Words by: Liam Woods
Berd claims to make the world's lightest bicycle spoke. With a different material than your normal steel or alloy spoke, you have to wonder, can they be as good as what we are used to on traditional wheels in both weight and strength?
In the world of new products and the ongoing quest to save weight, it's hard to really know what is in fact lighter and better, or just really good marketing. When Berd first reached out, we were a little hesitant to hear about the world's lightest bicycle spoke. This magical spoke that looks like parachute rope, is not only stronger, but much lighter than steel. Hard to believe we know. Berd was kind enough to send out their TR27 wheelset, of course with Berd Spokes, Industry Nine Hydra hubs, and Berd's own carbon rim. This is their trail wheelset with a 27mm internal rim measurement that comes in at an impressive 1,340g for the complete wheelset.
The material used to make a Berd Spoke is something you would hear in science class or a NASA presentation, “ultra high molecular weight polyethylene” or “UHMWPE'' and is claimed to have 12 times the strength-to-weight ratio over steel. There is a traditional threaded spoke that connects to a traditional nipple at the rim, but that is where the similarities end. After that, the UHMWPE material starts and overlaps on the spoke portion then continues down to the hub where a UHMWPE loop is there to be put into a traditional j-bend or straight pull hub. Lacing is also a bit different, we will go into that later.
Berd was founded in 2015 by the 3 co-founders, Charlie Spanjers, Brad Guertin, & Kyle Olson, who all have impressive qualifications including multiple engineering degrees. The mission was to make the lightest bicycle spoke in the world using advanced materials from the science and engineering world. Goal; to make cyclists ride farther and faster than ever before.
As mentioned, there are always new products coming out that have large claims. But when you take them into the real world, many of them are not totally noticed by an average rider like myself, who gets to try the majority of the latest and greatest products. One thing I am always looking at is rotational weight, mostly in wheels and tires. I am always trying to find that balance between weight, strength, and grip. Rotating weight is the most instant and noticeable weight you can feel on your bike, which is why I personally obsess over it. I even have multiple spreadsheets with tire weights and wheel/tire combos to nerd out on.
So when one product like the Berd Spokes can drop around 100-200g of your wheel weight, that grabs our attention fast. We will chat more about riding impressions below, but we will say it was immediately noticeable how much lighter and faster rolling the wheels we tested felt. With a wheel that has been laced with Berd Spokes, the idea is to have a wheel that does not compromise on strength or weight, yet still give you significant weight savings that you can actually feel.
Individual Berd Spoke: $8 each
DT Swiss Champion: $0.50 - 1 each
Dt Swiss Competition Race: $4.95 each
Your common 29" mountain bike spoke (Dt Swiss Champion 2.0) for 32 spokes weight 220g, the same 32 spokes from Berd weigh 78g, making the Berd spokes 142g lighter per wheel!
32 Berd Spokes: 78g
32 DT Swiss Champion Spokes: 220g
Building a set of Berd wheels is similar in the fact that you use the same lacing pattern as a traditional wheel. Once you have it laced up, the tensioning and truing is going to be basically the same. The major difference is how the spoke interfaces with the hub. As noted above, you have a loop that goes through the hub hole. Inside the loop, a “bar” is inserted to grab the loop and hold the spoke in place in the hub's spoke hole. The other difference is that you need to round out the spoke hole on the hub. To learn more about then check out the Berd Site for their installation guide.
If you are looking to build a custom wheelset, the Berd Spokes are not cheap. They are roughly $8 each, compared to a $1-4 price on a basic to high end steel spoke. So be prepared to pay the price when building up a custom wheelset, but if you look to get Berd’s stock wheel options, there is actually a ton of value in those. Our tested TR27 wheels retail for $1,895, very comparable to other carbon wheels on the market, let alone ones that are light and faster than almost anything out there.
Now what really matters, how do these wheels and spokes ride and can we notice an improvement without any negatives? To start, we tested their TR27 wheelset which is a perfect trail wheelset for the majority of our normal riding. The wheels have Industry Nine Hydra hubs and their 27mm internal carbon rim. We threw on some Maxxis tires with a Dissector up front and a Rekon Race out back, looking to really emphasize the lightweight and fast rolling theme these wheels are designed for. Side note, we often ride the Dissector up front on our downcountry, xc-ish or trail wheels so it's something we are used to riding.
Coming from our normal wheels, the Berd TR27 wheels knocked off around a full pound from the bike, and that is all in rotating weight, super impressive. Right away in the parking lot you can feel just how damn quick these wheels accelerate and how fast they roll. Over the course of 8 weeks or so, myself, Jared and Jeff all put these to the test. From 4-5 hour xc rides, to full blown chunky trail riding, we threw the kitchen sink at them. Not only are the improvements addicting on how fast these roll and accelerate, but they also proved to be very durable. So durable we never had to touch a spoke wrench to the wheels in our 8 weeks and about 50 hours of testing. They roll as true as they came and are in the same tension as well. That alone is a great window into how our initial impressions were way off with these wheels. At first, we thought they might need tons of adjustment and tension to remain rideable. That was definitely not the case. They also ride as stiff as any carbon wheel on the market in a good way. You can slam these into corners and smash rock gardens while remaining in control and confident.
After our testing, all three of us came to the conclusion that we were total fans of the Berd Spokes and wheels, how they ride, the weight they save, and none of us wanted to send them back. Each of us felt that the main benefits of these wheels were of course weight. The improved acceleration & improved rolling speed was easily noticeable every time we rode them. They also provide just the right amount of stiffness. The spokes do not feel like noodles but also are not so stiff that you can't ride them all day or in rough terrain without having your teeth fall out.
Are you out there chasing grams and willing to go to extreme lengths to have your bike weigh less than your buddies? Well, Berd made that easier and not only do the Berd Wheels save weight, but they also improve riding traits like acceleration and rolling speed. Using an advanced polymer called ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), Berd has changed the way weight weenies and normal riders alike can get a lighter wheel that doesn't compromise on strength and riding quality. We have been blown away with the Berd TR27 Wheels and now all of us are looking to build wheels with Berd Spokes.
This article was written / authored by Liam Woods. Liam has been in the bicycle industry for over 10 years as a racer, professional mechanic, service manager and as of late, media and content creator. Liam has ridden thousands of different bikes, ridden countless components, tested endless MTB apparel of all kinds and written reviews on it all. He's a key piece to the Worldwide Cyclery "All Things MTB" content creation puzzle. He also makes consistent appearances on the Worldwide Cyclery YouTube channel and Instagram.