When looking at wheel options out there, I continue to choose alloy rims. The most obvious reason is they are more affordable than carbon rims, but they also prove to be a bit more reliable and in a pinch, you can pull dents out or limp a cracked rim back to the trailhead or house. Riding feel is a bit less obvious but I also think I prefer the feeling aluminum rims give in terms of flex compared to a stiff carbon rim. Of course, there are a few new exceptions like the Zipp 3Zero Moto rims and the Crank Brothers Synthesis, but the majority of carbon rims are stiff as can be. When Stan’s sent out their new Flow EX3 wheelset for review, I didn’t quite expect to like them as much as I did. And nothing against Stan’s reputation at all, I just felt they would be yet another alloy wheel that gets the job done but doesn’t really stand out. Well, I was proved wrong and I'll explain why the new Flow EX3 rim made me a fan.
The newly updated Stan's Flow EX3 wheels are rocking a new rim that is an improvement from the Flow MK3 rim. They combined the material of the MK3 with the shape of the older Flow EX rim to make the newest, strongest version yet. During testing, they proved that the shape of the Flow EX made it incredibly strong, and one of the best in all rims they tested. By combining the shape with more modern dimensions and the stronger 6069 aluminum of the MK3 versions, the Flow EX3 rim seems to be one of the best combinations Stan's could make. With an internal width of 29mm, the rim profile suits tires from 2.3-2.8, landing most Enduro and DH tires right in the middle. Weighing in at 2115g for the wheelset on our 29” test set, it's not light, but weight is not what these are made for.
The hubs are Stan's Neo OS, front and rear. The front hub has a larger bearing than the other Neo hubs and the rear hub has a Chromoly axle rather than an alloy axle. These are a few of the steps Stan's took to make the most durable wheelset possible. The engagement on the hubs is solid and fast enough for all types of riding. With 72 points of engagement or five degrees, it's an upgrade from most other alloy wheels on the market. Laced up with 32 Sapim D-light spokes and secure lock nipples front and rear, the Flow EX3 wheelset really is a good bang for the buck. How do they handle the constant banging on rocks?
Mounting up the Stan's wheels was not an issue, tires went on fine and installation was straightforward. I've always liked the profile Stan’s rims gave tires; it seems to just be a bit different than other rims out there. I mounted up some of my favorites, WTB Vigilante 2.3 tough tires. I may be out of trend on the width, but the 2.3 profile on a 27-30mm width rim and the tread pattern makes for one of the most consistent tires I have ridden no matter the conditions, and one of my go-to tires when trying out new wheels.
So I had a trip planned for Whistler for the end of the season and I figured there is no better way to test a rim that claims to be strong than three full days of Whistler lapping. I rode them locally for a weekend and then it was off to Whistler with these wheels and a fresh set of the same tires. First impressions were good and that the rim felt stronger than the previous MK3 that had a little more flex than some might want.
After two days of full Whistler shredding, a few rim smacks, a couple cased jumps, and an overall of 20k+ feet of descending, I did a full bike check and really was curious about the wheels. To my surprise, they were true, had zero dings and tension seemed OK. I didn't have to touch them. The third day had some morning rain followed by the best dirt conditions I have ever ridden. We rode the entire day, a full eight hours of riding like little kids in a candy store.
Lap after lap, and you could imagine by the third day I was comfortable, sending jumps too far, leaving whips out hanging and smashing rocks. It was probably the best day on a bike I've ever had, as well as the most vertical feet of descending I have ever done in one day with 23k feet of pure DH in 8 hours. A quick wash and the bike was packed up. Once back home, I took out the wheels and wanted to see the final result of the trip. Again, zero rim dings despite knowing I solidly hit rim over 10 times. They were much straighter than I expected. The only thing that wasn't perfect was the spoke tension. After that third day the tension dropped significantly, enough that I had to throw both front and rear in the stand and tighten the spokes up. I will say that it is 100% expected after three days in Whistler and 50k feet of descending. I'm actually surprised that spoke tension was the only issue, as I blew up a rear derailleur, went through a rear tire, and two sets of brake pads in those three days.
After getting back, I had to force myself to ride local trails after Whistler. It's hard to ride home trails after a trip like that. I was able to get a better comparison of how these wheels stacked up on my home trails that I know very well. The rim was seriously impressive and I think the standout part of these wheels. One part I wasn’t as quite impressed with was the rear hub engagement. There are 5 degrees or 72 points, which isn’t horrible but I tend to think that more is better. I noticed the engagement on the climbs or pulling out of some corners and getting on the pedals.
Overall the Stan's Flow EX3 wheelset really impressed me with the quality and strength they provided. No uncommon issues occurred, and not even a rim dent or wobble. Quite impressive for a wheelset at this price point.
Stan’s has been at the tubeless rim game just about longer than any other brand, and with their third generation of the Flow rim, the Flow EX3 rim is strong, durable and just about what you need to look for in an Enduro/Downhill rim. With the entire Flow EX3 wheelset at just $699, the value is off the charts. After multiple attempts to beat up these wheels both at Whistler and the rough trails at home, I couldn’t do much damage besides loosening up some spokes. No dents, no wobble, no issues. The Stans Flow EX3 Wheelset proved to be a reliable wheelset with quality that exceeds the price tag.