HiFi Wheels is a small company in Portland, Oregon started by three passionate riders and racers of dirt and road seeking to provide more affordable high-quality wheels to others.
Bre Rue has deep roots in the cycling community and industry as a racer, mechanic and bike builder. Josh Liberles was once editor of Cyclocross Magazine and is the face of HiFi Wheels while he continues to race the road and cyclocross at a high level. Patrick Palmer, also a road and cyclocross racer, is the chief financial officer. Everyone at HiFi has a big investment in the company and products.
At Cyclocross Magazine we ride and review a lot of wheels, and we were interested to see what HiFi has to offer in the updated Session wheelset Liberles says is perfect for gravel and adventure with its 24mm internal width and stout but light build.
Read on for our impressions of the HiFi 29er Session24 wheels after a long-term mixed-terrain review.
HiFi 29er Session24 Carbon Wheelset Build
HiFi sources its hubs and rims from partner factories in Taiwan built to Rue’s specifications. Wheels are then handbuilt by HiFi in Portland.
The HiFi Session Carbon MTB wheels are available in a variety of configurations for off-road riding and mountain biking with 29” and 27.5” diameters and 24, 30 and 35mm internal widths. The company tries to keep a stock on hand, but made-to-order wheels can be had for no additional cost.
Our review set was the 29er Session24 carbon wheelset which is, you guessed it, 700c with a 24mm internal width. At 24mm internal, the wheelset is right in the wheelhouse of high-volume gravel and cyclocross riding and just 1mm narrower than the new Easton EA90 AX wheels we recently looked at.
The Session24 rims have a hookless profile. The bead shelf is smooth with a flat profile and no tire bead retaining lip. The outer width is 30mm and the rim depth is 22mm. Rim drilling is symetrical—that is right down the center of the rim. Liberles told me the rim weight is 390 grams each.
The Centerlock disc HiFi’s Fidelity M Disc hubs are configurable to any present axle standard. Twenty-eight Sapim CX-Ray spokes with Sapim Secure Lock alloy nipples comes standard, although brass nipples are also available by request. Wheel builds with 32 spokes are also available if needed.
The ratchet mechanism has 6 pawls with 2 engagement points each and a 102-tooth drive ring. That yields 2 degrees of engagement, an aid for fast starts and technical sections.
The hubs have a high-low flange design with the large flange on the drive side of the rear to accommodate the freehub body and balance out the spoke bracing angle. The large flange is on the rotor side of the front hub to even out the spoke bracing angle.
I asked Liberles about using asymmetric rim drilling to further balance spoke bracing and tension. For HiFi’s rim brake options, the company has used asymmetric rim drillings and a 2-1 lacing pattern but did not think it necessary for the Session wheels after rider feedback and comparing the Session 24s to other products with the asymmetric design.
With 28 spokes using high-quality components and careful hand building with tight even tension, it seems like a non-issue. Liberles says that does not close the door on using asymmetric rim drillings in the future as they see the need.
The 29er Session24 wheelset HiFi sent us is a standard build with 12mm thru-axles front and rear and 28 spokes laced 2x. The wheels arrived pre-taped and weigh 653 grams for the front and 833 grams for the rear (no valve stems, estimated weight of rim tape subtracted).
A total of 1,486 grams is about 4% over the claimed 1,430g weight for the set, which is well within variations of spec and scale errors.
All configurations of the 29er Session24 wheelsets cost $1,790.
Putting the specs in perspective, this option from HiFi is far lighter than most stock wheels, many alloy options and is lighter and more affordable than some carbon options from competitors.
The 29er Session24 wheelset competes with the Revin G21 Pro and the Irwin GX 35 for both cost and weight. It has a wider rim than the Revin G21 Pro and is lighter with a faster-engaging hub than the Irwin GX35.
Choosing your perfect wheel involves more than looking at weight and price. Still, if you’re minding dollars and grams, you’re blessed with choices. The 25mm-wide carbon FSE G40/30X is about 150g lighter and $400 cheaper, while the 24mm-wide alloy rim PBO-Spoke Spinergy GX rolls in at the same weight for half the price, and the Easton EA90 AX is about 100g heavier and $1k less.
Sessions on the HiFi Session24
After receiving the review wheelset, I checked trueness, roundness and spoke tension out of the shipping box and everything was spot-on. Spoke tension was tight and even. CX-Ray spokes are aero section stainless steel, so it is easy to check spoke wind-up. There were no twisted spokes that might indicate poor attention to build.
I installed valve stems and chose a 35mm Ritchey Shield and a 38mm Specialized Tracer for my first rides. I later swapped the Shield for a 38mm Schwalbe G-One. All tires mounted without a hiccup or burp.
Without a retaining lip on the bead shelf, I was concerned about bead retention when the tire is deflated, especially with a loose fitting tire or if the tire is subjected to hard lateral loads such as a hard corner slide or when striking an object on a gnarly descent. In the case where the bead slides off the shelf in the field, remounting the tire would be extremely challenging with a portable hand pump. I did not experience this initially or when retesting again a few days later. One would expect confidence of bead retention to increase as the tire sealant “glues” the bead in place.
The 38mm Tracer measured 39mm on a 19mm internal width rim (when we reviewed it) and measured 41.7mm on the HiFi 29er Session24. The Shield is wide for a tire labeled 35mm. It measured almost 37mm on a 21mm internal rim during our review. On the 29er Session24, the Shield measured 39mm. The Schwalbe also gained a couple of millimeters, measuring 40mm.
Only the Tracer went on with rigorous pumping with a floor pump; the Shield and G One went on easily with a compressor, so would likely go on easily with a charger pump as well. All three tires sealed up easily with an injection of some sealant, a modicum of shaking and patience to allow things to set up.
There were no pings or creaks as I rolled out on the first ride, when I stood up to rock the bike, or when I sought rough pavement and trails. None of the tires burped under any circumstances—over roots, rocks, drop downs or hard, square-edged obstacles. Over a couple of hundred miles over mixed terrain, approximately 50% or more off pavement, the HiFi 29er Session24 wheels never lost roundness or went out of true under my 155 pounds.
The biggest test for durability of a gravel wheel is bouncing down a long rutted hard packed descent at high speed, especially if that road or trail has buried rocks or roots. My test tracks include lots of those, and the HiFi wheels passed the test.
With rim brakes, you could feel when wheels flexed in hard corners or sprints, but with disc brakes, it’s harder to tell. With 28 spokes at high tension, if the spoke bracing angle is wide enough, we would expect adequate lateral stiffness for most riders under normal conditions. If the wheel was not laterally stiff, we would feel vagueness when cornering with a high lean as in high-speed turn or at slow speed with technical maneuvers that one might encounter on trails. The lateral stiffness of the 29er Session24s is more than adequate.
The Fidelity M hubs have a high pitched buzz when freewheeling that I liked, since the noise indicated the fine-toothed drive ring and high number of pawls were yielding that instantaneous engagement. This was confidence inspiring when ratcheting the pedals in a tight technical section of trail or when sprinting out of a corner.
I didn’t encounter any creek crossings or do long rides in inclement weather during the test period, but with the sealed stainless steel Japanese bearings, I would not expect that to be a big problem. Our test period was not long enough to see dust penetration, and the wheels certainly spun as smoothly at the end of our review period as they did right out of the box. Power spray your bike a few times a week and all bets are off though.
HiFi backs all of its Session 24 wheels with a 2-year warranty for material or manufacturing defects, and it offers a generous no-fault crash replacement discount for anything outside of warranty “to keep our customers rolling,” according to Liberles. Knowing the company backs up the purchase puts our mind at ease about durability.
The HiFi Session24 Carbon wheelset is an excellent choice for a wide gravel tire. At 1,500 grams, it is not super light to a gram counter. Yet not everyone buys carbon for weight savings. A carbon rim won’t dent and could be more durable than an alloy rim of similar weight.
Grams, engagement degrees and width are not the key criteria for everyone, especially when getting to the next aid station, campsite or finish line is the goal. Most importantly, the 29er Session 24 wheels have proven itself durable and reliable.
With cool graphics, home-grown flair and a good warranty, the HiFi Session24 wheels—whether 700c or 650b— deserve a look for your gravel bike wheel upgrade.
For more on the HiFi 29er Session24 wheelset, see the specs below.
HiFi 29er Session24 Wheelset Specs
Price: $1,790 USD
Weight: 653g front, 833g rear, 1,486g total (actual, no tape/valves)
Rim: 700c, carbon, tubeless-ready, disc only, 390g claimed weight
Rim Width: 24mm internal, 30mm external
Rim Depth: 22mm
Hubs: HiFi Fidelity M Disc, Centerlock, 6-pawl, 2-degree engagement, boost sizing available
Freehub: Shimano/SRAM, 11-speed, XD driver available
Spokes: 28 Sapim CX-Ray front and rear, laced 2x
Axles: QR/QR; 15mm TA F/12mm TA R; 12mm TA F/ 12mm TA R; 15mm TA F/QR R; 12mm TA F/QR R
More Info: ridehifi.com