Cyclocross season is fast approaching, and to help you get ready to race, we are doing a #crossiscoming series between now and September. This week, we have provided some training advice and a look back at last year’s racing. Today, we go the mechanical route with a look at a wheelset from Bend’s Knight Composites.
For U.S. cyclocross fans, Knight Composites has likely become a familiar name during the past few seasons. After all, the greatest U.S. cyclocrosser of all time, 14-time National Champion Katie Compton, has ridden the wheels to her last three national championships and a second-place finish at the 2018 World Championships.
Bend-based Knight Composites started about five years ago over a cup of coffee. Bike industry veterans Beverly Lucas and Jim Pfeil met up for a cup of joe and made the decision to found their carbon bike wheel company with the mission of making a faster wheel. Engineer Kevin Quan joined to form the leadership trio, and the company has grown since then as a producer of high-quality carbon wheels for road, mountain, cyclocross/gravel and even triathlons.
Knight produces tubulars for the cyclocross crowd and tubeless clinchers that can pull double duty for both ’cross and gravel. We have previously reviewed the company’s 29″ tubeless-ready gravel wheelset and earlier this year, we looked at the re-designed Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc wheels.
We recently received a set of $2,200 carbon Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc 2018 wheels for review. We take a first look at the cyclocross/gravel wheels for this In Review spotlight. Stay tuned for a full review.
Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc 2018 Wheels
Knight builds its tubeless-ready rims with an EPS foam-core molding system it claims is designed to leave fewer voids in the composite matrix to create a stronger, lighter wheel. The 35 Clincher TLA Disc rims are 35mm deep and have an internal width of 19.5mm and an external width of 27.5mm. The internal width of 19.5mm makes the wheelset ideal for cyclocross and gravel but still allows a 23 or 25mm road tire to fit snugly.
Knight developed its TLA tubeless system via a partnership with Schwalbe based on feedback the company received on its earlier design. The external sidewalls on the TLA taper inward at the top to make it easier to get tires on the rim. The internal profile has a triangulated internal pocket for the tire’s bead.
The company claims the design locks in a tubeless tire’s bead better than a square or rounded pocket and offers more sealing surface area. It also says the system allows installation of tubeless tires without tire levers and inflation with a floor pump.
Our review set has black “Knight” decals, but the company also offers the wheels with several colors of decals for an additional $125. Knight Composites said the decal option is currently free (as of mid-July, 2018) for the coming cyclocross season.
The 35mm-deep rims are laced 2x to the hubs with 24 bladed spokes with internal nipples. They come as quick release or 12 and 15mm thru-axle with a change of end caps.
Knight offers several hub choices from Chris King, DT Swiss, ROTOR and local Bend company Project 321. Knight Composites sent our review wheels with the Project 321 CX1 hub, which the company offers as a stock option for U.S. purchases. The Project 321 CX1 hubs have a six-bolt disc rotor mount and a Shimano/SRAM cassette body on the rear wheel.
Our review set of Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc wheels can be described as a mid-weight wheelset, which is quite competitive given its aero profile. The wheels, as built, have weights of 740g for the front and 870g for the rear, giving a total weight of 1,610g. The rims have a claimed weight of 420g.
Project 321’s Magnetic CX1 Hubs
The Project 321 CX1 hubs have a six-pawl freehub with embedded magnets. In the standard configuration, two of the six pawls are engaged at any time. However, there is a three-pawl engagement option if your power output demands it.
With the two-pawl configuration, the engagement is every 1.7 degrees, which is nearly instantaneous. The magnets draw the pawls into the drive ring with an engagement force that is stronger than that produced by springs pushing the pawls toward the drive ring. The result is much less friction and noise when freewheeling.
The inside body of the ratchet mechanism is drilled to create an oil reservoir to aid the engagement mechanism and reduce friction and noise. The new hub arrived oily on the surface, but once we wiped the oil away, the hub has since stayed clean.
Magnets can be heavy, but Project 321 seems to have addressed that with a listed rear hub weight of 281 grams.
The Knight Composites 35 Clincher TLA Disc wheels came true and evenly tensioned out of the box. When you spin the wheels, they are remarkably smooth—this is especially true for the rear. The rear wheel purrs quietly and spins effortlessly for a longer time than other carbon wheels we have recently reviewed. The free hub has not changed its quiet purr or slowed its free spin after several hundred dusty miles.
Knight Composites designed the rim bed for easy, reliable tubeless mounting. Our experience supports this, but as usual, tire choice makes a difference. At Sea Otter, much to our surprise during a demo, we were able to install the final bead of a tight road tubeless tire without tire levers, and cyclocross and gravel tires have been even less of a challenge.
Knight sent sealing tape wide enough to fill the entire rim bed wall to wall. We found that the bead shelf has no specific lip to hold the bead on, but the hooked sidewall helps with the tubeless installation.
We mounted a 40mm WTB Nano tire with some rigorous floor pumping but had to use an air compressor with the valve core removed to mount a loose-fitting 38mm Maxxis Rambler. Based on how the air compressor worked, we suspect a charger pump will snap the tires on easily.
Both tires held air without sealant, but adding a bit of sealant closed up pores on the side walls and at the bead itself to literally seal the deal. The tires have been completely reliable on the Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc wheels since we mounted them, with riding time that has included the grueling Lost and Found Gravel Grinder.
We have gotten some gravel miles in on the Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc wheels this summer and plan on putting them to the test during cyclocross season this coming fall. Stay tuned for a full review of the carbon tubeless offering from the Bend-based company.
The specs and photo gallery below have more on the Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc wheelset. For more cyclocross and gravel wheel reviews, see our archive.
Cliff Lee and Zachary Schuster contributed to this report.
Knight 35 Clincher TLA Disc 2018 Wheelset Specifications
Price: $2,200 (as tested)
Weight: Wheelset: 740g front, 870g rear, 1,610g total (actual)
Rim: Carbon, Knight TLA tubeless system, 420g (claimed)
Width: 19.5mm internal, 27.5mm external
Hubs: Project 321 CX1, six-bolt disc
Spokes: 24 bladed spokes with internal nipples, front and rear
More Info: knightcomposites.com
Photo Gallery: Knight Composites 35 Clincher TLA Disc 2018 Wheelset