Earlier this year I was able to spend some time on the Chris King GRD23 wheelset. It was during the tail end of Portland, Oregon’s rainy season and I rode the wheels, photographed them, and started typing, yet I kept thinking about the wheels and have revisited this “short and quick” review many times over. I was just trying to figure out what I was hung up on or why this particular review was so difficult. Even though I had almost nothing but good things to say. Sometimes it turns out that great products are simply hard to talk about.
The GRD23 is Chris King’s first foray into their own “house” wheels. Featuring a FusionFiber rim (we will get to that) with, you guessed it, a 23mm internal width paired to their legendary center lock R45D hubs. King’s design intent for these was for an all-road wheelset or a perfect wheelset for someone who wants to swap between their slightly-plump-road bike and their gravel bike.
Note: since I did the testing and took forever to wrap this up they have followed up with the deeper more road oriented ARD44.
Peace of Mind
With a retail price point of $2850, the GRD23s occupy the same space as other high-end wheels, with the likes of ENVE and Zipp. I think it’s no mistake that they have a similar spec and visual design to the ENVE G23. These were clearly designed to be a competitor, yet they offer a more robust warranty.
Other brands have advertised similar warranties, but have since walked them back considerably. On the other hand, when King launched the GRD23 they did something they have always done – stood by their product.
Their lifetime warranty is about as simple as it gets. If something happens they will get the wheel back and fix it. Period.
Sometimes I’m jaded by the cycling industry (after all, we are talking about a wheelset here that is more than a lot of people’s monthly rent or mortgage payments), but I’ve never seen such a trustworthy warranty. King has been in business since 1976, that is a damn long time!
When I buy products, it’s stuff like this that pushes me over the edge; not the weight or having to be the first on new tech. Confidence and security in what I buy will last a really long time.
For my two months on these, I ran them exclusively with 700x33mm Vittoria Terreno Dry tires. The wheels were mounted on an Aluminum Sourdough Prototype. Not the most forgiving bike, but I figured in terms of trying to isolate the ride quality of a wheel, a stiff frame, and less plush tires I have used many times was the best possible start. As it turns out it’s not that easy, there’s a lot that happens between your ass, hands, and feet until the rubber hits the roads. So do note, this is anecdotal at best.
My perception of the GRD23 is that they are race-worthy and stiff. I want to clarify that statement, rotational stiff is different from vertically harsh. When I say rotationally stiff, I mean power transfer is felt and snappy. They are not harsh in terms of ride quality. If I had to narrow in on it, I would use this analogy: It’s a similar feeling to Titanium vs. steel.
Titanium is usually stiffer–the truth is, it can be engineered to ride however you’d like it to–but it rides quieter. In my experience, it dulls the steady vibrations due to the material whereas steel has more flex (in a good way) and dance to it. These wheels feel more like the ride quality of a titanium frame, rather than the traditional feel of carbon.
I should call out my most direct comparison: I pulled this pair of King GRD23s fresh out of the box. There’s a lot of debate as to if a wheelset even has a “break-in period” but one of the drawbacks of reviews like this is I didn’t get to experience the same wheels 8 months later.
The wheels sent out had CK’s ceramic hub bearings and if we are talking about things, I couldn’t notice that is one place for sure where, I did not seem to get any real-life benefits. They roll very similarly to every other king hub I’ve used and I cannot perceive any difference while riding. Sure, maybe I saved some rolling resistance or seconds over the entire ride, but I’m sure my hair blowing in the wind negated that gain.
Now, at this point, you must be thinking Crumbs? WTF dude? What can you definitively say about these wheels? Well, I noticed at no point did I question my confidence in something I was riding or doing. I noticed that, as a big guy coming into corners, I wasn’t worried and couldn’t feel any flex. A lot of cycling (and life in general) simply comes down to confidence. Both in terms of your gear, as well as your ability.
What I find interesting here is if you have total confidence in your gear, you gain confidence in your ability. It doesn’t exactly work the other way around though; good ability doesn’t really make up for anything if you are worried about a part or your bike. The more confident you are, the more free you will ride. You make fewer mistakes and you go faster. (It is by this logic that I will argue that custom paint can absolutely be a performance benefit – the more stoked you are on your bike the better).
I’ve always said the ultimate compliment for some components is to never have to think about them. That is exactly where I was with the GRD23. The signature audible BUZZ was the only reminder of what I was on. Even visually the wheels are pretty low profile and can compliment any bike build, not steal the show.
Carbon, But Not in the Traditional Sense
As I mentioned at the top of this, these wheels are not assembled like traditional carbon fiber wheels. They are FusionFiber. The creators of FusionFiber are pretty tight-lipped about the details around the differences. From what I can gather, the big difference between FusionFiber and traditional carbon fiber really comes down to how it is held together. Traditional carbon fiber uses a thermoset resin.
Think about a common two-part epoxy that cures after a chemical reaction. Thermoset resin isn’t shelf-stable and is notoriously hard to work with. FusionFiber, on the other hand, uses a thermoplastic resin. This thermoplastic resin becomes malleable with heat but is also shelf-stable. Once it is heated, it is ready to be laid. This takes so much heat that a lot of the assembly has to be done by robots instead of by hand.
Finally, the polymers are not brittle like the epoxy resins holding traditional carbon rims together. Thus making the ride less harsh in theory, but it’s also typically a heavier way to bond the carbon weave together. Which likely accounts for my feelings above. Travis Engel recently got the story straight from the tight-lipped-horse’s mouth, and the engineers behind FusionFiber had a pretty good way to view what sets it apart: think of the resins as super glue versus a hot glue from a gun; the glue gun glue is much less brittle.
Unlike traditional carbon, FusionFiber is recyclable, where carbon heads to the landfill. If these break and you send them back, they can be recycled. As of right now, they only make tire levers. In theory, any solid object is possible, but you can’t use it to lay up another rim as the carbon fiber gets shredded during the recycling process. The thing I’m waiting for is what other uses the recycled material has.
I’m going to hit you with this straight. I work on a computer 99% of the time. I’m an illustrator, designer, reviewer, etc. I’ve never been a pro mechanic and while, if I had to estimate, I’ve set up north of 30-50 sets of tires tubeless. It’s still not a process I enjoy. I know all the tricks but certain pairings are absolutely miserable to set up. The GRD23s with Vittorias rank as a 7/10 on my difficulty scale. With any Challenge tire to Enve wheel being 11/10. These were hard, and I needed a little slip of a tire lever to get them on. Admittedly, I did accidentally scratch a decal.
When setting up these wheels tubeless, like most people these days, I don’t use valve caps on valve stems. So I didn’t even give them a second glance out of the box, going on autopilot for setup. It was only after I posted about misplacing my valve core remover, that a follower sent me a DM that the King valve caps had those built in. Other brands are doing this too, but it’s a super nice small touch that I do appreciate.
In today’s world of rising costs, seeing a company stand by what they make is key. King does just that with the GRD23. As far as I can tell, they have the best warranty out of any wheel brand. The wheels are understated and look good and most of all they simply ride great out of the box.
- Best-in-class product warranty
- Great visual design
- Great ride
- Race worth
- Price point
- Tire mounting struggles
- Price point
Check out more at Chris King.