I was involved in the launch of Chris King Wheels, and I continue to earn income consulting with them. They are not compensating me for this review. I have been riding these wheels for a few months, and though I have an obvious bias, I wanted to write about them, because they’re good and you deserve to know.
The first thing to know is that Chris King, the man, resisted producing a wheelset for a long time, because he didn’t feel good about the materials and manufacturing methods that produced almost all the rims. He’s that kind of guy. He regularly makes business decisions that limit his company, because he won’t compromise his values, and his number one value is environmental sustainability.
The reason I tell you that first is because it goes a long way to explaining how these wheels are different than most of what’s on the market today. To produce the rims, King partnered with a company called CSS Composites, which was founded by Joe Stanish, formerly of ENVE. Joe is a materials guy, in his heart, and he left ENVE to pursue a new type of carbon fiber that CSS calls Fusion FiberTM. Unlike most carbon fiber on the market, which is pre-impregnated with epoxy resin, Fusion Fiber eschews resins in favor of nylon, and the bonding process is fast. The long and short of it is that Fusion Fiber requires much less energy to produce AND, because the carbon fiber isn’t melded with an epoxy, it can be recycled. The rims can be ground up and reformed into new products.
This is what convinced Chris King to move forward, that, if a rim should break, for whatever reason, they could take it back and use it to make something new. Chris hates a landfill, that guy.
From a performance point-of-view, and this is what I was most curious about as I advised on launch strategy, does Fusion Fiber produce a ride experience like traditional carbon fiber? Having ridden it now for some time, I can say simply, yes.
In working with CSS, King spent time tuning their rims, and the GRD23 is a gravel wheel that lives well on-road as well. I would describe it as slightly more compliant than “performance” carbon wheels, which you should interpret as ‘less stiff.’ For my riding which is mostly on dirt, just that little bit of compliance feels really good. It dials back the wheels from beating-me-up to working-with-me-for-a-change. I like them a lot.
Having said all that, I wouldn’t call them a game-changer from a performance standpoint. You’re not going to ride them and have your mind blown if you’re already riding carbon fiber wheels. What is mind blowing for me, is that solid performance can be wed to sustainability. As the industry has marched fully into the carbon fiber world, not enough has been said about repair and recycling. Products like this are game changers, because they give you absolutely everything you want from their performance, but also don’t saddle the earth with another consumer product that’s gonna get hucked onto the junk heap eventually.
These things are $2650/pair, and King also makes a mountain version, the MTN30, in both 27.5″ and 29″ versions.