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If you could only have one wheelset, what would it look like? Every rider is different, but for me, it would sport sturdy rims wide enough to handle true 2.3in tires, have a proven freehub, be compatible with several hub standards, freakishly light, and not too expensive. Something that would be up to day-to-day aggressive trail use, big weekends with the boys in Sedona or Moab, and maybe light enough for the odd 24-hour race. It would be tubeless and require as little maintenance as possible. That’s a lot to ask of a wheelset- but when it arrived last September, Roval’s Control Trail SL wheelset looked last fall to be every one of those things. Eight months later, has it lived up to its early promise? Hit the jump to find out…
Weighing in at 1,280g (70g less than advertised), the top-of-the-line trail wheelset from Specialized’s house brand Roval is one freakishly light wheelset. That’s 180g
per wheel lighter than Easton’s Haven Carbon all-mountain wheelset and even lighter than most carbon race wheelsets. At the same time, Roval are asking $1,650- hardly spare change, but about a third less than most of their competitors. The Roval hubs make use of DT Swiss’ fast-engaging and solid 190/240 internals and ship with all of the fittings needed for QR or 15mm forks and 135mm QR and 135mm and 142mm thru axle frames. A pair of 5g valve cores are also included and the weight includes the pre-installed tubeless sealing tape.
Back in my September first look, I promised an update within a couple of months’ time. I mounted the Rovals on my 140mm trail bike and proceeded to hammer them all fall on Albuquerque’s rough and rocky trails. They went to Durango. And to Sedona. Project 24.2 came around and, unable to find anything lighter, I mounted a pair of Fast Trak 2.0s and trained and raced half of a 24 hour race on them. The Project 24.2 frame went back to Canada and the Rovals found their way back onto my trail bike for a second Sedona trip and more New Mexico trail riding. Thinking that some of the lightest, least expensive carbon trail wheels on the market must be too good to be true, I waited for something to happen. Anything.
After more than 1,000 miles, the rear wheel stopped holding air. I pulled the tire and found that the tubeless tape had migrated in several places and was letting air out through the spoke holes. A quick trip down to the bike shop for some Stan’s tape had them back up and running. And that’s it. No hub adjustments. No wheel truing. No catastrophic failures. Like the aluminum Control Trail ELs, the rear wheel is prone to the occasional comedy spoke noise when braking on rough terrain. The included 55g titanium rear skewer proved a bit flexy for my sub-5lb Rocky Mountain race frame, so was replaced by a DT Swiss RWS skewer. That’s it.
Mounted with Fast Trak Control 2.2 rear and Ground Control Control (not a typo) 2.3 front tires (each under 600g), the Rovals are the foundation for a wonderfully light trail package. They climb like only superlight wheels can and feel eager to leave the ground on the way back down. They’re not the stiffest wheels I’ve ridden in the past year- yet are plenty precise when aiming for narrow gaps on rough trails. Though I almost feel like the carbon fiber damps trail vibration better than aluminum, any improvement in feel is so small as to be outweighed by a 2psi tire pressure drop. Putting to rest concerns about impact resistance, the carbon fiber rims have held up just fine against flying rocks and occasional rim strikes. The red-painted “wedge” of bladed spokes chip easily (and I’d love to see a more subdued color option), but we’re nitpicking at this point.
The DT Swiss hub internals should be readily available for a long time- a good thing, as it’ll probably be a long time before hub service is needed. Standard straight-pull DT-Swiss spokes and nipples are easy enough to come by. Throw in a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects and you’ve got a wheelset that sets the bar. High. As undeniably sexy as they are, the price (and occasionally flaky hubs) of most carbon wheelsets had me on the fence about the value of carbon trail wheels- but the Rovals have been good enough to change my mind. Cheaper than a pair each of trail and race wheels and able to excel in both roles, the Control Trail SLs really are the best all-around wheels I’ve ridden.
5/24/12 note: Specialized have seen the rim tape issue before and, for 2013, have replaced it with a reusable tubeless rim strip…