What do you want from a wheelset? Light weight? Aerodynamics? Durability? Comfort? Stiffness? Stability? Convenience? All of the above?  Looking at that list, there are a number of things there that would seem to be mutually exclusive, which is why many cyclists build up a collection of wheels to suit different terrain and conditions. After all, expecting one wheel to deal with all of these conditions would be to ask the impossible.  Apparently, Specialized is not keen on the word ‘impossible’ because with the Roval CLX50 the company set out to create that one wheelset that could be everything to everyone. Judging by my impressions of riding a set for a couple of weeks, they have succeeded.
 
Roval CLX50, photo Eugene Bonthuys
 
Who is Roval?

 

Long before it became associated with Specialized, Roval was on the cutting edge of wheel design, producing lightweight, integrated wheel systems way back in the 1980s. Although it is now part of the Specialized stable, Roval has a dedicated design crew working on its wheels, with the added benefit of Specialized’s own wind tunnel for testing. What they produce are wheels that can measure up to the best in the world, while Specialized can equip their bikes with world-beating equipment designed in-house.
 
It is therefore also no surprise to see the Specialized-sponsored teams QuickStep and Bora-Hansgrohe riding Roval wheels, with the CLX50 looking like a firm favourite during the classics season. Given the power the likes of Tom Boonen can produce, and the horrendous torture test that wheels receive when being battered over cobbles, durability is apparently not something us mere mortals need to be worried about.
 
 
 
 
The technology
 
The CLX50 wheels feature, as the name would suggest, a 50mm deep rim, which lends itself to a good balance of aerodynamic performance and light weight. The wheels are available in clincher, tubluar, and disc brake formats, and fit in the middle of Roval’s wheel lineup, between the slightly lighter but less aerodynamic CLX32, and the heavier but slightly more aero CLX64. In fact, the set of clinchers wheels that I tested came in at a mindblowing 1408g for the set (624g front, 784g rear), and that is with rim tape fitted. This is even more impressive when you note the substantial girth of the rim. With a 20.7mm internal rim width, around 28mm at the brake track, and a maximum width of 29.4mm, paired with a blunt, U-shaped profile, these rims certainly inspire confidence.
 
Roval CLX50, photo Eugene Bonthuys
 
 
 
The wide rim means that the wheel is perfectly matched to a wider set of tyres, and the set I tested came equipped with Specialized’s excellent S-Works Turbo Cotton clinchers in a 26mm width. Wider tyres provide lower rolling resistance, better grip, and a more comfortable ride, so by designing the wheels to provide peak aerodynamic performance with wider rubber provides riders with advantages beyond just the wheel itself. The wheels are built with 16 bladed spokes in the front and 21 bladed spokes in the rear – seven on the non drive side, and 14 on the drive side – to better deal with the unique stresses faced by each side of the rear wheel.
 
 
The hubs are Roval’s own design, with a clean aerodynamic profile that is in keeping with the well thought out design of the rest of the wheelset. Add to that the fact that the wheels are equipped with CeramicSpeed bearings, which for any other wheelset out there would be a very expensive aftermarket upgrade, and you come to the realisation that Roval set out to build the ultimate wheelset, without the stratospheric price tag usually associated with such a wheel. The wheels were also supplied with carbon-specific brake pads, created in conjunction with SwissStop, a company viewed as the undisputed leader when it comes to aftermarket brake pads for carbon rims, to ensure that stopping matched all the other performance metrics. In fact, it would seem that the designers at Roval thought of everything, to the point of including special stickers to put over the valve hole in the rim so as to eliminate the annoying tick-tick-tick that valve extenders can often cause as a deep section carbon wheel rotates.
 
 
The ride

 

The wheels may look impressive, the numbers may look good, but does this translate into something you can feel out on the road? In short – OH YEAH!
The light weight and stiffness of these wheels are immediately apparent, with acceleration out of corners being the most responsive I have ever encountered. This also translates into predictable handling out on the road, as the wheels do exactly what you ask of them, when you ask it. Yet this stiffness does not come at the expense of comfort, with the wheels providing a beautifully smooth ride, at least in part attributable to the amazing S-Works Turbo Cotton clinchers the wheels came specced with. The wide, supple tyres smoothed out rough patches in the road while also adding to the cornering ability of the wheels. In fact, I would say that the two work so beautifully as a complete wheel system that I would be loathe to fit anything else to these wondrous hoops.
 
Roval CLX50, photo Eugene Bonthuys
 
Of course, one big concern with deep wheels is crosswind stability. Fortunately, Southland is knowN for its crosswinds, so it did not take long for a very windy day to come along and test these wheels to their limit, or to my limit, whichever came first. As I have had some very scary moments with wheels of a similar depth in the past, I was a touch hesitant about the ride ahead, but I was pleasantly surprised, bordering on amazed. In spite of their 50mm depth, the Roval wheels performed predictably in the very strong wind, and although I was pushed around a bit, it was no worse than any of my riding companions, who were all on shallow-depth aluminium wheels.
 
 
The shape of the rims plays a very big role here, with a broad, blunt trailing edge, somewhat resembling a U, creating far less buffeting than wheels using older technology such as a basic V profile or other narrow shapes. This means that the wheels have far greater usability than older wheels of a similar depth, and negates the need for something shallower on windy days. Ironically of course, windy days are when you stand to benefit most from aero wheels, if you can handle them in the wind, so riding the Roval wheels will give you a massive advantage over someone who either opts for a shallow set of wheels to improve handling, or spends most of the ride fighting to stay upright.
 
 
Earlier in my racing days, carbon wheels were great on dry days, but only the suicidal would race them in the wet. However, whether a function of the wheels themselves or the SwissStop pads they came with, braking on the Roval wheels in the wet was strong and predictable – far more so than I had come to expect from my current set of racing wheels.
 
 
When fitting the wheels to my bike initially I was a fraction concerned about the available clearance in the rear, as the Roval CLX50s are considerably wider than my regular set of wheels. However, even though the tolerances were rather tight, I did not have any issues with the wheel rubbing against the frame or the brakes, in spite of my best efforts. Far less so, in fact, than with my current wheels.
 
Roval CLX50, photo Eugene Bonthuys
 
Conclusion
 
 
The couple of weeks I spent testing the Roval CLX50 wheels have flown past, and I came home from every single ride with a stupid grin on my face. These wheels are a joy to ride, and deliver a tangible ride quality and performance upgrade right out the box. In fact, there were a couple of issues I blamed on my frame that I now know are the fault of my race wheels. Good news for my bike – less so for my current race wheels!
 
 
In fact, the more time I spent on the Roval CLX50s, the more I started to wonder whether there were in fact any weaknesses to these. They are light, stiff, aerodynamic, comfortable, stable, versatile, brake well, and even look good. In short, everything one could possibly ask for in a wheel. However, I think, at long last, I have found a weakness… at the end of this test I have to hand them back.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here