Hunt 34 Aero Wide Disc wheelset review: affordable aero alloy

The words “aero” and “alloy” don’t often meet in modern road bike wheels. All too often, if you want aero — as in actual aero with some wind tunnel numbers attached — you need to extend the budget to carbon. Meanwhile, those shopping for a well-priced alloy wheel often only have rim width and weight to base a purchase decision on.

UK-based consumer-direct wheel company Hunt clearly saw this gap in the market and sought to bring modern and wide aero concepts down to an alloy price point. This is the 34 Aero Wide, a well-priced alloy disc-brake-specific wheelset that promises a great deal. I’ve been testing a pair off and on for a number of months, and you can tickle me impressed.

Alloy made different

Story Highlights

  • What: An aerodynamically designed aluminium road wheel for disc brake road bikes.
  • Weight: 1,530 g
  • Price: US$599 / £455 / AU$849, shipped.
  • Highs: Unique design for alloy, impressive price, weight, works with tubed clinchers and tubeless, 19.75 mm internal rim width, nice to ride.
  • Lows: Freehub noise, rear wheel spoke tension balance, permanent graphics.

Look to any of the newly released carbon aero wheels and they all have one thing in common – a plentiful width. In the world of aero, the 105% rule — where you want the rim 105% of the actual tyre width — is well documented and accepted. However as tyres have gotten wider and wider, so the challenges of matching the rim with the rule have increased.

Those extreme widths can only be achieved with more material. More material equals more weight. And that’s exactly why lightweight carbon composites rule the roost in the aero domain. And it’s also the biggest challenge for making an aero wheel from alloy.

Hunt’s approach was to use a higher-end 6069 alloy, something that offers a measurably higher tensile strength versus the more commonly used 6061 alloy, and that in turn allows for reduced wall thickness and subsequent lower weight.

According to Hunt’s head of engineering, Luisa Grappone (who has an MSc in Aerospace Engineering), the 34 Aero closely follows the aero learnings of the 48 Limitless Aero Disc wheels, but extruding alloy is simply more limiting than layering carbon. Here the rim shape is a close match to the 48s, with a U-shaped flattened spoke bed and a rim profile that bulges out slightly. However, in an effort to keep the rim to a reasonable weight, the depth and width just aren’t nearly as extreme as what the ultra-wide 48 Limitless offers.

The 34 Aero Wide wheels trickle down some of the knowledge learned from Hunt’s Limitless project. The company has been steadily increasing its in-house investment into aerodynamic research in recent years. (Pictured is a 30 mm tyre.)

Hunt settled on a profile that’s 34 mm deep (measured closer to 32.5 mm), with an external width that measures from 24 mm to a maximum of 26 mm. That’s some 8 millimetres less than the carbon 48s, a compromise that was made to keep weight in check and also ensure there were no frame compatibility issues caused by an extremely wide rim. According to Hunt, that width is aero-optimised with 25 and 28 mm tyres in mind, even though it fails that trusty 105% rule with the latter.

Aerodynamically, Hunt’s wind tunnel testing showed that most of its alloy competition had not been aerodynamically optimised, and was therefore easy to out-pace – letting Hunt claim that its 34 Aero Wide wheels are the fastest alloy disc brake wheel available.

This graph shows Hunt’s comparative testing of the 34 Aero Wide wheels. It shows the drag force of each wheel model (Y axis) versus the yaw angles (X axis). The test was done at 45 km/h, a pretty standard testing speed for road performance products.

Of Hunt’s hand-picked competition, it was the vastly more expensive carbon Zipp 202 NSW wheel that proved a suitable match to the 34 Aero Wide in the wind tunnel. And although not a true aero performer, that Zipp wheelset still offers a shape that provides some advantage over more traditional round or square profile shallow wheels.

Those Zipp 202 NSWs edge out the 34 Aero Wide with a 25 mm tyre fitted, while the Hunt wheels get one back with wider 28 mm tyres. Still, the fastest setup for the 34 Aero Wide is with a 25 mm tyre.

Alright, enough of the aero talk. These wheels are faster than much of their direct metal competition, but we’re not talking life-changing differences in drag — these are marginal gains that will only make subtle differences against the clock.

The build and what you get

The 34 Aero Wide rim offers a 19.75 mm (measured) internal width between the hooked beads. Those hooked beads mean that while the rim meets ETRTO tubeless standards (and comes ready for tubeless setup), it’s also compatible with all tubed clincher tyres. “Hookless is forcing tyre choices on consumers, which Hunt is trying to stay clear of,” said Ollie Gray, Product Communications at Hunt. “It’s not our job to force consumers to do that.”

A hooked bead lets you run whatever tyres you prefer.

Hunt has the wheels laced with Pillar Wing 20 straight pull bladed spokes, with 20 at the front and 24 at the rear in a 2x pattern. They’re connected to the rim with relatively long 16 mm black alloy nipples, supported by washers within. Truing the wheels or replacing a spoke requires no speciality tools, and notably, Hunt provides both spare spokes and the necessary tools with the wheels.

Measuring spoke tension provides a good insight into the wheel build quality, rim trueness (prior to lacing) and expected spoke durability.

The spoke tension of the front wheel showed the drive side spokes averaged 77% of the tension of the disc side (quite common). Those tensions were surprisingly high and fairly consistent around with a minor deviation suggesting the rim wasn’t perfectly straight prior to being laced.

The front hub features a larger flange size for the disc side.

Out back things were a little more inconsistent. The non-driveside spokes sit at just 45% of the tension of the driveside, pointing to some fairly notable tension imbalance caused by the hub design. And those tensions deviated by more than 10% in a couple of spokes; again suggesting the rim perhaps wasn’t perfectly straight to begin with. Those numbers only worsened under the pressure of a tubeless tyre, and there was measurable tension drop on the non-driveside – suggesting a slightly higher spoke tension would be of benefit to these wheels in the long term.

That all said, my sample wheels arrived perfectly true and after a few months of use remain as such. The spoke tensions haven’t changed with use, and there have been no unusual noises or flex that can occur in under-tensioned wheels. Still, heavier riders should consider having these looked at and re-tensioned by an experienced wheel builder.

At the centre sits Hunt’s Sprint hubs, the same straight-pull, centerlock rotor mount and sealed bearing model as used in the company’s more expensive Limitless wheel range. However, where the Limitless wheels feature excessively expensive bearings from CeramicSpeed, these hubs are fitted with cheaper steel cartridge bearings from Ezo.

The front hub offers a basic design with press-fit end caps and two 6802 bearings. The rear hub contains four cartridge bearings, two in the hub shell (6902), and two within the aluminium freehub body (6802). That freehub body, almost certainly produced by Hubsmith, hosts three independently sprung pawls which feature a stepped design that provides a reasonably quick 45 points of engagement (7.5º). Two commonly available 17 mm cone wrenches (not included) are required to access and service the freehub body.

The freehub uses a stepped pawl design that achieves 48 points of engagement. It gives a more buzzy sound than the usual click-click-click of simpler pawl-based designs.

A feature I rate highly is the steel bite guard on the aluminium freehub body. This is placed inline with the smaller, separate cassette cogs and is designed to ward off the dreaded freehub bite all too commonly found with soft aluminium freehub bodies. I can say it won’t completely stop damage to the soft freehub splines, but it does what it needs to.

Soft aluminium freehub bodies aren’t great at resisting the narrow splines of steel cassette cogs. This steel insert greatly reduces such issues.

The hubs offer easily swapped end caps for use with various common frame fitments, and Hunt provides the wheels in your chosen configuration. For the rear wheel this includes the common 142×12 mm thru-axle, regular 135 mm quick release (quick-release skewers included), and the less common 12 or 10 mm 135 thru-axles, too. For the front, this includes a standard quick-release fitment, 100×12 mm thru and also a 100 x 9 mm bolt-thru (uncommon).

Notably missing is the ability to convert these for use in older 100×15 mm forks, although there are some smart conversions to get around such things. The wheels are also available to suit the most common drivetrains, including Shimano 9/10/11-speed, SRAM XD-R and regular Campagnolo.

All told, I weighed my sample wheels at 720 and 810 grams, front and rear respectively. That competitive 1,530 g combined wheelset weight includes the stock tubeless rim tape and means the wheels come in some 18 g lighter than claimed. That figure should save significant weight if you’re looking to upgrade from more generic alloy disc brake wheels.

Sold consumer-direct, the wheels arrive in a single box with a small number of extras, including centerlock to six-bolt brake rotor adapters, black aluminium tubeless valve stems and the aforementioned tools. Also of note is that Hunt offers the ability to buy pre-installed tubeless tyres at extremely competitive prices.

These small items are provided with the wheels at no extra expense.

Now the most impressive part. The wheels sell for US$599 / £455 / AU$849, which includes worldwide express delivery and common duties/taxes. And worth considering is the option to add a generous lifetime crash replacement warranty over the regular three-year manufacturer’s warranty for US$49 / AU$69.

Setup, servicing and the ride

I found mounting various tyres to be trouble-free. From Schwalbe G-One 30 mm tubeless to Continental GP5000s, I was able to get the tyres on and off without any major fight. And in the case of those Schwalbes, the tubeless setup was simply a breeze.

The 19.75 mm (Hunt claims 20 mm) internal width is modernly wide and well suited to tyres in the 25-32 mm range. In most cases, tyres should plump up a little wider than their printed dimensions. For example, those 30 mm Schwalbe G-Ones measured an actual 31.2 mm (at 60 psi).

The 30 mm Schwalbe G-One look quite plump on these wheels. A 25 mm tyre is the fastest option here.

The wheels roll along efficiently with decent stiffness and zero signs of harshness. I was actually surprised by how fast they felt for such an affordable wheel.

I believe the rim shape, additional depth and bladed spokes offer some speed benefit versus simpler alloy wheels, however, that extra depth comes with the most marginal of impact in crosswind handling. Personally, the handling difference didn’t bother me, and I believe only the most astute riders coming from the shallowest of wheel depths will be able to detect the difference.

The hubs displayed no brake rotor rub issues (often the result of axle flex), and I didn’t hear a single peep from the spokes. And while I’d like to say the wheels quickly go unnoticed, you’ll most certainly be aware of the rear hub when coasting and so will others if you’re riding in a group. It’s certainly not the noisiest hub out there, but I very quickly resorted to adding a bunch of Dumonde freehub grease to help reduce the decibels of the stepped pawl design. Certainly, look elsewhere if you prefer a quiet-coasting hub.

Like loud hubs? You’ll like Hunt’s Sprint hubs. I recorded them at 100 dB versus 90 dB for a DT Swiss Ratchet EXP.

That freehub also exhibited a little more backdrag than I was expecting from the otherwise free-rolling hubs. This was only noticeable with a sudden stop of pedalling when riding in the 11T of a heavier 11-32T cassette, but it’s something to be mindful of and means you’ll need to be careful of the grease you use when quieting down that freehub.

You just need two 17 mm cone wrenches to get into the hub.

After a few months of use, the bearings remained perfectly silky smooth, while the greased freehub revealed no signs of dirt ingress. The freehub features a light contact seal between it and the hub body, however, the other bearings rely on the tolerances of the end caps to keep the dirt out. The benefit of this is that the hubs roll wonderfully freely, but those who regularly ride in wet conditions may need to have the commonly sized hub bearings replaced after a hard winter. As with most hubs, a little preventative cleaning/greasing will surely go a long way.

And finally, there’s the graphics. The wheels offer a stealthy matte black look, but a close look will reveal a bunch of small, white, permanent graphics on the rims and hubs. I don’t mind the “Hunt” branding, but I prefer that features such as “Tubeless Ready” and “Bearings by Ezo Japan” weren’t called out on the spoke bed and hub body.

The graphics aren’t too loud, but some of them feel unnecessary.

I rate these

I actually really appreciate what Hunt has done with its 34 Aero Wide wheels. They’re well-priced performance wheels that offers a decent weight, a touch of aero and a versatile rim bed at a time where many other brands have seemingly stopped investing in alloy rims as a performance offering.

Yes, they’re not perfect. The spoke tension balance at the rear could certainly be better and a little higher. The hub sealing may be on the lighter side for those who feel the need to ride with fenders. And there’s that freehub noise. But considering the weight and how they ride, you’d be hard-pressed to do better for the money. If your existing disc brake bike is rolling on some heavy, low profile alloy wheels, then certainly consider these if you’re after a well-priced upgrade.

HuntBikeWheels.cc

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