Atomik/Berd Ultimate Gravel Wheels: Getting Rolling

Atomik/Berd Ultimate Gravel Wheels: Getting Rolling – by Guitar Ted

A pair of Atomik/Berd Ultimate Carbon gravel wheels
The Atomik/Berd Ultimate Gravel wheel set laced to Industry 9 Torch Hubs.

There are times when two are better than one, and in the case of Berd spokes and Atomik carbon rims, the hope is that these two working together can be better than they were working separately. Berd Spokes have been making their radical spokes from an advanced polymer since 2015. Atomik Carbon has been around for several years also, designing rims and selling pre-built wheel sets using premium hubs and spokes for several years. The combination of Atomik Carbon and Berd Spokes happened earlier this year, and one of the results of this collaboration is the new Atomik/Berd Ultimate Gravel wheel set.

Detail of the Berd spokes on the Atomic/Berd Ultimate Gravel wheels
You can easily see the braided nature of the material used to make these spokes.

Atomik can build with the Berd spokes using a selection of four of their carbon fiber rims. We chose the GR28 rims since the recommended tire widths for this rim, 28mm-47mm, fall well within the range for use by gravel/back road riders. That said, they have rims suitable for even wider tires which also can be built with the Berd spokes. There is one choice, the G26, which is lighter than the rim we picked out as well.

What It Is: Carbon fiber rims are not anything newsworthy in and of themselves. We all have seen those before, but the combination of a carbon fiber rim with a good feature set with the radical Berd spoke is not something most folks will have heard of before. What is a Berd spoke anyway? Well, as alluded to earlier, it is an advanced polymer material dubbed “ultra high molecular weight polyethylene”. This material has been used in high-weight bearing joint replacements in humans, industrial applications, and even as lining for dump trucks. When it is enhanced with carbon nanotubes, it gains even more strength and its properties become attractive for use in a structural sense- like spokes for wheels, let’s say.

To keep this article under control here, I will get to the salient points which pricked up my ears when taking a look at the Atomok/Berd Ultimate Gravel wheels.

  • Lighter spoke weight: Berd estimates a weight savings of anywhere from 100-200 grams per wheel set.
  • Stronger than steel: Berd claims the spokes have a 12 time gain in strength to weight ratio over traditional steel spokes. Furthermore; the fatigue life is “significantly improved” and the Berd spokes are impervious to the elements.
  • Great Damping Qualities: Berd claims that their spokes provide 200% better damping of vibrations than steel spokes.
Detail of spoke end and nipple on an Atomik/Berd Ultimate Gravel wheel set.
The wheels use traditional spoke nipples (Left arrow), but a special tool must be used on special wrench flats on the spoke end to true the wheels to keep the spoke from twisting (Right arrow)

First Impressions: The wheel arrived in what I must say is perhaps the worst box I’ve seen for a wheel to be shipped in. I’ve been in the bike business for 20 years, so this is saying something. Fortunately, the Atomik/Berd Ultimate wheels were none the worse for wear.

Detail of the hub flange and spokes on an Atomik/Berd Ultimate Gravel wheel set
Here you can clearly see the looped end and short “rod” used to keep the loop from pulling through the hub flange. Note the special radius mod to the spoke holes.

The wheels were immediately removed from the wretched box and noted for their very light weight. These samples were laced in Berd’s strict way which requires three tensioning sessions and a 24 hour layover period to allow the braided polymer fibers to stretch and bed in. Usually Berd spokes are white, but we have the special edition black ones on our wheels. They look rather odd, at first glance, and seem made out of shoe string looking material until you touch them, then you realize this is something quite different. The 28 spokes sound sort of like steel spokes when you pluck them, but the sound doesn’t sustain like steel. Maybe there is something to their claims of better damping?

Detail of the Atomik carbon rim
The Atomik Carbon rims use a hookless bead design.

While Atomik claims some ridiculously light weights on their stock Berd wheels, we chose a different rim, which we were told was a touch heavier. This wheel set clocked in right at 1400 grams for the pair. Not bad. These were laced to Industry 9 Torch hubs by the way. 12mm through axle compatible- of course. You can choose from several decal set colors and ours came with white ones.

The wheels come to the customer pre-taped for tubeless with valve stems. Ours were taped, but we did not see any valve stems, which by the looks of the box, could have easily been lost or…..? Either way, Riding Gravel provided some and we got these set up with the Hutchinson Touareg 700 X 45mm tires we have on test. Airing the tires up was a floor pump job and nothing more. The inner rim width of 22.5mm isn’t ‘cutting edge’ for gravel going rims, but it is an acceptable width and should work okay with the most popular gravel tire sizes. The rim depth is 35.5mm, for the record.

Detail of the Industry 9 Torch free hub body.
Atomik laced the Berd spokes to the Industry 9 Torch hubs.

The sound of the I-9 free hub is a familiar buzz. If you’ve ever been around them, you know that sound. However; with the damping qualities of the spokes, and no doubt also to the carbon rims to some extent, the I-9 hub sounded different. I noticed it straight away. Interesting…… There is something going on with these wheels in the damping department, for sure. That was evident upon the first few “getting to know you” rides I did. I’ll have more to say after I get on some good, longer gravel rides in my “Checkpoint” update.

So Far….. The Atomik/Berd Ultimate wheels are made with a somewhat familiar rim material, but laced with the unusual Berd spokes, which have claims of lighter weight, but more importantly, strength and damping qualities for the rider. At a starting price of $1700.00 for a wheel set and up, depending upon options spec’ed, the Atomik rims with these Berd spokes have some stiff competition, so the claims are important. The rims aren’t the really wide inner width types being pushed out by many companies, but that makes these wheels a bit more appropriate for less wide tires, which should make this wheel set a bit more versatile.

Stay tuned for the next update where the claims by Atomik/Berd will be put to the test.

Note: Atomik Carbon sent out the Atomik/Berd Ultimate Gravel wheels for test and review at no charge to Riding Gravel. We were not bribed, nor paid for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.


Author: Guitar Ted

Guitar Ted hails from Iowa. Home of over 70,000 miles of gravel and back roads. An inaugural member of the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame and Co-creator of Trans Iowa in late 2004- Guitar Ted has been at the forefront of the growth of gravel events and riding since then. Creator of Gravel Grinder News in 2008, he produced the premier calendar of gravel and back road events. GT joined forces with Riding Gravel in late 2014.

Related Articles

4 thoughts on “Atomik/Berd Ultimate Gravel Wheels: Getting Rolling

  1. The weight difference is hard to believe.
    64 2.0-1.8-2.0 260mm spokes weigh ~365g (320g for 56 spokes)
    2.0-1.5-2.0 are ~285g (250g)
    Straight gauge 2.0 430g (376g)
    Yes, spokes for 700C wheels will be longer, but the Berd spokes still need to be nearly weightless for that much savings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.