Joe Robinson

Thursday, November 26, 2020 – 14:49

Shunning the church of tubeless isn't a problem for these excellent wheels from Roval

/ 5


The new Roval Rapide CLX wheelset from the in-house components brand of Specialized have a lot of things going for them from where a premium set of all-round wheels is concerned.

Lightweight at only 1,400g for the pair? Good. Disc brakes? Excellent. A 51mm deep by 35mm wide front wheel mixed with a 60mm by 30mm rear wheel for a blend of aerodynamics and crosswind stability? Perfect. An internal rim depth of 21mm that works best with 26mm tyres for less drag and lower rolling resistance? What a bonus.

And they are tubeless, obviously. Oh no, actually they’re not. That’s right, the new Roval Rapide CLX wheelset is clincher only. So while brands like Zipp and Hunt are telling us tubeless is not only the future but also the now and while I have colleagues claiming that if it ain’t tubeless, it ain’t worth riding, one of the leading wheel brands in the world has just released a set of new rims that, for many, would be considered already out of date.

Sacrilege! Not quite. Why has it done this? Simple, performance. As Specialized product manager Cameron Piper told Cyclist ‘to get the rim shape we wanted and hit our weight target, we had to make them clincher. So these are 1,400g a pair.’

To put it simply, if you want to make a wheelset tubeless you need to reinforce the bead hooks and walls while adding a lip to secure the tubeless tyre, all things that add weight and create a more complex rim channel. Roval did not want to do this so sacrificed tubeless-compatibility for the best balance between depth and weight it could manufacture.

And it paid off immediately. The clincher Rapide CLX wheels were guided to Tour de France stage victory by Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Sam Bennett this summer. Their shallower siblings, the Alpinist CLX wheels, clincher only too, also took a win at cycling’s biggest race. A big victory for the house of clincher, take that tubeless.

Winning sprint stages at the Tour are an obvious testament to the wheels ability to perform at the highest level but ultimately, that doesn’t really matter for us average Joes and Janes. The regular humans who actually buy these wheels will not be pushing 2,000w to outsprint Caleb Ewan or Wout van Aert having just cruised 200km at an average of 45kmh.

Instead, the paying customer will be hoping their new set of carbon rims will simply be fast on the flats, light on the climbs and comfortable, always.

As for being fast on the flats, that is never in doubt here. From the Roval Rapide CLX wheels you get that real free speed feeling. That sense of snowballing as you are propelled forward quicker for the same effort. The deep, wide 50mm/60mm rim depth mix working in tandem with the aero-optimised DT Swiss spokes. Then when you launch a sprint, rigid kickback transfers all of your power from the legs on to the road and you are left accelerating into hyperspace – or at least that’s what I convinced myself.

Even when I was tapping out a modest tempo, it felt as if I was going faster than usual on my local loops and testing roads as obviously, this is all anecdotal evidence, not scientific, but these wheels certainly earn the ‘rapide’ name, in my opinion.

Then when I turned off the flat stuff and hit the steep stuff, these wheels really did their thing in propelling me skywards. At 1,400g for the pair, you are getting an uncommonly light set of wheels for their depth. When slotted into the Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1 disc bike used to test these wheels I was riding a setup that tipped the scales around 7.5kg, pretty light considering this wasn’t Giant’s top offering.

And better yet, when climbing the rear wheel makes that lovely whooshing sound. Like an old steam train leaving the station, its pistons working double time, I like that sound a lot.

The biggest sacrifice Roval and Specialized have made in neglecting tubeless technology is comfort and puncture resistance. But, realistically, did the Rapide CLX wheels not being tubeless affect me in terms of comfort or puncture resistance in any way during the testing process? No, not one iota.

As Roval claimed, these wheels have been designed to roll best with a set of 26mm tyres attached. With that in mind, I affixed a set of 25mm Continental GP5000 knowing that when pumped to my favoured 85psi, they were much more likely to measure around that 26mm mark, if not even wider. It proved a match made in heaven.

It was as comfortable as a set of 25mm tyres could be, really. Sure, if I was running these tubeless, I could run lower pressure which is, therefore, a smoother rider but I was never left thinking ‘oh if only these were tubeless then I’d be much more comfortable’. If anybody tells you that they could notice a much harsher ride from these wheels due to not being tubeless, they’re lying.

And puncture resistance was not a problem either in as much as I haven’t punctured on this wheel/tyre combination yet despite riding them throughout November, a month whose weather typically washes anything and everything onto the roads. Sure, if they were tubeless, when that day comes when I do ride over a bit of glass I would be better prepared, but that’s not happened yet.

The only problem for me here is the price. These wheels cost £1,850 which fits neatly between the obscene and the unbelievable price brackets. Ultimately, Roval designed these wheels to perform rather than offer fiscal value. Deceuninck-QuickStep and Bora-Hansgrohe are not asking for wheels that cost less than £800, they want wheels that win them races. And to develop, manufacture and test wheels that win you World Championships and Grand Tour stages, you will incur a cost. And for wheels that perform to this level, other brands are charging up to £3,000.

But we cannot deny these are not affordable. More a piece of tech that is to be either admired from afar or purchased solely by those with more money than sense. As for half the price of these Rapide CLX wheels, you can likely buy an alternative that is nowhere near half in terms of performance.

If I did have more money than sense, however, it’s worth noting that I would probably buy a set of these wheels not only for the fact they do everything you could ask for from a set of top-end, modern, all-rounder carbon wheels but because it would get under the skin of all my colleagues who constantly bemoan my resistance to converting to tubeless.

Source: Cycling – Cyclist