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RaceFace Next R31 Carbon Wheelset Review

The Race Face Next R31 Carbon wheels impressed us with their performance and quality and are the winner of our Editor's Choice Award.
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $1,500 List | $724.99 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Excellent freehub engagement, 2-year no fault guarantee, Vault hubs, lightweight
Cons:  Decals peel easily
Manufacturer:   RaceFace
By Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens  ⋅  Nov 22, 2018
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RANKED
#1 of 10
  • Ride Quality - 35% 10
  • Freehub Engagement - 20% 9
  • Weight - 25% 10
  • Durability - 20% 8

Our Verdict

Race Face has been in the mountain bike component business for a long time, and it's clear that they applied their years of expertise and experience in the design of their Next R31 carbon wheels. The "R" in the name stands for Rally, and along with the other Next R Carbon products in their lineup, they are made with a burly carbon construction intended for aggressive trail, all-mountain, and enduro style riding. Testers found these wheels to be rally-ready, with a modern 31mm internal rim width that pairs well with current tire width trends. Design features like their oversized Vault hubs and 4.5mm rim offset help to improve the bracing angle, spoke balance, and overall wheel stiffness delivering a precise yet comfortable feel. The freehub engagement, 3 degrees, is outstanding and some of the best we've tested. Race Face also stands behind the Next R31 wheels with a 2-year no-fault guarantee.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Editors' Choice Award    Top Pick Award 
Price $724.99 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare at 2 sellers
$1,549.99 at Competitive Cyclist
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$580.00 at REI$1,599.00 at Competitive Cyclist$1,298.95 at Competitive Cyclist
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Pros Excellent freehub engagement, 2-year no fault guarantee, Vault hubs, lightweightLifetime warranty, lightweight, 5 degree freehub engagementLightweight, affordable for carbon, 3-degree freehub engagementLifetime warranty, good ride quality, durable rims, stiffLightweight, affordable for carbon, 35mm rim width, outrageous traction
Cons Decals peel easilyoccasionally twitchy at speed, less dampened feelDifficult to mount some tires, SRAM XD driver sold separately, not as damp as competitionFreehub engagement could be better, expensive10-degree freehub engagement
Bottom Line The Race Face Next R31 Carbon wheels impressed us with their performance and quality and are the winner of our Editor's Choice Award.The TR 309 S wheels are a high quality, high performance, and lightweight carbon option from Reynolds.The Line Pro 30 is a reasonably priced high performance carbon wheelset.The Reserve 30 Carbon is a quality carbon mountain bike wheelset from Santa Cruz bicycles that is backed by a lifetime warranty.The Ibis S35 is a lightweight carbon wheelset with a nicely damped ride quality and excellent traction.
Rating Categories Next R31 Carbon Wheelset TR 309 S Carbon Wheelset Line Pro 30 TLR Boost 29" Reserve 30 Carbon Wheelset Ibis S35 Logo Carbon Boost
Ride Quality (35%)
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10
10
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8
10
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8
10
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10
10
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9
Freehub Engagement (20%)
10
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9
10
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8
10
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9
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7
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7
Weight (25%)
10
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10
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10
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8
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9
Durability (20%)
10
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8
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9
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Specs Next R31 Carbon... TR 309 S Carbon... Line Pro 30 TLR... Reserve 30 Carbon... Ibis S35 Logo...
Weight Per Wheelset 1,776g 1,738g 1,713g 1,832g 1,744g
Available Wheel Sizes 27.5", 29" 27.5", 29" 27.5", 29" 27.5", 29" 27.5", 29"
Available Axle Spacing Boost, non-Boost Boost, non-Boost Boost Boost, non-Boost Boost
Available Freehub Body Options Shimano, SRAM XD Shimano, SRAM XD Shimano, SRAM XD(aftermarket purchase) Shimano, SRAM XD Shimano, SRAM XD, MicroSpline
Rim Inner Dimension 31mm 30mm 29mm 30mm 35mm
Rim Outer Dimension 37mm 36mm 36mm 36.4mm 41mm
Offset 4.5mm 4.5mm 0mm 4mm 5mm
Spoke Count 28 28 28 28 32
Freehub P.O.E 3-degree 5-degree 3-degree 10-degree 10-degree
Warranty Policy 2-year no-fault Lifetime 2-year no-fault Lifetime 7-year, no fault on rims, 2-year on hubs
Brake Rotor Attachment 6-bolt Center Lock 6-bolt 6-bolt 6-bolt

Our Analysis and Test Results

Race Face has only recently entered the carbon wheelset market with several models in their Next range. The Next R31 is one such model that falls in their R-series of components. The R stands for Rally and their Next R models are built with the intention of being used for aggressive riding by aggressive riders. The Next R31 wheels have a thoughtful design with a modern 31mm internal rim width, massive oversized hubs, offset rims, and lightning quick 3-degree freehub engagement. Our team of professional mountain bike testers took them to task over the course of several months on the vast and varied terrain of the Lake Tahoe area and the northern Sierra.

Performance Comparison


The Next R31 wheels were every tester's favorite. There was nothing we didn't like about them.
The Next R31 wheels were every tester's favorite. There was nothing we didn't like about them.

Product Specifications


Race Face has broken the mold with some unique design features that help the Next R31 wheels outperform the competition. We'll start with the rims which are made with a full carbon construction using a UD Carbon Composite with a matte carbon finish. They have a 37mm external width and a 31mm internal width and come tubeless ready with tape and tubeless valve stems installed. The internal width of 31mm is right around the norm for today's all-mountain wheel standards, Race Face also makes the Next R36 with a 36mm internal width. The rim flange has no bead hook, this is common with most modern carbon tubeless rims because it creates a stronger and more durable rim bead. The rims themselves are asymmetrical and have a 4.5mm offset which is intended to improve the balance of the spokes coming from different sides of the hub, think drive and non-drive, and enhance the overall stiffness of the system. Rim offset is nothing new but has been proven to be effective and is used in many other high-end wheel designs.

The Next R31 wheels have a 31mm internal rim width and a 4.5mm offset design.
The Next R31 wheels have a 31mm internal rim width and a 4.5mm offset design.

The oversized Vault hubs are visibly much larger than those found on other models in this test. They have an aluminum shell and taper from the drive side to the non-drive side in the rear, and from the brake side to the non-brake side in the front. It isn't just a flange that is taller, but the entire hub shell with a small flange on top. These oversized hubs effectively shorten the spoke length while increasing the bracing angle of the spokes between the hubs and the rim with the goal of improving stiffness and durability. Inside the hub, they can also fit larger bearings due to the increased size of the hub shell. The freehub design has 6 spring-loaded pawls that are arranged in two sets of 3 so that 3 pawls engage at a time on the 60 tooth drive ring. This effectively gives the freehub 120 points of contact resulting in a very impressive 3-degree engagement. The hubs have a standard six-bolt hole pattern for mounting brake rotors.

The oversized Vault hubs are pretty darn cool looking.
The oversized Vault hubs are pretty darn cool looking.

The wheels have 28 straight-pull spokes both front and rear that are laced in a 3-cross pattern. Due to the offset of the rim and spoke holes, Race Face has managed to keep the spokes the same length on both sides of the hub for easier replacement, they also include 5 spare spokes with each wheelset. They are available in 27.5" and 29" wheel sizes in both boost and non-boost spacing and come with a 2-year no-fault guarantee.

Ride Quality


Throughout the course of our testing, testers found the ride quality of the Next R31 wheels to be excellent, and dare we say the best in the test. One tester used the term "faultless" to describe his impression of the way these wheels felt. Our other testers agreed, there was little to nothing we didn't like about their overall ride quality. These wheels made our bikes feel better for a few reasons, their weight, stiffness, and freehub engagement. Race Face has managed to make a wheel that feels stiff and precise but never feels overly stiff or harsh like some carbon wheels can. They have a comfortable and almost dampened feel to them that doesn't result in excessive trail feedback.


It is challenging at times to differentiate between the stiffness and ride characteristics of different wheels and that became apparent to all of our testers during this process. That said, we found the Roval Traverse Carbon and the Santa Cruz Reserve wheels to feel just the slightest bit stiffer than the Next R31. The Reynolds TR 309 S wheels also felt stiff, but they felt a bit less dampened than their competitors and occasionally a little twitchy at higher speeds. The alloy wheels in our test simply can't match the stiffness and ride quality provided by the carbon models, but they tend to offer a comfortable and compliant ride albeit with a less refined and precise feel.

Perfect is the right word to describe the ride quality of the Next R31 wheels.
Perfect is the right word to describe the ride quality of the Next R31 wheels.

Freehub Engagement


One thing that truly sets the Next R31 wheels apart from the competition is the engagement of the freehub. With an impressive 3-degree engagement, the Vault hubs are among the best in the business with very little lag or dead space in the pedal stroke. If you've never experienced engagement this quick, we highly recommend it, although it is disappointing to go back to wheels that have higher degrees. A freehub that is faster to engage makes everything about your bike feel better, there is less wasted energy, less chain slap, and it makes your bike sound and feel like a higher performance machine.


The only wheelset that tops the Next R31 in engagement speed if the Industry Nine Enduro S Hydra with a class-leading 0.52-degrees. The Bontrager Line Pro 30 also comes very close with quick 3.3-degree engagement.

3-degree freehub engagement is a pleasure to ride. Your entire bike feels higher performance as a result and no part of your pedal stroke is wasted.
3-degree freehub engagement is a pleasure to ride. Your entire bike feels higher performance as a result and no part of your pedal stroke is wasted.

Weight


When it comes to components like wheels, lighter is considered better, but only so long as the wheel isn't so light that it becomes flimsy or less durable. In the case of the Next R31 we feel that Race Face has struck that perfect balance, a wheel that is light enough that it climbs like a goat and accelerates quickly while still taking all the abuse you and the trail can dish out in stride. If you're riding a heavier set of wheels and you switch to these you will notice a difference, seriously.


When we weighed our test pair of Next R31 wheels, in the 29" wheel size with boost spacing, they tipped the scales at a very respectable 1,776g. The low weight of these wheels gives the bike a lighter and livelier feel that is noticeable on long climbs and especially when you get on the gas coming out of corners thanks to the reduction of rotational weight. At no point did these wheels feel weak or flimsy, in fact, they felt like some of the most solid and sturdy wheels in our test.

The Next R31 wheels are pretty lightweight. They feel light when climbing and are very quick to accelerate.
The Next R31 wheels are pretty lightweight. They feel light when climbing and are very quick to accelerate.

For comparison, the lightest wheels we tested are the Bontrager Line Pro 30 which weighed in at 1,713g, just 63g less than the Next R31.

The Next R31 wheels are competitively lightweight  yet they still feel burly and super durable.
The Next R31 wheels are competitively lightweight, yet they still feel burly and super durable.

Durability


Our team of testers rode many hundreds of miles on the Next R31 wheels and they proved to be a very sturdy and durable wheelset. Despite repeated savage beatings, excessively low tire pressures, poor line choices, and numerous rim-outs, these wheels never so much as went out of true. We experienced no broken spokes and we didn't even come close to cracking a rim. The hubs continue to work well and the bearings roll as smooth and fast as the day we got them. In fact, Race Face stands behind the durability of their Next R wheels so confidently that they have a 2-year no-fault guarantee. That means that even if you back your car over your wheel accidentally they will replace it, though we definitely don't recommend trying that. Our biggest gripe with the Next R31 is the decals on the rims. These logo decals started to peel and come off, just during regular riding and really started to look awful from just a couple of rides. We would suggest simply peeling the stickers off when the wheels are brand new to avoid this issue entirely.


One of the biggest concerns about carbon fiber rims has always been their durability, but times and carbon have changed. All of the carbon fiber models in this test proved themselves to be very durable, and not a single one of them shows any signs of premature wear, cracks, dents, or even got knocked out of true.

The logo decals on the Next R31 rims are the least durable part of these wheels. We suggest peeling them off entirely to avoid the unsightly peeling that can occur.
The logo decals on the Next R31 rims are the least durable part of these wheels. We suggest peeling them off entirely to avoid the unsightly peeling that can occur.

Value


The price of premium quality carbon fiber wheelsets has slowly but steadily been coming down in recent years. That said, the $1,500 retail price of the Next R31 is still a lot of cash for a pair of wheels you're going to put on a bike. The Next R31 outperforms all the other carbon wheels in this review. These wheels are stiff and precise while remaining comfortable, dampened, and never harsh or unforgiving. They also come standard with a 3-degree engagement freehub so you won't be shelling out extra money to upgrade for the performance you want. Plus they come with a 2-year no-fault guarantee.

The Next R31 wheelset is one of many new carbon models that is helping to change people's opinions about carbon wheels  including ours.
The Next R31 wheelset is one of many new carbon models that is helping to change people's opinions about carbon wheels, including ours.

Conclusion


The Next R31 impressed our testers and takes home our Editor's Choice Award for best overall mountain bike wheelset. The combination of excellent ride quality, freehub engagement, lightweight, impressive durability, and good value make this our favorite wheelset in this review. If you're looking to upgrade the performance of your bike we think the Next R31 wheelset is a great way to do it.

Other Versions and Accessories


The Next R31 wheels are available in 27.5" and 29" wheel sizes with boost and non-boost spacing.
In addition to the Next R31 model in this review, they also make a Next R36 ($1500). The rims on the Next R36 are optimized for wider tires with a 36mm internal rim width. The two models are identical otherwise except for the weight. Next R36 in 27.5" has a claimed weight of 1720g, and 1790g for the 29" version.

Race Face also makes the Next SL ($1600) wheelset. It is offered in a 29" wheel size only with a 26mm internal rim width and a claimed weight of 1555g. This lighter and narrower wheel is aimed at the XC market.


Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens