Black Inc is the component arm of Factor bikes, a brand that has never shied away from doing things differently. It has been responsible for radical designs such as the Vis Vires, with its split down tube, and the current aero-optimised One race bike.
The Five wheelset certainly comes from the same school of thought as those outside-the-box bikes. Its one-piece, five-spoke carbon design ignores the UCI rules in the singular pursuit of being a fast set of road wheels.
It packages up all the characteristics anyone could want from aerodynamic wheels – but the distinctive design comes at a high price.
Black Inc Five specifications
At £3,150, the Black Inc Five wheelset is one of the most expensive wheelsets around today.
Despite that high price, it can’t be raced at any UCI-sanctioned mass-start races, where approved wheels must have a minimum of 12 spokes, with no dimension of their sections exceeding 10mm.
So, you won’t see top-tier riders using the Fives, but that wasn’t Black Inc’s intention.
Instead, it set out to create a wheelset with the aerodynamic advantage of a deeper set of aero wheels (such as the Zipp 404 Firecrest or ENVE SES 5.6), but with the weight of a lightweight climbing wheelset.
Black Inc claims a weight of 1,318g for a pair of Five wheels, but after adding in the essentials of tubeless tape and valves, my test set tipped the scales at 1,412.9g (643.3g front, 769.6g rear).
The wheels are constructed in one piece – the hookless rim, spokes and hub shells are all created from carbon fibre.
The carbon construction combines highly impact-resistant ‘Textreme’ fibres, high-modulus Nippon Graphite pitch-based fibres and Toray carbon.
The Textreme material is claimed to provide strength equal to standard carbon, but at a much lower weight. Meanwhile, the Nippon Graphite material is said to produce greater stiffness than standard carbon, but can absorb more mechanical energy.
Black Inc says the Toray carbon offers unifying strength throughout the structure.
The Five’s shape combines a 30mm-deep rim with a 21mm internal width. The rim shape uses a NACA aerofoil-based form that transitions into the five spokes.
Each spoke transitions from an Aerofoil shape at the rim to a directional Kammtail (a truncated aerofoil) shape, and onwards into the oversized aerodynamic hub shell.
The rear-hub internals are designed in collaboration with CeramicSpeed and built around CeramicSpeed bearings. The wheels are available with Shimano HG and SRAM XDR freehub bodies.
Freehub engagement comes in at six degrees, which on paper is plenty quick enough to be responsive.
Black Inc Five performance
Tyre fitting was easy, and the hookless rim provides a rapid seal, even with the use of a standard track pump.
I must admit to being initially sceptical about the ride of the Fives. Historically, one-piece wheels like this have been a mixed bag, from the harsh ride of Spin’s mid-90s tri-spokes to the flexible vagueness of Spinergys (and plenty of long-forgotten alternatives besides).
On the road, however, I came away impressed by the Fives.
The lack of mass is always going to count when you hit the hills, but that’s not the only string to the Five wheelset’s bow. The combination of low weight and impressive lateral rigidity gives it reactive responses, pulsing forward with every pedal stroke.
The Five feels similar to the carbon-spoked Cadex 42 wheelset, in that it feels taught.
When cornering, resolute stiffness comes to the fore, while on exit the wheels spring back to return to straight-line speed. They don’t feel as though they’re robbing any of your momentum.
Perhaps where the Five impresses most is in windy conditions. Although the bladed nature of the five-spoke design might have you thinking the opposite, it shrugs off crosswinds better than many of the mid-height aero wheelsets it’s designed to rival.
It’s hard to quantify aero performance outside of a wind tunnel, but from riding the Five wheelset in varying conditions on one of my own bikes (a Cannondale SuperSix EVO 3), my impression is they’re fast.
It replaced a set of Shimano Ultegra C36 carbon wheels (36mm deep, 21mm internal width), and the Fives have seemed quicker all-round, mainly thanks to impressive handling in the generally windy conditions of a British winter test period.
The ride quality outperformed my expectations, and the torsional stiffness you can feel doesn’t translate into harshness on the road.
Previous rides on one-piece wheels felt either overly harsh or overly flexible. Black Inc has got the balance right, with the Fives feeling remarkably compliant yet still retaining the stiffness I want when it comes to sprints or out-of-the-saddle climbs.
Although I wouldn’t have expected my test period to test the limits of the hubs’ sealing and reliability, they have continued running smoothly throughout the winter. It bodes well for the warmer seasons you’re likely to use this wheelset for.
Black Inc offers just a two-year warranty on the Fives, compared to superior offers from the likes of ENVE (five years) and Zipp (lifetime).
Black Inc Five bottom line
Overall, the Five wheelset offers something very different from the norm. The looks will elicit a love-or-hate reaction, but I can’t argue with the performance.
It feels impressively fast, responsive and stable in challenging conditions.
That it can’t be raced in UCI road race events shouldn’t be of concern (how many of us will ever ride a UCI race, anyway?).
The primary downside of the Five wheelset is the price. A figure of £3,150 is very much at the top end of today’s wheel pricing. It places the Fives alongside ultra-premium wheelsets from ENVE and Zipp.
Naturally, bang-for-buck purchasers will be better off shopping elsewhere.
But if you’re looking for a bit of luxury and to make a design statement for your bike, as well as reaping impressive performance, the Five represents one of the most striking designs available.
|Price||br_price, 5, 3, Price, AUD $5647.00EUR €3383.00GBP £3150.00USD $3599.00|
|Weight||br_weight, 5, 6, Weight, 1,412.9g (700c) – as tested with tubeless tapes and valves, Array, g|
|Brand||br_brand, 5, 10, Brand, Black inc|
|Features||br_Features, 11, 0, Features, Rim material: TeXtreme®, Toray®, Nippon Graphite Pitch-Based Fiber
Claimed weight: 1,318g
|Brake type||br_brakeTypeSimple, 11, 0, Brake type, Disc|
|Freehub||br_freehub, 11, 0, Freehub, Freehub Body Compatibility Specific design compatible with Black Inc FIVE and ZERO 2022 only|
|Hubs||br_hubs, 11, 0, Hubs, Black aluminium machined hub|
|Rim internal width||br_rimInternalWidth, 11, 0, Rim internal width, 21|
|Rim material||br_rimMaterial, 11, 0, Rim material, Carbon|
|Spokes||br_spokes, 11, 0, Spokes, 5 NACA optimized carbon fiber aero spokes at the front and rear|
|Wheel size||br_wheelSize, 11, 0, Wheel size, 29in/700c|