Cyclocross wheels don't generally differ from road wheels by that much, but it's the little details that can make one set better than another. If you're an early adopter of disc brakes, HED's new Stinger 5 FR Center Lock wheels are just about spot on for hitting the barriers.
Cyclocross is all about tires (and pressure, and glue…) and the Stinger 5 FR Center Lock's fat carbon rim offers an excellent foundation for high-volume tubulars. The tire bed measures 23mm across (about 2 to 4mm wider than traditional road rims), for more bond area, while its relatively large diameter curve also matches up better to typical cyclocross-sized casings.
Indeed, we had no trouble gluing a set of 33mm wide Dugast Rhinos to our test wheelset, and even at around 22psi they held tight, with only modest casing roll on hard corners.
While aerodynamics don't play as much of a role in cyclocross as they do on the road, HED says the Stinger's 28mm maximum width produces less drag than rims with narrower or straighter sidewalls when paired with typical road-sized tires. In this case, though, what we noticed most was the wheels' ability to cut through deep sand without bogging down as a box-section hoop would.
We also found the Stinger 5 FR Center Lock's 50mm deep, all carbon rims very stiff and responsive both torsionally and laterally. Vibration damping is very good as well, but there isn't much in the way of actual flexon tap here, so extra-bumpy courses might call for a shallower rim for a softer ride.
HED foregoes the carbon fiber center sections of its other FR-level wheelsets on the Stinger 5 FR Center Lock, instead opting for all-aluminum construction that's likely better equipped to handle disc brakes' more severe torsional loads.
The cartridge bearing hubs roll smoothly and are splined for Center Lock rotors
Nevertheless, the hubs (135mm rear OLD) are admirably smooth rolling and also fitted with grease ports throughout for effortless servicing. Simply spin the aluminum covers around the body, remove the set screw, then pump the bearings full of fresh grease – a godsend procedure for a sport that involves so much mud and pressurized water.
Granted, you'll have to remove the cassette to access the grease port on the freehub body. But, in fairness, other hubs would require much more work to access those bearings.
There are no accessibility issues when it comes to truing, however, as HED graciously places the aluminum nipples outside the rim, meaning there's no need to strip the tire just to straighten things out a bit.
Complaints are relatively minor and few in number. While much of the weight is concentrated around the hubs so they feel fleeter than the numbers would suggest, we still wish the Stinger 5 FR Center Lock wheels were a little lighter than 1,606g for the set (756g front, 850g rear, plus 85g for skewers).
In addition, engagement speed on the 27T rear freehub driver is somewhat so-so, at 13.3 degrees. And while the included titanium skewers look nice (and are light) the external cam design generates too much friction and too little clamping force for our liking.
We weren't big fans of the external-cam skewers