2020 Roval Control Wheel Launch – Wheels and Tortillas
2020 CONTROL WHEEL LAUNCH
WHEELS & TORTILLAS
Words by Drew Rohde | Photos by Billy Sinkford & Roval
Roval Control wheels have long been synonymous with XC-performance and lycra-lined podiums. While Roval Components may have a robust line of products, it’s safe to say they’re probably most known in more gram-conscious circles of riders, an area we admittedly don’t spend much time in. Nevertheless, we’ve ridden Roval components on everything from Specialized’s Demo DH bikes to their all mountain ebikes like the Kenevo. When a somewhat vague email came down the line about a trip to Baja, Mexico to ride their new wheels, I was instantly envisioning something much different. Truth be told, I hadn’t ridden a bike with less than 140mm of travel in at least five years. But when I found out we’d be traveling to an adventure guest ranch called Rancho Cacachilas, and riding brand new trails overlooking the Sea of Cortez, I started dusting off my moth-balled lycra and looking for the shaving cream. Lucky for me the crew at Roval and Echos Communications informed me that my vision of what “Lightweight XC wheels” were has changed.
Like the rest of the industry, the cross-country segment has evolved into a more aggressive, capable niche with riders looking to push the limits of man and machine. Light weight and durable were no longer mutually exclusive and I was assured that my desires to “Just send it” could still be achieved, just on slicker tires than I was used to.
After flying into Los Cabos International airport I hung around waiting for other editors and our shuttle driver to transport us north to the Cacachilas mountains of Baja California Sur. I had enough time to hitch a ride with a local guy for some post-flight Barbacoa at his favorite local spot, he even said if I gave him some gas money he’d come back in an hour to pick me up and give me a ride back to the airport to rendezvous with the crew. I took him up on the offer and enjoyed a delicious meal.
Back at the airport the editors met and loaded up into a suburban for the two-plus hour drive to Rancho Cacachilas. The Rancho is a self-sustaining eco resort owned by Christy Walton, member of the Walton Wal-Mart family, and its main function is to preserve the local resources, terrain while also educating local farmers, residents and tourists of better ways to live and produce while minimizing impact on the planet. If you’d like to learn more about the Rancho Cacachilas offerings and amazing philanthropic endeavors, check out our story here.
Roval Components is probably best known as “Specialized’s in-house component and wheel brand,” but much like a 32-year old millennial, they are ready to leave the roost and strike out on their own. In fact Roval’s brand manager, Ben Capron used a similar expression while describing Roval and their venture into the world of aftermarket wheels. “We’ve grown up and it’s time to look outside the house at the big world beyond. What’s awesome though, is that we’re not just a small wheel company starting from scratch.” What Capron means by that is, they’ve got the resources, testing facilities and capabilities of a 1.5-billion dollar company, and that allows them to test and develop products that smaller brands may not be able to.
For example, Roval engineer and bike industry legend, Chuck Texiera created sixteen different prototype shapes before arriving at the current Control rim design. There’s a lot of costs and time spent not selling your latest product when you’re tweaking and tuning to that extent. What that time has bough Roval is a pretty damn impressive new 1,240gram wheelset that I thoroughly tried to beat on during my four days of rocky, desert riding in Baja.
WHAT’S NEW After two days of solid riding we were finally subjected to the obligatory product presentation, which was certainly less formal than most, even if it was long. Hey, when bike geeks and engineers start talking tech, it’s never going to end quickly! After Ben Capron introduced the Control wheel line that we’d been riding, Chuck dropped the technical fire like an A-10 Warthog flying over a tank depot.
The new Roval Control wheels have been completely redesigned from axle to rim. Changes in hub and axle construction save weight, while an outside the box approach to rim profile greatly reduces the likelihood of pinch flatting your tires, even if they’re pinner XC rubbers, like the ones we rode in Baja.
Starting at the center of the new Roval Control SL and Team wheels is the pretty amazing new hub. In fact when Chuck and the engineers at Roval sent the design to DT Swiss for production, they actually told them it wasn’t possible. Texiera smiled and shared, “We actually had to send them proof of our testing hours and even race results of our riders who’d already been riding on the hubs we produced in-house. While we knew it was possible to create and make these hubs as light as we wanted, our production facility just isn’t able to produce the number of hubs we need to keep up with the demand. So we had to share our information with DT, a long time partner of Roval.”
THE HUB DESIGN Roval uses a ceramic-sealed 54-tooth engagement system on the Control Team rear freehubs while the Control SL and Control Carbon wheels get the DT Swiss 36t ratchet system, to pass on savings to the consumer. The Team Issue wheels use ceramic cartridge bearings front and rear while the Control SL wheels use regular sealed bearings up front with ceramic rears. The Control SL Team hubs lace up to 24 DT Swiss Competition Race spokes while the Control SL uses 24 front and 28 rear spokes.
The Control Carbon wheels are more affordable by quite a bit and use 28 spokes front and rear that thread into DT Swiss nipples and are held in place by Roval’s hookless carbon rim. The Control SL Team and Control SL rims share the same unique profile that really help make these wheels special, and it’s not just the 29mm internal width or weight that Roval are proud of. Chuck Texiera shared, “I kept asking myself, why are we still getting pinch flats? I was able to do test after test on our machines and created a hypothesis. I wanted to figure out a rim design that helped reduce the chance of pinch flatting.”
According to their studies, pro athletes lose the most time in races to flat tires. “If we could help our racers and riders on their local trails spend less time fixing flats, or having to run heavier tires, then we win. In more ways than one,” Texiera continued. Asymmetrical rim profiles aren’t new, so what makes these 358-gram rims special? The 4mm wide flat section at the top of the hookless rim wall is certainly one of the stars of the Roval Control show. Yes, technologically and from an engineering standpoint the hubs are beyond impressive, but we’d wager that more riders are going to enjoy not having to fix flats or run heavier tires than are going to talk about the grams saved by the clever hub design. Roval claims that the 4mm flat-top means that 22% more force will be required to pinch flat your tire. That’s a pretty substantial gain for riders looking to eek out performance from every aspect of their ride. Depending on your preference, that means you could either lower your PSI by a couple of pounds, improving your traction, or run a lighter weight tire as the reliance on a heavier duty carcass isn’t as important for pinch flat protection. Speaking from my experience over the week in Baja, I was pretty blown away that I could run light weight tires over some of the rocks we were charging and not have a single flat.
While the flat-top design is hugely important to the reduction in pinch flats, it’s not the only factor at play. Much like the wheels we’re discussing, all parts work together to make the whole package what it is. By redesigning the rim profile Roval has also made the new Control SL wheels 29% more impact resistant and twice as vertically compliant when compared to the previous generation Control SL. It may sound a bit like hype, but I could actually feel the vertical compliance at work on one section of trail I repeated multiple times. Large, round stones in the center of a large rain rut served as my test section and I plowed into them over and over and felt the wheels conform under impact. It was pretty crazy to be honest. Even though the wheels now comply vertically, they manage to hold their shape when it comes to side-to-side loads.
Much of this stiffness comes from the asymmetric design of the Control SL rims. With the spokes offset to one side, the bracing angles from the spokes between the hub and rim are greater, meaning stiffness is there when you need it. By having better spoke angles and the asymmetrical rim shape, Roval is also able to use the same length spokes on both sides of the wheels, with equal tension. It makes repair and replacement an easy undertaking too.
THE WOLF’S FIRST IMPRESSION
As I stated above, I’m definitely no XC-guy. I’m a recovering downhiller turned ebiker that spends as much time as possible looking for places to catch air on the sides of trails and creating terrible line choices into sharp corners. When I arrived and saw these svelte little pinner machines with glorified Gravel tires on them, I was excited, and a bit scared to be honest. I wasn’t sure how these things would last under me and I hadn’t seen a stem that long since my 2010 road bike. At least it had a dropper post…I digress.
The days we spent pedaling, sliding and charging on the Roval Control SL-equipped Specialized Epics were ones I’ll never forget. Not only because of the performance of the wheels, but because of what mountain biking is to me, and the awesome people who work for brands like Roval. During the week of our off-grid retreat, we kept hearing the Roval slogan, “True to your ride.” According to Roval, it’s their commitment to customers, and they get it. They aren’t just passionate about making bike parts, they’re passionate about riding. This passion was readily visible as the Roval employees were up at sunrise every day, heading out for rides, smiling at the top of every climb and high-fiving at the bottom of every descent.
We often stopped mid-ride for pictures, snacks, and to simply admire the beauty around us. The crew at Rancho Cacachilas have done an impressive job of building trails in rugged terrain that most would not. The rock work, while beautiful and awe-inspiring was great for testing wheel durability and compliance. The dry and loose decomposed granite “dirt” meant lots of back end drifting and slamming the rear tire into ledges that I used for berms. Trails with quick transitions from uphill to downhill meant we were able to test both wheel spin-up speed and snappiness while also utilizing the incredible 54t engagement.
Needless to say, it was a special week in an incredible place. Although the trails were rough and tough on product, the reality is we’d love to get a pair to test back home on our local terrain for proper analysis of on-trail performance gains. What we can say though is that after not having ridden any XC products for a number of years, I am blown away at how capable the new-school XC stuff has gotten. I definitely spent a lot of time doing silly things to these wheels in hopes of finding a weak spot or getting a pinch flat. I wasn’t able to, even on a 100mm short travel bike like the Specialized Epic. Maybe this whole “down country” thing isn’t so silly after all.