The majority of current wheel based aerodynamic research is centered around carbon. Hunt has recently distruped this research standard and turned popular aerodynamic and carbon knowledge on its head with the launch of its alloy 34 aero wide disc wheelset. I was rather skeptical of the aero gains Hunt claimed, so I ordered myself a pair and put them to the test.
As riders increasingly opt for tires 25 mm and wider, companies who stick with the currently favoured narrow carbon wheel design are at risk of falling behind the times. In addition to the extra grip that has undoubtedly prompted the increased uptake of a wider tire size, according to Hunt, tires 25 mm and wider have also been known to lower rolling resistance. For the 34 aero wide disc, Hunt applied the knowledge they had acquired from years of testing and developing the 48 Limitless carbon wheelset, and designed a more affordable alloy version that was specifically intended for mass start racing and optimized for 25 mm and 28 mm tires.
At 34 mm deep, the 34 aero wide disc (or 34AWD to friends), has a 24 mm width at the hook, which tapers down to a 26 mm internal width to optimise airflow. It is specifically designed to transfer airflow at a variety of yaw angles; from the wider tire over the rim and across the spokes. The design reduces the aerodynamic drag, and, in doing so, reaps the advantages of a wider tire without compensating on aerodynamic efficiency.
Increased tire width isn’t the only trend we’ve seen in recent years. Many wheel brands have launched product ranges to reflect the uptake of disc brakes. Historically, brake calipers dictated the shape and dimensions of the wheel in relation to the fork, which impacted the associated aerodynamic efficiency. Remove that limitation and you open up the opportunity to experiment with airflow patterns around the front and uppermost section of the wheel. Hunt’s new aero disc design questions why some brands retained the traditional flat-rimmed mold of days gone by for as long as they did.
I mounted the 34AWDs with Schwalbe pro one 25 mm tires and I took to the road. I couldn’t have picked a better day; opting for a long straight stretch into a considerable head wind, I was about to put the aerodynamic efficiency to the ultimate test. Having tackled the relentless headwind of this stretch so many times before, I was quite taken aback at how easy it was to maintain a good speed. There was a notable fluidity as I picked up the pace. Out of the head wind and onto the home straight, the 34AWD stepped it up a gear or two and exhorted me to do the same. The most notable characteristic throughout my ride was the ease with which they the wheels flowed. Lightly tickling the road surface, they encourage you to ride beyond you regular pace.
Designed and tested with Schwalbe’s pro one 25 mm, it is no surprise that the wheels pair well with the tires. The wider tires and lower pressure adds to the strength of the wheel itself, to offer a secure, confident feel. According to Hunt, the 6069-T6 alloy, from which the wheels are made, increases their tensile strength by a whopping 69 per cent in comparison with a 6061-T6 alloy that is more commonly used. The superior alloy, together with a tubeless ready set up, keeps the weight down despite the additional width. At 1548 g the 34AWDs roll in lighter than Hunt’s carbon disc-brake 48 Limitless.
The loud coasting purr of the fast engaging seven degree sprint disc straight-pull hubs is hugely satisfying and the low friction LU/LB seals further reduce the rolling resistance. It’s difficult to single out the effect of the seals specifically, but, no doubt, they added to the notably smooth experience.
Hunt initially set out to offer affordable wheels specifically suited to British weather, therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the handling transferred perfectly to wet conditions. In slick conditions, the extra grippiness of the 34AWDs together with Schwalbe Pro One 25 mm tires offered me the confidence to hit corners at a higher speed. The steel inserts used to reinforce the free-hub bodies are difficult to assess as a stand-alone feature but are highlighted by Hunt as a key consideration when it comes to poor weather conditions and cassette damage that is commonly associated with alloy wheelsets.
Proven to be the fastest alloy wheelset to date, the data suggests the 34AWDs even compete with Zipp’s carbon 202 NSW when paired with 28c tires. While this doesn’t prove Carbon isn’t faster, it certainly questions the sweeping assumption and places material second in line to design when it comes to aerodynamic gains. More so, it offers up a financial saving of almost $1000, when you compare 34AWD’s exceptional $829 CAD price point to Zipp’s 202 NSW.