Review: Specialized’s hookless Control Carbon 29 XC/trail wheelset
Catch up on all of our Project 1.2 posts here!
With out Project 1.2 singlespeed, we set out to take a look at the world of reasonably priced carbon fiber. While the benefits of lighter and/or stronger components with improved vibration damping are clear, do those benefits erode as the magic plastic works its way from the ultra-high end to the plain old high end of the price spectrum?
Over the past few years, the mountain bike market has seen an explosion of carbon rim’d wheelsets- and with them a doubling or even tripling of prices at the high end. Sitting comfortably between the $2,500 wunderwheel and $900 high-end aluminum wheelset, Specialized’s Roval wheel brand has had moderate success with solid and surprisingly light wheels like the $1,650 Control Trail SL. But they knew that, in order to gain widespread acceptance, they would need to do better.
Enter the $1,200 Control Carbon 29 wheelset. Built using a freehub borrowed from DT Swiss’ bombproof 350 model and DT Revolution spokes, it’s hard to argue with the Rovals’ foundation. But the real news is the rim itself. Realizing that tubeless and tubeless-ready beads were plenty strong to hold tires in place without a bead hook, they decided to go without. Genius move- or recipe for disaster? Hit the jump to find out how they’ve fared.
Though it is not necessarily intuitive when visualizing the usual rim/tire cross section, shifting one’s perspective to the side of the wheel makes it clearer that a snug fit between a rim’s bead seat and tire’s bead leaves little slack for a tire to climb up and over the rim’s wall. With the advent of high-quality tubeless and tubeless-ready tires, tire makers have figured out how to create beads that are both strong and resistant to stretching- meaning that tires that start snug stay that way now more than ever.
While it’s an easy feature to create in extruded aluminum, it turns out that bead hooks are a pretty big hassle when made out of molded carbon fiber. While complex (read: expensive) tooling can be designed to mold the bead hook, the undercut is commonly added as a secondary feature- with material being removed to create the hook. This approach isn’t only time consuming, it has the disadvantage of cutting some of the fibers that make carbon so useful and in doing so reducing the rim’s impact strength. By molding the Control Carbon 29s’ walls in their final shape, Roval are able to maintain continuous fibers across the rim walls and rim bed, increasing impact resistance.
Over the past five months, our Control Carbon 29s have suffered far more than their share of impacts. While we’ve suffered several hard tire-destroying pinch/cuts that would have bent lesser rims’ walls, the Rovals are as straight and solid as on day one. Using the included 2Bliss rim strip and valve stems (plus a scoop of Stan’s sealant) both Schwalbe and Maxxis tubeless-ready tires have mounted up quickly and easily. And as promised, they’ve stayed on the rims despite the rim hits and pressures as low as 20psi. No rolling off the rim, no midnight explosions.
At 1,590g with rim strips and valve stems, the Control Carbon 29s aren’t going to get the weight-fixated overly excited- but that’s not this wheelset’s reason for being. An XC/trail wheelset with a lifetime warranty and a high 240lb rider weight limit, the Rovals deliver the sort of steering precision that’s essentially unheard-of in sub-1,600g aluminum wheelsets, at a price that’s a third less than their next competitor.
Replacement straight-pull spokes are easy enough to come by and the DT Swiss Star Ratchet freehub mechanism is more than able to handle singlespeed use. It also means easy XX1 compatibility if and when the time comes. Further future-proofing the Rovals are included end caps for 15mm thru axles and 24 or 28mm quick releases (front) and 135mm QR and 12x142mm thru axles (rear).
Are Roval using carbon for carbon’s sake? We’d have to say no. Stopping just short of outright abuse, we’ve mercilessly hammered the Rovals. We’ve destroyed tires, emptied our legs into the freehub, and cased more than our share of jumps. And the Control Carbon 29s haven’t blinked. For comparison, our Project 1.1 wheelset, built using the same-quality DT 350 hubs and DT Revolution spokes weighs slightly more, is noticeably flexier, and stickered close to $900 once labor was factored in. Having ridden both, could we justify the price difference? Absolutely.