Stan's No Tubes Flow MK3 Wheelset Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Inexpensive, decent freehub engagement, durable, lightest alloy model
Cons: Slightly narrower width, usually not sold as a pair, you need to buy both front and rear wheel
Manufacturer: Stan's No Tubes
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Stan's No Tubes is an innovator in tubeless tire technology and is probably best known for their tubeless tire sealant. Stan's also makes rim tape, valve stems, and a full line of wheels for mountain biking, gravel grinding, and cyclocross. They've been making wheels for many years, and the Flow MK3 is their trail and all-mountain alloy wheelset. We put these wheels up against a competitive field of both alloy and carbon fiber wheels, and in the end, they emerged as Best Buy Award winner. The combination of their lightweight, ride quality, durability, and reasonable price is tough to beat.
The Flow MK3 wheelset is built upon the Flow MK3 rim. These symmetrical rims have a 32.3mm external and a 29mm internal rim width, just a single millimeter narrower than most of the other rims in this review. The rims have a unique shape with a shallow 16mm depth and a flatter top where the spokes meet the rim. Stan's has patented the shape of this rim and they claim that its low profile rolls faster, lasts longer, helps reduce pinch flats, and reduces the rim's overall weight. The rim bead has a small bead hook the shape of which they have also patented and they refer to as "bead socket technology". They claim this to be the easiest and most secure tubeless setup. The rims are made from 6069 aluminum, as opposed to 6061, which is intended to add lateral stiffness and durability while also reducing weight.
The hubs are also made by Stan's. Their Neo hubs are CNC machined aluminum and available in both SRAM XD and Shimano HG freehub bodies. The freehub system uses what they call Durasync which has 6 pawls and a 36 tooth drive ring. All six of the pawls engage simultaneously on the drive ring, resulting in a 10-degree engagement. They also make a Neo Ultimate hub that you can upgrade for an additional fee to get 5-degree engagement. The Neo hubs have a standard 6-bolt brake rotor mount.
The hubs are laced to the rims with 32 j-bend Sapim Force spokes in a 3 cross pattern with Sapim Secure Lock Alloy nipples. The rims, hubs, spokes, and nipples are all black with sticker decals on the rims. They come with tubeless rim tape and valve stems preinstalled. They are offered with non-boost, boost, and super boost axle spacing, as well as SRAM XD, Shimano HG, and Shimano Microspline freehub drivers. Stans has a 3-year warranty on their hubs, a 2-year warranty on their aluminum rims, and a 1-year crash replacement policy (50% off retail) should you blow up your rim.
Testers used words like light, fast, nimble, and agile when describing the ride quality of the Flow MK3 wheels. This makes a lot of sense considering the fact they are among the lightest alloy models we tested, giving them a distinct performance advantage. They feel eager to accelerate and they don't slow you down or wear you out during extended periods of climbing like heavier wheels have a tendency to do. While they feel light and quick they still manage to feel sturdy and compliant. They have more give in the system than most of the carbon models we tested, but none of our testers felt they were overly flexy, comfortable is a better way to describe it.
The internal rim width of 29mm is 1-2mm narrower than most of the other models in our test selection. A single millimeter sounds very insignificant, but a couple of our testers felt like it made the tire tread, especially in the front, have a slightly rounder profile. Again, this difference is minimal and something most riders will have a hard time noticing, but was notable when switching between wheelsets so often.
Tester's also like the freehub engagement of the Flow MK3 and their Neo hubs. While 10-degrees is far from amazing, it's better than the other alloy wheels in this review with the exception of the Industry Nine Enduro S Hydra.
The Spank Oozy Trail wheels have 12 degrees between engagement points. Faster engagement is better and even a difference of 2 degrees can make your bike feel like a higher performance machine. By contrast, our Editor's Choice Award winner, the Race Face Next R31 have an amazing 3-degree freehub engagement.
At our wheel weigh-in, the Flow MK3 wheels tipped the scales at 1,896g for the pair. They are one gram away from being the lightest alloy model in our test selection, and we feel this weight is very respectable for a modern width 29" wheelset that is as durable and high performance as these. This is 100g lighter than the Spank Oozy Trail 345. This difference in weight is noticeable, as the Stan's wheels feel lighter, more nimble, and faster to accelerate.
Not surprisingly, all of the carbon fiber wheels we tested weigh less than the Flow MK3, although they cost significantly more. The Roval Traverse weigh just 30g less, and the Santa Cruz Reserve 30 weigh roughly 64g less, and cost more than double. The Reynolds TR 309 S and the Race Face Next R31 are lighter, 120g and 160g lighter than the Flow MK3 respectively, but again costing way more than double the price of the Stan's.
Despite a significant amount of abuse during our test period, the Flow MK3 wheels are holding up impressively well. Each one of our testers rimmed out on these wheels, some of us more than others, yet they never dented, cracked, or got knocked out of true. The spoke tension also still feels even with no adjustments necessary. Even with multiple low-pressure pinch flat inducing hits, we also never got any pinch flats, so maybe there is something to their low profile pinch flat reducing design after all. After several hundred miles of riding, the hubs and their bearings still roll flawlessly and the freehub still functions as it should. To be fair, we did little fatal damage to any of the wheels in our review, with the exception of a major dent in one of the Spank Oozy Trail 345 rims.
At a retail price of $679, we feel the Flow MK3 wheels are a good value. In fact, they are our Best Buy Award winner for their combination of performance, durability, lightweight, and reasonable price. They aren't the least expensive model in the test, they cost $30 more than the Spank Oozy Trail but they outperform them in ride quality, freehub engagement, durability, and they weigh over 100g less.
The Stan's Flow MK3 is a well designed, high quality, durable, and reasonably priced alloy wheelset for trail and all-mountain riding. They are lightweight for alloy and they feel quick and nimble yet stable and sturdy when the going gets rough. The Flow MK3 is one of the best alloy wheelsets we tested, and the best value in this test earning them our Best Buy Award.
Other Versions and Accessories
Stans makes a full line of wheels for all types of riding, plus tubeless tire accessories including rim tape, valve stems, and tire sealant.
The Flow MK3 wheels can be customized with a variety of decal colors, nipple colors, or an upgrade to their Neo Ultimate hubs with 5-degree freehub engagement.
The Flow MK3 wheelset is offered in a 26" wheel size in no-boost spacing only. For 27.5" and 29" wheels, it is available in boost and non-boost spacing, as well as for Lefty forks and 20x110mm front axles.
Stans also makes the Flow S1 wheelset ($499) which was developed for DH riding and comes in both 27.5" and 29" wheel sizes with a 33.1mm internal rim width and Stans Neo hubs.
The Flow EX wheelset has a 25.5mm internal rim width and is available in 26", 27.5", and 29" wheel sizes in a variety of axle and hub configurations. Prices range from $135-$300
— Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens