2011 seems to be the year of the lightweight trail wheelset. While racers are getting all spun up over sub-1400g race-day wheelsets, everyday riders are seeing more and more wide, sturdy, tubeless-compatible wheels with weights that those same racers would have sold both index toes for just three years back. This April, in the market for a wheel that would be light enough for all-day climbs but sturdy enough for all-day descents here in the rough far Southern Rockies, I decided to pick up a hand built Control Trail EL wheelset from Specialized’s Roval brand.
Why the Control Trail ELs? For me, the Rovals ticked all of the right boxes. At a 1,610g (1615g claimed), with a convertible QR/15mm front wheel and 28mm wide (outside) rim, the numbers were right. The tubeless compatibility was also a must, too. What really sold me, though, were the reasonable $750 price and proven DT Swiss freehub mechanism and cassette body. So they look good on the Interwebs- how are the Control Trail ELs on the trail?
Swapping Specialized’s stiffness-enhancing 28mm QR front axle caps for the included 15mm set was easy, as was mounting every tubeless or tubeless-ready tire the Rovals have seen. No surprises came in mounting rotors or a cassette but a pleasant surprise from the solid feeling and classic looking quick releases. Given a spin, the freehub feels and sounds like one provided from DT should.
Though they don’t make tires look as big as American Classic’s competing All Mountain 26 wheels, the Control Trail ELs’ wide rim does allow mid-sized tires a bit more volume than Mavic’s Crossmax STs do. As with the weights and prices of the wheelsets, there’s not a whole lot to separate the three. For the Control Trail ELs, Roval have chosen the freer-spinning standard DT mechanism over the fast pickup (but draggier) version. Some people will feel the need to upgrade, but unless your riding involves a lot of trials moves or high-consequence wheelie drops, the standard mechanism seems like a better choice.
Once riding, there’s little to complain about here. Though the wheels aren’t especially flexy, there does seem to be a bit of give from the rear’s 28 straight pull DT Revolution spokes. This is especially noticeable when braking on rough terrain, when the rear wheel has a tendency to make the kind of comedy noises most associated with saw playing. It’s a bit unsettling at first, but after several noises, I’m gradually learning not to pay it much notice.
Up against similarly priced trail wheels from bigger players, the Rovals give up very little. They may not be the best choice for bigger riders and only time will tell what impact the regular detensioning of the rear spokes has on the wheels’ durability. On the other hand, the freehub should be among the most durable out there and the straight-pull (but otherwise standard) spokes will make service easy. The limited lifetime warranty should also set minds at ease. Riders who find their new bike Spec’d (ahem) with the Control Trail ELs should be happy to hang onto them and anyone who has a good relationship with their local Specialized dealer should consider checking them out. We’ll be back with an update if and when they’ve seen some more miles…