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.
Rolf’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.