RESERVE 31|DH CARBON WHEELSET REVIEW
Review by Alex Sardella
The Santa Cruz Reserve Wheel program holds a high standard in the mountain bike industry. We’ve seen a few other brands dabble in the carbon rim game with the likes of Ibis or Evil, but Santa Cruz has been manufacturing wheelsets since 2017 under the Reserve moniker. While mostly seen on higher end builds and premium bikes, the Reserve Wheels are all they are talked up to be. We were lent a pair of the 31|DH wheels and have had plenty of park laps this past summer to put these hoops through the ringer.
The 31|DH Carbon wheelset is backed by the infamous Santa Cruz Syndicate, so they’re held to incredibly high use and abuse from some of the top racers in our sport. The DH rims are the beefiest in the Reserve lineup, with an inner width of 31mm, and a rim depth of 21mm on the 29”. They feature an asymmetrical design which can help equalize the tensions between the drive side and non-drive side spokes, with the 29” receiving a 5mm offset and the 27.5” a 4mm offset. The spoke holes are given reinforcement on the outside to add strength to the most highly stressed portion of the rim without adding excess weight. Speaking of spokes, the rims come with a common 32-hole count, the tried-and-true Sapim steel spoke, and aluminum nipples which are used across the Reserve lineup.
Currently, the DH rims are only available with the i9 Hydra hub, and in only one hub sizing option – 20×110 in the front, 12×157 in the rear because super boost is on trend. The freehub is available in both the Microspline and XD option. The rims can be ordered in 27.5”, 29”, or mullet, with rim weights of 530g for 27.5” and 560g for the 29”. A pair of 29” Reserve 31|DH wheels will tip the scales at a hair over 2kg. Like all the wheels in the Reserve lineup, they are backed by the Lifetime Guarantee, which can make the $2199 price point slightly easier to stomach, maybe.
Santa Cruz really prides themselves on their in-house wheel program. Every Reserve wheel is built from start to finish in house by the production team. A mix of humans and machines lace, build, and inspect the Reserve wheels, and boast an impressive start to finish build time of around 8-10 minutes. You could check out the full process here, on our Behind the Brand tour of Santa Cruz from last year!
Out of the box it’s obvious to see the premium quality of the Reserve wheels. From the cloth bags the wheels come in, the iconic red Santa Cruz tag, or the QR code to have them registered under the lifetime warranty, there’s a lot to get excited about when unpackaging. The Lifetime Warranty program really speaks volumes about the confidence the brand has in their product. After some initial drool, I proceeded to throw Maxxis Assegai tires on both the front and rear, which required limited muscle to get into place on the rim. The inner rim profile provides an ideal platform for getting the bead set, even with the likes of DH casing tires. The 31|DH rims were fixed onto my YT Tues for the duration of the testing period.
Downhill bikes are purpose-built machines, and the 31|DH carbon wheelset from Reserve was built to serve this purpose, from local shuttle tracks to the UCI circuit. While I’m not putting them through the same paces as the likes of the Syndicate, I have ridden some of my favorite bike park trails at speed and the 31|DH rims are all we would expect from a premium stiff carbon wheel planted on the ground. There is an equal response of lateral and vertical power that all feels natural – the use of the asymmetric design no doubt comes into play here. Yes, these do feel a touch stiffer than your average carbon trail/enduro wheel, but under the constant speed and demand of downhill riding it all feels natural and compliant. For me, compliance translates to ride quality, and ride quality can transfer to on-the-bike comfort and personal performance, so for me, this is incredibly important. If a rim is overly damped or too harsh, this could directly affect how you feel on the bike, which will inherently reduce your chances PR’ing your favorite downhill segment.
At mach speeds, you can feel the energy and direct transfer of power from the dirt to the wheels, to the cockpit. I can see how these are paired so nicely with the Syndicate race team, they feel incredibly calm at high speed, snappy out of corners, and stout through the roughest of rock gardens. I’m coming for you Minnaar! The Hydra hubs suit well with the high-end carbon rims. I am familiar with the premium i9 offering and love the instant engagement the Hydra’s provide, fitting for a “go-fast” wheelset like these.
The three main check points I am looking for in a wheelset are response, durability, and reliability, and all of these boxes are positively checked during my testing. From Northstar to Whistler, the 31|DH rims have held up to anything I have put them through. Loose dust and fast tech at Northstar, check. Jump lines, slabs, and roots at Whistler, check. I’ve been impressed. I am happy to report I have seen little to no issues over the 4 or 5 months of summer testing. I’ve chosen to run them without any tire inserts to really push the durability, and no harm done. Reliability is huge, there is nothing worse than finding a loose spoke when you are loading your bike to head to the park, or going to the garage to grab your bike only to find your rear tire deflated, and thankfully I haven’t found a need to fiddle with tension on the rims or needed to get the spoke key out for more than just a check.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Running the DH 31 Reserve has been an absolute treat. A wheelset I had on my downhill bike prior was a bit of a nuisance, with loose spokes and the occasional dent becoming all too common. I ride hard, but not reckless, so testing the durability of Reserve wheels was a fun task this summer. After the positive experience on the DH rims, I am keen to try out some other offerings in the Reserve lineup and see how their products translate to trail and enduro riding.
Price: $2199 wheelset | $649 rim only
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Durable as heck
No on trail issues at all
Reserve hype is real
Pay to play
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