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.
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.