Review: Knight Composites Carbon Clinchers
The wheel market has really exploded in the last few years, with countless new brands trying to distinguish themselves in an ever more crowded market. Names like Dash, FLO, Boyd, and others have come along to compete with stalwarts like Zipp, Hed, and Mavic. One new player that caught my eye was Knight Composites, a brand that has come on the scene and rather aggressively picked up lots of great athletes like Ben Hoffman, Heather Jackson, and more. And although Knight's appearance on the scene may appear to come out of "nowhere," it in fact includes a rock solid team with enormous cycling experience from their collective time working and engineering with companies that include Reynolds, ENVE, Cervelo, and other big names. The palmares of the group is real.
So what's the product story, and what makes it unique? Originally, I wrote the brand off as merely another "me too" brand in the crowded world of wheels. But last year while helping set up Ben Hoffman's Shiv, I got a chance to see the wheels up close, and had a bit of a rude awakening. Usually when setting up a brake for an athlete, I'll start with the stock setup, including our included KoolStop pads. These are perhaps the world's best pads for alloy rims. They usually don't work as well on carbon rims, which are notoriously bad at dissapating heat.
So when testing out Ben's bike, I expected a slightly longer stopping distance when testing the brakes. I gave the levers a good grab, and nearly fell off the bike! I got alloy-quality braking with my standard alloy-specific pads. Something was definitely new here. I perusing Knight's own literature, they boast better braking on their rims due to extra-thick rim sidewalls. According to Knight, most carbon clinchers have a thickness of 1.5mm at the brake track. This seems a plausible claim given the profile images we've seen from the likes of some of the top-tier carbon clincher manufacturers. Knight, on the other hand, uses at least 3mm of wall thickness at the brake track, which they claim helps disappate heat much better under braking loads. Based on my early anecdotal experience, I'd say I believe that claim without hesitation. So I contacted Knight and requested a set of wheels for review, and as usual I chose an asymmetric combo with a 65 up front and a 95 in back.
Carbon Clincher Merits
Further testing with these wheels only proved that out. Knights brake exceptionally well compared to other carbon wheels I've used. It does mean the wheels aren't the lightest on the market, but I'll happily take the extra weight in favor of better braking. The remaining question is whether the additional cost of carbon wheels is worth it, if you're trading off a good bit of their weight advantage just to address a problem that doesn't exist with their alloy counterparts. Would it be better to stick with a hybrid wheel like a FLO, rather than pony up for a full carbon clincher?
My answer to that question is twofold. First, a full carbon clincher offers the chance for precision shaping compared to a hybrid counterpart. That is, you can definitely get a nicer shape if the whole rim is carbon, rather than one that has a step from rim to fairing (even a nicely-refined step as in the case of FLO and HED). So the carbon clincher has the potential to be aerodynamically faster than a hybrid. Whether it is faster is a question we look at below. The second part of the question, about whether the weight trade is a wash -- well, it isn't. The carbon clincher, at least in the case of the Knights, is still going to be significantly lighter than the alloy version. How much specifically will depend on what you're comparing them to, but you can save on the order of hundreds of grams switching from something like a Knight to the comparable-depth FLO wheel, for example.
The sine qua non of aero wheels is, of course, their aerodynamics. So how does Knight stack up in a word of ever-faster hoops on the market? Their own data looks promising, if slightly less robust than I might like to see. A comparative study versus some industry leaders shows great competitive results against Zipp, Mavic, Reynolds, and ENVE. Notably, not every brand is represented in both the 65 and 95 comparisons, leading one to wonder whether unfavorable data was redacted. Also curious is Knight's claim that their rear 95 wheel is faster than a disc at high yaw. Knight would be the first company making such a claim, and I'd love to see other independent testing of such an idea. The industry at large tends to find that a well-designed disc can beat virtually anything.
Regardless of my nitpicks, it's clear that the Knights are a worthy design, aerodynamically and otherwise. They ride beautifully, they brake extremely well, and are priced competitively with their competition. Check out the gallery below for more details and images of these hoops.