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While the benefits of wheels that are lighter and stronger than their aluminum peers are clear, carbon fiber wheels come with a price premium that can be awfully hard to justify. With a number of
perfectly good excellent wheels available in the $600-900 range, dropping 3-4 times for something a bit lighter and stronger is often out of the question. A large part of the cost for which carbon fiber rims are known comes from their manufacturing complexity. Unlike aluminum rims, which are extruded as a continuous section and then welded or pinned into a hoop- a largely automated process- carbon fiber rims are much more process- and labor- intensive.
Rather than simply accept the high cost of manufacturing carbon fiber rims, the engineers at Specialized’s wheel brand Roval decided to question the function of each and every part of the rim. Realizing that tubeless tires’ snug beads no longer rely on rim bead hooks to stay in place, the company decided to do away with them altogether. With them, the bead hooks took away complex tooling and/or secondary machining processes- and a good deal of expense. How much? Enough that the DT-hub’d Control Carbon 29 wheelset retails for $1,200- the cost of 1 1/2 high-end carbon fiber rims (without hubs or spokes). Revolutionary breakthrough or evolutionary dead-end? Hit the jump to find out!
When we first learned about Specialized’s hookless rims last July, the idea made intuitive sense. After all, tubeless tires’ primary seal is between the bead and tire bed. As a result, beads have gotten stronger, snugger, and more reliable (as early tubeless adopters will attest)- and blow-offs have become extremely rare. That said, intuition is one thing- trusting a new approach to hold your tires and the air inside while getting rad is another.
When the 32-spoke Roval wheelset arrived, we threw it on the scale complete with the included rim strips and valve stems. The 1,590g set weight won’t set racers’ hearts aflutter- but the Control Carbon 29s are an all-around XC/trail wheelset with a lifetime warranty and a 240lb rider weight limit, and impressive when viewed in that light. When compared to my Project 1.1 wheelset, which uses similar DT 350 hubs, the same DT Revolution spokes, and racers’ favorite Stan’s Crest rims, the Rovals are about 25g lighter and a whole lot more confidence inspiring.
Roval’s choice of DT-Swiss’ 350 hub internals is a great one. It has allowed us to press the Control Carbons into worry- and pop-free singlespeed service and will make for straightforward SRAM XX1 compatibility going forward. The wheels come with 135mm QR and 135/142mm thru axle rear and 15mm thru and 24/28mm QR front axle adapters. In other words, everyone who isn’t using a 20mm thru axle fork should be good to go right out of the box. Throw in tubeless rim strips (an improvement over Roval’s earlier tape), a set of handsome QRs, and a pair of valve stems and the Rovals start to look like quite the bargain.
On the trail, the Control Carbon 29s are unexciting in the best possible way: they just get on with being excellent. The 21mm inside width (27mm outside) provides a decent footprint for XC tires- neither too wide nor too narrow. Acceleration is on par with the Stans Crest wheelset mentioned above without that set’s vagueness at the limit. While the wheels don’t come with any perceptible trail-smoothing magic carpet effect, few wheels of any stiffness do. The DT-built freehub mechanism is solid and skip-free and both front and rear wheels roll smoothly. True to the promise of carbon fiber, the Rovals offer a solidity not unlike a trail wheelset with the acceleration of all but the lightest 29er wheelsets.
And the lack of a beadhook? Despite a couple of slow leaks taking tire pressures well below 20psi, a direct rim hit (resulting in a cut casing at the tire’ bead but no damage to the rim itself), and a sloppy, wobbly trailside tire seating, the tubeless-ready Schwalbe Racing Ralphs haven’t been affected in the least. Awkward landings, hard cornering, and combining the two into a spectacular crash haven’t caused any leaking, belching, or burping.
For the about the same price as building DT 350s up a pair of generic Chinese carbon rims, the Rovals make a compelling case for themselves. Sure, there are a number of good aluminum-rim’d wheelsets in the same weight range, but with most of those knocking on the $1,000 mark and few offering Roval’s warranty or high weight limit, it doesn’t take much to justify closing the gap. More as we pile on the miles…