Reviewed: Essor USA Bolt 31 Track Wheel Set

Brand: Essor USA
Product: Bolt 31 Track Wheel Set
Price:  $295 (includes Free Shipping)
Reviewer: Fraser Dobbs (Vancouver-based bike messenger)

I got the opportunity to ride and test a track wheel set built up by the good folks at Essor USA. They're a relatively new company brought to you by the same people that run State Bicycle Co. Essor USA primarily develops and produces carbon components but the Bolt 31 track wheel set is their first alloy offering.

The stats: the Bolt is a 31mm “semi-aero” rim with very tight clearances laced to Essor's own 28-hole low-flange hub. Spokes are 14-gauge laced radial front and three-cross rear; the rear hub is a flip-flop with one side machined for a cog and lockring, and the other for a freewheel. Spacing is the usual 110mm up front and 120mm in the rear, with a 10mm hollow-through axle. The wheel set came stock with a 16-tooth rear cog and lockring, and aside from those two components the rest of the wheels are painted a matte black with an unpainted machined sidewall for brakes front and rear. 

Out of the box: the first thing I noticed was how light these wheels were. Minus the cog and lockring, they match Essor's stated weight of just over 1700 grams for the set. Compared to my work bike's previous wheelset, H+Son Formation Face rims laced to 32-hole Formula high-flange hubs, they're almost 700 grams lighter than the wheels they're replacing. But it's not hard to see how Essor USA got there: the rims are extraordinarily thin from side to side and their low-flange hubs are fairly barren of excess material. This isn't to say that the wheels are flimsy but that their weight makes sense considering their construction.

The rims are just 18.2mm at their outside (for comparison, Mavic's Open Pro is 20mm and H+Son's Archetype is 23mm) and I have never encountered a tighter wheel to try to mount tires to. While a supple Continental GP4000S II slipped its Kevlar bead into the front rim without too much difficulty, my choice for the rear—a Freedom Thickslick—simply would not mount. I ended up switching to a very thin Schwalbe Lugano instead. These tight clearances might make these wheels not suitable for those wishing to run steel-bead tires, but they'll be fine for any folding-bead rubber.

I am no track cyclist: As a full-time bike courier in downtown Vancouver, I was excited to try these wheels out outside of their intended environment and the reaction I got seemed to be “Go wild”. I wouldn't go as far as to say that anybody expected me to totally thrash their wheels on day one, but I got the impression Essor USA was as excited as I was to see how much street action the Bolt could put up with. Vancouver, my port of call, is a uniquely interesting city to ride in. Despite its youth and compared to eastern metropolises, it's riddled with its fair share of frustratingly inconsistent terrain.

Curbs vary from nonexistent to monolithic and our historic Gastown—a favourite office space for creatives like Industrial Light & Magic and their ludicrously large outbound packages - has some of the most annoying “authentic” cobbled streets in the country. Messengers here are often equipped with wheels that are heavy and bombproof instead of lightweight and maneuverable for just this kind of terrain, and it was an exciting experience putting the Bolt through its paces over a few weeks of mostly typhoon-level thunderstorms in the Pacific Northwest.

From a performance perspective: the Bolt was head-and-shoulders over my previous wheel set. The stock-sealed bearings spun extremely well, and the low spoke-count and equally low weight made accelerating much easier than it used to be. For weight weenies, there probably isn't a better offering at its price-point for shaking grams, and contrary to what I expected there wasn't a lot of lateral flex from the low-flange hubs during sprints or whip-skids. The wheels came true and tensioned, and even after a few weeks on the road I didn't feel the need to re-tension or true the set.

Due in part to a lax installation on my end, and in part to factory problems at Essor USA, I managed to strip the lockring threads early into my testing. State was extremely quick to address this problem and send me a new rear wheel to replace it, and I was actually assured that they had since changed their factory practices to ensure that this wouldn't be an issue on future wheel sets. Although the cog on the replacement wheel was noticeably imperfectly round, a quick swap to a Soma cog cleared things right up.

Essor's Bolt wheel set makes sense: Especially as an entry-level track offering. They're light, spin great and are definitely an upgrade from State's default offerings on their track bikes, and aren't a bad budget wheelset to look into for category C racers or people looking for a smart and cheap way to upgrade their bike. Not being able to mount the tires that you want to because of overly-tight clearances is annoying but surmountable. There probably aren't many that would use these wheels as hard as I did over a month's work, and that the wheels held up through the entire period is a testament to their quality.

Fraser Dobbs @ Strava
Bike Messenger
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada