Like a teenager unable to distance himself from embarrassing childhood stories at a family reunion, memories of Hunt’s early days as a purveyor of open mold carbon wheels also hang around.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that setup as a business model – the wave of affordable carbon wheelsets that have hit the market since Hunt’s founding in 2015 has been instrumental in forcing manufacturers of the best road bike wheels to reduce their prices in response.
But it’s quite clever to remember that – rather than the subsequent years of research and development: back and forth with the GST Windkanal, in Immenstaad, Germany; the regular ‘white paper’ issued; and some very cool new kit at their headquarters in the South of England.
Hunt remains a tight and medium-sized company. They’re still based in the same industrial estate where they started eight years ago – though now they’ve spread across most of the complex, beyond the small office and warehouse where they started.
But that could play to Hunt’s advantage. Smaller and nimbler, they pursue opportunities wherever they present themselves – most recently demonstrated in a European grant, equipping the Sussex-based brand with some game-changing technology.
But I’ll second that, let’s start with a bit of the polar opposite: a market perspective for rim brake tires – yes.
Spares and rim brakes
It didn’t happen in the sudden, lackluster foreshadowing of the dumping – the purging – of rim-brake tires from the model lines of the big manufacturers. However, the result is not much different.
Interestingly, this seems to have worked out well for Hunt. Although the share of rim brake tires it sells has also decreased, the run-off has been slower than they expected and rim brake sales still make up a large part of their turnover.
Demand is down from where it was – but there’s also a wider supply, with things in balance. “As long as people still want to buy them, we’ll keep making them,” sentiments Hunt – although, like the wider industry, the company’s main research and development is in the disc brake model.
Regardless, the team at Hunt doesn’t forget where they came from when moving forward: they keep spares for every product they’ve made – facilitated by their predilection for cross-compatibility whenever possible.
‘Change for change’s sake’ can sometimes tick a box, whether that’s to appease the company’s senior management or shareholders. But cross-compatibility makes life easier for any buyer who may have multiple products, and for warehouse operatives who manage inventory. Essentially only common sense prevails, but it should not be taken for granted.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the kit grant awarded to Hunt is their 3D-scanner.
Benchmarking against their competitors has long been central to Hunt’s R&D strategy. The trips down the Immenstaad wind tunnel were in large part to get data on Zipp’s, Enve’s Roval’s and DT Swiss’ flagship wheels to refine and build their own prototypes.
Since relatively windtunnel time is finite and limited, every major brand uses Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for a significant part of the development phase. It’s much faster to create a new rim profile in software and see how it performs there than to create a prototype and take it through a tunnel.
CFD does not completely replace the need for windtunnel testing, it is necessary to check how the design performs in the real world to see if it is valid outside’. But it means you can go into the windtunnel with a better idea of what is likely to perform well.
But while Hunt has CAD files (the digital designs) for its own wheels and can plug those directly into its CFD software, it doesn’t have those files of its competitors – the information is apparently are kept secret by brands.
This is where the 3D scanner comes in. With this piece of kit, Hunt can create a very detailed file with the exact dimensions of any wheelset. It can be plugged directly into CFD software and Hunt and directly compare the aerodynamic efficiency of its tires against its competitors – without any noise and in many more permutations than is possible in the wind tunnel.
The scanning is so detailed, it can even pick up the logos printed on the sidewalls of a Schwalbe tire, to say nothing of mapping the contours of the tread pattern – and that’s an area Hunt pays more attention to.
Many of the best gravel wheels, such as the Schwalbe G-One Allrounds mounted here, may have relatively low profile knobs – but they still effectively act like paddles, increasing airflow turbulence as it passes.
The extent to which the airflow is laminar (steady) or turbulent dictates what the optimal rim profile will be – this is partly why we see more ‘dull’ rim profiles on modern wheelsets.
Being able to accurately map the wheels’ contours in their CFD software, Hunt can accommodate this data in its gravel wheel designs – so stay tuned for the next release there.
As an aside, in the debate as to whether there is any point in optimizing the aerodynamics of the best gravel tires, Hunt’s view is that – at least for the racing scene – there really is. While speeds may not be comparable on the road, they’re still well above the 10mph tipping point when aero becomes the dominant force holding you back.
3D printing has been around for quite some time now, and using this tech is nothing new for Hunt. What has changed is a printer upgrade and a new composite material.
Now, not only can Hunt print its rim designs, they can make them into a complete wheel – hubs, spokes and wheels. These plastic rims are deceptively heavy, you can’t (or maybe want to) ride a set – with rims that tire over time and end up deforming after a while from tire stresses and spokes.
However, these rims are incredibly useful for quickly and cheaply iterating more different rim shapes for wind tunnel testing – boosting Hunt’s real-world data as with the help of a 3D scanner in CFD.
The little details
But Hunt’s progress isn’t just confined to flashy new equipment – and yet, it’s the smaller details that can sometimes make the most significant difference.
You probably don’t think much of your rim tape – especially since almost every tire today has tubeless tape installed. But this was one of the main sources of frustration in the early days of tubeless – having to put up with plasticky tape that doesn’t conform to the rim bed very well and barely sticks to anything, including itself.
Requiring items in huge quantities for all their wheels, Hunt is constantly on the lookout for better suppliers – and is particularly proud of what they use today. Much stickier, softer. The irony is that it is not something that most people appreciate, that it quietly does its job.
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