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What is the rationale for using a gravel-specific wheel for a gravel bike over a lighter cross-country mountain bike race wheel?

Background

I'm looking for a wheel with an internal width of 20mm to 22mm to fit some wide 45mm tires on my gravel bike.

I've seen that some cross-country mountain bike wheels are lighter than gravel specific wheels.

For example, Mavic's new ALLROAD ELITE UST DISC has a 22mm internal width and weighs 1720 grams. But Mavic's CROSSMAX PRO cross-county wheels also measure 22mm internal width but weigh 1595 grams, for only $200 more. Both wheels have bladed spokes and a similar depth for aerodynamic purposes.

If this is the case for wheels generally, what factors contribute to the rationale of choosing the heavier gravel specific wheels over the lighter cross-country wheels?

  • While i imagine they would both work close to equally well, gravel specific wheels are generally tailored to longer rides and are built a little more rugged and durable than a XC specific wheel. XC wheels are bred to be light and nimble, Gravel wheels are made to take abuse and heavier loads over a long distance. Not to say you couldn't get away with using a XC wheel for gravel use, that is just the marketing side of it. – Nate W Sep 28 '17 at 21:07
  • What about higher tire pressure and potentially bigger load due to panniers? You don't usually race XC with 50psi in tires and 10kg of luggage. For example, LB rates their lightweight XC rims for 40psi max. – Klaster_1 Sep 29 '17 at 3:57
  • Well, there's the price. You would be saving 125 grams for only $200, which many people wouldn't consider effective use of money. The Crossmax is specced for heavier use than Allroad, but that might be just marketing. – ojs Sep 29 '17 at 6:44
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    ALLROAD ELITE and CROSSMAX PRO are different class. Comparing ALLROAD PRO and CROSSMAX PRO seems more apple-to-apple. – Cray Kao Sep 18 at 16:24
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Since the question was asked, high-performance carbon wheels for drop bar bikes are evolving towards an internal width of 22-25mm - that is, wheels aimed at both performance road and gravel bikes. I am not sure how alloy wheels for drop bar bikes are evolving, but I suspect they will follow (White Industries already makes an alloy rim with a 25mm internal width, and there may be a few other small brands that I can't remember). I believe this would have been considered wide even for mountain bikes in the early 2010s. That said, while I'm not familiar with MTB disciplines these days, I think at MTB wheels are approaching 30mm internal width.

I can't see any substantive reason not to use an XC wheelset on a gravel bike if one is available, provided that the spacing matches the bike. I believe current MTBs use the Boost standard, i.e. the front and rear dropout spacing is 110mm and 148mm respectively. On drop bar bikes, this doesn't yet give an advantage, and as far as I know the majority of gravel bikes and all road bikes have converged on 100/142mm spacing. I'm not sure what the state of play for Boost spacing was in 2017, but it is an issue now.

The folks at the blog Riding Gravel noted that you can often get good deals on second hand, high-end 29er, non-Boost 29er wheels, as this is a dated standard on MTBs. Because many of the front hubs used 15mm thru axles and most drop bar bikes use 12mm, you often have to source some sort of adapter. These wheels will also tend to have 6 bolt disc rotor mounts, whereas the drop bar world uses center lock mounts. One would simply acquire a 6 bolt rotor and use that.

While aerodynamics and gravel might not have been as big a deal in 2017, I suspect this trend will develop for gravel bikes. If you used an XC wheelset, you might make a minor sacrifice versus a deeper section road-oriented wheelset. This sacrifice won't be relevant to all users.

As to the specific wheels mentioned in the original question, there may have been no substantive reason to choose one or the other on a gravel bike. So, if you could buy the Crossmax Pro for less than the Allroad Pro back then and you were willing to use a 6-bolt rotor, then you should probably have done so (keeping in mind you needed an adapter for a 12mm thru axle; Mavic doesn't supply this with the current Crossmax Pro linked by Cray Kao).

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    My drop bar bike uses 6 bolt discs (on a CX wheel with 17 mm internal). – Vladimir F Sep 18 at 19:14
  • Thanks for your answer. I agree with your points. In fact, after I posted the question I did end up buying a mountain bike wheel. I bought enduro mtb rim with a 27mm internal diameter from Lightbicycle laced to a 12/142 road hub with a centerlock rotor. It works fantastically and I'm glad I have the wide rim profile. – Rockishi Sep 25 at 0:47
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They are just different design and purpose.

I will suggest to compare ALLROAD PRO UST DISC and CROSSMAX PRO.

And, let's check the details of the both.

ALLROAD PRO UST DISC

https://shop.mavic.com/en-int/allroad-pro-ust-disc-rr0929.html#1028=3283

  • weight: 1610g
  • price: 1,000
  • Spoke: 20 front and 24 rear
  • Recommended tyre sizes: 28 to 64 mm (1.1" to 2.5")
  • DISC standard: Center Lock(R) only

CROSSMAX PRO

https://shop.mavic.com/en-int/crossmax-pro-rv1064.html#1028=3283

  • weight: 1580g (-30g than ALLROAD PRO) <-- the gap is not big now.
  • price: 950 (-50 than ALLROAD PRO) <-- the gap is not big now.
  • Spoke: 24 font and rear
  • Recommended tyre sizes: 46 to 64 mm (1.8" to 2.5")
  • Disc standard : 6 Bolts only
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    Right, but what makes these two very similar wheels have different purposes? They both have 22mm internal width rims. There is a big difference in recommended tire size, but who's to say that this isn't just the marketing department talking? The maximum recommended size is identical. The internal width is identical. I bet that if we got our hands on the rims and examined the cross sections, they'd be very similar. – Weiwen Ng Sep 18 at 17:34
  • I just have another idea and just for comment. They should be more much different but due to "economic scale/production scale" the differences are compromised and smashed. Gravel wheelset is supposed to install with "so-called gravel bikes" and it is supposed to be different from road bike's and mtb's. – Cray Kao Sep 18 at 18:52
  • I downvoted the answer because it does not answer the question and merely parrots the marketing blurb. – Klaster_1 Sep 19 at 6:46
  • Sure, you can devote as your free will. However, I am the same. I am just a ride as most of us and I don't know why you repel marketing and so sensitive. Marketing is not evil and it is about segmentation, targeting and positioning. And, thus, it help to fit specific needs of riding. – Cray Kao Sep 19 at 11:10

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