Review: Specialized’s hookless Control Carbon 29 XC/trail wheelset

SONY DSC
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.  Roval Control Carbon 29 rim sectionWith 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.

SONY DSCAt 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.

marc

www.specialized.com

Comments

Bill - 05/19/13 - 3:11am

Is it true that Specialized is patenting the hook-less bead?

Phil - 05/19/13 - 3:56am

The hookless is not a new concept. The first carbon rims without hook I have seen are the Innolite rims 4 years ago. An other french brand has also developped a tubeless hookless carbon rims for 2 years on the european market.

chsad - 05/19/13 - 6:48am

Notice three notable component changes on the bike in the pic below. Brakes, cranks/seat post. Any reason for said changes? Also how did the Shimano brakes mate up with the Magura rotors?

TJ - 05/19/13 - 9:31am

I have around 200 miles on these wheels.. Mix of singletrack and gravel. They are the real deal!

MattK - 05/19/13 - 2:08pm

Unless Innolite or someone else has patented the design, you can bet Specialized is rushing to the patent office. Remember we just passed a “first to patent” amendment to our patent system and tossed out prior art. So now there are all kinds of things companies can patent because they don’t have to worry about prior art.

Still these look good and have been added to my serious consideration list for my hardtail build.

Marc Basiliere - 05/19/13 - 2:15pm

Chsad,

Good eye! As new items come in for review, they are often shifted between bikes. We have an intro post on the SDG saddle and seatpost here and the Syntace stem and bars here. We previously reviewed the Magura brakes, the SL-K stem and seatpost, and the SLX crankset. An SLX brake review is coming…

marc

Jason k - 05/19/13 - 3:39pm

MattK, you’ve grossly misunderstood the recent changes to US patent laws. We haven’t thrown out prior art in any way, shape or form. We just changed from a first-to-invent system to a first-to-file system, bringing us in line with the rest of the world.

Prior art still matters; first-to-file means you can’t claim you invented it 20 years ago and told no one. If you DID tell someone–say, a reporter–the resulting article is now directly blocking prior art.

I realize patent law is complex and arbitrary, but those problems are enough; there’s no need to invent imaginary flaws on top of the existing ones.

randy - 05/19/13 - 4:24pm

You need more than a scoop of Stans…you need at least 3. You also have to add more every three months in the summer as it dries out.

Marc Basiliere - 05/19/13 - 4:28pm

Randy,

It took a scoop of Stans to get the tubeless-ready Schwalbe tires set up and rolling. Periodic refreshing is a given- but outside the scope of this review.

marc

g - 05/19/13 - 5:30pm

No, randy says you need at least three scoops. At least. Don’t even think of looking at your wheels crossways with only one scoop.

a - 05/19/13 - 6:17pm

I find it very hard to believe that you ran 20psi and didn’t get burps unless you rode like an old lady or weigh under 100lbs…

Jacob - 05/19/13 - 9:20pm

a – Today I did a 60-mile endurance race on my Epic Marathon, which has these wheels. I ran the front Roval Control with a Schwalbe Racing Ralph at 21 psi. No burps. And I definitely didn’t ride like a grandma… I set the KOM on the longest and gnarliest downhill of the race. So, I think you can believe the reviewer. I’ve ridden these briefly at pressures down to 17 psi – enough to fold the sidewall – and haven’t had one burp yet.

MulletRacer - 05/19/13 - 10:03pm

HA! Tubbs is a grandma.

Storrance - 05/19/13 - 10:42pm

How about some commentary on how these compare to the Roval Carbon Control SL wheelset? What advantage do they deliver above and beyond the non-SL model reviewed above? Or inversely, why the SL’s may not be worth the extra $500 or $600?

rodeoj - 05/19/13 - 11:31pm

I have a hard believing that rocketing through chicanes at 25mph+ and running mid 20s in pressure is not going to result in a burp of some type, especially for clydesdales. No offense, but Ralphs are no measure, put on a high volume tire which will twice the leverage against the rim and then test it on a flow line. Just saying… kudos if they don’t burp, but i’ve burped Hans’ on Enves at 30psi even at 18 road. Most rides won’t have issue i’m sure, but if you’re going balls out, they will burp, all tires do under the person and load. Otherwise we would have bead locks, and thankfully we dont. : )

Jeff - 05/20/13 - 8:09am

These wheels are AWESOME! I have been using them since they became available. If I remember correctly, they are approx. 1/4lb lighter than an I-9 xc wheelset with Stans Arch rims, and the Specialized wheels roll faster. I feel the lateral stiffness is on par with I-9 and the overall ride quality is better. The hub engagement is at 10 deg, which is acceptable for me. I weigh 198lbs and run 27psi. on Specialized Ground control 2.3 tires with no issues. I have ridden them with 25psi (No burps at all) but the tire sidewall squirms.

Tim A - 05/20/13 - 8:55am

@Rodeo
Three commenters plus the OP say that running tire pressures low enough to cut sidewalls is possible without burping. Not that it’s a good idea with the price of tires, but what more do you want? Your mileage may vary.

Mindless - 05/20/13 - 2:27pm

@g: Caffelatex, new version, need less (one or two scoops is enough) and lasts twice longer than Stan’s.

mateo - 05/20/13 - 2:51pm

I love the Stan’s hate. Pour some out on a plate next to your sealant of choice and see which one dries up faster.

greg - 05/20/13 - 10:15pm

three scoops my a**. i put in 1.5 scoops on 2.2ish 29er tires, 2 scoops if the tire is being a pain or i know the owner will never top it off. never, ever had a problem.
you know you shouldnt try to inflate it with your mouth, right?

Johan - 05/21/13 - 1:11am

I would love to know the weight of the rims!!
I regularly run tires at less than 20psi ( weigh 180lbs) in very rough, rocky conditions and have never burped a tire.
What is the rim width?

Wilhelm - 05/22/13 - 6:59am

Thanks for the great site and article. Could you comment on tire retention with the hookless beads when the tire is deflated? I am thinking about a catastrophic failure, and if the tire would come off.

Regarding how many scoops, I thought you just filled up the tire until it would not hold any more stans?

Jeff - 05/23/13 - 10:05pm

So, these wheels are slightly lighter than some aluminum wheels but you have to use tubeless or tubeless ready tires along with rim strips… and they still cost over a grand with a rider weight limit… They must be stiff as hell for someone to choose them over something like Mavic Crossmax series.

Legless - 05/26/13 - 1:09am

Wilhelm, unless you’re kidding, Stan’s say directly on the container how much sealant to use so the “I thought you just filled up the tire until it would not hold any more stans” is extremely inaccurate.

I’ve been riding some alloy Roval 29 wheels for the past couple seasons with minimal “burping” only if I forgot to check pressure and started in the upper teens in psi. I have new Control Trail SLs this season and we’ll see what happens…

salsaTopp - 01/24/14 - 4:20pm

caught a stick on a ride and my spoke+nipple ripped straight out of the rim!! $300 to crash-replace/rebuild the rim. Seems weak to me.
No bueno, Specialized!

Todd - 08/30/14 - 9:34pm

You had a stick rip a spoke out, ruining the wheel. You need to blame yourself for bad navigation skills. Don’t blame Specialized for your mistake of riding faster than your ability to avoid obstacles. $ 300 is generous. We all have accidents, we need to own up to it. We don’t ruin our bikes on purpose, stuff happens.

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