The story of the Halo Wheels Vortex Wheelset
18 Years in the Making
by Oliver Forster
The British mountain bike scene is constantly punching beyond the limitations of its geography and is driven by an unrelenting thirst for progression. This underdog attitude has elevated our little scene to a position of global significance and influence.
And for the riders and trail builders who initiated this movement in the mid 90s, equipment based hurdles were soon challenged and quickly kicked to the curb by emerging home grown brands.
Turning the clocks back 18-years, British upstart Halo spotted a gap in the market for a no nonsense approach to mountain bike wheels, an approach they still hold true to today.
Into the Vortex
While the eye rolling tag line of ‘enduro specific’ has been fairly annoying these past few years, it’s also been especially fruitful thanks to the subsequent products which have found their way into most mountain bikers lives.
With needs that are far broader than those encountered by other more specialist disciplines, like downhill and even cross country, elements of enduro can be easily extracted and applied to an array of real world riding scenarios, especially for those who venture from the confines of the bike park.
We’ve all seen how unforgiving today’s EWS tracks are and less we forget that the riders not only have to pedal their bikes between stages, they are also penalised for breaking and subsequently replacing parts they damage at each EWS event.
For Jordan Lunn, Halo’s brand manager, these factors were at the forefront of his mind as he steered Halo into the world of enduro.
Halo’s existing Vapour 35 rim “was good for [riding] aggressive trails” confirms Jordan, but for enduro, it not only needed to be stronger, but wider too. “After extensive testing with the more trail focused Vapour rim, in a more arduous ‘enduro’ test arena, we knew where improvements needed to be made,” says chief engineer Ryan Griffiths.
Jumping Through Hoops
For the new Vortex rim, the team at Halo had three key elements to focus on and balance: width, weight and strength.
Going too wide would compromise both strength and weight, yet too narrow would create issues of compatibility with modern tyres and limit their application in extreme environments. Ryan explained that…
“We based everything off the external diameter for this rim,”
“we were aiming for around 40mm and ended up at 38mm, which offered us the best strength to weight ratio – any wider and the rim becomes too heavy.
With an external diameter of 38mm, the internal diameter would come in at a rather unique 33mm”
Developing new products for a sport in constant flux and doing so years in advance of its launch, is not unique and not without its challenges.
“The width was a bit of a risk at the time as tyre manufacturers were just beginning to push the size envelope” says Jordan.
With tyres sizes in this sector now settled between 2.4 and 2.6in, their hunches paid off.
Back at the drawing board (in 2016) the team concluded early on that the new Vortex rim would retain the Vapour’s successful rim well (where the tyre bead sits) profile and that’s it – everything else would be designed and engineered from the ground up.
And with a blank canvas in front of them, the decision was made to pursue something that had been in discussion for some time – an asymmetrical rim. Jordan admits that…
“When you look at a wheel as a whole, you notice that the hub is asymmetrical yet when built using a symmetrical rim, you inevitably build weakness into the design”
Focussing on the wheelset as a whole and not the rim in isolation, Ryan began the long and arduous design process:
“We knew what hub [design] we were going to use for the Vortex wheel before designing the rim so we knew the distance from the centre to the right and left flanges”
“There’s a 6-7mm difference, centre to right and centre to left on our hubs – we’ve then spaced the rim in 3mm to offset that. We can then run the same spokes at the same tension, left and right, and create a stronger wheelset in the process”
Jordan is quick to point out that asymmetrical rims are not without their own unique challenges. “We knew that asymmetrical rim designs can have a weak side, hence why only a few brands make them”.
The longer side is naturally weaker than the shorter side and to counteract this, more material needed to be added to the longer side and in turn, less to the shorter – this would balance and retain strength without building in any unwanted weight.
Talking of weight, why alloy and not carbon? Halo does have carbon rims in their wheel portfolio, but according to Jordan, “carbon simply isn’t up to the task when it comes to enduro mountain bike rims.” He continues, “you just can’t prevent contact and impacts with the ground and given that carbon cracks and alloy bends, the latter allows you to finish your race or ride.”
On the subject of material choice, Jordan is quick to explain that…
“Halo is known for making ‘no nonsense and bullet proof wheels”
and that extends to the materials they choose to work with. Alloy is not only a lot cheaper for all parties, and more compliant than carbon, but it is “also a lot more environmentally friendly”. Jordan explains that it can easily be recycled and that there currently isn’t a suitable way to dispose of broken carbon bike parts.
From materials to the all-important aesthetics, Jordan’s vision was that of a hardy finish and allowing the end user to chose the rest. “The rims are anodised black, laser etched and then anodised black again – it’s a double anodising process” confirms Jordan. That’s how Halo achieved the stealthy black-on-black look with subtle branding.
For those who want to coordinate their rides, aftermarket decals are available, but unlike other brands, Halo took a different approach. “We didn’t want to build the price of a big sticker pack into the wheels” says Jordan, who went on to explain that including a pack of stickers in every colour under the sun is both wasteful and expensive.
Into production and Halo’s Far East vendor – the factory that manufactures their rims – has been in the bicycle wheel business for as long as there’s been one. Having worked with a few different factories over the years, Jordan and Ryan both confirm how much input and help they received throughout the development process and its significance for a brand like Halo.
“As a small brand, we needed to get that first one right” enthuses Ryan, due to the inherent costs of a rim mould.
After a lot of FEA (Finite Element Analysis) testing in-house, four further changes were made to the design (thanks to input from Halo’s partners in Taiwan) before the production trigger was pulled.
That Signature Sound
At the heart of Halo’s Vortex wheelset – in the rear at least – is their Supadrive hub. Boasting a whopping 120-point pick up (*DT are 36 and Hope are 40 for reference), Jordan was quick to sing their praises…
“The quicker the pick up, the faster power is transferred to the rear wheel, helping you accelerate out of corners or generate speed to clear an obstacle.”
But the Supadrive is better known for something other than its pick up, and that’s the noise it makes.
“When you hear a big V8 truck in the distance, you know what’s coming and that’s the same with Supadrive”
Having a “signature sound” like a [Chris] King or a Hope hub is great, but as Jordan explains, “it wasn’t something we engineered into the hub design, it’s purely the bi-product of the 120-point pick up and drive system”.
With over ten years of refinement [with Halo], the Supadrive system started life some 5-years prior, mounted into the back of a road bike belonging to the BMC team. “We altered the design by adding two additional pawls – the original only had one” confirms Jordan, who went into more detail regarding this unique drive system.
“We found the failure rate of drive systems that relied on a traditional pawl design increased significantly when larger ratio cassettes are used due to the additional torque experienced when climbing”.
Jordan went on to explain that Supadrive “creates a sort of clutch system” – so the harder you pedal, the more the springs push the pawls into the drive ring and that’s what gives you that instant pick up. Each pawl sits on its side, rather than bolt upright in a traditional drive system and with each pawl having 12 ‘micro teeth’ rather than one single tip, the surface area of a Supadrive pawl is therefore huge compared to a single tip pawl.
Not only are you getting more power transfer, you’re getting less resistance (thanks to the pawls not interacting with the drive ring as much when free coasting) and therefore more speed.
Real World Testing
It didn’t take long for the first pre-production wheels to find their way to the Highlands of Scotland and into the hands of budding EWS racer, James Shirley. It was mid-May, 2017 and round four of the Enduro World Series was heading to Ireland. James, with only a few rides in on the new Vortex wheels packed them for the weekend, but their grand entrance into EWS competition didn’t go according to plan.
“I used the Vortex wheels during practice, but they just felt too ‘different’ to the Vapour 35’s I was used to.
It wasn’t different in a good or bad way, I just didn’t want my bike to feel different during my race.”
Race number one and Halo’s test pilot was back on the Vapour 35, a rim with subsequent ride characteristics he knows well. Determined to get his head around these stiffer and significantly wider rims, James returned to Fort William and begun testing the new Vortex.
You’ve surely seen the trails James rides if you’ve watched any ‘Dudes of Hazzard’ videos – rough, rowdy and at their speed, perfect for putting new gear through its paces.
After a few days of testing back home, James was beginning to see the advantages and disadvantages to the wider and stiffer Vortex rim. James found that he could decrease his tyre pressure by 5% (using Schwalbe Magic Marys, 2.35in, front and rear) and increase grip in the process. But the early test samples were just too stiff.
“We built a rim that doesn’t have that much flex in it and the rim design itself, is stiff” confirms Jordan when reflecting upon James’ initial feedback.Utilising a 3-cross spoke pattern and with all Halo Vortex wheels hand built, the team began to experiment with spoke tensions.
“We didn’t want to create a harsh ride and by playing with various spoke tension, we could create a better balance between strength and ride feel”.
Back in Fort William and James was now in a happy place with the Vortex wheel and just in time as he was about to depart for a series of events overseas. First up was round five of the Enduro World Series in Millau France before heading over the Atlantic for the round six in Aspen, Colorado and then to Canada and the Pacific North West for the 6-day Trans BC enduro and finally, round seven of the EWS in Whistler, BC.
And how did the wheels fair? Well, Jordan has the rear rim from James’ 2017 trip in his office. It’s pretty battered and will never hold a tubeless tyre again, but it is however, still true. James, who admits that while the front get “less of a battering”, yet the rear wheel got the job done and that was what Ryan and Jordan wanted from the outset, and indeed James.
When the subject of hardiness in the face of the UK’s often arduous and somewhat challenging conditions, Jordan was quick to point out that all Halo hubs roll on [Japanese made] EZO fully sealed and serviceable bearings. Not only are they non-propriety, they’re all common sizes and easy to get hold of. Jordan also acknowledged that things inevitably break and wear out and that keeping their customers on the trails is a huge part of their business strategy.
Halo have been proudly shop focussed since day one (Ison Distribution, Halo’s parent company used to be a bike shop) and can put new bearings (and any wheel spares) in a mechanics hands within 24-hours. Alternatively, if you live in the middle of nowhere, you can get parts direct too.
These sentiments have been in Halo’s DNA from day one. A British brand with a focus on the end user; be it price, product and support for those who invest their hard earned money.
You can read the Wideopenmag review of the Halo Vortex wheels here.
You can visit Halo’s website here.
Halo Wheels are available from £410.00 per pair via your local Halo stockists, some online stores and Halo direct.
Interview: Olly Forster
Editor: Jamie Edwards
Product photography: Jacob Gibbins
Other images: Thanks to Halo Wheels
Thanks to: Jordan Lunn, Ryan Griffiths and James Shirley
This story was made possible thanks for Halo Wheels, our sponsor for this story.
The concept for the story was conceived by Wideopenmag following our in-depth review of the wheels. We pitched the idea to Halo who were generous enough to sponsor the article and make it possible by covering the costs of its creation.
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