Astral Wanderlust Wheels: Getting Rolling – by Grannygear
There have been a lot of recent reports and discussions on how much of a difference ‘better’ wheels (we will define better later on) make on a bicycle and if they are worth the cost of the upgrade. Do lighter wheels actually matter? Is aero everything? Are red hubs really faster? It’s a puzzlement! By the way, red hubs are not faster.
Purple ones are.
And I might add that the stock wheels on bikes are getting better. At one point they were not even tubeless ready; now they pretty much are, at least at some price point.
What I am looking for from wheel upgrades are weight savings, build quality, and hub quality. Excellent tubeless-ness is a given. That should not even be in doubt these days. For gravel, I have my thoughts about the merits of trying to be aero with a wheel set, but it’s not going to hurt you if you run a deeper carbon wheel for gravel. How much it helps though…I am skeptical.
And I do expect to feel an improvement over stock wheels when I upgrade. ‘Feel’ is a nebulous term, but you know it when it happens, so one hopes for a snappier response and lots of problem free spin cycles when you spend the cash for new wheels. For instance, both of the Rolf-Prima wheel sets I have reviewed gave immediate impressions of a smooth roll out and a snappy acceleration.
So when the Masi Brunello GRX22 came along, it seemed like a good time to get onto some upgrade worthy wheels. Because what if, when I swap wheels, I cannot tell a difference? What then? What if that money was better kept in the checking account? Because the stock wheels on this bike are not junk.
Or at least they seem not to be. They are tubeless ready and have an offset rim of decent width. The bike designer told me he upgraded the bearing quality in the hubs as well. But for the cost of the bike, you know that the wheels are modest in regards to weight savings…they have to be. Light weight AND strength costs money.
So I reached out to one of my favorite wheel companies, Rolf-Prima, and we looked at the Astral line of wheels to see what they had in stock and what would be worthwhile for the Masi as an upgrade. Astral is their more ‘traditional’ wheel brand, not like the paired spoking arrangement of the Rolf-Prima wheels I have enjoyed using. These are 28 spoked wheels. We settled on the Wanderlust 700c model wheels with the Approach hubs
From the Astral website:
All-roads, All Day.
The Wanderlust is a gravel wheel ready for epic mixed-surface rides or cyclocross. With an internal width of 22mm, it’s the “Goldilocks” wheelset offering easy frame clearance without compromising the ability to run a wide range of tire sizes. We improve the stiffness, strength and longevity of a wheel by using an asymmetric (ASYM) rim design than improves spoke tension balance by up to 30%.
Our best-selling wheelset, it is available in 700c/29” and 650b/27.5” options.
Our Approach hubset is built for Astral Cycling by long-time partner White Industries. It includes the same internal mechanisms as their classic CLD hub, but features a bomber heat-treated steel freehub body at a nominal 28 gram weight sacrifice.
All Astral Cycling wheels are hand-build in Eugene, Oregon and feature Tubeless Easy rims you can easily set up at home.Need a special build? We can do that. Contact us for dream-builds or rebuilds and we’ll make it happen. Services also available through dealers.
Astral Approach Hub Build
- ASYM alloy clincher. 700c or 650b – Disc specific
- Rim Depth: 23mm asymmetric [ASYM]
- Rim Width: [ex] 25mm, [in] 22mm
- Tubeless ready
- Weight: 700c – 1690g, 650b – 1640g
- Brake type: Disc brake, Center Lock
- Spoke count: 28/28
- Spoke type: Sapim CX Speed, bladed
- Hubset: Astral Approach – Center Lock
- Hub Body: Center Lock, CNC machined in Petaluma CA by White Industries
- Bearing: Enduro Stainless
- Front Axle Options: Boost (15mm, 12mm), 15mm, 12mm, 9mm
- Rear Axle Options: Boost 148mm/ Boost 141mm QR, 142mm/ 135mm QR
- Freehub Options: Shimano HG11, SRAM XDR or Shimano Micro Spline
- Freehub Material: CNC machined, case hardened steel, electroless nickel plated
- Tire size recommendation: See chart in product images
Includes: Taped for tubeless, tubeless valves and Astral’s Certainty
At a grand in cost, the Approach wheels are not cheap and begin to get close to some of the lower priced carbon wheels out there. But I find a high quality alloy wheel to be very viable and these are hand built with very good spokes. The bladed Sapim spokes add a bit of coolness to the build. But what can set one wheel apart from another are the hubs and that is a bit of a black box mystery as hubs pretty much look the same from the outside. But it’s the insides that count. Note that Astral specs these with Enduro bearings which are about as good as it gets.
I remember having a conversation with Gary Fisher (yeah…THAT Gary Fisher) and he said that a hub is one of the hardest things to design and build well. Bearing quality, axle and shell rigidity (leading to smoothness), pawl design, spoke angle, sealing, etc, etc. There is a lot going on there. And while you can replace a damaged rim without a lot of cost, if the hub dies, it’s time to start over. New wheel, please.
Among hub builders, there are some that simply stand out. Chris King for sure. DT Swiss. And White Industries. Others, too. Dura Ace even. But White Industries is at the top of my list with a line of road and MTB hubs that spin like glass and last for years. Astral uses WI built internals for this wheel set and substitutes a steel freehub body for the normal titanium one found on the WI hubs. A cost saving move as the same wheel with the Ti freehub body is $200.00 more.
Aluminum freehub bodies are lighter but unless they have some sort of steel insert, they tend to gouge where the cassette cogs sit and that can make getting the cassette off a pain.
Out of the box the Wanderlust wheels weighed 796g/F and 957g/R with tape and stems. That is 1,753g. Not that impressive in this market of 1500g wheel sets, but not portly either. The stock wheels weighed in at 862g/F and 1111g/R for a total of 1,973g. That is a 220g savings or around half a pound.
The graphics on the rims are stickers, not a printed on logo, so that is good if you like an unbranded wheel but bad if you like a branded wheel because stickers tend to get beat up over time.
Spinning the hub axle on both wheel sets showed no issues, both are smooth. I am betting the Enduro bearings stay that way longer. The spoke tension on the stock wheels varied greatly though as a bit of harp playing showed big differences in *ping* sounds. Some were ping and some were plunk. The Wanderlust wheel ‘played’ like a tuned instrument. That matters. An evenly tensioned wheel (with higher tension as well) will tend to stay true and feel more snappy in accelerations.
I mounted up a set of Panaracer Gravel King SKs in the 43mm size and those went on with a floor pump. I also tried the same tires on the stocker wheels and I needed to use a shop compressor to get the tires seated. So there is that.
Lately I have been running a faster set of tires in the WTB 40mm Byways (measured 38mm) and those mounted on the Astrals with little effort and I have some new Kendas in the box that will be on test soon. More to come on those.
So we shall get these Astral Wanderlust wheels out on the roads and see if it matters, all this money spent on new wheels. Is it worth it? Well, that depends. I think it is, but we will have that discussion later on because there might be a big old ‘it depends’ in there somewhere.