We were recently invited to Biel in Switzerland by DT Swiss to spend some time on their CR 1600 Spline 23 wheelset on an adventure out into the Swiss Jura mountains. DT’s Cross Road line covers everything from cyclocross to gravel riding – tougher wheels built to take the abuse of riding off-road.
We were lucky enough to be equipped with OPEN Cycles U.P. framesets furnished with SRAM Force and 3T finishing kit - a special collaboration between DT and Open to put together these bikes. Knobbly Maxxis Ravager tyres provided ample grip even in some of the muddier conditions we faced.
For our testing, the bikes were fitted with the CR 1600 wheelset. I spoke with Alex Schmitt from DT about the bewildering array of parts available from DT. He told me to look at it all like a toolkit, though a complicated one with all the various permutations of axle sizes, widths, disc mounts and freehub bodies etc.
For example, the CR 1600 wheelset essentially consists of the proven DT Swiss 350 hubs, their Cross Road rim and aero comp straight-pull spokes. Whilst the internals are identical, wheelset hub shells are machined to fit the aesthetic of the complete wheelset.
The C 1800 wheelset, uses 370 hubs, which rely on pawls rather than the star ratchet system found in the higher end wheelset. They also add a few grams of insignificant weight. In theory, you could build both these wheelsets yourself from the component parts if you wanted. Solid wheels built with proven DT parts.
Up Up Up!
We started out from DT HQ on the outskirts of Biel, heading out onto the main road to access the gravel and the gnar. After a short stretch, we turned off and headed on to smaller access roads, followed shortly by a heinous 17% climb that was to set the tone for the afternoon – climbing, and lots of it.
On this first uphill section, the wheels had to start showing what they could do – pleasantly stiff and very solid feeling engagement when pedalling hard. I have ridden (cheap) wheelsets in the past where it has felt like I am teetering on the edge of the pawls – none of that here with the solid dependability of the star ratchet.
Our climb (at a slightly gentler gradient) continued for just under an hour - they don’t make mountains like this in Scotland! At a false summit, we enjoyed the spectacular view back down the valley all the way to the alps and continued onwards to be greeted by the final steep slope, paved in treacherous wet leaves.
With the terrain a little flatter, our speed picked up a bit, though with multiple stops to take in the scenery and photos we were running later than expected – thankfully as it turns out. We crested a hill to meet an incredible sunset. This is what it’s all about – being out, away from it all, in good company, with good riding, on an adventure.
Of course shortly after sunset is when it gets dark – let the adventuring begin in earnest! We managed to slither our way down a muddy chute and single track in the impending gloom – but still with smiles on our faces on the way down. Obviously, it’s hard to assess a wheel on a bike you’re not used to – but these wheels feel stiff without being too harsh, they hold their line and don’t squirrel away when running through ruts. In all just secure and confidence inspiring.
Sadly, what comes down must go up again – and being slightly lost in the dark now we ended up having to push a short section, but then, it’s not a proper bike ride without some hike-a-bike. After this, we were on the home straight, downhill on asphalt to our stop for the night.
These wheels also perform well on the roads, steering accurately and holding their line very well. What I initially perceived as slightly dead feeling, especially on climbs, is a result of two things – whilst the quoted weight of 1728g is on the heavier side, that’s a factor of wider rims and heavier duty build. Simply put, it’s not a pure road wheel. Add to that high volume rubber and you have something that feels a bit hefty on the road, but comes alive as soon as you take it off the beaten track – as it's designed to do.
We bombed our way down the hill to our hostel for the night. Beers drunk, fondue eaten – we settled in for the night, with the promise of a descending day coming up.
Of course the second day still involved a fair bit of ascent. We woke to a misty cold morning which soon gave way to blue skies. A small climb up a gravel path led us to an excellent trail down through the woods – now the wheels were really starting to find their feet, tracking well through variable and rough ground conditions.
Descent over, we got lost again heading up what we thought would be the path, turned out to be a hiking path leading up steps, ladders and along chains to the top. Despite our best efforts, we ended up walking around 3km with several hundred metres of climbing.
From then there was only a little more climbing to the top of the Chasseral. I continue to be amazed how smoothly DT Hubs roll – I really like that smooth yet solid engagement almost feeling like there’s more than just your legs pushing you along.
And let the descending begin!
From the top of the Chasseral, we rode down the mountain bike trail. It has to be said that the OPEN U.P. – the bike we were riding – is incredibly capable. Some of the steeper rocky sections had to be walked but apart from that, whilst you had to pick your line carefully it was more than possible to get down in one piece. I came away very impressed with this bike.
The wheels steer accurately which is crucial on this kind of terrain. I could absolutely pick my line and be certain that they would take me there. Despite all this talk about stiffness, these wheels do not feel overly harsh. Of course this is very subjective and affected by any number of factors like tyre volume and pressure. Arguably you shouldn’t be looking for “compliance” in your wheelset anyway.
They are also strong – I definitely heard a few clunks on the way down but couldn’t find any denting or damage anywhere. It bears saying that I really rate tubeless setups for gravel riding. I’m perhaps not the most graceful of riders, and being able to blast through rocky sections without being too concerned about pinch flats is a boon.
There’s not much that can really be said about the 350 hubs that hasn’t been already. They run smooth, engagement is solid and quick, especially helpful on choppy and rough terrain where you only have time to put in short pedal strokes to propel you forwards whilst clearing all the obstacles.
The descent continued for a whole glorious blazing fast 800 vertical metres down forest roads. Again the excellent tracking of this wheelset impressed me – for me 50-60km/h on gravel starts to get a bit fast, but the wheelset really encouraged me to keep that speed.
Roads, fields, more descending, forests, down a valley, through vineyards, along a lake and finally back to Biel. We encountered all sorts of landscape with spectacular riding. This is why I enjoy gravel so much – because of the varied riding, terrain, surfaces and sights you will encounter. You can go on your own personal expedition and cliché as it may be, find your own path away from everyone else.
The small amount of riding we did in the Jura is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much to explore there and I’m more than keen to go back. The world is literally your oyster and the trails are ripe for the taking. Go out, explore and have your own adventures!
DT Swiss have put together a quality wheelset made from proven components. Perhaps my only criticism is the use of aluminium nipples (which have more of a tendency to corrode) on a wheelset that will surely encounter, damp, wet, mud, sand and all manner of adverse conditions. Whilst the straight-pull spokes make sense from an engineering point of view, J-bends remain by far the most ubiquitous and may be slightly easier to find for long-term maintenance. That said, DT Hubs are renowned for their reliability and serviceability.
Though not the widest on the market, the 22mm internal diameter works well with larger tyres rounding them out nicely. Our 40c tyres sat well on the rim and I’m sure a 45c would do equally well – realistically you’re unlikely to be going much bigger. In any case, a more conservative width implies an overall stronger rim, a compromise I’m willing to make.
The wheelset comes tubeless ready, with tubeless valves included. End caps to change axle standards and a Centrelock to 6-bolt adapter is as well. The build quality is high and the samples we had ran true and remained true despite the abuse they faced. We’ll want to spend some more time on them before providing a definitive opinion – but this is a solid aluminium wheelset that should see you through a lot.