Nukeproof started life as a brand dedicated to high-performance hubs and the latest alloy Neutron and Horizon wheels continue that tradition.
In an ever-competitive market, Nukeproof have rejoined the fray with all-alloy wheel offerings in the Horizon and Neutron ranges.
Pete caught up with Nukeproof’s Chris Ross to find out how they re-imagined the Nukeproof wheel range.
Photos by Laurence Crossman-Ems.
What was the impetus for offering a Nukeproof wheel range?
We’re constantly looking to improve and challenge ourselves. When I started back in 2018, I took an honest look at all our components ranges to challenge if they were the best products we could produce. In all honesty, we saw there was the obvious opportunity to improve the hubs and rims of our current wheel offering.
Initially our original Horizon wheels had a few hub problems, which really strained our relationship with the hub factory. Although we got the issues resolved and now have no problems, we felt in fixing these issues we had learnt enough to create a better wheelset for our riders.
Wheels are a key product for Nukeproof, with the success of some of our other key components (pedals, handlebars etc.) we wanted to ensure that the wheels were the best and highest quality products we could offer.
Once you’d decided to update your wheels, what happened next?
Whilst we we’re learning more about our current hubs and how to improve them, we also wanted to test some of the other benchmark products. There are a few key suppliers and factories for hubs and effectively my first job was to go shopping to find a factory partner that matched our core values and who we could work well with to develop our products.
After that, it’s a little relationship building and a lot of testing (their current products as well as key competitors). At one point we had around 40 sample hubs and a similar number of rims from several factories to review. In doing all this we found who the best match for us to work with. Then the design process starts.
How many people are involved in that process and what do they do?
Nukeproof is a pretty small team, so the initial factory decisions we’re agreed as a complete team (the R&D, Bike and component team). Once an initial brief was agreed, the development with our two engineers and me is started with our contacts at the factory. From our experience as a team we had certain design and technical requirements that our hub had to have to meet to get the performance we wanted.
Our team of engineers then started to computer model a design, which is then sent to our hub factory for them to review with their engineers. From here we can iron out any obvious potential problems and start the process of get our first samples of our hub design ordered.
With my background, I understand the importance of making sure that our products must be easy to maintain and service by any competently mechanically minded rider, so this was always kept in mind with any design work we were doing. There are many considerations from the fundamental internals and performance through to the ergonomics to ensure our end caps where shaped to make them easier to grip when removing.
Once the products get to a finalised state we then get our graphic design team to make the product look awesome visually.
What did you know you wanted to do with these wheels?
I guess we had a couple of main aims. With any Nukeproof product reliability is key, they had to be strong and also easy to maintain, whilst keeping weight in mind too. There were many areas for improvement in our old wheels, so these were all addressed in our new wheels.
How difficult is it to nail down spoke number, offset and internal rim width?
During the testing phase we tried various different options of spoke counts, offsets & rim drillings. From our initial sample rims we had internal widths from 23mm to 35mm so it was really easy to do back to back testing and see how different widths felt. Our Horizon rim has a 30mm internal width and our Neutron has a 29mm internal width.
During our testing we seen quite a few rims fail at the sidewall. On the Horizon wheelsets we have used a slightly heavier rear rim which has extra material specifically in the sidewall to minimise the risk of this happening. This added a small amount of extra weight, but was worth doing for the added security, as it generally is the rear wheel that suffers trail damage.
There is also a vast difference in rim materials. We did not want to use 6061 alloy on our rims as it can be quite soft, but 6069 can also be harsh. To get the benefits of both we have used an alloy blend on new Horizon rims which is close to 6066 which gives us a nice middle ground.
All of our wheels have 32 double butted spokes and we chose to stick with J-bend as they are much easier to source globally and replace than straight pull should you need to do this.
Do industry trends heavily affect design decisions?
There are definitely trends within the industry which people are following. We keep an eye on these, but fundamentally we also choose to do our own thing, to suit the Nukeproof customer. Our Horizon rim is a good example of this. In people’s minds a welded rim is the strongest join, but when I researched this and spoke with factories in testing this isn’t always the case. We found when you weld a rim, the alloy is heated to an extremely high temperature.
As an alloy is metallically bonded mixture its properties can be change when heated. The extreme heat effects the overall strength of the rim as the alloy is no longer consistent. We are using a sleeved rim for Horizon, our production methods and tolerances are precise. When we pair with our hubs we can create a solid build as we have also tailored the hub flange angles to suit the rim profile.
How did you go about the stealth pawl setup?
The stealth pawls are definitely not silent but they are quieter than the standard pawls & springs fitted in our hubs. Our lead engineer has a lot of experience with hub development, so this was direct input from him. The difference between the standard and stealth set up is the thickness of the pawl spring.
It’s where Nukeproof becomes so personal, we’ve a lot of input from our wider team. I personally like a loud hub and our Horizon hubs sounds amazing, but a few of our staff prefer things to be quieter so we had the option to cater for both, so why wouldn’t you?
Did you consider a carbon rim? What made you stick to alloy?
Of course. We also tested some other carbon rims during this process from various brands to see what was currently on the market. But the main issue we found was that carbon gave quite a harsh ride and didn’t have the same compliance as alloy. After a few broken carbon rims, we were close to the weight of the alloy rim with no real performance benefits, so currently we have decided to concentrate on our alloy rim development.
What’s the process of weighing up using another brand hub, rebadging an existing hub, or designing your own?
It is pretty easy to go to a show like Eurobike, meet some factories and put your logo on their product then launch it but it’s definitely not something we wanted to do which is why this project has taken over two years to launch.
Picking a factory and working with them on our own hub means you have full control over the design.
However, you have to consider how to allow your hub designs work with other brands constant standards like branded freehub bodies. SRAM XD and Shimano Microspline hubs have a smaller diameter than Shimano HG to accommodate the 10t sprocket.
We ended up using 2x bearings in the Shimano HG freehub, these wouldn’t fit in the Sram XD and Shimano Microspline freehub’s so we used smaller bearings but added an extra one in these freehubs to give extra support on the axle. Adding a 3rd bearing also started another round of testing with the bearings in various positions (inside, middle or outside) to see which was most effective.
Changes like this just aren’t possible if you rebadge an existing hub, you are stuck with what is in the catalogue.
Does it take long to get a working prototype in-hand?
Having a good relationship with a factory really helps with the development process and we had a solid brief of the aspects and performance we wanted, so we got to first samples in early 2019. The development carries on through the process whilst we were out test riding initial samples to check for long term problems appearing (Northern Irish Mud and weather is a good test).
Thankfully with improved communications like SKYPE it’s much easier than ever to work directly with our factories on getting all the details of these wheelsets exactly how we wanted them to be.
How many prototypes did you make before settling on what would be the production model?
There is a bit of backwards and forwards as we create and change things, but we had 4 different built versions of the hub to get us to where we are now. There were also various freehub samples & axle configurations along the way too.
Beyond prototypes, what form did your testing take?
To maximise the ride time of the wheels, to date, between Neutron & Horizon, we have 23 wheelsets still out there being tested. Even though our wheels have now launched, we will continue to ride these wheels to learn as much as we can in case any issues arise. We’ve a great group of riders in our own team who are racing and riding regularly, sponsored athletes (where possible, as many of our athletes are on other wheel brands currently) and even a lucky few in my circle of friends who I regularly ride with and fully trust their feedback from.
This gives a really good range of riders on various types of bikes putting miles on the wheels so we can see if any issues are appearing. It also allows us to test on all types of bikes including E-bikes, which are quite hard on wheels due to the instant torque from the motor & the added weight.
All of our rear hubs have also gone through 100,000 cycles under load in lab testing to ensure that no issues appear under lab conditions which are obviously different to real world.
As well as lab testing the good ol’ Northern Irish winters and summers help, especially the past two very wet winters helped magnify any wear issues. We spent considerable time deciding on bearings for our Horizon wheels and ended up selecting Enduro bearings with full contact seals. Enduro bearings full contact seal makes the axle feel tighter initially, but at around 150rpm some grease will escape and forming a barrier outside the bearing and an equilibrium is created.
At this stage the axle will then feel completely normal. To cover extreme cases we have also tested several wheelsets with no added grease in the pawl area to helps speed up wear and show an extreme picture. Also as part of the hub development the hub seal we engineered on both hubs are very effective and do an excellent job of keeping the elements out.
How important are athletes to testing new product?
Our athletes are important to all of our new product development. It’s a great test to have our product’s used at the highest level to ensure they are “good enough”. Athletes are also helpful as they can ride consistently over and over again on a trail, so it’s easier for them to notice subtle changes. It’s also good to understand the requirements of athletes as we want Nukeproof products to enhance not hinder their performance.
However, it’s vitally important to get “real life” feedback from riders who reflect our customers. Satisfying these riders is vital, their needs can be very different to athletes at races. From simple things like ensuring that the wheels can be removed and replaced easily to fit in the back of car time and time again through to basic maintenance.
Did you have a Eureka moment when you new you’d got it right?
There are so many parts that make up the project and I like to try and get as close to perfection as possible. Whether it’s getting bearings in exactly the right position or the colour of a spacer which has made this project run on longer than initially planned. The result is two wheelsets that we can be completely happy with and proud to put the Nukeproof brand name on.
No matter how many products we produce it’s always a super exciting (and nerve wracking) when the courier arrives at the door with the final production sample for sign-off.
You can check out the Nukeproof Horizon and Neutron wheelsets on Nukeproof’s website here.
Read all our other product development interviews on our website here.