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How do Roval’s new wheels stack up?

Specialized's wheel brand Roval has three high-end road race wheels on the market. Do they compare with more familiar aftermarket brands?

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Hang around a bike shop long enough, and you are sure to hear one of cycling’s well-worn gear maxims: Wheels should be your first, best upgrade. So how do you choose a new pair? Narrowing criteria based on your favorite terrain is a start; mountain goat climber? Go for lighter, shallower rims. Into aerodynamics? Look for deeper rims and bladed spokes. Combine this with a budget and other details, like rim brake vs. disc brake, and you will narrow the search down but there still remain a number of familiar brands that offer similar products.

Roval, owned by Specialized, is making a push to be part of that conversation, along with the likes of Zipp, Enve, Mavic, and many others. It brought a group of journalists out to Santa Cruz to make that pitch this winter. So here’s a look at the salient considerations.

Weight and measurements

These are the easiest criteria to nail down, so let’s just do the numbers with the rim brake, clincher versions of a few well-known wheelsets:

Low-profile wheels
Roval CLX 32: 1,280g | $2,400 | 32mm rim depth
Zipp 202 Firecrest: 1,375g | $2,100 | 32mm rim depth
Enve SES 2.2: 1,370g | $2,900 | 25mm rim depth
Rolf Aeres3: 1,340g | $2,399 | 35mm rim depth

Mid-profile wheels
Roval CLX 50: 1,375g | $2,400 | 50mm rim depth
Zipp 303 Firecrest: 1,625g | $2,100 | 42mm rim depth
Enve SES 3.4: 1,450g | $2,900 | 35mm front/45mm rear rim depth
Rolf Aeres4: 1,365g | $2,399 | 42mm rim depth

Deep-profile wheels
Roval CLX 64: 1,545g | $2,400 | 64mm rim depth
Zipp 404 Firecrest: 1,690g | $2,100 | 58mm rim depth
Enve SES 4.5: 1,526g | $2,900 | 48mm front/56mm rear rim depth
Rolf Aeres6: 1,545g | $2,399 | 60mm rim depth

Construction

In a few ways, Roval wheels jive with our own preferences. External nipples are a boon, especially if you are using rim brakes and need to true out a quick wobble. A few companies, such as Enve and Rolf, opt for less mechanic-friendly internal nipples. Roval’s hubs have DT Swiss internals, which have proven reliable in our testing. And, the wheels are all laced by hand with DT Swiss Aerolite spokes (16/21 lacing on the CLX 50 and CLX 64; 16/24 on the CLX 32), to rims that all have 20.7mm internal width, in keeping with the trend toward wider rims. While a few other brands champion their American production facilities (Enve’s SES rims, for instance, are entirely manufactured and assembled in Utah), Roval wheels are manufactured and assembled in Taiwan. Naturally, a product’s country of origin may be intangible when riding or irrelevant to some, but that may be partly why Roval wheels are competitively priced.

Ride quality

The CLX 32 wheels are our favorites of Roval’s current offerings, perhaps because we’ve spent the most time on them, both at the California press event and back in Colorado on a rim-brake specific pair. Lively, light, but plenty stiff, the CLX 32 is a great wheel for almost anything but full-gas group rides on flat or rolling roads. The low-profile rim behaves itself in crosswinds and is noticeably zippy on steep climbs.

In our laboratory, the CLX 32 was stiff in deflection testing, although not category-leading. The rim brake version deflected 5.2mm in the front and 6.57mm in the rear; compare that to Mavic’s Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL C, which deflected 4.54mm front/5.88mm rear.

Read the full Roval CLX 32 review >>

If you are more inclined toward flat terrain or time trials, the CLX 64 would be a sensible choice. We have yet to take these wheels to the lab, but they felt stiff and precise on the road. Also, our limited time on the 64s didn’t afford a chance to see how they felt in crosswinds. Roval engineers explained that, rather than shaping and adding texture to the rims, as Zipp did with its 454, or using a lower-profile front rim, like Enve, they focused on pure aerodynamics. They say that rims that afford a smooth separation with the wind as it passes will not compromise steering torque.

Conclusion

Based on our longer-term experience with the CLX 32 wheelset, Roval’s new three-pronged approach to its wheel line is promising. Certainly the brand has come a long way since Specialized bought it in the early 2000s — ah, remember these? However, like other brands that live in the shadow of a larger ownership company, such as Bontrager, riders aren’t always thinking Roval when it is time to buy race wheels. Perhaps they should.

Our Roval takeaways:

– They hit a competitive price point. Yes, $2,400 is a lot to spend on wheels, regardless of how fast they are, but compared to offerings from other brands, it is close.
– They are lighter than most in nearly every category.
– We like the combination of DT Swiss hubs and spokes — not proprietary, easy to service, compatible with nearly every axle configuration, and available at most bike shops.
– When it comes to the intangible ride feel factor, the CLX 32 wheels are great, and we’re probably going to keep on riding them until Specialized tells us to send them back.

A note on Aerodynamics: We haven’t seen independent aero data on Roval wheels. According to Specialized’s wind tunnel research, the three CLX models out-performed their closest equivalents in Zipp’s line. Naturally, we take any proprietary manufacturer data with a grain of salt.

Yes, it is possible to do a wheelie with Roval wheels. Just one part of our rigorous product testing protocol. Photo: Ian Collins Photography / @iancollinsphotography
Yes, it is possible to do a wheelie with Roval wheels. Just one part of our rigorous product testing protocol. Photo: Ian Collins Photography / @iancollinsphotography