Product Courtesy of Hup Leong Company
When you see a Crank Brothers Cobalt zip past you, you are sure to be attracted by its stunning colour scheme and sheer beauty. Crank Brothers are renowned for manufacturing cycling products that are both practical and beautiful, proving that beauty need not only be skin deep.
The Cobalt deviates from the fundamental design of conventional wheelsets in a bid to build a stronger yet lighter wheel. This is a gutsy move by Crank Brothers given that conventional wheel design is a result from decades of refinement. However, they are not the pioneer venturing into similar new territory either. Previous attempts by other manufacturers have been met with lukewarm success. So, will the Cobalt be the benchmark of future wheelsets? I guess only time will tell. For now, I am happy to get my hands on the most exciting wheelsets since my old Crossmax.
Blue with Envy
First thing everyone noticed, is the striking blue colour on the Cobalt. While this has absolutely no impact on its performance, I felt that Crank Brothers has made a great choice from a marketing perspective. Firstly, there aren’t many other wheelsets with similar colour theme. More importantly, the cool colour scheme leaves a deep impression and helps the wheels to “advertise” for itself.
Looks aside, instead of following conventional, 3-cross or straight, lacing method, with the spoke nipples attached to the rim, the Cobalt runs on 12 pairs of symmetrical “elongated nipples” which are attached to the hubs instead. On the rim end, each pair of spoke heads end on a fin like protrusion from the rim surface, keeping the rim free from any drilling. The idea of concentrating the weight of the spokes and nipples into the centre of the wheel is not a new one. The first company I knew of is Pulstar way back in the 1990s. Spinergy also adopted similar concept on their Spox wheelset. The purpose of concentrating the weight is to reduce rotational weight on the circumference of the wheel and therefore improving acceleration. The idea of elongated nipples is fresh though. The oversized 7075 T6 alloy nipples help to provide extra strength to the wheelset and spread the forces over a larger area, preventing premature failure at the hub area. Last but not least, Crank Brothers also cleverly avoided drilling any holes on the 6061 T6 rims to preserve its structural integrity. After all, the rims are only as strong as its weakest point. In all, what you get is a lightweight XC wheelset which is built to withstand the rigor of all that the trail can throw at it.
The Cobalt weighed in at 1,540 grams (688 grams front and 852 grams rear), which is pretty respectable in this price range and close to competitors’ offering. It is compatible with tubeless tires and 6 bolt rotors right out of the box. The wheels came standard with a 17mm front and 25mm rear axle. Axles are drilled to fit the standard 9mm quick release skewers. A 15mm conversion kit is available as an aftermarket option. Included in the package is also Crank Brothers own two-stage, split quick-release skewer that allows user to use a lesser force when releasing the wheels.
Despite its narrow 19mm rim profile, it was easy enough for me to install my 2.2 and 2.4 Continental Mountain King on these babies. In fact the tires sat in nicely the first time round. I was not running tubeless on these wheels, so I could not tell how well it would hold air without any sealant.
The six pawl rear hub was roaring away the moment I kick-off. It was almost as loud as a Chris King and some might find it annoying. I started my first ride being real gentle to the wheelset as I have installed this lightweight hoop onto my all-mountain 5-inch travel full suspension bike. But my worry was mooted quickly. Wrapped with aggressive 2.4 and 2.2 inch rubber, I began to ride them like I normally would. After 6 weeks on them, including one Malaysia ride, the Cobalt still needed no trueing and asked to be ridden more. The hubs kept on rolling effortlessly and picking up good speed whenever they could. When it comes to stiffness, I find them a plenty stiff and they are on par with comparable wheelset offered by competitors.
Nonetheless, if you looking for a tougher wheelset and do not mind minor weight gain, the Cobalt’s brothers, Iodine and Sage, are built beefier for All-Mountain and Downhill application respectively.
The Cobalt is beautifully machined and performed flawlessly as per its intended application. As a cross-country racing wheelset, it has all the right attributes. It is light, stiff and reliable. It even has relatively low rolling resistance thanks to the 6 high quality bearings. However, for all its clever design and innovation, it did not manage to provide a distinctive edge over its competition.
Nonetheless, the Cobalt will still be a serious contender if you are shopping for a high performance loop. I am sure there are other alternatives available in the same price range, but not many can hold up to the beauty of the Cobalt.