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Tested: Black Inc Thirty Four Gravel Wheels 

Strong enough for serious gravel, the versatility to perform well on the road, and light enough to not feel Roman when the terrain starts getting vertical. Sounds like a lot to ask from a modern wheelset doesn’t it, but the above is our take on Black Inc’s design parameters when they first imagined their Thirty Four gravel wheel.

Ever objective, I’ll admit we have to be very careful not to sound too gushy, familiar or one-eyed in a review. Why? Because the wheels we are testing today are indeed the second pair of Black Inc Thirty Fours we’ve chosen to be riding since late 2022. 

Fitted as standard to the Factor Ostro Race Gravel bike we reviewed in the January / February edition and now on this website (just use the search box on the top right corner of the home page), Factor also sent a second wheelset to review on the bike of our choice.

We tested the wheels on a variety of bikes and with tyres from 32 through to 40mm – they proved very impressive and genuine in all manner of test environments.

And, to be brutally honest, as soon as that second pair arrived I swapped out my own personal wheels for the Black Incs and don’t plan on removing them anytime soon. Those nameless wheels were impressive, but nothing compared to these babies.

Over the past few months we’ve ridden the Thirty Fours on bikes including BMC’s impressive all-road / light gravel one-bike solution, the Roadmachine X, along with Chapter 2’s new race gravel specific KAHA.

Yes, the theme here is gravel and we can hand on heart say the Thirty Four wheelset have seen well in excess of their fair share of it since Christmas. 

Tested in numerous locations and on a wide range of surfaces, the wheels have spun hundreds of thousands of revolutions and been party to many thrills plus a couple of unfortunate spills.

The findings in four words? Faultless, silky smooth, sublime.

And in a little more detail? 

Out of the box, the wheels look slick yet subtle and have a modern, minimalist feel. They are finished in a stylish matt/ gloss black and certainly complemented the look and blended well with the three very different bikes with rode them on – the aforementioned Factor Ostro gravel, BMC Roadmachine X and Chapter 2. 

On that, there’s nothing worse than a mismatched wheelset; wheels that just don’t look quite right with whatever frameset you are riding. Wheels really do make the bike – so far as overall aesthetics go, it can be heartbreaking to see a stunning bike let down with a mediocre wheelset.

Finished in low-sheen matt black and with sublte grey graphics, the Thirty Fours complimented the overall look of each of the bikes we used them on.

At 34mm the Black Inc gravel-specific offering seems to perfectly bridge the too shallow / too deep divide. Depth wise, we’ve found them to exhibit the aero and efficiency attributes of a deeper wheelset. 

At the same time, we’ve found them to be noticeably less susceptible to cross winds than other 35 to 40mm wheelsets we’ve ridden. 

To all-important weight, and out of the box we weighed the wheels at just under 1500g – impressive considering the strength and durability aspects touted by Black Inc. 

You need to have a little sympathy for gravel-specific wheelsets, we sure do expect a lot from them. To seamlessly morph from fast, smooth bitumen to a craggy, rock-strewn country lane is a hell of a lot to ask of 700g (front) and 800g (rear) hoops of carbon laced with 24 lightweight spokes per piece. 

At 25mm wide (internal), the wheels are tubeless ready and have been optimised for 30+mm tyres.

We’ve bunnyhopped the bitumen and hit the gravel many, many times on these and are yet to experience even the most minor of problems or concerns. 

We have also crashed them, at speed and on loose gravel. With the bike cartwheeling several times through the air prior to landing heavily on its side, the bars and shifters ended up facing opposite directions and frameset sported some unfortunate scuffs, but the wheels continued to spin factory true.

The Heart Of The Thirty Fours

At the heart of the Black Inc Thirty Four wheels are some of the world’s best bike bearings, those from Ceramic Speed. These handmade Silicon Nitride ceramic balls surpass traditional steel bearings in every way, and are fitted as standard and the only factory option on Black Inc wheels. 

The Thirty Fours come factory fitted with some of the world’s best bearings and hubs, those from Ceramic Speed.

Far from a scientific test in lab conditions, we gave the crank a solid quarter turn push and saw more than 1m 30 seconds on the timer. And that was with 40mm Goodyear Connectors fitted with tubeless sealant. They do spin very nicely and are incredibly smooth on the road.

A hookless profile rim, we found fitting various tubeless road and gravel tyres a simple and frustration-free affair. We were able to seat tyres with a high volume floor pump and found, over time, pressures to remain satisfactory between rides.

The Thirty Fours feature a 25mm internal width and are 30mm across externally. The hoops are laced to the Ceramic Speed hubs with industry leading Sapim CX flat spokes. Talking the spokes, we found tension – both out of the box and after several months of use – to be excellent.

Summing up, with literally hundreds of carbon wheels out there – and more and more options each year – the Black Inc Thirty Four’s slot straight into the top 10 per cent of the market. 

They are light, strong, fast, incredibly reliable and surprisingly versatile. Yes, they retail a lot higher than many options. But, with so much riding on wheels, and after several months of intense testing, we feel feel they are a sound investment.  

More at www.blackinc.cc

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