Project 1.2 Initial Review: Roval’s $1,200 hookless Control Carbon 29 wheelset

Catch up on all of our Project 1.2 posts here!

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…

marc

www.specialized.com

 

Comments

James - 01/30/13 - 12:17pm

Two things.

1. Please describe the Stan’s Crest “vagueness” at the limit. That’s a vague thing to say in a review, and sounds ridiculous.

2. Magic carpet ride from wheels? Don’t you think that is going to come from tire and shock pressure a lot more than the vertical compliance a wheel does or does not have?

Greg - 01/30/13 - 1:22pm

I knew exactly what he meant with “vagueness.” The Crests are light, flexy rims, especially in standard ZTR build/guise. They’re not the most precise of wheels when navigating rock gardens or high speed sections.

a - 01/30/13 - 2:41pm

Plastic wheels like Skyway “Mags” and ACS Z rims had no bead hooks way back in the eighties for similar reasons (tooling).

Matt - 01/30/13 - 4:20pm

I’d be curious to see the side-load de-bead difference between this and an equivalent rim. My concerns would be that at the extremes (pushing a hard turn on a fast downhill) these would be a liability.

If they are in fact just as tough in hard corners would love to see a road-disc variant. $1200 is a great price point for something of this level of quality.

Dan E - 01/30/13 - 5:51pm

Without a bead to retain the tire during a sidewall tear, you’ve just migrated the worst thing about road tubeless during sudden/rapid pressure loss to mountain bikes. Stan’s still has a “bead socket”.

Can’t wait (or I can) for a sidewall tear at 15 mph in a rock-garden where the tire bead, no longer impeded by the pressure imparted upon it, rolls off the rim. Tubeless sealant is not as potent an adhesive as tubular glue (or even tubular tape), especially with the minimal surface area involved.

I question Specialized’s recent tire/rim efforts…witness their TT success/failures of last year in competition.

Fred - 01/30/13 - 6:02pm

Isn’t this back to the future? Weren’t the first clincher (open tubular) rims hookless?

Bill - 01/30/13 - 6:31pm

So, lets set some things straight….. If youre buying an aluminum wheelset that is pressing towards $1100 youre going to get WAY nicer hubs than 350′s. In fact, most brick and mortars can build you a DT 240 or King wheelset with alloy hoops in the $850-950 range pretty easy. This doesnt mean Im bagging on 350′s. 340′s are nice enough hubs ‘for the money’, it just means I wouldnt compare them to 240′s or Kings. For my money Im gonna be more concerned about the hub over the rim, especially if Im being price conscious. A high quality hub lives on for a long time and gives you great service. You can readily bend any rim. You can take a hub and move it from one rim, to another and then another, etc.
Lets talk about other thing mentioned… Coming from a shop that does a gazillion tubeless setups on mtn, cx and road bikes, tire blow-offs are not extremely rare. Yes, much more rare than they were, but they are anything but extremely rare. I will say that most issues we see are because an individual has done a funky conversion or because they bought discounted or low end tires online (yes, even tires that say they are tubeless compatible). Of all the items bike shops stock, tires are by far the most out of spec. I can take 6 tires of the same model and each one without a doubt will have a different weight. If those weights are within 5-10% difference the tire brand is doing pretty good. However, they often get outside that range. So, with this being said, tires are the one thing we trust the least in terms of fitting flawlessly, which is what worries me most about hook-less rims and the discounted tires you can find online. Tire companies must do something with those tires that arent quite at the level they want to sell at retail…..
As tire and rim brands find a more exact standard for tubeless technology, AND if tire manufacturers can control their quality better maybe there is a place for hookless. Otherwise It seems like they are trying to repair something that doesnt really need a fix. If you just so happen to buy a tire that is a bit off spec isnt it going to be nice knowing you have one extra bit of protection?

Bill - 01/30/13 - 6:33pm

whats that Specialized tagline? Innovate and Die

Chuck Dick - 01/30/13 - 7:15pm

@Dan E: Why don’t you just ride one?

All your postulates do sound great in discussion forums, though!

Epic29r - 01/30/13 - 7:40pm

….so dont buy cheap tires yo.
I love my set – they’re no doubt an upgrade from my other BlackFlagPro’s running 20mm on my other Epic. Personally don’t notice vertical compliance as much as horizontal excellence meaning tighter lines, and flickablity that’s off the chart. Yes took my front 5-6 rides for Stan’s to set completely, the rear was 1-2 rides.
Still after racepaced 450miles without prejudice for line / getting air/drop with 4″ travel = Day 1 shape.

Marc - 01/30/13 - 7:43pm

Dan,

As mentioned in the review, I’ve cut tires in two places while riding the Rovals and they stayed seated. What I could have explained better is the way in which the bead holds a tire in place. With a snug/strong (tubeless or tubeless-ready bead), the inside diameter of the tire (at the bead) can’t climb up over the rim- it simply isn’t big enough. In order to install or remove tires, part or all of the bead must sit down in the center channel, providing enough slack to get another section of the bead over the wall. No bead hook will keep an insufficiently-snug tubeless tire in place. This is a big reason that companies advise against using tire levers with tubeless/tubelish tires: they can stretch the bead and increase the chance of a blowoff.

marc

Marc - 01/30/13 - 7:56pm

Bill,

It’s always a balancing act: A quick few minutes at Wheelbuilder.com got me a $1,050 wheelset using Crest rims and DT 240 hubs that weighs within 30g of these wheels once tape and valve stems are added in. Of course they’d be flexier and more vague- but adding a bit more rim would bump the weight well above 1,600g, as would Chris King or other hub options. If I’ve missed a same-weight, sub-$1k option with better hubs, please share below.

As you mention above, blowoffs are generally a tire issue: sometimes out-of-spec or poorly-made tires, but more often forum-inspired “conversions.” In either case, no bead hook will do much to prevent a blowoff. Believe me- I was skeptical at first. I mounted the tires up and left them inflated at ~50psi for several days before riding, every day half-expecting to find a workshop coated in Stan’s. At low pressures, poorly seated, and cut with tubes, the Rovals have been excelent.

marc

marc

Marc - 01/30/13 - 8:00pm

James,

Greg nailed it. Stan’s 380g Crest rims are light- but they can be flexy and imprecise when pushed hard. I’ll try to be clearer next time.

The comment about the ride (“the wheels don’t come with any perceptible trail-smoothing magic carpet effect”) agrees with your comment and is meant to counter some carbon fiber claims: the wheels may theoretically damp vibration better than aluminum, but it’s not really noticeable. Tires and their inflation will make a much, much bigger difference.

marc

Steven - 01/31/13 - 12:59am

Correction- it’s only the rear wheel that is made by DT. Specialized doesn’t seem to make this well known, but none of the Roval front hubs are Dt Swiss products. Notice that the rear hubs bear a dt logo while the fronts do not, and that you can generally use 240/350 parts in the rear, but not so for the front.
PS: This wheel set is dope! You truly don’t need the bead hook at mountain bike pressures.

JMH - 01/31/13 - 11:31am

I would ride them. If I spent any time worrying about all the things that folks on the internet claim COULD go wrong I wouldn’t leave the house.

Lol at the weight comparisons with Crest rims… weight, weight, weight. One thing I agree with in these posts – Crest rims are soft and flexy. Maybe they are pleasant enough for XC race rims and narrower tires but they do not withstand aggressive trail riding. And with the more reasonably-priced carbon options available now, I’ll take rigidity and surefootedness over 30g any day, it will make any of us a lot faster than the weight savings will.

Richie - 01/31/13 - 12:00pm

Marc,

Same-weight sub $1k option? ZTR Race Gold 29er w/ 3.30ti hubs = 1390g. Thats an incredible weight savings. I picked up a barely used set for $600. There are also prebuilt options (Hope-Crest, DT-Crest, etc.) out there in the $500-600 range that are sub-1500gr.

That being said, I wish the Race Gold and Crest rims weren’t so flexy. I’d love to pick up a pair of carbon wheels, but not for +200g and about 2X expensive. That’s 2 factors too many! If they were lighter I’d consider, OR, if they were cheaper I’d consider.

All in all, good review. I appreciate the new technology, and knowing that carbon wheel prices may be coming down.

Jose - 02/05/13 - 9:43am

Custom wheels builds are a dying thing. Wheelsets are taking the world by storm, we might not be stoked on it, but that is where it is going. Fact of life. the 200gram difference is worth it for the stiffness of a carbon rim. Not some hokey pokey alloy rim that is made from cheese. You couldn’t pay me to ride a King hub. DT makes a fine product, and are easily serviceable.

Cale - 02/05/13 - 8:32pm

I cant ride the Crest or the Gold I’m too fat!!! I weigh 188-191 depending on the day and I busted (2) Crest last year rear…so this is the lightest I can get for the money (straight from manufacturer with warranty….) I currently have the Crossmax St29 and love them and could feel that they were stffer than the Crest, but heavier, but I still prefered them over the Crest…so when they come in I report back…they are going on my new Epic Carbon Comp….

TJ - 02/17/13 - 8:12pm

How are these wheels holding up? Anybody with significant time on them?

Brett - 02/25/13 - 5:21am

I bought a Epic Sworks with Control SL 142+ wheels in December.
I have only done about 400km’s on the bike and the rim already cracked.

Now i battle to get a replacement rim.
You talk about a lifetime warranty?
Can you elaborate on this?

TJ - 03/15/13 - 10:18am

Any updates on Control model?

Marc - 03/16/13 - 5:06pm

TJ,

So far, zero–zero–issues. A buddy borrowed the Project 1.1 Lurcher (with these wheels) for 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, where he pinch flatted at speed (rim fine), mounted a Maxxis Ikon without issue, and helped to take his 4-man team to 2nd place. It should be no surprise as they’re trail wheels- but these things are bomber. If a 29er trail bike winds up on our doorstep, I’ll swap them over to see how they handle the mountains.

marc

TJ - 03/19/13 - 3:24pm

Thanks for the response Marc. I have this wheel set waiting at my LBS. Just need the snow to melt!

Ben - 03/27/13 - 4:41am

Curious how the compare to Easton Haven Carbon 29ers. They’re close in weight. Havens can be found now for close to $1200 (perhaps last year’s stock) have the same 21mm internal width and a strong warranty.

I also find myself in the camp of “why not spend $600 and get a pair of White Industries, Pacenti TL28 wheels”. I also wish one of these wheelsets would come with a nice wide 23mm internal width. 21mm isn’t that wide these days. Heck, 23 is the new AM minimum ! Perhaps having a beadless rim makes the tire sit wider, not sure on that one though.

Todd - 05/30/13 - 1:02am

what people don’t mention when they play fantasy wheel builder is that super lite hubs mean nothing compared to super lite rims. being the furthest part of the wheel from the center of rotation they encounter the greyest increase of rotational mass. building a light wheel set by using heavier rims and super lite hubs is bad science.

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