Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha Wheelset on Sage Skyline

Around these parts we are no stranger to Rolf Prima wheels.  Previously we’ve had the P-Town SS wheels, ECX tubulars, Ralos CXC mountain bike wheels, and carbon Ares 4 road disc wheels in for testing.  Each test has ended pretty much the same way, with sadness as we pack the wheels up and ship them back.  Spoiler alert, this review is ending the same way.

The Vigor Alpha wheelset from Rolf Prima sits atop their lineup of aero alloy clincher road wheelsets, joined by the Vigor Alpha Disc, Vigor, and Vigor RS.  Rolf Prima has set the bar high, claiming the Vigor Alpha as “the fastest alloy wheel on the market.”  Roll on through to get our opinion.

Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha Rear Wheel

The Vigor Alpha is constructed using a 33mm deep, 22mm wide (delta profile) alloy clincher rim that has the standard machined braking surface.  For those that need it, a tubular version is available as well.  The rim is laced to CNC machined USA made hubs with a titanium freehub body, courtesy of White Industries.  The aluminum hub shell is loaded with Enduro ceramic bearings.  Bladed Sapim CX-Ray spokes (14 front and 16 rear) are used, and internal jacketed nipples keep them in place.  The wheels can be purchased for either 10/11 speed Shimano/SRAM or 10/11 speed Campagnolo cassettes.  They ship with Rolf branded QRs and a spacer for use with 10 speed cassettes.  Retail pricing is set at $1299.

Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha Front Wheel

The Vigor Alpha wheels make use of Rolf’s patented paired spoke design.  The paired spokes hit the rim near the same point, neutralizing the left and right outward pulling forces, allowing for a wheel build that runs true, and cuts weight.  This seems to be a love it or hate it design, based on previous comments posted.  Aesthetically, the pair spoke design gives the wheel a unique look that has garnered several comments out on the road, and it’s look we like around these parts.

Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha Rear Hub Flang

The rear hub is built with an oversized non-drive side flange.  The idea being that this helps transfer drive side torque to the non-drive side spokes, increasing the number of torque absorbing spokes.

Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha Weight

In use, the Vigor Alpha wheels are great.  At 1560 grams (including rim strips, but not the 110g QRs) the wheels come in at a very respectable weight, especially considering they use a 33mm deep aero alloy rim.  For perspective, carbon rims go deeper in the same weight range, but typically add an extra $1ooo to the price tag.  On the road the wheels roll incredibly smooth, in part to a well designed hub running ceramic bearings.  Under acceleration, the wheels spin up fast, and react to hard efforts with little to no wind up.  Off the line, these are some of the most fun wheels I have ridden.  The Vigor Alpha is a stiff wheel, but less so than the full carbon clinchers we see adorning many test bikes these days.  That isn’t a bad thing however, as they are very comfortable during long hours in the saddle.  For larger riders that may want something a bit beefier, look at the Vigor RS with increased spoke count.

Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha Front Hub

When pointed uphill, I never felt as if the wheels were holding me back, and I never experienced any brake rub, or overly noticeable flexing when pedaling out of the saddle.  When heading down the other side, the wheels felt firm, stayed planted, and railed through covers when pushed hard.  Stopping is done with ease.  When braking, you get exactly the performance one would expect from a machined aluminum clincher braking surface.  It was a nice change of pace after riding full carbon clinchers recently.    

While not as aerodynamic as a deep section carbon wheelset, the aero advantage of the Vigor Alpha is present.  Holding higher speed takes just that little bit less effort, keeping you riding fresher, for longer.  Color me impressed for an aluminum clincher.

Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha Rear Hub

Not everything with the Vigor Alpha wheelset is perfect, however.  Sometimes a compromise is made, and for good reason.  Home and shop mechanics alike will be the first to point out that the wheelset makes use of internal nipples.  The downside, the wheels are a bit harder to adjust when needed.  By the way, these wheels were true out of the box, and stayed that way the entire time I had them (3 months).  This fact holds true for every set of wheels we have had from Rolf Prima.  This is in part due to the pre-stressing done when hand-building their wheels.  For more info, read our shop tour here.

Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha Front QR

Using internal nipples is done for good reason though.  Using internal nipples reduces stress on the nipple, because the nipple is in compression.  The internal nipple also reduces drag, allowing for a more aerodynamic wheel.   Rolf Prima uses their patented, jacketed nipple technology.  The deeper the rim profile, the more severe of a bend the spoke must make to hit the hub flange.  This bend is typically made at the threads of the spoke, which is one of the weakest points of a spoke.  To increase spoke life, Rolf Prima uses an internal jacketed nipple design that moves this bend 5mm to 7mm away from the threads.  So yes, internal nipples make the wheel harder and less convenient to work on, but they lead to longer spoke life and better aerodynamics.  Personally, I am ok with those tradeoffs.

Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha Custom Decal 2

Rolf Prima can print custom color logos to match your bike’s color scheme. In this case, they did up a logo matching the light blue and yellow of the Sage logo for us.

Having these wheels on my Sage Cycles Skyline Ti road bike (more to come on that soon) was a treat.  The aero advantage is nice on the flats and downhill.  At 1560 grams they get up hills without getting in the way.  The wheel build is strong, and durability should not be an issue, thanks in part to that White Industries made hub.  I would suggest anyone looking for that one wheel to do it all, give the Vigor Alpha some serious consideration.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go open a beer and try not to be to sad as I pack up the wheels to ship them back.   

9 comments

  1. ChrisC on

    I’ve been on a pair of Vigor Alphas for about three years now and they are amazing! The only short coming is a bit of pulsing from the front under heavy breaking. This is an unavoidable fact of the paired spoke design which pulls the rim into a slightly scalloped shape. It’s only a deviation of half a millimeter, but with the slightly canted brake tracks, it is noticeable to me.

    That’s a pretty minor complaint though in comparison to all of the good things about these wheels.

    Reply
  2. Duane on

    Been riding these wheels for about 9 months (also own the Elan series and Rolf wheels going back to the Trek days) and they are marvelous.

    Reply
    • Thomsen1989 on

      Carbon fiber fork legs? I don’t think so… By the way, this is just as possible with a ‘standard’ 16 spoke setup, given the squirrel is not American of course.

      Reply
  3. Slow Joe Crow on

    Major structural engineering goof there. Mounting nipples inside the wheel does not put them in compression, the spoke/nipple combo is always in tension when the wheel is unloaded. Internal nipples reduce drag but have no real effect on wheel structure.
    Also I think previous comments missed the unintended consequence of paired spokes, which is the large gap between the spokes that allows suicidal squirrels to get stuck in your wheel and cause a massive crash. http://www.bikeiowa.com/uploads/gallery/41_PoorSquirrel_1.jpg shows the best known example where a rider on a Trek with Rolf wheels had a squirrel get jammed in his wheel which broke the carbon fiber fork legs and dumped the rider hard.

    Reply
  4. mudrock on

    I’ve worked at a Trek shop and saw a failed Rolf wheel, where the nipple cracked the rim. No doubt the jacketed nipples address that weakness. I personally am not a fan, think the stresses are too localized. They’re hard to true, and now that the nipples are internal, even harder.

    Reply
  5. WannaBeSTi on

    Rolf wheels are not any more attractive to suicidal squirrels than any other wheel. I’ve seen a squirrel take out a friend while mountain biking. Though, it is funny you brought that up because I had a squirrel hit my rim the day before I got my Rolf Ares 4 wheelset. It wasn’t the first time I’ve had a squirrel come-a-flyin’ at me. I’ve had them go between my wheels, over my front wheel, hit me in the thigh, and jump through my frame. All those were before I had Rolf wheels.
    As far as the tension and compression thing…
    All the spokes are in a state of tension… all of the time. The spokes on the bottom are de-tensioned slightly, but are still in tension. Sort of like detuning a guitar string to a lower octave. The string is still tensioned, just lower.
    The nipples, by being in the rim, are always in compression.

    Reply
  6. Mark on

    OK – interesting comments, but should I buy these over Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLS? Squirrels seem less suicidal in the UK, I average about 20 mph on bike leg of 70.3 triathlon and I am fairly lightweight at 140lbs… views really appreciated.

    Reply

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