The Parcours Alta 650B is a lightweight full-carbon wheelset, weighing a claimed 1,360g for the pair. The rims and build provide a responsive and agile ride, but overall, performance is severely let down by a poor freehub design with an unsprung pawl system.
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Parcours Alta 650B wheelset – technical details
These full carbon rims are the only 650b option within the Parcours wheel range and feature a 35mm depth and 25mm internal rim measurement. This allows for larger 45mm+ tyres to be fitted to the wheels. This ensures they have a broader base than you'd get with a narrow rim. The rims have a hookless design and Parcours list that they must be fitted with tubeless tyres, although you could run a tube within a tubeless-ready tyre.
The wheels are built up with Sapim CX-Ray spokes, which are excellent, high quality and lightweight for the price point with a 24-spoke build and two-cross pattern front and rear. The overall build is strong to give an impressively stiff wheelset. The hubs are fitted with EZO bearings, which remained smooth from unboxing throughout the test period.
The test wheelset came fitted with a Shimano freehub, but Campagnolo and SRAM XDR options are also available. The disc fitments are centre-lock, but I found the fitment quite loose. Although most of the movement went away after installing the lockring, a small amount of rocking was still noticeable. The wheels came fitted with tubeless-ready tape, with our test wheels arriving that would have required the Tubeless running kit for £23, this is something that is now provided as standard. During testing, I tried the wheels with both Halo GXR and GXC tyres, and both fitted well with no problems and only minimal help from a tyre lever to get onto the rim.
Parcours Alta 650B – How they ride
In use, the stiffness of the wheels is very evident, further highlighting some of the benefits of using the smaller 650b wheel size. They provide a more agile ride at an impressively low weight of just 1,360g for the pair. This featherweight puts the Alta on a par with some of the top wheelsets available, with the Specialized Roval CLX 650b that road.cc is testing weighing 1,350g but also costing £1,850. The lightweight means the Alta wheels can be quite playful, easy to lift and move around. The wider tyre that can fit on many gravel bikes compared to a 700c wheel makes them good for rougher tracks.
However, the wheels are not perfect. I had freehub problems from the very first pedal stroke, causing lots of clicks and clunks under power. This happened often and always after either freewheeling or when starting/re-starting. After stripping down the freehub to try and resolve the problem (which is thankfully easily done), I could see the design of the freehub resulted in the pawls being sticky and not returning quickly, if at all. Hence the noise when under power as the pawls are not engaging correctly to drive the wheel.
The initial testing was performed after a spell of freezing weather, and Parcours suggested that the cold may have affected the grease. This is possible, although, given the wheels were brand new and stored indoors, you would hope not. The freehub was removed, cleaned off and replaced with Park Tools Polylube 1000. Next ride, the freehub still had the same problems, which really dented trust in the wheels. At no point did the freehub completely slip, but I do not have confidence that they will last.
To fix the problem, I removed all the grease and replaced it with thin oil, which wouldn't be advised for riding but allowed me to check and see if the grease was the problem or if something else was the cause. While the return action was slightly improved, it did not completely resolve the issue. I believe the problem is due to the style of the mechanism used, which relies upon a small metal strip to hold the pawls in place, without any spring mechanism built-in at all.
Unfortunately, this is not our first experience with freehub issues with this particular wheelset from Parcours. Back in Jan 2020, Dave Arthur had the same issue at the end of his test period of the 700c Alta version of these wheels. The pawls were stuck on his freehub with it spinning both ways so he sent the wheel back to Parcours. Of course if you are a customer, this is exactly what Parcours would suggest if a fix cannot be found over the phone, but it does concern us that this is the second time we have reviewed this hubset and the second time we have had issues with this hub.
Upon return and inspection of Matt's 650 rear wheel, Parcours have this to say:
“Parcours has thoroughly checked the freehub on return and discovers that the spring clip that holds the pawls in place is slightly bent, meaning it is not exerting as much inward pressure on the pawls as it should. Matt had explained on the earlier phone call with Dov that whilst degreasing the freehub, he had removed the clip and pawls to give it a full/thorough clean. We believe that this could have damaged the spring clip.
This is not an issue that we’ve experienced before (media or customer side), and as so, we do not believe it to be a product fault.
Parcours' default position with any type of issue with their products is to contact us and if required get the wheel back to repair in our workshop"
Parcours Alta 650B wheelset – Verdict
Our test wheel could have a faulty freehub, but still, the design of the spring and pawl mechanism is not as strong or reliable as other competitor wheels. I do not think it has any place on a set of wheels retailing for £850. There are competitor wheels at similar prices that have simply much better freehub performance, such as the Scribe Carbon Gravel wheelset at £870 with the ratchet drive or Just Riding Along with the Mahi Mahi or Gecko carbon wheels, both retailing £850 and use Bitex hubs and a 6-pawl individually sprung mechanism.
n.b. Parcours has sent us a second set of these wheels which we will put through the testing process again and report back any changes to our initial findings and update any scores if necessary.
The rims and general build of the Parcours wheels are okay with a rim at the ideal depth and width for gravel riding. They are agile, light, and strong, but the package is severely let down by the freehub design, which simply doesn't cut it.