Race Face Era wheelset first look – compromising without compromise, has Race Face found the carbon wheel performance sweet spot?

 Race Face Era rim graphic detail.
Race Face Era rim graphic detail.

Race Face has released a new Era mountain bike wheelset for trail and enduro riding. Interestingly rather than excel in one field at the risk of compromising other factors, Race Face has chosen to aim for second best to strike a balance in performance, designing the Era wheels to balance strength, compliance, weight, and responsiveness.

The Era wheelset is Race Face's best mountain bike wheels and I got a hands-on look ahead of the launch, so let's delve into the details.

Race Face Era front and rear wheel
Race Face Era front and rear wheel

Race Face unveiled the Era component tier in 2022 with the release of the Race Face Era crankset. With the Era range, Race Face aims to create components that combine high performance and dependable durability, this Era philosophy has now been expanded to carbon wheels.

Carbon has become the mountain bike wheel material of choice as it can offer a lively ride feel, weight savings, and reduced maintenance. Carbon isn't perfect though, managing these conflicting factors can be difficult when designing a wheel. This often results in performance trade-offs, lighter wheels suffer durability or stiffness issues and compliant wheels sacrifice liveliness.

Race Face already has several carbon wheels in its catalog, including the Next R 31 which we found to be a light, tight, and durable wheelset. This sharp and responsive ride wasn't for everyone, including Race Face's race team riders who often preferred the damped and forgiving ride feel of the alloy wheels.

When Race Face got to work designing the Era wheelset the goal was to create a carbon wheelset with the compliant and planted feel of alloy wheels, while still providing the benefits of carbon like weight savings and durability. Race Face doesn't claim that the Era wheels are class-leading in any one area, instead, the Canadian component manufacturer says the Era strikes a balance in performance out on the trail.

Race Face Vault rim detail
Race Face Vault rim detail

New Race Face Era carbon rims

Compliance is a hot topic these days when talking about mountain bike wheels as more brands seek to capitalize on the traction and comfort benefits they can offer. Compliance is a bit of a catch-all term in the bike industry, but to summarize it usually refers to a product's ability to absorb vibrations through flex or displacement.

To achieve a more forgiving ride Race Face engineers focused on lateral (side to side) compliance rather than vertical (up and down).

A wheel's vertical compliance refers to its ability to ovalize on an impact to give a smoother ride feel although Race Face says other elements dilute the effects. The wheel's vertical compliance isn't the only force acting vertically, during a bottom-out event on a trial or enduro bike a wheel will offer around 5mm of vertical compliance. Once you consider this alongside around 50mm of tire squish, up to 160mm of fork compression, and flex from handlebars it's only a small part of the equation.

Considering this, Race Face designers focused on lateral compliance as they believe this has a larger influence on comfort and control when riding.

Race Face Era front and rear rim next to each other
Race Face Era front and rear rim next to each other

The result is a new low-profile double wall construction carbon rim that uses front and rear-specific rim depths. The front measures 18.6mm allowing it to deform more and improve tracking over rough terrain, while the deeper 22.6mm rim at the rear is stronger to resist harsh impacts. The rim features a 30mm inner diameter and has a thickened 4.5mm “Anvil Edge” bead wall for increased strength and protection from pinch punctures.

Race Face says it performed extensive testing of the Era wheelset over three years, including 11 lab tests and over 5,300 test ride hours with no field failures being reported in the final production wheels.

Race Face Vault rear hub detail
Race Face Vault rear hub detail

Race Face Vault hubs

Although it's a new rim design, Race Face has specced the Era wheels with its existing Vault hubs. We have had great experiences with these hubs thanks to the 60-tooth drive ring which gives an almost instant 120 points of engagement, stout torque-resistant wide bearing stance, and stiff oversized tapered hub bodies that give them a direct and snappy feel under power.

The hubs spin on large diameter 6902 bearings and are protected by Race Face Vault hub-specific labyrinth seals.

At launch, the wheels will only be available with six-bolt rotor compatibility although Race Fce says that a Centerlock variant is coming in late 2024.

The wheels aren't rated for e-MTBs, however, Race Face does approve the wheels for lightweight e-MTBs with a maximum drive assist torque of 65Nm.

The Era wheels are built up with 28 straight pull double butted (2.0 / 1.65 / 2.0) spokes front and rear using a 3X lacing pattern. The complete wheels are quoted to weigh 1750g for a 29in size without tape or valves, which is on par for a high-end enduro-rated wheelset.

How do the Race Face Era's compare

The Era's are up against some strong competition from the likes of Zipp's 3Zero Moto and Crankbrothers Synthesis Carbon wheels which have already established themselves as MTB compliance leaders. If Race Face's benchmark tests are to be believed then the Era's 'jack of all trades' approach positions them as a compelling wheelset option for trail and enduro riders.

The 3Zero Moto's are unquestionably the most compliant MTB wheel available with its single wall moto-inspired rim design. The trade-off for the trail connection and descending control is a sludgy acceleration feel and, at a shade under 2kg, high rotational mass which comes into play when pedaling is involved.

Crankbrothers Synthesis Carbon is the direct competitor for the Era's with similar levels of compliance. In the lower hub spec the Synthesis Carbon wheels are heavier and sport less engagement, but are also cheaper. Opt for the Industry 9 1/1 equipped wheels which save a little weight and boost engagement and it becomes a very close run competition.

We will be getting the Race Face Era's in to test so stay tuned as I will be pitting them against the Crankbrothers Synthesis Carbon and my current favorite wheelset, the Reynolds Blacklabel 329 Trail Pro.

Race Face Era wheelset specs and pricing

They come in 29 or 27.5 wheel sizes, Boost and Super Boost spacing, and can be fitted with either XD or Microspline freehubs. The wheels come tubeless taped and with valves ready for set up, plus five spare spokes are included in the box should you need replacements.

Race Face covers the wheels with a lifetime warranty against crash damage and will replace complete wheels, rather than just replacing the damaged components.

For a premium wheelset, the Era's are priced competitively, a complete wheelset will retail at $1599 USD / $2150 CAD, full pricing will be updated when available, although wheels will be sold individually.