Santa Cruz has been making quality bicycles and components since 1994 and its Reserve wheels have created a whole new performance and warranty benchmark.
When the first Reserve carbon rims broke cover in June 2017 we saw something totally new to the Santa Cruz line-up, its very own carbon mountain bike wheels. While carbon wheels were nothing new, Santa Cruz wanted to create something they didn’t believe to exist: an accurate and responsive carbon rimmed wheel that boosted comfort and traction without totally breaking the bank.
The company also removed any worries about wheel failure by offering an - at the time - unbelievably good no gimmicks, no questions asked lifetime guarantee. The Reserve 37s we have on test here are the latest addition to the range, catering for the ever-growing rise of bikes designed with 2.6in or wider tyres in mind.
Design and geometry
Santa Cruz spent a lot of time experimenting with different widths before deciding that a 37mm internal width offered the best balance of tyre profile and support for 2.5-3.0in rubber. It also let Santa Cruz use a shallower rim profile which means it’s within a few grams of the 30mm rim and gives a more compliant ride that complements what most riders are looking for from larger volume tyres. If you don’t use fat rubber then the Reserve range also includes rims with 22mm, 25mm, 27mm, 30mm and 31mm internal widths in both 27.5- and 29-inch wheel sizes.
Looking closely at the rim the first thing to jump out is the thickness of the hookless rim bead relative to most other wheels on the market. Santa Cruz states this is to boost strength on the most common type of rim failure – single-sided rim impacts. Large square shaped reinforcements anchor every one of the 28 asymmetric spoke holes, too. Again this adds strength as well as making correct positioning of the spoke hole much easier with any off-centre hole being easy to spot. Santa Cruz also claims these spoke holes are so strong that on impact the spoke and/or nipple will break before the carbon.
Reserve 37mm complete wheel options are available with either Industry 9 or (as featured here) DT Swiss 350 hubs, both hubs have Shimano HG or Sram XD freehub options and RockShox fork users have the option of the stiffness boosting Torque Cap end caps. All wheelsets are hand-built at the Santa Cruz HQ in California, but rim-only options are also available for custom wheel builds.
Interestingly, because of the extra stiffness added by the width, the new 37s are also the lightest rims in the Reserve line-up. At 1740g with tape and valves the 37mm 350 wheelset is still only reasonable but not revolutionary in terms of weight. Standard J-bend spokes are readily available everywhere if you snap one.
Ride, handling and performance
Carbon wheels are often seen as the ultimate upgrade component but in many cases they don’t live up to the promise. The positives of a lower overall weight to enhance acceleration are often trumped by an overly harsh and hand-jarring feel, resulting in pinball handling. Some possess so much flex that it feels like you’ve got elastic spokes and others just feel dead and numb and/or actually weigh more than alloy rims a fraction of the price.
The Reserve’s were one of the first wheels to deliver a really good balance. They’re still light enough to be easy to turn over and agile on the trail, but give a totally dialled balance of accurate but chatter-damped trail connection. The high quality hand build gives a superbly precise feel paired with top class trail-chatter relief that never feels overly stiff. Yet, slot them into a rut or charge an off-camber root carpet and predictability and line choice accuracy are so good you’ll soon be totally re-calibrating what lines you can hit and hold.
Alternatively load them hard into a high-speed bike park berm and there are no signs of unwanted flex or off-line wandering when heading into the next trail feature, something that is worryingly common with cheaper, number carbon layups.
The new wide 37mm rim also allows for a great tyre profile when using 2.6in tyres, too. Thanks to the hookless bead we managed to achieve traction-boasting pressures as low as 16psi without experiencing sidewall fold. During our tyre pressure experiments there were times we went too low and the rim did come into contact with sniper rocks, but even after multiple smashes that would have undoubtedly damaged alloy wheels, there were no signs of any rim damage. The broad rim walls also make them much more forgiving on tyre sidewalls compared to narrower, sharper edges.
DT Swiss 350 hubs are super reliable but 10-degree engagement is adequate rather than amazing, so upgrade the free hub for a faster one (it’s a very simple process) or choose the Industry Nine option for immediate drive. Be aware that snappier pick up means they’re more likely to interfere with suspension performance when descending though, particularly in a suspension system with noticeable chain growth like Santa Cruz.
The warranty Santa Cruz offers with its wheels is definitely worth a special mention. Lifetime warranty is a term that gets used loosely in the bike industry, but in this case the statement is more than genuine.
Fortunately, this isn’t something I experienced first-hand during testing, but having spoken to people who have, the service provided is truly first class. Simply fill out the online warranty form and a complete new wheel will be on its way to you within 24 hours regardless of your location. This sort of back up instils confidence on the trail, so no longer do you compromise grip by adding extra pressure to protect your rims. Legitimate insurance mean any thoughts of brake checking into that blind rock garden vanish, and keep your throttle that bit more open every time you ride.
It’s worth noting that some brands have followed Santa Cruz with a matching no-quibble lifetime warranty, but if you check the small print others only offer limited time periods, reduced price replacement, manufacturing defect warranty or add substantial delivery or wheel build costs to ‘free’ rim replacements.
Santa Cruz has had carbon ride quality dialled in its bikes for a long time now and the Reserves take this responsive-but-forgiving performance balance right down to the tyre.
While copycat warranties and similar ride quality mean the Reserves have more competition they’re still a benchmark - both in terms of ride quality worth the extra cost over alloy and removing the worry from riding carbon-fibre wheels flat-out. The lively but bomber-tough 37s are an especially good choice for those running wider rubber, not only offering enhanced support but increased tyre survival, too.
- Temperature: 10-25 degrees in wet and dry conditions
- Trails: Man-made and natural trails, Lake District bridlepaths
- Terrain: A mix of machine and man-made bike trails and natural rocky Lake District tech
- Price: £1599
- Weight: 1740g (27.5-inch with DT Swiss 350 hub)
- Freehub: 10-degree engagement
- Width: 37mm (tested)