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Roval Rapide CLX wheelset review

27 Nov 2020

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

Cyclist Rating: 
Incredibly fast • Still light enough for steep ascents

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

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

With that in mind, they are no doubt tubeless too, yes? Actually, no they’re not. That’s right, the new Roval Rapide CLX wheelset is clincher only.

For more, see the Roval website here.

So in the face of brands like Zipp and Hunt telling us tubeless is not only the future but also the present, and some of my colleagues claiming that if it ain’t tubeless, it ain’t worth riding, one of the leading wheel brands has just released a set of new rims that, for many, must already be considered out of date.

Why has Roval done this? The simple answer is 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 explain, 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 possible balance between depth and weight.

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

Winning sprint stages at the Tour is 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 in all situations.

In terms of being fast on the flats, it didn't take long for that box to be ticked. There's that real feeling of free speed from the Roval Rapide CLX wheels, that sense that you're slipping through the air and being propelled forward faster and faster for the same effort.

When you launch a sprint, rigid kickback transfers all of the power from your legs straight to the road and you accelerate into hyperspace – or at least that’s what I convinced myself was happening.

Even when tapping out a modest tempo, it felt as if I was going faster than usual on my local loops and testing roads. Obviously, this testimony is all anecdotal but safe to say these wheels certainly earn the ‘Rapide’ name for me.

When I turned off the flat and hit a climb, these wheels proved equally good at propelling me skywards. That 1,400g overall weight makes them an uncommonly light set of wheels for their depth. When slotted into the Giant TCR Advanced Pro 1 disc bike used to test them, the total bike weight came in at around 7.5kg, which isn't bad considering this isn't Giant’s top offering.

To go with that impressive performance, the rear wheel makes that lovely whoosh-ing sound when climbing, 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. Realistically, though, did the Rapide CLX wheels not being tubeless affect me in terms of comfort in any way during the testing process? No, not one bit.

As Roval claims, 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 were likely to measure around that 26mm mark, if not even wider. It proved a perfect match.

For more, see the Roval website here.

It was as comfortable as you could expect from a set of 25mm tyres. Sure, if I was running these tubeless I could run lower pressure, which would mean a smoother ride but equally, but I was never left thinking, ‘If only these were tubeless then I’d be much more comfortable.'

Puncture resistance was not a concern either, in that I didn't puncture once despite testing these wheels throughout November, a month where the weather typically washes (or blows) anything and everything onto the roads.

The only real problem for me here is the price. These wheels cost £1,850, which will be out of range for a lot of riders. Ultimately, though, Roval designed these wheels to excel in performance rather than offer value – Deceuninck-QuickStep and Bora-Hansgrohe want wheels that will win races, after all.

At the same time, other brands are charging up to £3,000 for wheels that perform to this level, so despite their price they do offer decent value for money.

Ultimately, if I did have the money for such an investment myself, I would probably buy a set of Roval Rapide CLX wheels, partly because they do everything you could ask for from a set of top-end, modern, all-rounder carbon wheels... and partly because I know it would get under the skin of all my colleagues who constantly bemoan my resistance to converting to tubeless.


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