26 August 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: SunRingle ME14A rim

Light, strong, or cheap: pick any two, right? After nearly three years' use well above and beyond what could be reasonably expected of them, I have to say that SunRingle's ME14A road rims heartily deliver on all three. As many riders know, rather than being an entirely new wheel size, 29er mountain bikes use rims of the same diameter (700c) as road bikes. Just as the use of old mountain bike chainring bolt circles on compact road cranks opens up interesting opportunities for cross-genre shopping, so to does the rim size that 29ers and road bikes share. Early on, that saw many 29ers running heavy duty touring rims. As people realize that 29ers aren't the passing fad that many expected, however, manufacturers have been tooling up and releasing mountain bike and disc-specific 29er rims. While stronger, many are overbuilt for racing or exorbitantly priced and fragile.

Several years ago, I took things in the opposite direction. My 29er single speed was intended from the start to be a lightweight race bike- albeit one built on a budget. Looking around at my options, I realized that most of what were being sold as 29er rims were heavy- often in excess of 500g. Not wanting to put myself at any more of a disadvantage than necessary, I opted to take a chance on a cheap ($35-45) box section racing & training rim from Sun. At 420g, the single eyeletted rim looks virtually identical to Mavic's Open Pro and has a nicely machined braking surface. Laced to a pair of WTB LaserDisc Lite hubs using DT Supercomp 2.0/1.7/1.8mm spokes and generic purple nipples, I had a 1600g wheelset.

Now, I know that many of you will have looked to the image to the right and are thinking that 19.3mm is far too narrow a rim to be used on a mountain bike. I've read much of the poo-poohing on the interweb (narrow rims will cause more pinch flats, the tire will roll off and you will die, etc) and would like to note that the difference in width between the ME14A and many "29er-specific" rims out there is... 4mm. That's right. Tack a spoke to either side and you'll have an idea of how much little of a difference that is. Fulcrum's current cross country wheelsets' rims are no wider. The Sun's are only 2mm narrower than the Mavic 517's we all ran until the nipples pulled out back in the day. When spread across a 2.3in wide tire (a size I regularly mount on my wheels), it's a very small difference indeed. Besides, it's possible that a narrower rim allows the tread to wrap (ever so slightly) further around the tire, providing for better cornering. Maybe. Setting dueling theories aside, I'm happy to report that, running 30-35psi, I've had no pinch flatting or tire rolling issues whatsoever and am not dead.

In fact, after three years of single speed abuse, I can say that I've had virtually no problems with these wheels at all. After the riders' meeting before a race last weekend, I looked down to notice that my rear wheel was all out of whack. A closer look confirmed that another of those cheap (but purple) nipples had failed at the head. I scrambled to pull the loose spoke from the hub and loosened the two adjacent spokes with my mini tool and rushed to the start line with under a minute to spare. Over the course of some of the roughest, most technical 23 miles I've raced in a long time, I kept looking down, fearing the worst. 2 hours later, I crossed the finish line without my fat rear tire even rubbing my bike's chainstays. Despite having been ridden hard with a missing spoke, 20 minutes and a new nipple had the 3-year old rear wheel perfectly true and within 2mm of perfectly round. That's one strong rim.

When all is said and done, I can't recommend the ME14A strongly enough. While it's no longer listed on Sun-Ringle's website, it looks to be readily available online and your local bike shop can still order them through distributor BTI. At the same weight and half the price of other 29er race rims, it's hard to beat. I haven't tried converting it to tubeless, on account of the scarcity of proper tubeless tires, so can't vouch for it in that respect. Also, your experience will vary widely with your choice of wheelbuilder- make sure to find someone local with a good reputation for any wheel build. For anyone building up a race 29er wheelset or something bombproof for commuting, I have to say that the SunRingle ME14A have been among the most durable and most reasonably priced that I've tried.




GenghisKhan said...

Random surfer here (Duuuude!). Just came across your blog--very interesting idea to rock "road" rims. Interesting indeed. Since the ME14A is less available, do you have thoughts on what a current offering would be? That is, what would you build up today if the ME14A were not available?

bikefix said...


Thanks for your comments! The ME14A, while not listed on Sun-Ringle's website is still available online and wholesale to bikeshops, so you should easily be able to get one for $45 or less. I've also used Mavic Open Pro rims (to which the ME14A bear a striking resemblance), but they were running ~$75 last I checked. Of course the rare Open Pro CD has a beautiful hard anodized finish and no visible brake track- mine were written off in an unfortunate and preventable off-bike accident... I prefer eyeletted rims myself, but Velocity also make their VXC in a 700c size, which I wouldn't mind trying... marc

The Bikeworks Crew said...

I built a pair of these rims up (in 650 size) for the 'lil wifes bike a few years back. It hasn't been ridden enough to qualify a review, but I wasn't impressed with the quality of the weld / rim junction. Not a big deal with disc brakes, unless it becomes a weak point.
How are the welds on your rims?

bikefix said...

Dan (bikeworks), the seams on my rims seem fine- as I've noticed in the past, rim-brake rims seem to come out of the box straighter than disc rims, making the build easy. That said, I haven't used them with road brakes. One of the advantages of going this route is the ability to use them on the road bike in a pinch- at least the front (both if you're willing to stretch your rear triangle 5mm). If I have the need, I'll have to clean all of the White Lightening off of the braking surface...

GenghisKhan said...

BF--thanks for the response to my Q. Looks like I've got some interesting things to consider the next time I build up a "29er" wheel!

Anonymous said...

I have one of these I run as a fixed free rear wheel for a road bike. I've put at least 10,000 miles on it in about 4 years. It's been a great wheel! The weld on the brake track hasn't been a problem btw. Most of those miles have been on the freewheel side on a commuter in bad city streets. I just bought some, so the are definitely still available.