Mavic C29SSMax Wheelset
The French may not have produced a Tour champion for the last 23 years, but they’ve been making some outstanding bike components. Most notably has been Mavic, positioning themselves at the forefront of wheel technology -- they’ve continued to advance and refine their wheelset choices for all disciplines of cycling from track to mountain bikes. One of the hottest new items debuting this spring at Sea Otter, was the new Mavic C29ssMax, dubbed officially as the Mavic C29ssMax. This is a purpose built wheelset for the burgeoning 29er market. The new Mavic wheels have been sculpted with a few goals in mind -- build it reasonably light, while maintaining stiffness, strength, and lateral rigidity.
The Mavic C29ssMax wheelset utilizes the same proprietary processes and materials as the 26” Crossmax SL, most importantly, the FORE drilling process which excludes piercing the outer wall of the rim for the spoke holes. This uninterrupted rim surface helps to provide an airtight seal when the Mavic wheels are used in conjunction with a tubeless compatible tire and/or sealant system. One of the negative issues seemingly inherent to 29” wheel systems has always been the increase in rotational weight over a similar 26” wheel. Getting rid of the 29” tubes could potentially save 300-350 grams. That’s 3/4 lbs. Ask just about anyone who races anything -- motorized or human powered -- and they’ll tell you that a pound of rotational weight saved is worth at least three pounds of static weight (i.e. something attached to the frame.)
Mavic’s claimed weight for the C29ssmax wheelset is 1745 grams. We checked them on our super trusty, digital postal scale here in the shop, and they weighed in at 1790 grams minus skewers and valve stems. That said, the wheelset we got our hands on is a pre-production set and we expect that Mavic has pared them down to the target weight for the final production runs. Still, a switch to the Mavic C29ssmax wheelset from the standard wheelset on our demo bikes saved a whopping 360 grams. We rode the new Hutchinson Python 29 Tubeless Ready tires on the Mavic wheels and we didn’t need tubes. So the loss of the tubes netted a decrease of 300 grams or so, and the tires were 330 grams lighter than our demo tires. That’s a grand total of 990 grams (2.18 lbs.) Two pounds of rotating weight is a huge weight savings and will translate into differences that you can really feel on the bike.
Another hurdle that Mavic chose to carefully overcome, was the issue of lateral rigidity. The increased diameter of the 29” wheel platform necessitates the use of longer spokes, which leads to problems with tension and spoke stretch. Also, as the spokes get longer, while the hub flange width remains the same as a 26” wheel, the angle between the spokes becomes more acute and the wheel loses lateral rigidity. Mavic engineers redesigned their hubs to push the bearings and the flanges outboard for the C29ssMax wheelset to bring the flange width/spoke length ratio back into desirable territory. Another benefit of the Mavic C29ssMax design is the use of Mavic’s Zircal spokes. The Zircal spokes are a proprietary aluminum alloy that has mechanical characteristics that allow Mavic engineers to use thicker and fewer spokes than a comparable wheel with traditional stainless steel spokes. The Zircal spoke are great because they have a much greater cross-sectional diameter than a stainless spoke of comparable weight. The increase in diameter makes it stiffer and more resistant to bending loads. They are also more resistant to stretch than a thin gauge stainless spoke and will therefore de-tension less when the wheel is in motion and rider weight forces the wheel to change shape slightly as it rolls over the ground.
Out on the trail, the new Mavic C29ssmax wheelset performed flawlessly. It was what we expected. Mavic’s historical level of quality and consistency was evident. The C29ssMax aren’t the flashiest wheels that we sell. There are no fancy anodized colors, no silver, just black. What you do get in the graphics department is a cool frog logo. We’re not quite sure what the message was with the frog, but we thought it needed a dirty brown beret and a crumbling, half-smoked Gitane hanging from it’s smirking lips to be totally over the top. All joking aside, the C29ssMax wheelset is handsome in an understated, Back in Black kind of way.
We've hammered these puppies for the last month. They haven’t given us any problems or the slightest reason to believe that they won’t just as durable and reliable as a set of CrossMax 26” wheels. Given the cross-country oriented purpose of most 29” bikes, parts, and riders, the Mavic’s should be just fine. We wouldn’t huck any serious drops aboard these wheels, but you can still have plenty of fun (they offer a 20mm thru version as well.) Keep in mind that the 29” wheel platform, even with a great set of wheels like these, still lacks the strength and stiffness of a good set of 26” wheels. Climbing with the Mavic C29ssMax wheels was awesome. The weight savings over our stock demo wheels paid dividends in full when we were thrashing up technical ascents. Wheelies over logs and rocks were no problem. The lightweight wheel/tire setup was also nice on a local trail loop that has lots of tight turns and requires constant braking and accelerating to get ’round it fast. This particular trail usually feels faster on a 26” bike, but this wheelset made us feel like we weren’t at a disadvantage on the 29er.
When we’re looking for some serious off road mileage, sometimes we’ll head out to an area in the Ouachita National Forest just west of our headquarters here in Little Rock. There are some big loops to be ridden out there on a mix of maintained dirt roads and old road beds, all being very hilly, with a couple of epic climbs. On those rides we appreciated these wheels for two reasons -- (1) they are pretty darn light, as mentioned above. Keeping rotational weight to a minimum is always important when you go uphill! And, (2) 29” wheels just roll good, especially downhill. Take a comparable 29” and a 26” bike and ride 80 miles on dirt roads, it will quickly become apparent which bike gets down the descents faster. In our experience, the 29” wheel always wins. Is that scientific? Maybe not, but it’s what has played out in reality for us time and time again.
One minor area we'd like to see improvement is with Mavic's FTS free hub system -- a two pawl arrangement that we find doesn’t provide for small increments of rear hub engagement. The free hub on the C29ssmax wheelset utilizes this same system -- as such, it works like any of the Mavic wheels you may be accustomed to. On slow, technical trails, especially on slight technical uphill grades, we find ourselves looking for a touch less slack in the free hub system. If we need to backpedal slightly to negotiate a rock or the like, stab the pedals again to proceed forward, we sometimes experience some “pedal lag” with the Mavic FTS arrangement. To it's credit, the Mavic free hub coasts nicely, with little frictional drag, and it's reasonably quiet to boot.
Mavic has found great success with their CrossMax series of mountain bike wheels and we think that the new C29ssMax wheels are a great addition to the lineup. They are well suited to cross-country trail usage, durable enough for epic adventures, training, and racing. The 29” mountain bike poses special challenges to the wheel builder. How do you make it light, stiff, and strong? Sometimes these are mutually exclusive qualities. Mavic has employed their usual bag of tricks, and met the challenge at hand. In fact, we’re hesitant to give them back. Maybe we’ll hold our C29ssmax wheels as ransom for the story behind the frog.