wheel stronger and stiffer. Likewise, the rim is also tougher and built with more carbon to further increase stiffness and aid in durability.
Total weight without tires was about 1,840g for our test set of 29” wheels.