Faster Engagement Than Love Island! We Test And Review The Sub-£1000 RSP Calavera Carbon Wheelset

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In Issue #116 of Singletrack Magazine, David tested and reviewed six sets of carbon mountain bike wheels, all fitted with the same WTB Vigilante/Trail Boss tyre combo

A new carbon wheel offering from Raleigh Special Products (RSP), the Calavera comes with a burly-looking rim that features a generous 28mm depth, and a 28mm internal width that will suit tyres up to about 2.5in wide. Designed to be a tough, stiff and durable wheelset, the Calavera is laced with 32 standard J-bend spokes and brass nipples, and rolls on sealed bearing Chosen hubs with a ridiculously fast 150pt freehub mechanism.

As the second cheapest wheels in the group test (just beaten by the Bontrager Line Pro 30), the RSP Calavera is almost 600 quid less than the most expensive wheels we tested. Do they feel 600 quid cheaper though? Or are these the smart buy of the bunch?

rsp calavera carbon wheels issue 116
The Calavera features huge 28mm deep carbon rims.

RSP Calavera Carbon Wheels Feature

    • Available in 27.5in and 29in diameters
    • Carbon fibre rims w/hookless sidewalls
    • Tubeless compatible
    • Internal rim width: 28mm
    • Depth: 28mm
    • Designed for 2.2in – 2.5in wide tyres
    • Chosen hubs w/sealed cartridge bearings
    • Boost and non-Boost hub spacing available
    • 3-pawl freehub mechanism w/150pt engagement
    • Shimano & SRAM XD freehub bodies available
    • Mach1 steel double-butted black racing spokes & brass nipples
    • 3x lacing pattern with 32 spokes front & rear
    • Actual weight: 1785g (27.5in wheels tested)
    • RRP: £919.98
rsp calavera carbon wheels issue 116
We had to add tubeless tape and valves to our test set, as neither are included with the wheels.
rsp calavera carbon wheels issue 116
28mm wide internally.

RSP’s jauntily decalled Calavera rims are built up onto Chosen hubs, and arrive untaped, without valves. That made them the only wheels in the grouptest to not arrive at least partially set up. Beyond that though, they were one of the more forgiving wheelsets to make tubeless. Once taped, tyres went on easily, and two performances of the Stan’s dance saw them sealed and retaining pressure for days before they were even ridden.

Setup did have a spot of trouble though, one that gives me serious reservations about the hubs. For the sake of being fair, I feel I should preface this by saying: these wheels ride really well compared to most. But. But.

The first alloy freehub that arrived with these wheels stripped threads when I tried to get the cassette lockring to 40Nm. So Raleigh sent another. Swapping freehubs is pretty simple and almost tool-less (I say almost, because I needed a kebab skewer to push the pawls into the hub body).

rsp calavera carbon wheels issue 116 raleigh
RSP builds the Calavera wheel with Chosen hubs.

The second time installing a cassette, I set the lockring to 20Nm then gradually increased torque from there. Just above 30Nm it became very obvious by feel that the freehub threads were starting to give, so I left it parked just below there and felt slightly nervous riding it.

One duffer could be unfortunate. Two could be a bad batch… or an uncalibrated torque wrench, which did worry me. I checked mine a year ago, haven’t dropped it or left it wound in, and none of the other five freehubs in this grouptest showed any signs of failure with it set to 40Nm. These Chosen freehubs are disappointingly soft, and a problem I’d never expect from a £900 set of wheels.

The end caps also pop off the axle quite easily, meaning if you don’t handle the wheel gently, the entire freehub and axle assembly can fall out (in fairness, these are far from the only hubs that can do this). Hub open, pawls everywhere, lesson learned: check the cassette for play with the wheel in the bike. I reached for my kebab skewer.

Another discouraging thing was the telltale ping of spokes untwisting as I rode them for the first few metres, which is not the sign of a quality wheel build. That said, they didn’t explode, I didn’t die, and the wheels are still running true to within a millimetre.

rsp hub freehub bearing
Look at all those tiny teeth!
Each of the three pawls features a row of tiny teeth to bite into the ratchet ring.

The rear hub has an incredible and very loud buzz thanks to 150 point engagement, giving an engagement angle of just 2.4 degrees. When riding, the minimal dead stroke that results is barely noticeable at all. Such quick engagement makes this an excellent back wheel to run on technical climbs and any other terrain that might require you to ratchet pedal strokes.

It’s done via three flared pawls with sets of fine teeth on the ends. Chosen have been said to make Chris King clones, but in this case not. Rather than a copy of CK’s Ring Drive, this is simply a steel inner ring inside the hub, covered with 150 very fine teeth. I was sceptical that such finely machined parts would last under load, but they’ve held up despite my legs best efforts to break them or make them slip. The freehub sounds like a swarm of angry insects, and if you backpedal at the right speed, ascends straight through that into sounding like some kind of wailing bee-child. It’s not subtle, but if you’re a fan of loud freehubs you’ll love this.

Uphill these wheels seemed a bit draggy, which is probably down to them being at the higher end of the weight range among wheels in this grouptest. One of the tests I did involved spinning wheels up to a reproducible speed using a small drivewheel mounted in a drill, and once the drivewheel was removed a stopwatch to time how long it took a wheel to slow to a stop. These Chosen hubs turned out to be some of the freest spinning on test, though under no load: all wheels were tested with the bike upside down, discs and cassette removed, identical tyres and pressures, and freehubs gently clamped.

rsp calavera carbon wheels issue 116
These are exceptionally good value for carbon wheels.

Off the climbs, the ride on these wheels was very good. Andi is slightly taller and heavier than me, and found these RSPs to be the most playful wheels of the lot, saying they struck a good balance of filtering out noise, applying traction and being stiff enough to push affirmatively into corners. As a lighter rider, for me that wasn’t quite true, but they did do an exceptional job of filtering out high frequency trail noise on rocky surfaces. On other kinds of trail, the difference in compliance was less noticeable, but they had a much better ride quality than I first thought.

Overall

These wheels ride very well, and with 150 teeth, unless you buy something really exotic like Onyx hubs, have higher engagement than pretty much anything else available. They’re let down somewhat by the cheesey freehub bodies though. Most cassette lockrings say 40Nm on the front; just don’t go above 30Nm and these wheels will probably be fine.

Review Info

Brand:RSP
Product:Calavera
From:Raleigh, raleigh.co.uk
Price:£919.98
Tested:by David Hayward for 2 months

Comments (4)

  1. This rang awfully true to me – I got some RSP wheels (admittedly a cheap set) when I first went 650B. The freehub died very quickly and they didn’t do a replacement! Very poor, so swapped to Hope, despite the massive price hike. I’d think long and hard before splashing out on anything expensive that was RSP branded I’m afraid.

  2. Yeah, the mechanicals were a shame, because the ride quality was second only to the Mavics in this grouptest. Once set up they ran without trouble for the test, but these would have been a shoo-in for best value if not for the issues mentioned.

  3. I have two sets of the cheaper Raleigh wheels with Chosen hubs and Alex rims. Both free hubs have played me up with an intermittent failure to engage drive. This has mainly been in situations where you back pedal to avoid a rock then try and put the power down again. You end up sometimes doing a whole crank revolution before it engages drive. One of these wheels has done less than 500 miles so it’s a real pisser. Raleigh were next to useless. It’s a different pawl system to that shown and my thought is that the springs are too weak, but I’ve not gotten around to trying to source stronger ones yet.
    Shame, because apart from that they are ok.

  4. Description says 6 pawls, picture shows 3 pawls…

    900 GBP for a 1785g carbon wheelset with low quality hubs…. WOW!

    I just got a custom built wheelset with spank rims (Oozy Trail 345 front, Spike Race 33 back) and Newmen Evolution SL hubs. (light, strong, star ratchet freehub, 36t is more than enough for my riding) Quality handbuilt with even spoke tension. 1700g 😉 for ~ 600 GBP. (same wheelset with hope pro 4 even would have been 90 GBP less and about 100g more)

    Carbon wheelsets for over 900 GBP? Better save the money for a bike holiday / trip to awesome riding sites…

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