Specialized announced its super-light Roval Control SL Pro Race wheels last year and followed them up this spring with the new Control Carbons you see here. These wheels blend the same advanced carbon rim architecture of the SLs with off-the-shelf DT Swiss workhorse components. The result is a sub 1,500g wheelset for the price of just a rear SL. It also gets the same tire-saving, shock-shrugging wide rim performance as its pricier sibling. But what are they like when things get gnarly on the trail and, more importantly, are they worthy considerations as far as the best mountain bike wheels go?
- Roval's new Control Carbon wheels bring World Cup XCO performance to a broader audience
- Best mountain bike tires: your connection to the trail
- Best mountain bike forks: the best MTB forks for XC, trail, enduro and downhill
Construction and build
The big news with the Control is the new rim which it shares with the Control SL. According to Specialized, it took 16 different prototype iterations to finalize the new asymmetric shape that’s much shallower and wider (29mm internal) than the previous Roval XC rim. At a claimed 358g per rim, it’s seriously light, too, but the reversed hookless profile actually has a flattened 4mm top overhang to the outside edge, not the inside.
The rest of the build is more conventional with DT’s well-proven, double-butted (fatter at the ends than the middle) Competition straight-pull spokes. You also get the new Spline-style straight-pull hubs which look a whole lot fancier than the old solid flange J bend spoke hubs and comes in either SRAM XD (tested), Shimano MicroSpline, and SRAM/Shimano HG freehub versions with six-bolt or Centerlock rotor fitting. The wheels also come bundled with different end caps including oversized Torque Caps for RockShox forks, spare spokes in all the various sizes and a signed finishing tension/accuracy sheet from the builder.
- Best mountain bike hubs
- Best MTB groupsets: the best mountain bike groupsets tested
The obvious immediate win in terms of performance is the light weight of this wheelset, particularly the rims which reduce inertia where it matters most. While there’s up to a 10-degree gap before the hub picks up drive once it clunks into connection, acceleration is still ferociously quick. The low weight makes them agile to flick around.
While Specialized has previously produced some very light wheels in the past, this has often come at the expense of stiffness and control. What’s impressive about these particular wheels is their hardiness and ability to shrug off trail abuse. The broader, shallower hoops naturally suck up more impact force, which makes for a noticeably smoother ride with decent connection and controlled deflection when pushed to the limit.
The broader internal profile supports larger (we used 2.35in/60mm wide Specialized race rubber) volume tyres so they don’t lightbulb and wobble/crumple at lower pressures. The flattened rim top with its pronounced outer lip also reduces the chance of pinch punctures or sidewall damage on ties. According to Specialized, you need 22 per cent more force to cause a pinch flat than a conventional rim, but all we can confirm is that we’ve come away unscathed after several edge slams on 600g tyres. Impressive. That’s obviously really important if you’re trying to nurse a superlight carcass through angry geology, but it also helps if you’re using these wheels to lighten up a trail bike.
The stepped inner rim profile helps them catch and inflate easily in tubeless guise so tire swapping for different conditions/courses isn’t a chore. The Torque Caps were a real help when we paired it with RockShox’s SID SL fork to tie the otherwise twangy legs together. The broader rim tops and carefully prototyped continuous fibre composite layup also make the rims much tougher overall, and we’ve been battering them up and down rocky trails for a couple of months now without even any cosmetic damage. If you do manage to mangle them, then you’re covered by Specialized’s lifetime warranty which makes the impressively affordable price even better value.
Cross-country mountain biking (racing and riding) is getting tougher and more technical than ever before, and that’s exactly the environment these Roval Control Carbons are bred to attack. The rims deliver often contradictory characteristics of excellent acceleration/agility-boosting weight with tough, impact damping, tire-nurturing survivability.
The overall build adds proven spokes and hubs hand-laced into a wheelset with an excellent warranty at a very affordable price. The Roval Controls are a brilliant option for boosting performance without having to back off your aggressive trail expectations.
Tech Specs: Roval Control 29 Carbon wheelset
- Price: $1,350 / £1,150
- Weight: 680g front, 800g rear = 1,480g (valves and tapes fitted)
- Material: Carbon
- Width: 29mm (internal)
- Tire format: Tubeless-ready, clincher (29er only)
- Hubs: DT Swiss
- Boost spacing: Yes