Chris King ARD44 wheelset first impressions: Built to last
As one would expect from Chris King, their first road bike wheelset is made with long-term impact at the top of mind.
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Chris King is best known for manufacturing hubs, headsets, bottom brackets, and bike components that use bearings. Their hubs have been found across the industry, be it on complete bikes or as critical components to wheelsets. The Portland-based brand, however, has slowly built out its lineup of in-house wheelsets, with their first road wheelset called the Chris King ARD44 wheelset.
As noted, this isn’t the company’s first wheelset. It takes some of the learnings of their own GRD23 gravel wheelset and adds an aero-profiled 44 mm deep rim with road bike riding in mind.
Further, the ARD44 wheelset is the first aero-profiled rim to use FusionFiber carbon, the same found on King’s gravel and MTB wheels. So MTB and gravel tech in a road-focused package, right? Sort of.
A quick overview of FusionFiber
Most carbon wheels use a thermoset resin for their carbon fiber. It leads to carbon that is light and strong, but not recyclable. FusionFiber uses a thermoplastic resin that aims to introduce some recyclability.
Using a thermoplastic resin has a few advantages, according to Chris King and FusionFiber’s creator, CSS Composites. Thermoplastic resin can be ground down, melted, and downcycled into another carbon fiber component over and over again. It isn’t recycling; ground-down carbon fiber will never be as strong as its original form. But it allows carbon fiber that might otherwise sit in a landfill to have a second life doing something else.
There are also potential performance benefits to FusionFiber. FusionFiber is said to not only be more impact resistant than regular carbon fiber, but it is also better at vertical damping. Vertical damping should improve the ride quality and dampen those road vibrations one might feel. A smoother wheel should result in better traction and a comfortable ride.
And if you’re following the mass adoption of wider 28 mm road tires over the last few years, you’re finding that smooth is fast and fast is smooth. That’s what Chris King is banking on with their latest wheels.
Meet the ARD44 wheelset
Rim material out of the way, let’s dig into the wheelset.
The rim uses the aforementioned FusionFiber carbon to make what they call an “aero-profiled, 44 mm deep rim.” According to the company, the carbon mold and specific layup recipe were designed specifically for these rims in conjunction with CSS Composites through over two years of research and development.
So while CSS Composites has plenty of carbon experience, this is both CSS’s and Chris King’s first dedicated road rim.
The rims – with matching depths front and rear – follow the wide internal rim format with a generous 25 mm internal width for each rim, with an external width of 30.5 mm. Chris King says the hookless bead rim is aerodynamically tailored for tires 28 mm to 32 mm wide but will comfortably work with tires as wide as 47 mm without issue.
The rims are laced two-cross with 24 Sapim CX-Ray bladed spokes with external spoke nipples. Front and rear wheels use the brand’s R45D Centerlock hubs, using conventional stainless steel bearings or carbon ceramic bearings. Each rim is drilled conventionally, but the wheels come pre-taped out of the box.
Interestingly, Chris King is debuting a new King logo for all FusionFiber-equipped wheels. Rather than the standard ‘Chris King’ name, the wheels just have a large ‘KING’ logo on the rim.
The retail price for the complete wheelset is $2850, with a choice of eight different hub anodization options. Both Shimano and SRAM XDR freehubs are available. The aforementioned hybrid ceramic bearings are available for a $120 upcharge.
Chris King claims that an ARD44 rim weighs 435 grams per rim with a +/- 15 gram note for variation. Suggested wheelset weight is 1525 grams; ours weighed in at 1570 grams with valves and tubeless tape already installed.
First Impressions of the Chris King ARD44
We haven’t had as much time as we’d like on the wheels, unfortunately. What I can offer is what it was like to set up the wheels and get out on my local road loop.
Both wheels come pretaped with the valve already installed for tubeless, sending a clear message that they don’t expect many people to use tubes with these wheels. The two sets of tires I tried to install – one a 28 mm road and the other a 40 mm gravel tire – seated easily with a floor pump. Each tire was also reassuringly locked into place, though some folks may find getting the tires on and off a bit challenging.
Interestingly, Chris King says the wheels readily adhere to 2022 ETRTO guidelines, which are meant to make for consistent rim dimensions and reliable tire fitment. That those same guidelines only apply to rims and not tires still make tire fitment consistency a challenge.
I’d chalk this up not to the rim’s tolerances but rather to the tires. Even still, mounting tires with a floor pump is a positive that bodes well for being able to easily reseat the tire with a CO2 cartridge on the side of the road should you need to.
I am a fan of the wheel’s use of standard components. The spokes are easily replaceable, and a J-bend head makes finding spoke replacements easier down the road. Further, the use of Chris King hubs means it should be easy to source parts years and years down the line.
How do the wheels feel? Perfectly solid. I put it on a stiffer race bike, and there is a difference I could feel, however slight it might be. It felt similar to dropping your tire pressure about 5 PSI on the road in that the ride was smoother, but you don’t have the squishy feel one might get from an underinflated road tire as well.
While the difference in ride smoothness was palpable, it wasn’t as obvious as something like the Forge + Bond FB25 gravel wheels we had for review, which also used FusionFiber carbon fiber.
So then there are three key differentiators here: claimed ride smoothness, recyclability, and Chris King’s reputation for build quality. We’ve covered the first two, but the Chris King lifetime warranty seems fairly generous as well. Should you have any issues, Chris King will send a shipping label for the wheel. They then rebuild the wheel with a fresh rim, give your hub a look-over, and send it back to you to keep on riding.
And importantly, the rim gets recycled by CSS Composites, who will downcycle them for use in components like tire levers and more.
The ARD44 wheels aren’t standouts on paper. But they do ride well from my first impression, they look good, they come with plenty of hub colors, and they come from a company that boasts a track record for reliability and long-term support. That should be enough for most people.
Stay tuned for our longer-term review of the Chris King ARD44 wheels. In the meantime, find more information at chrisking.com.