Crankbrothers Synthesis

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 Synthesis

The Lab

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.

Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 spokes

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.

Crankbrothers Synthesis close up

The Dirt

Wow! Crankbrothers came out of left field with these. We tend to be a little bit picky at the Wolf Den, as we value our reader’s hard-earned dollars. When it comes to the performance of Crankbrothers’ Synthesis wheels, there really wasn’t anything we could think of. These wheels have taken our usual complaints about carbon wheels and squashed them.

To put it simply, ride quality is outstanding. From the first run in Whistler Bike Park to our last test ride a week ago, these wheels are noticeably better than most on the market. The two wheels one wheelset philosophy is a home run in our book, and while Crankbrothers claims to be the first, we know that Colin from Sped Precision has been designing wheels with this philosophy for a couple of years now.

Marketing claims aside, the Synthesis wheels give us everything we want from a stiff, playful rear wheel while allowing the front wheel to conform to the terrain when we need to focus on race line traction, comfort, and speed.

Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 and tires

Fear not if you’re a loves back wheel kinda rider as the stiff, 32-spoked rear is stiff and ready to rumble. Crankbrothers offers a lifetime warranty against manufacturer defects, so that should confirm any doubts on where they stand when it comes to the durability of their wheels. The American made hub internals from Project 321 are nearly silent, have very little drag and are nearly instant in terms of engagement and power transfer.

Our first few days of testing set the tone as we spent quite a bit of time riding a Mondraker Foxy RR in the park with the OE spec’d DT Swiss E1700s. Our first run was enough to know these wheels were special. On rough, washboard trails or natural, root-filled DH tracks, the wheels were a very welcome relief to our achy hands. Traction and confidence were also increased. When it came time to snap corners on Ninja Cougar or the sharp berm after the road gap on Fade to Black, the stiff rear wheel stayed true and shot us out with speed. Even some sideways landings on intentionally late whips over big tabletops couldn’t phase the rear wheel.

To sum it up, durability was no issue for us. After multiple days in several bike parks, lots of local riding, and a week at Trans Cascadia, we have developed no issues. We haven’t even needed to adjust the spokes, pretty impressive to say the least.

Crankbrothers Synthesis

The Wolf’s Last Word

If you are looking to upgrade your bike in a significant way, good wheels are definitely near the top of the list. The Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 wheelset is one of the best wheelsets that we’ve ridden this year. While they make bold claims about being the first to offer a “tuned” MTB wheelset, we can’t help but think of our other favorite wheels of 2018, from Spēd Precision. Regardless, Crankbrothers delivers on all design promises when it comes to the performance of their Synthesis wheels. Plus, we love the way they look.

They’re definitely not the cheapest wheels on the market at $2,399 but at least they’ve got the performance and top-shelf components to match the price tag. It also helps ease the pain knowing you’ve got a lifetime warranty on any manufacturer defect. Without a doubt, price aside, these are some damn good wheels and we’ll be keeping them close by to mount on future test bikes whenever we can. This is a huge step for Crankbrothers.

Price: $2,399
Weight: 1,825g (29in)

We Dig

Front Wheel Compliance
Smooth Ride
Project 321’s Silent Hub

We Don’t



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