REYNOLDS BLACKLABEL 329 TRAIL EXPERT WHEEL REVIEW
HIGH-END CARBON HOOPS, BUDGET HUBS
Review by Dario DiGiulio
A new set of wheels can drastically change the character of a given bike, for better or worse. That relationship between frame and wheels is a hard one to balance, with stiffness, weight, and durability all playing a part in how the two combine. With a long history in carbon wheel manufacturing, Reynolds stakes their claim as one of the finest wheel builders in the market. With many other players in the game these days, can the old guard stay on top of the competition?
Reynolds prides themselves in their rim technologies, but a wheel is far more than just that outer hoop. On these Blacklabel 329 Expert wheels, there are a few key details to make the whole wheel assembly work as well in unison as possible. Starting with the rim, Reynolds has employed an asymmetric profile, to provide more even spoke tension on both sides of the wheel build. With an internal width of 32mm and a hookless rim bead, tires should mount up easily and with a nicely spread shape on the most common 2.35-2.6” widths. At the heart of the Expert wheelset are the Ringlé-branded Super Bubba X hubs, with the rear sporting a 6-pawl 4° engagement. There are 28 bladed Sapim spokes per wheel, and both are built using a 3-cross pattern with lightweight alloy nipples. Apologies to those who prefer the simplicity of a 6-bolt disc mount, as these are Centerlock only, for weight savings and efficiency when swapping rotors. All those details amount to a wheelset that weighs in at 1605g, in the one diameter available: 29”, with either a Boost or Superboost rear hub spacing.
The 329s come with factory-installed tubeless tape, some tubeless valve stems, and Reynolds’ Lifetime Warranty, which is great to see on a pair of wheels that cost $1,899.99.
It can be hard to parse out the differences in feel between many of the nicest carbon wheels on the market nowadays, with so many of them performing excellently on a wide variety of terrain. The factors that set them apart tend to come down to the finishing details, with certain factors really setting some ahead of the pack. Given Reynolds’ long history with carbon manufacturing, it’s no surprise that their rims sport an excellent finish and impressively light weight. In terms of the wheel build as a whole, I’ll touch on those points later. Let’s first get into ride impressions.
The Blacklabel 329s are billed as a trail wheel in the Reynolds catalog, which in my mind means they’re equally geared towards climbing and descending, and should last through many miles of mixed terrain and weather.
Thanks to their relatively light weight, the climbing side of things is a breeze, as they spin up quickly and feel energetic when pedaling. They hold a line nicely, and encourage a bit more of an active ride, when compared with more damped and heavy wheelsets out there. The Super Bubba rear hub has solid engagement, and provides very little drag, which is great when it feels like everything else is pulling you backwards on the trail.
On the descents, the 329s stand out as a relatively stiff wheel, giving a precise ride feel and relatively little in the way of forgiveness on cambered terrain. This isn’t necessarily a negative, as the accuracy and commitment you get out of a stiff wheel feels excellent when you’re riding on point. The downside is you can get caught out when your riding isn’t quite as dialed. They’re fairly quiet through hard corners and over rough terrain, though the bladed spokes have a tendency to rub each other and emit some scratchy noises when the wheels are flexing. The hubs are nice and muted, which I’ve come to appreciate, despite the fervor over crazy-loud hubs that sound like you’re getting chased by a cloud of hornets.
Hitting a good corner with the Blacklabels feels like you get a speed boost, with the springy wheels propelling you out of supportive sections of trail in that classic carbon wheel style. This makes them a hoot to ride on flow trails, which are plentiful up here in Bellingham. When things get rougher, you can feel more feedback than you would with an alloy rim or something more biased towards compliance, but luckily traction doesn’t suffer too much. The spoke tension seems to be quite high on the 329s, but that’s also the nature of any straight-pull wheel build, as they tend to hold themselves a bit more taught than the J-bend alternative.
Tubeless setup was nice and easy on these rims, with a nice deep center channel that makes mounting tighter tires a lot easier than some of the other flatter rim profiles these days. Looser-fitting tires, like those from Maxxis and Specialized, needed some help from a charger pump to get seated up initially. At the other end of the tire lifespan, it’s a different story entirely. I’ve never had a harder time removing a tubeless tire than I did with these rims. With or without an insert, it felt like a full-body workout to peel the bead off the hookless rim, in some cases requiring a second set of hands or some mechanical advantage. After working as a mechanic for years and having lived with dozens of iterations of the hookless rim, I can’t say I’ve experienced this with other tubeless setups, and it was nothing short of frustrating every time I wanted to swap rubber.
Sadly, there were a few other frustrations with some of the build details on these wheels that left me wanting for more. Despite their quiet operation and solid engagement, the Super Bubba hubs quickly became a point of disappointment. That low drag that initially impressed me was replaced by a seized bearing, likely due to the rather wet early summer we had here in Bellingham. I was able to get things spinning again, but the fact that this happened only a couple weeks into their use didn’t bode well. Part of the reason the hubs are susceptible to this is the simple o-ring endcaps that Ringlé used in the design, which are also prone to fall off the front hub when you remove the wheel – not an ideal thing for a component you may have to remove trailside or when loading some bike racks. The rear hub is a bit more robust, but still allows quite a bit of water ingress; those of you in arid climates might not need to worry about this, but here in the Pacific Northwest it’s a chief concern. When coupled with the use of alloy nipples, there are some general durability concerns I’d have if these were in use for multiple seasons (which I assume they would be, given the investment).
For another $400, you can upgrade to the Blacklabel 329 Trail Pro, which uses a Reynolds-branded hub made by Industry Nine, posing a much higher value for the cash as opposed to the budget hubs in the Expert model. Though the price tag is pretty staggering, if you’re in the market for some of the finest wheels out there, I’d opt to go all-in and get the nicer of the two options.
The Wolf’s Last Word
With an energetic ride feel and impressively low build weight, the Reynolds Blacklabel 329 Trail Expert wheels are lively and quick on trail. Sadly, they’re held back some by the low-quality hubs and unusually tight tire mount. Still, they provide a precise and comfortable ride that I enjoyed quite a bit.
Weight: 1,605g set