My favorite tire setup test is to use a wheel’s original tubeless tape and valves, which the TR38 wheels came with, and mount up a tire and try to inflate it with a floor pump without using tire sealant. Ten hard pumps and my tubeless-ready, folding-bead Onza Ibex 2.4” tires seated up beautifully on both rims. For giggles, I tried setting up a pair of non-tubeless, wire-bead Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR downhill tires. I had to pump a bit harder, but they seated nonetheless. Color me impressed.
It’s purely aesthetic, but the NOBL-branded tubeless valves are pretty cool looking, and having a removable core made it easy to inject sealant without spilling it all over the tire and rim. Gotta love a clean tubeless job.
Performance and Durability
So, how do all the bells and whistles on this wheelset actually perform in the real world and stand up to months of hard riding?
Short answer: Extremely well.
I tossed these wheels around on the rocky hills of Montana; down wet, steep chutes in Washington; down root-covered rock drops and gap jumps in Squamish; and over massive jumps, landing sideways in the Whistler bike park. Not once did the TR38 wheels leave me wanting for more.
The inherent stiffness of carbon gives the wheels laser-precision steering, and makes smashing turns and hitting rock gardens a breeze. But pretty much every carbon rim out there is super stiff, so what makes the TR38 so good? From ENVE to Ibis to Reynolds, all high-end carbon wheel manufacturers engineer a certain amount of flex into their wheels, especially in the vertical axis. This translates into a wheel that can deflect during a hard landing or excursion into a rock and have a higher chance of rolling away unscathed. But for ride quality, it means that riding over extra choppy sections of trail isn’t nearly as jarring on your body and bike, giving you more control over your bike’s movements.
These wheel-flex characteristics are impossible to quantify without precise instruments, but I can say with certainty that I rode noticeably faster, harder, and with more control on the NOBLs than with high-end aluminum rims or middle-of-the-pack carbon rims under me. The rims were stiff when I required it in hard turns and landings, but gave a dampened feeling compared to aluminum rims, which made them far more comfortable to ride, and which translated to more control and precision on long runs.
A very short time ago I was deathly afraid of carbon wheels based on price and durability. But now that I’ve put these wheels through the wringer, that’s changed — I’ve ridden this wheelset harder than any other before it, and they haven’t even flinched. I typically keep it to myself that I run my tire pressure really low for fear that I’ll get the “I Told You So!” from my riding buddies when I bust a rim, but after running 19 psi front and 26 rear on the TR38 wheels for everything but all-out bike park riding, I’m confident in the strength of these rims.
As for outright durability and longevity, the wheels stayed perfectly true and didn’t lose any tension during my time on them. I rode one of the Cascadia Dirt Cup Enduro races at Tiger Mountain, WA, in the pouring rain and sandy soil for a full day, and the hubs are still spinning as smooth and silent as on day one. And although there were rides where I could hear rock after rock smashing into the side of the rim, the only signs of rock strikes were small nicks in the decals.
I’m a huge fan of DT Swiss’ star-ratchet hub engagement system because it can be serviced without tools at any time, and the Onyx sprag hub had me a bit worried because I was afraid that if the hub stopped working on me, I’d be stuck out there without the required bearing press and other tools to take the hub apart. But my concerns were unfounded because the hub engagement and smooth freewheeling didn’t deteriorate at all during testing.
One of my rules for buying components is that they have to be easily and quickly serviceable just in case the unthinkable happens during a long ride or race weekend. I’d break that rule for the Onyx hubs. In the event that a rim fails, NOBL covers customers with a 1-year manufacturer’s defect warranty, and a 2-year, 50% discount crash replacement policy. Not bad for a wheelset that’s $1,595 to start with, with rims retailing for $400.
The most closely comparable wheel out there may be ENVE’s M70 Thirty HV 27.5”, which Blister’s Noah Bodman reviewed. The ENVE rim weighs 469 g, just 21 g less than the TR38, but is also a wee bit narrower at 30 mm internally. I briefly rode the M70’s, and they felt a tad snappier and accelerated better. But this comparison isn’t apples-to-apples, since the M70’s were a 28-hole version with lighter DT Swiss hubs, so the weight difference alone may have contributed to the sportier feel of the ENVE wheelset.
From a maintenance standpoint, wheel truing and spoke replacements are easier on the TR38 than the M70 because the nipples are accessible without having to remove the tire and tubeless tape. But neither of these wheels seem to have much trouble with hops and wobbles, especially when they come built directly from the factory. Beyond that, I can’t pinpoint any areas where one wheelset excels over the other.
I recently reviewed the aluminum Easton ARC 30 rims, which are worth comparing to the TR38 because they have an internal width of 30 mm and also weigh 490 g, so the only marked differences between these two are the materials used and the price. The ARC 30 and many modern aluminum rims in the same size and weight category sell for around $100 per rim, while the TR38 rim alone commands a $400 price tag. Paying an extra $600 to upgrade to a carbon wheelset may sound terrible to your checkbook, but if you’re hard on wheels I’d say that you’re much better off spending your money on a bomber wheel rather than constantly replacing ones that can’t stand up to abuse.
But durability isn’t the only gain in upgrading from aluminum to carbon in this instance. The improvements in handling, damping, and overall wheel stiffness are substantial enough to convince me that my dollars would be well spent on a wheelset from NOBL. And while there are carbon offerings out there with a much bigger price tag, their benefits (in my opinion) aren’t great enough to warrant paying $2000+ for a wheelset when the TR38 ticked all the boxes and is comparatively inexpensive.
For hard-charging riding, I can’t find anything to fault about the NOBL TR38 wheelset other than on its weight, but that’s easily remedied with a different hub choice, at the expense of the silence and engagement of the Onyx hubs. The combination of build quality, good looks, attentive customer service, and outstanding ride quality has me sold on these wheels. For the price, they’re easily the best wheels I’ve ridden.
For lighter all-around riding, I’d go for the TR36 or TR33. They have similar ride characteristics but exchange a bit of brawn for slimmer weight, which is a great compromise if you’re not pushing your limits on every ride. But for the rider who demands extra durability and stiffness from their wheels, the NOBL TR38 is an excellent choice.