We’re always looking for ways to gain a few extra seconds on the bike. And while we are sometimes willing to pay for even the smallest gains, we obviously prefer ways that let us gain speed on the cheap. This is exactly why we love disc covers since they offer performance gains for a minimal price. But minimal price shouldn’t mean minimal quality, and that’s what makes the Catalyst disc cover so fantastic.
The Catalyst Disc Cover
Catalyst’s Disc cover ($299) starts out as a roll of carbon fiber fabric that’s been pre-impregnated with epoxy resin (known as “prepreg”). Once it has been cut down to rough size, it’s placed into two molds—one for the drive side and one for the non-drive side. When compared with the drive-side mold, the non-drive side mold is deeper because the spokes on a rear wheel are asymmetrically aligned to allow room for the cassette.
Once the sheets are in the molds, they are covered with a release film, followed by breather fabric, followed by the vacuum bag. After that, they’re baked inside an autoclave at a temperature between 250 – 350 Fahrenheit. As the resin heats up, it distributes evenly throughout the fabric. Once the resin cures, the end result is the lightest cover we have tested to date—weighing in at just 184g (for both the drive side and non-drive side).
When ordering your wheel, Catalyst needs to know a few things – namely what wheel will the cover be going on and does it still have the stock hub. This is all to ensure that the cover fits tightly on your wheel. We matched the cover to a set of original Reynolds Strikes and were seriously impressed with the fit. This didn’t feel like something Catalyst had just grabbed off a stock shelf. We could tell it had been custom built for our specific wheel.
Although we have to admit we were a bit surprised when we saw how Catalyst intended for us to finish the install. Normally we do quite a bit of homework before we start a review, but in the case of the Catalyst cover, we just assumed we knew how the install was going to go. So imagine our surprise when we opened the box and found a roll of electrical tape (no it’s not just for installing bar tape). So why electrical tape? Catalyst feels that tape just works better. Screws can pull in on the sides of the covers and can cause them to warp, negatively impacting aerodynamics. The screws themselves stick out from the surface of the covers which also creates aerodynamic drag. On the other hand, Catalyst feels that tape holds the covers down at the very edge, and provides an even force all the way around the cover. It keeps the covers silent over rough roads and keeps water from getting in during a rainstorm.
So we taped the cover to our Strikes. We expected to end up with an un-even line around the wheel, but we were a bit surprised how good it looked. From a distance, it almost looked stock. Though up close, the tape line was easily discernable.
On the road, the Catalyst was everything we had hoped for. While we thought we heard some flapping at first, it turned out the sticker over the valve hole was loose and hitting the chain stay. That was easy to remedy (we just removed the sticker), and we were back on our way. For the rest of the ride the cover was all but nonexistent – no flapping or shaking whatsoever. The tape held the cover securely, preventing it from moving in any direction. The tape also prevented the disc from deforming during the ride, because it was held firm along the entirety of the outside edge.
From a ride perspective, it felt similar to other covers we have ridden with. For the most part, the wheel feels like it does without the cover – the biggest difference being when we are hit by a gust. The disc catches the wind more than a standard wheel would (but of course that’s no different than almost any disc we have ridden). One of the benefits of a disc cover is that ride characteristics of the wheel, specifically how hard or soft it rides, is retained.
The only issue we had during our time with the Catalyst was that we accidentally made a slight tear in the carbon around the valve hole when removing the chuck after pumping the tire. It was nothing that a strip of electrical tape couldn’t fix, but it was a good reminder that you have to be especially careful.h
The Catalyst honestly surprised us a bit. We started this review suspecting that what would make the Catalyst special was its extreme light weight and awesome look (because a full carbon disc cover just looks fantastic). Then we saw the electrical tape, and we started to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into. But when all was said and done, we walked away with a smile on our faces. Yes the Catalyst disc cover is light weight and looks great, but that’s not the reason you should consider buying it. The Catalyst was great a fit for our wheel and it performed well during our rides. Because while looking great in transition is always a bonus, being able to perform out of T1 is most important.