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
Those of us above a certain age will know that, thanks to the internet, the Yellow Pages is now a shadow of its former self. In 2017 they are mere pamphlets compared to the weighty tomes of yore, and strongmen in leopard print underpants would just look silly ripping them apart on stage. Perhaps in the 21st century, they could replace that feat of strength with getting tubeless tyres off these Roval wheels. I’ve had to do that quite a lot, but it’s my own fault. Kinda.
Coming in under the Specialized umbrella, Roval is the name you’ll see adorning the rims and hubs used on complete Specialized bikes, though the wheels are available separately aftermarket too. The Traverse SL Fattie wheels use hookless carbon fibre rims with a 30mm internal rim width, which is on-trend for current 2.3-2.6in wide tyres. They will technically fit ‘plus’ tyres, but if you’re running 2.8-3.0in wide tyres, you’ll want to check out the Traverse 38 SL Fattie wheels that (you guessed it!) have a more plus-friendly inner width of 38mm. As it stands, these wheels we have here (available in both 27.5in and 29in sizes, but Boost-only) are designed for trail riding, enduro racing, and the hazy space in between.
Roval Traverse SL Fattie Carbon Wheels Feature
- Available in 27.5in and 29in diameters
- Carbon fibre rims w/hookless sidewalls
- 2Bliss Ready design
- Internal rim width: 30mm
- Designed for 2.3in – 2.8in wide tyres
- CNC machined alloy hub shells w/DT Swiss 350 internals
- Boost hub spacing only
- DT Swiss Star Ratchet freehub mechanism 54t engagement
- Shimano & SRAM XD freehub bodies available
- DT Swiss Revolution straight-pull spokes & Pro Lock hexagonal nipples
- Radial/3x lacing front (24h) and 3x lacing rear (28h)
- Actual weight: 1593g (27.5in wheels tested)
- RRP: £1320
The wheels arrived looking exactly like other Roval wheels we’ve had in, with tubeless valves installed and heavily branded “2Bliss Ready” rim tape. Great! I thought.
WTB tyres and these rims were a tough combo. They fired tyre levers across the room several times. It’s such a tight fit and the rim bed so slippery, that even after the beads have popped into place with the usual snapping noises, they tend to slip straight back down into the bead well if there’s no air pressure behind them.
Once on, the front tyre did go up immediately, and didn’t trash the rim tape on being let back down. The back, not so much. It sealed once, went down in a hour, then wouldn’t go back up at all. I thought it was a faulty valve until I popped one side off and saw the tyre had chewed the tape. Last time I saw this, it was damaged tape on a somehow non-stick rim, so cursing it I ripped the tape out, took the tyre off, and set about retaping. In so doing, I realised the rim tape was more of a thin rim strip, and not adhesive at all. This should have been my first clue something was up.
Stans tape didn’t stick to the cleaned rim, nor Gorilla tape, nor electrical tape. Finally, some expensive brand name electrical tape did, so I did two wraps of that, put Gorilla tape over it, wrestled the tyre back on, and it sealed. I took the wheels out for a few rides.
Then I found the instructions, complete with a little bag of plastic spoke hole plugs. That’s right, plugs. You see, these wheels are Jazz Tubeless and defy conventional rules. Despite the preinstalled tubeless valves, and the not-tubeless-tape that looks exactly like tubeless tape stuck down to the rim, these wheels don’t arrive fully set up tubeless. It turns out.
Reader, I could have wept, but with an upper lip as stiff as these rims, despite the fact the front wheel was still holding pressure, I quietly (translation: swearily) set about removing both tyres and setting everything up as Specialized intended. I popped 24 little plastic plugs with o-rings into the front wheel, then 28 into the back, then reinstalled the valves and strips such that the wheels were now actually set up tubeless. They looked exactly like when they arrived and weren’t.
I feel deeply ambivalent about this. On the one hand, I despise standards proliferation and feel like it unnecessarily raises complexity. On the other, taping rims is one of my least favourite jobs and widespread adoption of this standard would mean I never had to do it again. To solve standards proliferation, we just need to invent a time machine and take only the best standards back to the 1970’s, then – oh who am I kidding? Humans are humans, and if we did that, in 2017 we’d just end up writing about QR hubs and “those intriguing new 1.8 inch tyres”. Anyway, these plugs are easy. Pop, pop, pop, done; tyres straight up and holding air.
Sometimes when reviewing, to explore the usability and design of a thing, we use decades of experience and journalistic training to meticulously simulate being idiots inattentively tearing things out of boxes. Sometimes we’re just idiots inattentively tearing things out of boxes.
These are well engineered wheels with an interesting and easy new tubeless sytem, but Roval should put more thought into user experience design. When you’ve designed, manufactured, and brought something new to market, it’s very easy for everyone in your company to lose sight of what it’s like to encounter it for the first time. Even stickers on the valves saying “INSTALL TUBELESS RIM PLUGS BEFORE USE” would do the job.
Changing the freehub, as I had to from XD driver to Shimano, is really easy and requires no tools, thanks to the DT Swiss 350 internals, complete with Star Ratchet freehub. There are three varieties of that, and Roval have chosen the highest tooth-count option at 54t, giving 6.66° engagement (coincidence? I think not!), resulting in quick pickup on climbs and techy sections.
Despite the relatively low spoke counts of 24 on the front and 28 on the rear, these wheels are enormously stiff. So much so, that on natural rocky trails they felt unyielding and skittered around quite a lot compared to the other wheels in the group test. For much of our local riding, this meant the Roval wheels demanded more concentration to keep them on your line of choice, and that can lead to both mental and physical fatigue as the ride goes on. They feel very robust though, and after riding and discussing them, we think they’re better suited to high-velocity bike park riding on machine-built trails, where the stiff rims offer a responsive ride quality and plenty of surface feedback. They’re also hella strong, having shrugged off everything we could throw at them, even when running tyre pressures as low as 17psi.
Roval pioneered hookless beads, and bought the price of carbon wheelsets down. These are certainly some very strong wheels, and built on hubs with a good reputation. In all these are good reliable wheels, but the high stiffness gives a harsh ride, and means they’re far from ideal for lighter riders. In terms of feel and price, at the moment some other manufacturers are surpassing them.
|Product:||Traverse SL Fattie|
|Tested:||by David Hayward for 2 months|