Last we left the review time of the Astral Wanderlust wheels I was putting the question out there, “Is it worth it?”. I mean to say, are wheels like this an upgrade to a decent stock wheel on a moderately priced gravel bike?
When we think about wheel upgrades, it pretty much always centers around weight. Aero is more and more a thought for gravel, but those types of wheels are typically heavier than shallower rims made in the same way.
I have swapped out mountain bike wheel sets that shaved a full pound off of the stock wheels. That is a lot. Depending on where that weight is cut from the wheel assembly, one pound of rotating weight is pretty significant.
I have never used a seriously light gravel wheel set. The lightest I have ridden would be in the 1550g range. But those were well built and fast feeling wheels. I could feel it.
The Wanderlusts are not that much lighter than the OE wheels on the Masi, losing 1/2 pound in the trade. They are no wider or carbon or aero or even that fancy looking. These are, if you will ‘tradesman’ wheels.
First of all, the hub, as mentioned before in the first post, is based on a White Industries hub and while this one has a steel freehub and not Ti, it’s just a little bit of weight added and some money saved going with steel. The Enduro bearings inside the hub are top notch. The spoke tension on the build was dead on, at least it was to my musician’s ear.
They run tubeless better than the stock wheels did in that they were easier to get any tire I used (4 different sets) to catch with a floor pump (except one actually, now that I think about it…but that was the tires working against me).
So these Astral Wanderlust wheels are not flashy, not super light, not aero, not carbon, not wider, and are kind of expensive at a grand-ish cost. But back to my original question…can I tell and is it worth it? When I come off of the stock wheels, do I go “wheeeee!!!” or just go riding?
Well, pretty much just go riding. Not that much ‘whee‘ going on.
It’s not always ‘whee’ that we are looking for. Maybe what we want is a wheel to cross a county on. Or a continent on. Or a world. And so flash is second to longevity, value, and solid, long days in the saddle. And I do think that the Wanderlusts hit that mark. Now, I could tell a difference when riding them, I bet mostly due to the better spoke tension, as they were a bit more snappy when the skinny pedals were pressed. But it was subtle.
What was not subtle was the easier tubeless use. I had to fight a bit with the OE wheels. The Astral Wanderlusts were simple to air up. It’s a wheel where you could get a broken spoke back into play without hidden nipples. The hub, I bet, is something you could run a long time and never worry about a failure.
I would not be in a hurry to run a carbon wheel for real adventure stuff where you are out there in the middle of nowhere. Aluminum I can beat back semi straight with a big stick and limp along but seriously broken carbon? Got glue?
So I guess it comes down to priorities and what you value most. I have seldom been as impressed by wheel response as I have with the Rolf-Prima wheels I have used, the ones with the paired spoke design. There is something special going on there. Astral is the kid brother to the Rolf-Prima line. But Astral is a more traditional design and I will say that they did not sparkle for me quite like the Rolf-Prima versions have. But what about long term use and replacement/repair? It’s something to consider.
For instance, I would be less excited about taking a Rolf-Prima wheel with that unique spoke pattern across Spain. Or Alaska. Or down the Continental Divide route. I don’t think it would simply fail due to any design weakness…those are strong wheels…but stuff happens and if I were to wad one up in upper-nowhere-ville, I would be hard pressed to find a rim sitting in a bike shop to match it. But Astral? Sure enough. No worries.
My last real ride on the Astral Wanderlust wheels was a 50+ mile gravel event in the Sierras near Bass Lake, CA. It had 36 miles of climbing before we ever needed our brakes. Then there was a fast and rough downhill with enough stutter bumps to get wheels in the air at speed. Then an even faster and amazing paved descent leading to 10 miles of rolling road work around Bass Lake. I never found myself thinking they were holding me back and after many local rides and miles, they never went out of true or treated me badly.
At The Finish: So there I leave it for you to decide. I found these wheels to be an improvement in several ways as I called out above. Do I think they are ‘worth it’? I do, but if I were writing the check, I would spend a bit extra and go for the Hyalites from Rolf-Prima. They always made me go ‘whee’ just a bit more, and at my age, I will take all the ‘whee‘ I can get.
In a world full of me-too Asian sourced wheels, there are still a few US based builders like Astral that can give you options and build you a set of high quality wheels that meet your needs. Astral is not full custom, but pretty close to it and in my way of thinking, close enough for most all of us.
Note: Astral Wheels sent over a pair of the wanderlust wheels to riding Gravel for test and review at no charge. We were not paid, nor bribed for this review and we always strive to give our honest thoughts and views throughout.