For the past three years, I’ve tested Specialized’s Control and Control SL wheels everywhere from World Cup Marathon races to hardcore trail riding to find out if they're the best XC MTB wheels available. So how has their unique carbon rim design held up, how do they feel on track and trail and should you go for the ultralight, aspirational Control SL or the workaholic Control?
Design and build
Both rims share the same rim design and it’s an interesting one. Not only is it very shallow for a 29mm internal width rim but the FlatTop sidewalls have a 4mm horizontal lip which Specialized say reduces the chance of a pinch flat by 22 percent. It’s offset asymmetrically for more even loading but while the design isn’t compatible with inserts the valves provided with them aren’t.
The SL wheels get 24 top spec DT Swiss Aerolite bladed straight pull spokes while the Control gets 28 heavier, rounded DT Swiss Competition straight pull spokes in each wheel. The SL’s have narrow diameter hubs based on DT Swiss 180 internals including SiNC ceramic bearings and a Ratchet EXP freehub, while the Control’s get DT Swiss 350 hubs with Star Ratchet freehub. Both have relatively slow engagement with a maximum ten-degree gap but that can be upgraded. Both wheels are also packaged with spare spokes, a hand-building score sheet, and optional oversized RockShox-compatible Torque Cap end caps. US and European SL’s get Centerlock splined rotor option but UK SL’s and Control’s are 6-bolt only.
In terms of tire mounting both rims are super easy to work with, with a tool-free load if you’re careful and then popping straight up to pressure with no obvious hangups or excessive fluid loss. You will need to change the supplied valves if you want to use inserts though as the flat ends are likely to get blocked making pressure adjustment hard.
While initial engagement can be slow due to the freehub lag, the rims accelerate very quickly so both wheels are a real boost off the line, out of corners, or any other situation where you need speed super fast. The upside is reduced drag and less chance of full-suspension kickback through the pedals on rough terrain.
Interestingly despite narrower hubs and fewer spokes the SL’s actually feel tauter and tighter, while the Control’s are a little more relaxed and chilled on the trail. The lower overall weight makes the SL’s (and the bike hosting them) feel more poppy and alive too, but the Control’s are still a very obvious, ego and exhilaration-boosting agility and responsiveness upgrade over an average set of trail wheels.
As well as riding these samples a lot myself over a three-year period I’ve also lent them out to 2022 UK MTB Marathon champion Amy Henchoz who’s taken them to top twenty placings in World Cup Marathon’s, plus European stage races and UK podiums. They’ve also done time as general-purpose trail wheels under heavier and more aggressive riders. You wouldn’t know though as tension and alignment are still absolutely fine and there are no signs of significant damage in the UD carbon fibre construction anywhere. They hold onto tires well even at low pressures too and the Flat Top puncture proofing really seems to work. Amy didn't have a single pinch flat puncture despite some rocky courses and a talent for always flatting tires on any other wheel she’s used. I've not bitten a tire on them either even when running sub 600g Specialized S-Works tires.
The DT Swiss hubs have been typically bombproof too and swapping end caps or removing their free hub for servicing and cleaning is a simple tool-free job. That does mean the weight of the cassette can be enough to pull the freehub off and expose its guts to dust and dirt if you knock the wheels over when they’re not on the bike. That’s something I’d say about any DT Swiss based wheel though so just be sure to store them carefully and they’ll likely give you years of trouble-free service like these have. It’s worth pointing out that I’ve ridden other examples of the same wheels on Specialized S-Works Epic WC and Epic Evo test bikes and had exactly the same excellent on-bike experience too.
All Roval wheels are now covered with an 'it happens' accidental/crash damage policy on the rims too, so for the first few years you’ll get repaired or totally fresh wheels for free if you smash them.
Rims are the heart of any wheel in the same way as frames are the heart of the bike and the Control’s are excellent. Light enough to race but tough, broad, and secure enough for trail use, with a genuine gain in terms of reducing pinch flats as well as excellent warranty cover. If you’re a podium or marathon miler like Amy the tighter, lighter, ceramic-bearing SL’s are worth the extra cash (she’s actually buying this set after testing. For most riders though the Control’s are a serious step up in performance and drop down in weight from most trail wheels without compromising toughness, reliability, or warranty.
Tech specs: Roval Control SL
- Price: $2,500 / £2,200 / €2,000
- Sizes: 29er only
- Options: 6-bolt and Centerlock in US and Europe, 6-bolt only in UK
- Weight: 1320g (including tape and valves)
Tech specs: Roval Control
- Price: $1,350 / £1,150 / €1,300
- Sizes: 29er only
- Options: 6-bolt only
- Weight: 1480g (including tape and valves)