Knight 95 Carbon Clincher – Review

Some time ago we got an email from a company asking us to meet at Interbike to talk about their new wheels. That isn’t too unusual, but then we did a little digging. The combined expertise of the company was pretty staggering: Cervelo, ENVE, Reynolds, Felt, and more. The number of truly talented people involved with this supposed new kid on the block told us we had to take this meeting, and let’s just say that we’re glad we did.

Knight Composites is, it’s true, a small company with a handful of employees. But those employees are credentialed in ways you’d never expect. Jim Pfeil was a founder in Reynolds Cycling, for example. Kevin Quan was a lead engineer on an icon’s icon –  the Cervelo P3. Beverly Lucas has had her hand in more of the bike industry than we can devote space to, but most recently was a VP at a little company called ENVE. Together, they have produced wheels using a literally backwards philosophy; something Kevin calls “T.E.A.M.”

T.E.A.M. stands for “Trailing Edge Aerodynamic Manipulation.” The basic idea is this: The tire at the front governs most of the aerodynamics of the leading edge of the wheel, and you only really manage it, not dictate it, at that point. But at the trailing edge, that is, the shape of the rim where it meets the spokes in front of the downtube, allows you to design the shape in order to maximize the airflow and attachment on the downtube, and thus make the whole bike faster. Knight also claims that by generating a larger percentage of lift at the back of the wheel versus the front, results in a bike that’s better behaved in the crosswinds versus the competition. Let’s see if they’re right.

We selected the Knight 95s, not a staggered 65/95 set, because we wanted to put the wheels really through their paces as a race setup, and to see if that crosswind theory was correct. What we were not prepared for was exactly how deep the 95s really are. A Zipp 808 NSW measures in at 82mm deep; the Knight 95s are another 13mm – that’s one point three centimeters – beyond that. Coupled with a maximum width that is just a fraction under half a millimeter more than the 808 NSW, and you have a recipe for a wheel that rides a lot closer to the old v-notch of our earlier years than anything resembling modern technology… Except that isn’t the case, here.

We paired the Knight 95s with Bontrager R4 Aero tires and latex tubes and set off. Install was somewhat difficult, but not impossible, due to the fact that the brake track on the 95s is so much wider than anything we’ve ever ridden. At a full 3mm thick, Knight has about doubled the thickness of the track in order to improve braking by reducing track deflection, and it has absolutely worked. The braking behavior of the wheels is simply fantastic, especially when paired with their own pads, which Knight assures us will get even better as the pads bed in. If that’s true, we’re not sure who really needs road disc when rim brakes can be this good. We have spent years chasing better braking performance with pads and direct pull and all sorts of other systems, and it turns out all we needed to do was make the track thicker. At least someone finally figured it out; credit to Mr. Quan on that one.

“So, they stop well. Great,” we hear some of you saying, “but how are they when you’re not trying to slow down?” Fair enough. In short, they’re incredible. Whether it comes down to simply being willing to go deeper than the competition, or T.E.A.M. really does work, these wheels absolutely fly. They’re not climbing wheels, so don’t go expecting them to spin up like a set of 35s, but once you’re moving, they carry along at such a clip that you’ll swear there’s motors in the DT 240 hubs. At 1824g, these aren’t really designed to go up mountains, but they handle rolling hills and the occasional uphill finish pretty well. The 95s have this great ability to hold speed that more than makes up for any lack of mountain goat DNA added to the carbon weave. But where they really shine is in a true crosswind.

When we talk about crosswinds and bike wheels, it’s easy to get hyperbolic. We write things like “the wheels almost feel like they’re self-correcting,” or “you can watch others get blown around as you stay rock-solid stable the entire time.” Most of the time, we’re trying to illustrate a point rather than being literalists, but for Knight, we’ll just be direct with it: for their depth, these are some of the best crosswind wheels we have ridden.

We want to be really clear about this, so let’s make sure we get it right. For the 80mm-and-up depth, these are the some of the best wheels money can buy to have if you’re going to get blown around, because they really do have an almost calming effect to your crosswind-handling skills on the bike. You don’t lean in like you would normally, and your time to do it seems to be a little bit extended. That’s not to say that you don’t get pushed around some, there’s only so much you can do about that, but when you end up having to fight is substantially less than you would expect for something as physically large as these wheels are. Coupled with their ability to hold speed when you’re out on course, and you have a wheelset that can easily be considered one of the best.

Knight Composites is a veritable brain trust of the cycling and triathlon world. The 95 wheelset is a direct result of their decades of combined experience in it. It is fast, astonishingly stable, and lays out the challenge that wheels have to be shallow to have great control characteristics. At $2,599 (as tested) it becomes even harder to argue against them, as their real competition can easily cost that or more. Knight has put a lot of thought into these wheels, and if you’re looking to get state-of-the-art deep carbon wheels that run with the big dogs, then I think the trio from Bend, Oregon have just the thing for you.

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