Earlier this month, we had plans to visit the headquarters of Rolf Prima in Eugene, OR. The plan was to check out their space, get the full factory tour, and hopefully ride some Rolf equipped bikes. When we were planning the trip, we had no idea that Rolf was about to launch a new line of rims. Then, Rolf made the announcement that they would be offering U.S. made aluminum rims with non-paired spokes under the name Astral by Rolf Prima. All of a sudden, the trip was more than just a factory tour – don’t worry though, that’s coming soon. But first, Astral rims…

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

While it may seem like Astral is Rolf saying uncle on paired spoke designs, to co-owner Brian Roddy it’s a way to double down on the superiority of the paired spoke deign. They still firmly believe that when you take the time to design and engineer the hub and the rim together you end up with a better, stronger, and lighter rim with a paired spoke lacing pattern. But at the same time, Brian says that if you can make a rim work for paired spokes, you can definitely make it work for traditional lacing.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

So that’s exactly what they’re doing. Starting with the same extrusions as the Rolf Prima aluminum rims, Astral is simply adding a different lacing pattern. The Astral concept has been in the works for Rolf Prima since 2011, but they finally feel like they have the space and the people to make it work. It wasn’t until 2014 that Rolf started making aluminum rims in Eugene, and Brian admits that it took a long time to get the process just right. When dealing with aluminum rims there are a lot of variables to contend with from the straightness of the extrusion that comes from a supplier in Arizona, to the rim diameter, the cut, the brake track machining, and the drilling. Not to mention heat treating and finishing. That’s led Rolf to design some of their own tools like the spoke drilling machine above which was completely built in house.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

Everything Rolf and Astral does is meant to provide the most consistent and precise rim dimensions possible. That’s why all Rolf and Astral aluminum rims that have a brake track where both sides are machined at the same time. This ensures that both sides are perfectly parallel. Ever had a rim that shuddered when braking no matter how the brake was adjusted? Brian mentioned that this could be a result of unparallel brake tracks.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

Rims start as 14ft extrusions that will end up making two rims. If you’re wondering about the price of Astral rims, consider this: the cost of just the raw material is about the same cost as a finished rim from Taiwan. Clearly, Rolf is not doing this to compete on price – but quality.

In order to dial in the process, Rolf’s Manufacturing Engineer Willy Reen redesigned their whole process a year ago which has increased precision, repeatability, and reigned in time and costs. Spitting material out of the roller and the saw is the easy part, Brian says it’s the last 3% to get it right that was the hardest part.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs
All wrapped up with no place to weld. Well, they could if they wanted to.

Rolf and Astral rims are also all made with sleeved joints rather than welded. It’s not that Rolf can’t weld the rims. In fact they have all of the equipment necessary sitting shrink wrapped on pallets in their warehouse. Stating that sleeving or welding are certainly the best ways to go about it, Rolf refrains from welding their rims because it adds a ton of heat to a very small zone on the rim which then becomes the weakest part of the rim – and you still have to sleeve it. By only sleeving it, the joint then becomes the strongest part of the rim – as long as it’s done right. Rolf ensures that the joint is perfectly flush, and super clean with the joint deburred, abraded, and then cleaned with acetone to make sure the epoxy sets properly. It’s important to point out though that the epoxy is just for quietness and not structural. According to Rolf the rims could be joined with just the sleeve only and they’d be structurally sound with a tight fit, but the epoxy guarantees the joint is silent in the long run.

As for the additional weight of the sleeve? It’s opposite of the valve, so it works out in the end.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

Just as important as the building of the rim, Rolf performs the same extensive testing on Astral rims in house as well. From their fatigue tester which was built in partnership with Michigan Tech that can perform ISO fatigue testing and brake track heat testing (and go way past ISO standards), to impact testing, lateral stiffness, and spoke pull through testing, Astral rims are put through the wringer.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs
Which wheel has more spokes? Trick question. The Astral Wanderlust and Rolf Hyalite both have 24 spokes.

With all the testing in house, it’s enabled Rolf to test the exact same rim with the same number of spokes, with one drilled traditional and one drilled paired. Both wheels test just as well with the exception of the paired spoke rim offering better lateral stiffness for the same number of spokes, or the ability to build the same lateral stiffness with fewer spokes than a traditional wheel. Rolf also took the opportunity to show the difference between paired and non-paired designs in terms of spoke failure. By completely detensioning a single spoke on both wheels above, with the same rim, same number of spokes, and same hub, we were able to see that there was a negligible 0.03″ difference in lateral run out between the two.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

But that doesn’t mean that consumers don’t still want traditional lacing, which is why Astral exists. They are the exact same rims that Rolf Prima offers as paired spoke builds, but with traditional lacing patterns. At the moment, each Astral rim has a corresponding rim in the Rolf Catalog though Rolf has the ability to make custom rims if say, a bike company wanted their own design and enough of them to make it worthwhile.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

Rolf/Astral was still in the early stages of the roll out so they didn’t have all of the rims on hand during our visit and many of the graphics were still samples rather than finished production. But we were able to get a look at some of the first runs.

Every single one of the Astral rims is tubeless ready including their top level Prevail 700c carbon clincher. They call it Tubeless Easy which means you should be able to seat tubeless tires with a floor or even a hand pump.

One of their carbon rims that are made in Washington by an unspecified aircraft company, the Prevail is meant for rim brakes and is available in 20 or 24 hole traditional drillings. Measuring 33mm deep and 17.5/24.5mm internal/external, the claimed weight is 410g and it sells for $900 a piece. There’s also the option custom colored decals if you choose.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

The Veil is the corresponding 700c disc brake rim which not made in the U.S. Measuring 32mm deep and 19/27mm internal/external, the rim also comes in a 410g and costs $650 and 24 or 28h drillings.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

The Wanderlust is more of an all purpose road rim with an aluminum build and 700c or 650b sizes. Offered in 24, 28, or 32 hole drillings, the rim measures 23mm deep, 21/25mm int/ext and comes in at 425/450g. Like their other aluminum rims, you can get the Wanderlust in custom powercoat or ceramic coatings for an additional $150 (with custom decal colors as well) or just custom decals for $40. Otherwise, the stock rim will set you back $135.

First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs First Look: Astral offers proven Rolf Prima Performance in non-paired spoke designs

Additionally, Astral will offer the lightweight and aero Radiant and Solstice in both rim and disc brake models, plus the Leviathan which is naturally meant for Clydesdale or tandem builds. Hollywood and the Jester offer carbon profiles for offroad use.

For the moment, Astral will only be available as rim only, though complete builds are always a possibility in the future since Rolf Already has the infrastructure. More on that in the full factory tour coming soon!

astralcycling.com

 

24 COMMENTS

  1. “They still firmly believe that when you take the time to design and engineer the hub and the rim together you end up with a better, stronger, and lighter rim with a paired spoke lacing pattern.”

    I’m not sure I agree with this statement from Rolf. My takeaway from this article is their Astral wheels are basically the same rim, hub and spokes. Testing showed the paired spokes only had a increase in lateral stiffness. I also think a difference of .03″ in runout is not insignificant .76mm could be the difference in a tire rubbing or not.

    • They either seem to have a real internal conflict of interest. Claim their paired spoke design is superior, but hell… why not just downgrade and make normally drilled rims for everyone else under a different name to profit from people who don’t buy into the fashion statement of Rolf. Astral; sleeved joints and decals over a brake track to make a disc rim, like it’s 2008 all over again. Thankfully better options are abundant.

      • The .03″ difference in runout was the result of detensioning one randomly selected spoke on each wheel. Repeating the test on other spokes results in an difference in runout that averages to zero; some instances paired has less runout, sometimes traditional has less.

        The difference is a result of the local drive/non-drive tension differential at that region of the wheel, not the spoke pattern.

        Also note that there is not a single decal over a brake track. Wanderlust and is a disc specific profile, Veil has a disc specific layup. Neither of them have a “brake track”.

        • Woops, sorry, missed that first picture with the orange decal wrapped over the brake track of the Leviathan. Yes, we’re using that extrusion for dual purpose rim brake and for those that want an all black rim for disc brake.
          Rim development is time and tooling intensive. We’re working on it.

      • Dunno, Kernel. It seems to me that they reasoned, well, the same machines that make paired spoke wheels also make unpaired spoke wheels. Some people will never buy the former, so let’s make the latter under a different brand, so as not to dilute our original product.; it’ll make us some money. I don’t see anything so wrong here. If I owned the same machines, I probably would do the same thing.

        • Sure, make more money, I totally get it. But this push to make normal rims now at Rolf is quite silly though considering the company was built on this design. FFWD 20+ years now after pulling their heads out of the sand they finally realize most people are smarter than the average Cat 6 racer stuck in the 90’s and don’t buy into what is just purely aesthetic gimmick with a paired spoke wheel. So they finally give in and provide normal drilling. Meanwhile during this release one of the owners can’t resist flipping the hype coin for paired… meh, the paired spoke snake oil still makes for a better wheel… Wow! Godd*mn, really?!? If this is fact why isn’t the design more visible across the board? I mean, anyone is clear to do it. There is no patent on the design. The only thing that Rolf can legally claim is the Rolf Prima™ name.

            • Campy’s G3 is not a paired spoke design, Corima is. A whopping 1 company. But for all the saopboxing and superiority claims Rolf has made over the years we should be flooded with paired spoke wheels from everybody. This just isn’t the case. Paired spokes are simply a fashion statement.

              • KF: Thanks for your commentary. I always find it amusing. Keep it up.
                What you’re missing is build quality. Coupling the left and right spokes together in a tension spoked wheel balances lateral forces better than traditional lacing patterns (with too many spokes!)..
                It’s true that they have a unique aesthetic. There’s a lot more behind what goes into the wheelsets we make than “fashion”.
                IMHO they build better and ride better.
                And we stand behind them.

                • Not missing anything. Especially the fact that your claims don’t add up. They never have. If you’re right then Rolf should be one of the most preeminent wheel companies on the planet. You’d be more visible in the elite pro ranks with big names winning on your wheels, and all the other companies would be chomping at the bit to copy the design. I don’t expect you to take off the kool-aid colored lenses, but in the real world none of this is true.

                  • Its not kool-aid. From a design standpoint, one would ideally want left and right side spokes to act in direct opposition to each other. That doesn’t mean that traditional spoke patterns are so inferior as to not perform or even outperform as spoke pattern is not the end all be all of a wheel’s performance and the gains on paired spoked are probably marginal.

                    As for your comment..I can ride the very very best bike (however, that is defined). A better rider/team will beat me on high end equipment that may just be slightly “inferior” to mine. If what you said was true, every component would look exactly the same.
                    Additionally, don’t ignore design momentum. If a company makes a very good wheel design, why would they completely change a mature product for what may amount to very marginal gains coupled with teething problems all manufacturing changes incur.

                    • Well, Rolf says this pattern is the end all be all. They’ve had over 20 years to prove it. But I don’t see much of Rolf anywhere but here on BR, hardly even in their home state. Maybe the extremely random middle aged dude stuck in the 90’s chillin at the coffee shop, never at the races. Why is that?

      • Some people don’t have unlimited money. A manufacturer can save costs by using a common rim, with little to no downside, and pass that on to a consumer…seems like a win with little to no downside. I’d like to see the average person tell the difference between a disc specific rim and a non-disc rim of otherwise identical specs.

        Its not like all their models are of common rim design.
        As for sleeved joints…that’s a long discussion and for all intents, there is not one solution that is inherently superior. Sleeves and welds all have their pros and cons.

      • He was referring to that tire rubbing a frame which can happen due to 3/4 of a mm. Of course, you could get that hop out through spoke tension but them your rim is gonna have unequal tension due to a tire. Then you’ll need to adjust again due to a new tire vs the wheel being off.

  2. I’ve had Rolf wheels on one of my road bikes and I’ve only had good experience with them. This was 15 years ago.
    Guess my surprise earlier this year when I saw my old road bike on sale over the Internet. Lots of changes to the bike’s configuration, but the same exact Rolf wheels still in place! (I recognized the wheels and the bike from specific scratches I got when I had them, 15-16 years ago). Both bike and wheels described as being in excellent condition (and they still looked great in the ad).
    My next wheelset is going to be Rolf again. High quality, durable, reasonable weight, excellent value. 🙂

  3. I’m amazed to see Rolfs still rolling around the Seattle area that are ~15 years old. I saw a pair on a local racer’s rain bike this past weekend. They seem to be at a minimum not worse than other wheels.

  4. I’m pumped about this. I have a set of Vigors that I ride pretty hard and they’re flawless, but I want a build that has a similar profile but a traditional build. There aren’t any US made rims that fit that description. The Velocity Aileron in rim brake is what I wanted, but the Vigor rim with traditional drilling fits the bill.

        • Good god, no! Trek, pfft! I’m sour at companies like Rolf who claim superiority about how great their wheels are, but the facts just don’t add up. They’ve had over two decades to prove it. So, where is the conclusive objective independent testing that backs their claims? You can keep your 495g deep aluminum rims, nobody in their right mind is pumped about that unless they’re chasing vanity. That’s pretty much what Rolf was built on, a look. Admitting you’re easily played by simple mouse traps is big of you. Thanks for the honesty at least.

What do you think?