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Hunt Race Season Aero Wide Wheels: Long Term Test

Update November 2018

I’ve covered a lot more miles on these wheels since I wrote the review and they continue to perform flawlessly.  The same unfortunately can’t be said for their performance with tubeless tyres.  In my original review wrote about a safety recall on the supplied rim tapes, followed by a failure of the replacement rim tape.  Another set of rim tapes failed after a year or so, but this time Hunt were less impressive.  After some fairly nonsensical discussion, they revealed that they’d started using a new, single layer rim tape which they said was much better than the old double layer tape.  They agreed to send a set of the new tapes.

If you’ve never ridden tubeless it’s not obvious how important the rim tapes are.  They create an airtight seal around the rims to stop the air escaping through the spoke holes.  When it fails, the air rushes out in a fraction of a second which is a significant safety issue.  If that happens to your front wheel on a descent, a crash is inevitable.  Fortunately the first failure I suffered was a rear wheel, so I was able to keep the bike upright.  The second failure was on the front, but I was on a long steep climb, so there was no problem stopping rather than crashing.  Had it happened 30 minutes later, the result could have been a lot more serious.

So all this means two blow outs while out riding and 3 episodes of having to change the wheels on my bike while waiting for replacement parts, then refit the tyres and change the wheels back with all the cassette swapping, gear adjustment and brake fettling that entails.

I was pretty patient with the rim tape problems to start with, but my patience has now worn rather thin.  Hunt knew that the old two layer rim tape wasn’t fit for purpose but didn’t do a second safety recall.  This is a safety critical component and I expect better:  hopefully no-one’s been hurt.  If you’re thinking of buying Hunt wheels and running them tubeless, or you already have a set, make sure they have black, single layer rim tapes fitted.

Original Review (February 2018)

It’s wonderful running a cycling business but there are some downsides.  One is that we’ve sunk all our money into this venture, which makes things difficult when I need new cycling gear.  What’s worse is that I tend to buy quite high-end stuff but then keep it for a long time which makes replacement expensive.  That was a bit of a problem when my wheels expired in summer 2016 because buying the latest high performance carbon wheels wasn’t an option.  Enter the remarkable Hunt Race Season Aero Wide.

Hunt Race Season Aero

Another of my quirks is that I’m a researcher by nature and have pretty strongly held ideas about what works for me in terms of cycling gear so I started by drawing up a checklist.

  • Light.  I don’t weigh much, never break stuff and am not a great climber, so lightness is important to me.
  • Not Aero.  I no longer race so don’t feel that I ride fast enough for aerodynamics to matter much.  It’s not that I’m against aero, it’s just I don’t want the weight penalty of deep rims.
  • Wide rims.  I’m totally sold on bigger tyres.  They roll better, grip better and offer more comfort.  The sciencey stuff backs up my experiences, so I want wide rims to get the best from fatter tyres.
  • Tubeless.  I’d never tried them, but who doesn’t like fewer punctures?
  • Straight Pull spokes – the J bend in traditional spokes is a weak spot, so better not to have them.
  • Rider weight limit.  If wheels don’t have a rider weight limit, they’re too beefy for me.
  • Campag Cassette.  I run Campag and have a wildly expensive Ti cassette I don’t want to replace.
  • Cheap.  I’m a great believer in Keith Bontrager’s well know adage, Light Strong Cheap: Pick 2  As I wanted all three, I was expecting problems.
  • Customer service.  We’ve all had trouble with hopeless after sales service and I don’t want to go there if I can help it.

Reading reviews, the Hunt Race Season Aero came up quickly, winning “best buy” endlessly in wheel review shoot-outs.  There were also good deals at the time on Campag Shamals, but they were heavier and with narrow rims.  The Hunts ticked almost all my boxes, but are aero which was a surprise.   At a shade over 1400g, where was the weight penalty for the deep (ish) rims?  The alu construction was lighter than most carbon rims too (not the super high end stuff obviously) and wouldn’t suffer from carbon braking issues.  So were the rims so light that the braking surface would be toast after a season?  The reviews were glowing, but they were new wheels so no-one had put serious miles in on a pair.  In the end I decided to risk it – any purchase like this is a bit of a leap into the unknown and they seemed head and shoulders above anything else I could afford.  The icing on the cake was that Hunt can supply with tubeless tyres already fitted.  What’s more the tyres were a good deal, and the Schwalbe Ones were what I’d have chosen anyway.  The wheels weren’t available immediately, I had to wait for the next shipment to come from China.  Inconvenient but reassuring to know the wheels are in demand.

First Look

The wheels arrived at St Antonin Noble Velo HQ well packed and with free delivery.  They were a bit late arriving because of production issues at the factory in China, but Hunt kept me informed so no problem there.  Out of the box I was impressed.  Somehow they look really well made, certainly better than you’d expect for the price  Everything’s nicely machined, well designed and faultlessly finished.  Two spare straight-pull spokes were supplied which is a very nice touch and especially welcome when these spokes aren’t widely available.  As well as being stronger, the straight pull spokes interface nicely with the hubs; it’s neatly and effectively done.  With the cassette fitted and the tyres pumped up I fitted them to my bike, a vintage Merlin Extralight Ti.  Boutique skewers in my experience are usually terrible and I end up replacing them with something more mainstream, but the Hunts are faultless.  They have a nice positive action, no excess metal and inspire confidence.  I had to slacken off the brake cables to accommodate the wide rims and then I was good to go.

The Ride

The Hunt Race Season Aero Wide replaced an absurdly light pair of American Classics which suffered quite badly from flex, so it wasn’t surprising that they felt a lot faster and more rigid.  It was immediately obvious that they’re a great match for my frame; the rigidity of the wheels works very well with the silky smooth ride of my skinny tubed Ti beauty.  I’m not sure I’d have been quite so impressed with the Hunts on a more rigid frame – but more on that later.  They’re a little heavier than the wheels they replaced but I didn’t notice the extra 150g.  They spin up easily and climb well, I think the efficient power transfer more than makes up for the tiny weight penalty, and in any case, for most buyers, these wheels will be lighter than whatever they’re replacing.  There’s no flex at all; I was getting no brake rub, even with the pads set close to the rim.  A more powerful, heavier rider might get them to flex a little, but at the weight it’s hard to fault them.

This part of France is quite hilly, so technical descents are a regular feature of my riding.  I’m also within easy reach of the Pyrenees, so properly big descents are also on the menu for me.  The Hunts performed superbly, feeling really planted on the road with none of the alarming noodling my old wheels were prone to.  Grip seemed better too, but it’s hard to separate the performance of the tyres from that of the wheels.  The wide rims will help with this though.  Braking was of course absolutely fine.  They’re alu rims with a machined brake surface, so no surprises there.

The Hunts have fairly deep rims and a low bladed spoke count, so they earn their aero name tag.  I wasn’t interested in aero wheels, but having spent my hard earned on them, I was interested to know if there was any benefit at the speed I ride.  They “felt” faster on the flat, in headwinds and on descents, but feeling faster and being faster are not the same thing at all.  That question was answered riding in company.  On gentle descents where I’d have to pedal to keep up with my ride buddies, I was now able to freewheel and watch them pedal to keep up with me.

Aesthetics.

Hunt have done absolutely the right thing with these wheels aesthetically.  They’re black and understated with unobtrusive white logos and some engraving.  It means they’ll look the business on most bikes, and mine was no exception.  The black contrasts nicely with my bare metal frame and matches the carbon detailing on my Record groupset.  The rim depth doesn’t look out of place on my skinny tubed 1999 Merlin, but would also look fine on anything modern.  Unless you’ve got a very particular colour scheme in mind, the Hunts pass the aesthetic test with flying colours.

I feel pretty guilty saying this because there’s really nothing wrong with these wheels at all, but I feel like I ought to make some criticism.  Hunt aren’t alone with this, but there’s just too much information engraved into the aluminium.  I don’t need to know that the bearings have sub micron tolerances, the ERTRO size of the rim or that they’re tubeless ready.  Just “Hunt Race Season Aero Wide” please! Oh and the hubs create a rather odd optical illusion.  The rear has “Hunt” on both sides of the barrel, whereas the front only has it on one side.  It makes the rear hub look as though it’s revolving twice as fast as the front!

If you’ve never ridden wide rims before, it is slightly odd looking down and seeing so much metal, but you soon get used to that and it’s the nature of the beast.

It’s customary to write about the noise of the freewheel.  It’s fine.  It’s not attention grabbing like a Chris King or noisy like a Royce or Hope.  I’d rather it was quieter I suppose, but it’s really not an issue.

Tubeless

It’s a shame to buy these wheels and not run tubeless – it’s what they’re designed for after all.  I’d never fitted tubeless before, so Hunt’s great deal on supplying the wheels with Tubeless tyres already fitted swung it for me.  I ordered 23mm Schwalbe Ones because although bigger tyres are recommended, the clearance on my frame is very tight so I didn’t want to risk 25s.  As it turns out 25s do fit, just, but they’re only usable because of the lack of flex in the wheels.  Aside from puncture protection and lower rolling resistance which everyone’s going to appreciate, greater comfort is important with these wheels because they are so rigid.  With the 25s I’m now using, I’d be happy with the Hunts on a more rigid frame than my Merlin, although if they’d fit, I’d run 28s.

18 months on.

This is what’s missing from all the reviews I read before buying these Hunt Race Season Aero Wide wheels, how to they stack up in the long term.  I ride very regularly, and these wheels get used for most of the year because the roads are usually dry in winter here.  I do have a winter bike but it rarely emerges from the shed outside of December and January.  Most of my riding is hilly, sometimes mountainous so the the wheels aren’t having an easy life.  I’m also prone to doing a bit of gravel riding on the Merlin.  Nothing too extreme, but the Hunts are fine with it.

In practical terms there’s nothing really to say.  They’re still performing as well as they did when I bought them.  The finish has held up well and there’s not much wear on the braking surfaces.  They just work and carry on working!

I get why Hunt call them “Race Season”: they’re light, aero and you could certainly race on them, but for me they’re my everyday wheels and they cope fine with that.  I’d have no hesitation using them as winter wheels too.

Customer Service

I’ve spoken to Hunt more than I expected.  I rang them before I ordered the wheels because I was unsure about tyre size – and they couldn’t have been more helpful.  What’s more the person who picked up the phone could answer my questions – it really felt like dealing with a small family firm where customers matter.  Then there was the production delay which was annoying but unavoidable.  There was no nonsense from Hunt, they just kept me in the picture.  I like that.

I had quite a bit of trouble with the tubeless system.  There was a safety recall on the rim tapes (which was the fault of the tape manufacturer rather than Hunt).  Hunt sent replacement tapes and replacement tubeless fluid, and were happy to talk me through the process of fitting tubeless tyres.  However the tape manufacturer’s fix didn’t solve the problem and I had a tyre blow out on a ride.  No problem fitting a tube to get myself home, but it was a hassle I could have done without.  Hunt took the issue very seriously and once again sent everything I needed to sort it out.  They offered to take the wheels back so that they could do the work for me, but I reckoned posting the wheels would be more hassle than swapping the rim tapes myself.  They sent me a great winter top to say sorry which was a nice touch.

The tubeless issues were annoying but to be fair to Hunt the problem was not evident when the rim tapes were new and in any case were caused by the tape manufacturers.  I can’t fault the way Hunt stepped up and sorted the problem out; it makes me confident that they’ll look after me in the future if I need it.

To Sum Up

I love these Hunt Race Season Aero Wides.  They ride as though they cost vastly more than their budget price, they look good and they last well.  Any criticism of them seems unreasonable at the price point.  Yes, you can get better, lighter, more aero wheels but to improve on these you’ll need deep pockets.  When I bought them I was expecting to be cursing that I didn’t have a bigger budget, but I don’t feel like my bike needs a wheel upgrade – I can see me riding them until I wear out the braking surface.  If Hunt had made a shallow rimmed climbers wheel I’d probably have bought those instead, but to my surprise I appreciate the aerodynamics and I think that would have been a mistake.  Are these wheels an exception to Keith Bontrager’s rule?  I think they are.

Hunt Race Season Aero

Disclaimer

I have no connection at all to Hunt and paid for these Hunt Race Season Aero Wide wheels myself at RRP.  Hunt don’t know I’m reviewing them (although I am going to tell them now it’s done!).  In the spirit of writing a long term review, the pics are what the wheels (and bike) look like having covered a lot of miles, complete with dirt, tatty bar tape and a frayed gear cable!

 

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