Tuff Exo 30-38 wheels: lighter than Zipp's 202 NSW for half the price

Hands-on first look at Aussie carbon clinchers with Carbon Matrix spokes

Tuff is a new wheel brand hailing from Melbourne that's touting some almost-too-light-to-be-true carbon clinchers, and unique carbon spokes.

We’ve just got our hands on a set of Tuff's Exo 30-38 clinchers, which are claimed to weigh just 1,260g.

Highlights

  • Carbon Matrix Spokes
  • Proprietary hub
  • 18.5mm internal rim width
  • 30mm/38mm deep
  • Tubeless ready
  • Actual weight 1310g with rim strips
  • £1460 / $1850 / AU$2050

As you can imagine when dealing with claims like this, the first thing we did when the wheels arrived was weigh them, and by our scale the Exo clinchers came in at 580g for the front and 730g for the rear, making for a grand total of 1,310g — 50g over the claimed weight, but still pretty damn close.

Tuff makes quite a big deal about the weight of their wheels, and when I asked the firm's technical director Phillip Paton about the discrepancy he asked if I'd weighed them with the rim strips. These rims are tubeless ready, and with the rim strips removed equated to 40g per wheel bringing us to a grand total of 1,230g. That said, to set them up tubeless you’ll need Stan's tape and valves, which will, of course, add back at least that much weight.

Our test samples weigh 1310g with the standard rim strips and 1230g without
Our test samples weigh 1310g with the standard rim strips and 1230g without

Even being slightly over the claimed weight with the standard rim strips, that makes the Tuff Exo clinchers lighter than Campagnolo's Bora Ultra 35 (1370g), Mavic’s Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL C carbon clincher (1,390g), and Zipp’s 202 NSW (1,375g). What’s more, priced at £1,460 / $1,850 / AU$2,050 for the set, including skewers, valve extenders and brake pads, they cost about the same as what a front wheel from the wheelsets above would set you back.

The rims themselves are based on an open-mould design, but Paton tells us Tuff has used a proprietary layup to keep the weight of the rotating mass low.

With an 18.5mm internal width, they’re very much on-trend and have a 'business in the front party in the back' configuration, with the front wheel measuring 30mm deep and the rear 38mm deep. Both wheels see a toroidal rim shape and, given the low profile, we can’t imagine side winds will present much of an issue.

The front wheel is 30mm deep while the rear is 38 aka the mullet
The front wheel is 30mm deep while the rear is 38 aka the mullet

Who needs steel when you've got carbon?

It’s the tensioned Carbon Matrix Spokes, however, that intrigued us from the start. For those keeping score at home, carbon spokes aren't exactly an innovation – Mavic has been using them on its R-Sys wheelset since they were launched, and even Sapim released a CX Carbon spoke in 2015, though it never caught on.

"The key difference here is Mavic’s spokes are 6mm hollow carbon tubes which are not tensioned and work off of compression instead," Paton told BikeRadar. "Our Carbon Matrix spokes, on the other hand, are 2mm and tensioned like a normal spoke. They weigh about half what a standard steel spoke does."

Tuff Cycle uses tensioned 2mm carbon spokes on its wheels
Tuff Cycle uses tensioned 2mm carbon spokes on its wheels

According to Paton, the Carbon Matrix Spokes are also pretty strong. He said the spokes are rated to take a tensile load of 250kg, but that quite a few spokes tested achieved well over 300kg. Standard steel spokes are usually tesnsioned between 100 and 110kg in a built wheel.

This has allowed Tuff to string the Exo clinchers with 18 spokes on the front wheel and 21 at the back, further reducing weight, while also claiming to maintain a stiff, robust wheel. That said, they do also come with a 100kg rider max weight.

The Carbon Matrix Spokes are straight pull, but also see a proprietary spoke head, meaning they also need a proprietary hub flange
The Carbon Matrix Spokes are straight pull, but also see a proprietary spoke head, meaning they also need a proprietary hub flange

Given the unique nature of these spokes, instead of a standard straight-pull head, they require a proprietary connection to a proprietary hub, as well as non-standard 6mm external nipples — replacements are available on request.

We're also a bit uneasy about seeing carbon spokes on the drive side of the rear wheel. Carbon is generally more fragile than steel, and the chain does pose a potentially expensive threat to spokes on that side.

The wheels come with skewers, brake pads and valve extenders
The wheels come with skewers, brake pads and valve extenders

Each wheelset is hand built to order, and so the rims finish and decal colours can be customised, and come with a three-year warranty.

We'll be putting these through the paces over the next few months – keep an eye out for the full review.

Colin Levitch

Staff Writer, Australia
Originally from Denver, Colorado, Colin now resides in Sydney, Australia. Holding a media degree, Colin is focused on the adventure sport media world. Coming from a ski background, his former European pro father convinced him to try collegiate crit racing. Although his bright socks say full roadie, he enjoys the occasional mountain bike ride, too.
  • Discipline: Road, mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Tarmac mountain climbs into snow-covered hills
  • Current Bikes: BMC TeamMachine SLR01, Trek Top Fuel 9
  • Dream Bike: Mosaic Cycles RT-1
  • Beer of Choice: New Belgium La Folie
  • Location: Sydney, Australia

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