BikeRadar first reported on Loopwheels last month, during coverage of the Bespoked Bristol show. Since then, the spokeless suspension concept has thrived via a pledge on crowdsource funding website Kickstarter, smashing an initial £40,000 target.
Loopwheels have clearly captured the imagination of many, and when we were invited to trial out the innovative carbon wheelset both on and off road we jumped at the opportunity. The Loopwheels were installed on a Dahon folding bike, the very same bike you'd receieve if you pledge £950 or more through the Kickstarter project.
Out on the road, the Loopwheels accelerate in a way that you'd expect from a regular 20in wheel. Despite stomping the pedals we were unable to determine any unusual feedback.
While coasting or doing a trackstand, if you pump your bodyweight through both the pedals and bar you can feel the additional compliance the Loopwheels offer over spoked hoops. It's not an easy sensation to describe but we'd say it's not far from the sort of inherit flex a longboard or skateboard provides.
The rear Loopwheel on the Dahon test build
Potholes and gravel paths are smoothed out dramatically. Similarly, road buzz is dialled out to an unusual and satisfying level. We tried our best to upset the wheels both under high speed cornering and violent braking but lateral stifness was never an issue and the steerer/handlebar assembly of the Dahon test bike was flexing considerably before the wheels even got the chance to.
The only real negative we experienced was an occasional creaking from the Loopwheels, something that designer Sam Pearce is aware of and is currently addressing for production models.
We were also invited to trial freshly assembled Loopwheels on an off-road test mule. It was certainly a unique build – starting off life as a Cannondale Hooligan, it now runs a pair of Loopwheels, complete with a hydraulic disc at the rear and an 8-speed hub gear.
The front end of the off-road bike really was impressive, a combination of the travel offered by the Loopwheels and the use of Schwalbe's Mow Joe BMX tyre resulted in predictable traction and a level of comfort that a 20in-wheeled rigid bike probably shouldn't be able to provide.
The Loopwheels off-road test mule
The rear end felt similar but not quite as confidence inspiring, occasionally feeling a little spikey. Designer Sam Pearce knew the exact issue – in order to make way for the 8-speed hub gear, a small amount of material had to be removed from the carbon limbs of the wheel, altering the spring rate and ride characteristics considerably.
Yet this first effort clearly demonstrated just how much extra capability Loopwheels can add to a rigid bike. We managed to ride red-graded mountain bike trails on a 20in urban bike at a respectable pace, while having fun to boot.
In their current form, the Loopwheels are a useful and unique solution for those who want to add comfort and versatility to a compatible bike.
Now is an exciting time for Sam and Gemma Pearce, the couple behind the Loopwheels project – the Kickstarter cash injection will ensure the tooling necessary to get the product on the market. Complete build Dahon folders equipped with Loopwheels will soon be available; expect a price of somewhere around the £1,200 mark.
Meanwhile, development of Loopwheels in other sizes will also continue, with 26in and 29in versions already in the pipeline. If one thing's for sure it's that we haven't heard the end of this story. Sam Pearce has succesfully reinvented the wheel!