Test by Vernon Felton
Photo by JP Van Swae
Specialized Roval Control Trail SL
Another review of carbon wheels? Here we are, knee-deep in a crap economy that has many of us roving the bargain aisles in search of deals on Spam and single-ply toilet paper, and I still have the gall to test pricey trinkets like carbon wheelsets?
Here's the thing: Massive leaps in composite technology have brought us a crop of wheels that are incredibly light and crazy tough. Wheels that—with a few bearing swaps—can easily outlive several bikes. Are they expensive?
Stupidly so? Perhaps not. Well, at least not all of them.
Consider Specialized's Roval Control Trail SL wheels, which are lighter than most cross-country racing wheelsets, yet outshine the usual suspects in both the XC class and the more rugged all-mountain category. All this, while selling for between $300 and $1,000 less than comparable carbon wheelsets.
Let's start with the rim. The Roval's inner width of 21 millimeters allows you to run 2.3, 2.4 and even 2.5-inch tires without incurring tire squirm. That alone makes it the perfect partner for a trail or lightweight all-mountain bike. In that respect, it's on par with Easton's Haven and Mavic's Crossmax SX wheelset. Yet at a mere 1,290 grams (15QR throughaxle/135-millimeter rear hub) it's lighter than a hell of a lot of wheels on the market.
These particular carbon rims are strung to Specialized's Roval hubs via 24 DT Revolution/Aerolite spokes up front and 28 of the same out back.
Lacing is traditional three-cross, with the exception of the front wheel's radially-laced, non-braking side spokes. The rear Roval hub houses DT 240 internals, which are lightweight, time-proven and dirt-simple to work on.
You can run the front wheel with a 15-millimeter through-axle fork or, thanks to the included oversized quick-release axle caps for both open dropout Fox and RockShox forks. The rear hub converts from standard quick release to 142×12 through-axle and comes with all the required adaptors. In other words, the Rovals fit on just about any bike you'd consider running them.
The Rovals took up residence on several bikes that I tested last year, from pinner XC models to stouter trail and all-mountain rigs. As expected, the Rovals lent speedy acceleration to whichever bike they were mounted. They also proved exceptionally reliable. I battered them about in Squamish, Saint George, Bellingham, Santa Cruz and Marin County and they performed faultlessly. I've yet to even reach for a spoke wrench, and my lines through rock gardens are notoriously bad.
What could be improved? If I had my druthers, I'd opt for a completely sealed UST rim bed every time, but the included rim strip and a bottle of Stan's make for fairly painless tubeless conversions. Like everyone else who works for a living, I'd also like to see a lower sticker price, but the Rovals, to be fair, are considerably less expensive than their competitors and are every bit as good as the priciest options out there.
Riders who weigh more than 240 pounds (that's the advertised rider weight limit) should steer clear, but let's be candid, if you're rocking those kinds of kilos, slapping a pair of carbon wheels on your bike isn't going to make you much faster on the climbs. On the other hand, if you have the cash to spare and are looking for a way to shed grams on your bike while also boosting lateral rigidity, you'd be remiss to skip over this particular wheelset.
Roval Control Trail SLs are also available in a 29er version. Still can't stomach the sticker price of carbon wheelsets? The aluminum-rimmed Roval Control Trail model weighs a claimed 1,640 grams and sells for $650.