Rolf Prima wheels are easy to pick out in the pack with their trademark paired spoke design and quiet, crisp freehub sound. Over the years, Rolf has established itself as a leader in carbon wheel construction and long-lasting, lightweight race wheels. We took Rolf’s updated Ares 4 disc wheel through the paces to see how well rounded this all ’rounder wheel really is.

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravelRolf’s do-it-all Ares 4 disc wheel aged well as the cycling world pulled towards wider tires, lower pressures, and exploration. We reviewed the Rolf Ares 4 disc in 2014, there are many updates but the ethos of the wheel is still the same. Rolf’s Ares line is light, fast, and generally capable of many disciplines. The Ares 42mm deep aero rim is an asset in nearly every facet of cycling, and the White Industries platform hubs are fantastic but if you ask any cyclist about Rolf wheels, the first thing they’ll mention is the paired spokes. 

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

For those who are curious about the paired spoke design, you’re not the only one. We’ve even dedicated a full AASQ about the that dives further into the background and inception. 

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

For those unfamiliar with the paired spoke concept, here’s a crash course; Rolf’s paired spoke design has been around for 20+ years. The paired spoke design is all about the lateral forces from spoke tension. When you build a wheel and tighten the spokes, they pull the rim to the left or right, depending on which flange of the hub they come from. These lateral forces need to be balanced (and stay to balanced) for a wheel to remain true. By bringing the spokes to the rim in pairs, the lateral spoke forces are offset over the pair of two spokes. A traditional wheel will offset the lateral pulling forces over 3 or so spokes. Both work, but by pairing the spokes, you are in more control over tensions and spoke count, reducing weight. 

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

Rolf Ares 4 Rim 

The Ares 4 rims measures out to…you guessed it – 42mm deep, putting it into the all-around category, but the bulging teardrop shape of the Delta rim makes it more than an average wheel.

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

The tubeless-ready rims measure 28.6mm external, 19.70mm internal, with a 3.25mm bead. The rim shape is an update to the Rolf Delta design. A wider rim profile that’s shaped to smoothly direct the air over the rim and tire.

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

It’s designed to have symmetrical leading and trailing edges, which means it looks the same to the wind whether the tire hits the wind first (front of the wheel) or the rim (back of wheel). The paired, minimal spoke usage further reduces drag.

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

The top of the rim curves inward slightly with a nice, fat, round top, which presumably helps diffuse impacts when running lower pressures. Though the rims are tubeless, the tubeless setup will cost you an extra $30 at checkout. Though you can set them up just as easily on your own as we did with your personal supply of tubeless tape.Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

Rolf XST 4.4 hubs

All of Rolf Prima wheels roll on a built in the USA hubset by White Industries. Most of Rolf’s hubs are crafted in the USA such as its TdF 4.4 and XST hubs. As for Rolf’s sister company Astral, its Approach hubs are made in the USA along with the White Industry T11, CLD, and XMR hubs they commonly build with. Rolf’s TdF 2.4, TdF 3.0 along with the XR/Stage 1 hubs are manufactured overseas. The Ares 4 utilize Rolf’s XST 4.4 hubs – with higher engagement than the previous model from 2014. The updated hub now supports 48 points of engagement (7 degrees) up from the previous model at 24. The XST hubs come stock with Enduro steel bearings though a full ceramic upgrade is available at purchase as an upgrade for $250.

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

The telling White Industries feature is the titanium freehub body – something I’ve grown to love over the years. The titanium material resists the common gouging from the cassette torque and looks beautiful. The XST uses a CNC machined 6AL-4V Titanium freehub body with three independently sprung steel pawls and White Industries T2 High Engagement Drive Ring.

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

All Rolf Prima hubs utilize its patented Differential Flange Diameter in the rear, effectively doubling the number of torque-absorbing spokes and creating a more durable wheel. The flanges on the hubs are thick and feature Whites sink screw bearing adjustment, neatly drilled through the center lock spline. We opted for the Shimano/SRAM freehub with center lock rotors, but the build is available in SRAM XDR 11/12 speed or Campagnolo 11/12-speed.

Build Specifications:

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

Rolf’s Ares wheels are laced with Sapim bladed CX-Ray spokes with internal alloy nipples. The 20 hole carbon rims are laced up in house at the Rolf Eugene, OR facility, and have been for quite some time. 

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

Our build featured Rolf XST 4.4 hubs at 142mm x 12mm rear and 100mm x 12mm front. Our set of Ares came in at 1530 grams for the set (830g rear and 700g front) without tubeless valves or tape. I used Stans 21mm wide tubeless tape to complete the tubeless setup and had zero problems seating tires with a floor pump. 

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravelHow do they ride? 

I’ve raced a tubular rim brake version of the Ares 4 for some years, and I always liked them. The shape was solid in the crosswinds, would rocket up climbs thanks to the low weight, and could take a beating when they made the transfer to my CX bike. I was afraid that would be lost with the Ares 4 and the new tubeless-ready rim – nearly 300 grams more than the model I raced years ago, but that was put to rest on the first climb. 

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

I tested the Ares both tubed and tubeless. A few long rides with the Bontrager R4 Classics that I’m very familiar with and then transitioned to a Vittoria Rubino 28mm tubeless tire. I had zero issues setting up the Ares 4 as tubeless and used a conventional floor pump to seat the tires. The Ares 4 is heavier than the wheelset they replaced on my road bike, but they ride like a much lighter wheel. The Ares spin up quickly and hold speed up the punchy hills, not just fading when the climbing ends. The climbing prowess could be attributed to paired spokes, rim shape, or all working in concert – crafting a dynamic riding experience

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

On the flats, the Ares 4 roll nearly as well as when the road pointed up. I could feel some fizzle out on lumpy sections of the road, but only in comparison to the climbing sensations. Attacking and sprinting the Ares 4 is quick, losing a wheel in front of you the Ares jump fast, even when you feel there’s no more left. The lack of spokes and smart rim design is notable in wide open, crosswind heavy sections of road as well as dampen road vibrations. Though Rolf touts no aerodynamic or YAW stats in the rim profile, the Ares 4 performs exceptionally well in the wind. High gusts felt like nothing rolling on mountain passes, and consistency in this performance is something to note.Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

When I transitioned the Ares from my road bike to a gravel setup, I was pleasantly surprised with the performance. The Ares could hold its own in the woods and gravel, larger tires were not as rock-solid as they felt on the road but the wheels were sturdy and I had confidence in the build. The Ares feels more like a ‘cross wheel offroad, the harsh edge usually felt by uber-stiff crit wheels was rounded off. I feel the Ares rims 19.5mm internal width mates very well with a 28mm as its perfect tire size, though Rolf suggests the Ares 4 can accommodate a tire up to 50mm. The max-width that I experimented with was 40mm, and the rim held its own but is no match for some of the ultra-wide gravel wheels that are currently available. 

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

I found the Rolf Ares 4 to be best with all road and exploration rides. As the gear becomes more capable, the more I venture to the unpaved and “no winter maintenance” sections in my route selection. The Ares 4 excels in this area, able to run low pressures with a wide bead to keep a sturdy ride feel when gobbling up cobbled streets. I rode a mix of 28mm or 32mm tires during my review period. My go-to pressures were 45 psi at the lowest and 80 psi max on full-blown road rides. I hit rim on some baseball-sized rocks descending and found zero damage to the rim or clearcoat. The rim shape feels great weaving in and out of switchback descents. The tire is well supported and I felt very confident leaning the bike over. For a guide, Rolf accompanies a chart with the Ares 4, which is a good starting point, but I did find a high for both grip and comfort; 25mm: 120psi, 32mm: 80psi, 40mm: 60psi, 50mm: 45psi, respectively.  

Review: Rolf Prima Ares 4 Disc wheels fast on the road and gravel

For those looking for a set of wheels that can race a crit, spend all day on the climbs and holdup in the limestone – the Rolf Ares 4 is worth a look. It’s hard to find a wheel that you’re comfortable with and confident in bringing to rides with unknown terrain. Yes, the Ares is more towards the pavement and the high volume road crowd. Its performance on the path less traveled, and even some rides in the single track make me feel this wheelset is a smart investment if you’re looking for one to do many. Priced competitively but not cheap at $1,999.00 the Rolf Ares 4 is worth departing from the big box wheel brands.

www.rolfprima.com

21 COMMENTS

  1. There’s something I don’t get when I see RP wheels, considering the lack of spokes, why is the weight so average compared to other normal wheels on the market?

    • They have to use a heavier rim and beefier hubs to handle the high spoke tensions for paired spokes. As a consequence their lighter weight claims due to the design have never added up. I can build a similar depth wheel set that is normal-symmetrically drilled for 300g. less than this, easy. People buy Rolf wheels purely for the unique aesthetic, not for any sort of weight or performance gains.

      • My two cents after being a dealer for a few years: I’ve sold a lot of the Rolf/Astral stuff and I agree with everything you said except that there is definitely a tangibly improved ride on the Rolfs. They (the aluminum ones at least) are a stiffer platform than the Astrals (which are already a great stiff wheel). That said, if you consider all the factors of the two styles, the paired spoke Rolfs are the loser unless the client wants a wheel that looks different or if they’re prioritizing ride feel/performance over overall quality of life. (I love both labels, they’re some of the best wheels on the market at the moment.)

    • The hub flanges are beefed up – I think that could be where some weight comes in. Kinda like the Cole wheel design, light rim with more substantial hub.

    • They used to push the weight angle pretty hard, but recently have started to focus on stiffness as the differentiator. And I can attest that these are pretty much the stiffest wheels available in a good way. Their weight is fine in the grand scheme of things and won’t make a difference to 99.99% of riders, but the quality of life of the high tension and unique workflows definitely can be…

        • Our wheels are fully serviceable and true just like any normal wheelset. Any mechanic that can build or service traditionally laced wheels can work on Rolf Prima.

    • Indeed. They’re all handbuilt in Eugene, usually to order (which is pretty sweet!), but some use hubs built overseas. All the Astral wheels use a White Industries hubset though. I will note that their non-US hubs are higher quality than the j-bend Shimano hubs, for instance. Good engagement, good durability. The main downside outside of spec sheet numbers is bearings, adjustability, and serviceability.

  2. Why does POE/Engagement matter on the road?

    What is the upside of having a wheel with FEWER spokes supporting the tension balance at any given point on the rim? The argumentation above suggests that it is good to have fewer spokes supporting the load, which on its face seems counter intuitive.

    Also, that US flag on the rim is pretty deceptive. Rim- Asia. Spokes- Europe. While it is nice that they are assembled here, isn’t that just partly due to the fact that it is cheaper to ship rims and hubs independently of complete wheels? Last time I checked, there was nothing particularly special about US hands building wheels.

    Please stop putting out marketing fluff as product reviews.

  3. Do you have figures to back up the stiffness claims you are making?

    Why is more stiffness a good thing?

    Are you saying the Astral versions last longer?

      • but you’ve go to remember everyone in the comments section are both climber and sprinter in equal measures, who are always at the front come finish time! and believe me i know, i’m an engineer

    • Nobody should actually care about increasing stiffness for efficiency’s sake IMO. But a stiffer wheel provides a really nice feeling through corners and lets a supple tire really work its magic. No Jan Heine graphs or anything to back that up, just an undeniable tactile difference if you try them out which is why they sell so well when riders get to try them on.

      • Riley, good on you for putting your name and face next to your comments.

        Thanks for sharing your subjective experiences. But, superlatives and “feeling” don’t go very far in terms of meaning.

        You’re assigning positive attributes (ride quality, not quantifiable) to a quantifiable variable (stiffness) without actually measuring the variable. How do you KNOW it is stiffness, specifically more of it, that is improving the subjective quality you are talking about?

      • Riley,
        It has been proven more than 10 years ago how stiffness on wheels did matter in two performance front (when out of the saddle):
        – pedal stroke is more efficient, when you balance the bike left and right, the less déformation allow your downstroke effort to be better translated to force go forward.
        – in an acceleration you can generate higher power peak (linked again how the wheel resist to your effort to bring the pedal down).
        So it does matter… a lot, in the key moments.
        Then we can claim the “crispier” feel is nice (and this “feel good factor is ultimately a performance factor”) but people have very variable sensitivity to this parameter regardless on the measurable efficiency gains.

  4. IMO, sort of. They’re not like a Mavic wheel with proprietary spokes that you can only buy in a binder or $80 packs or whatever. They still use a j-bend spoke and a nipple, it’s all standard. Longer spokes at a higher tension with fewer points to pull the rim back to true if it gets dinged/bent/dented. I’d say it’s less “impossible to do right” for people unfamiliar with the wheels and more that there are “best practices” for working with them and as with everything, a familiarity with the system is beneficial. (Although their rims are designed to negate this drawback.) I don’t think I’d ever choose to spec them on a touring or adventure bike, but Co-Motion puts them on most of their stock tandem builds and I’ve never seen or heard an issue there.

  5. Thank you both for the comments and questions. As for weight, it’s really not about a super high spoke tension. Our tensions are on the high side, but not the crazy levels folks often mistakenly believe. That said, the rims do have thicker spoke-beds than many, both to stand the higher tensions and because the spokes are pulling closer together. (this is true on Astral rims too, and why builders love building up our rims) The real weight story is that we build our products out of real materials, designed to last in the real world, and to last. We make weight-competitive products to be sure, but aren’t willing to compromise performance or reliability overly for weight. There are various aspects of our wheels that “could” be made lighter, but end of day, saving a few grams isn’t worth sacrificing ride quality or longevity. You should be able to ride these wheels are – racing and not – and enjoy it the whole time.

  6. Never really caught on in the markets I was in the last couple decades. Did see the occasional Rolf set out in the wild in the PNW. More frequent sightings during the Trek years when in the Midwest. To be honest every one of my peers in the wheel side of the industry talks about Rolf’s paired spoke design as an inside joke. Rolf Dietrich was far more entertaining during the litigation years with Trek in the early 2000’s. Much popcorn consumed.

    For this kind of money there has to be more to it than ride quality. $2k for a carbon wheel set that weighs as much as most high end aluminum road sets isn’t what I would consider a “smart investment” according to the author of the review.

  7. I just want the wheel stiff enough that it doesn’t rub the chainstays when you sprint. Most modern carbon wheels fit this requirement.

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