Roval Control SL MTB wheels first ride review

This reasonably priced carbon wheelset just got lighter, faster, and tougher

Cross Country Wheels
Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

You can purchase the wheelset with XD or Shimano freehub body. Photo by Ian Collins.

Configuration

Whether your current bike has boost spacing or 142, Roval has you covered. They’re shipping wheelsets in either configuration, as well as Torque Tube for the RockShox RS-1 fork. The company also offers a boost conversion kit for $55, so you can modify a 100/142 wheelset to work on boost frames.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

DT Swiss internals, spokes, and nipples round out this wheelset package. Photo by Ian Collins

The hubs utilize DT Swiss’ proven 240 internals with a 54-tooth star ratchet. Replacement parts and aftermarket hop-ups are readily available. The one major difference is that Roval has added an additional labyrinth seal up front to keep grime out and help extend bearing life.

Another minor change worth noting is that the new wheelset uses DT Swiss Competition Race spokes. These triple butted spokes are slightly thicker and easier to source than the DT Swiss Revolution spokes used previously. This small change helps increase durability and serviceability without compromising weight or performance.

The 100/142 version weighs 1320 grams. Boost spacing adds 10 grams to that total. The TT/142 and TT/148 versions weigh 1371 grams and 1381 grams respectively. The new Roval Control SL wheelset will start shipping on Specialized Epic XC bikes in March and will be available aftermarket starting in June.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017 Specialized Epic XC Hardtail

Our test platform was the Specialized Epic. The new Control SL wheels will ship as standard equipment on the S-Works version. Photo by Ian Collins

On the Trail

To get a baseline for the new Control SL wheels, Roval first put us on the Traverse SL wheels that inspired them. It’s an odd comparison because the Traverse wheelset is targeted towards the gravity crowd. In fact, they’re raced at the pro enduro level by Jared Graves and Curtis Keene. Yet despite their burly intentions, the wheels are downright light at 1,570 grams. That’s on par with some XC wheels.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

Pass the whiskey, please. Photo by Ian Collins

After a test lap, we headed down to the beach for some whiskey and a wheel swap. Next up, the new lighter wheelset. After powering through a big road loop the day before, my legs felt wooden. Loaded down with food and an adult beverage, the situation should have only gotten worse. But turns out shedding a quarter pound of rotational weight per wheel is no joke.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

Smashing up hills and sprinting out of corners is where the Control SL shines. Photo by Ian Collins

Starting back up the hill, the bike felt noticeably faster. From sprinting to climbing, it was as if I’d unlocked another gear. That lack of rotational weight also made a significant difference when cornering. Compared to the feel with the heavier Traverse wheels, the bike now took on a surgical like precision when hitting corners.

Roval Control SL 29 Action 2017

In the rocks, the lighter Control SL wheelset didn’t hold a line as well as the Traverse wheels. However, the ride feel was a better match for an XC race bike. Photo by Ian Collins

The only place I missed the added stiffness of the Traverse wheelset was when straight-lining rocks. Here, the lighter wheelset had a tougher time holding a line. However, that more compliant feel better matched the riding characteristics of the hardtail they were mounted on.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

Carbon wheels aren’t cheap, but the ride quality is worth it for some. Photo by Ian Collins

Early Verdict

At $1900, the Control SL wheelset retails for more than many trail worthy hardtails. For some, that number may be hard to swallow. But if you’re in the market for a high-end carbon wheelset, that’s a veritable bargain.

For comparison’s sake, the Valor Pro from Stan’s retails for a similar price and comes in at roughly the same weight, but have a 3.4mm narrower internal rim diameter. The ENVE M50 retails for $800 more, weighs ~125 grams more with DT hubs, and is 4mm narrower.

Roval Control SL Wilder Santa Cruz 2017

A day of riding can’t tell you a whole lot about a wheelset, but it does leave us yearning for a long-term review sample. Photo by Ian Collins

At under two grand, Roval has delivered one of the lightest and widest XC wheelsets on the market. It uses proven components that are easily sourced, they’re hand built, and everything is backed by one of the largest dealer networks in the country.

For more info, visit rovalcomponents.com.

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  • Joel says:

    I have a set of Roval Fattie SL which I like a lot, but I would contend that these wheels are not in fact made with easy to replace parts. For example, I bought them at a large bike store (one that advertises on MTBR but is also my local shop) and they have NO CLUE what spokes the wheels use or where to get new ones. They are also difficult to find online. I’d like to see Roval add a page to their website that gave specific replacement parts (spokes, bearings, etc.) for their wheels. Great product but this would really take it up a level.

  • David says:

    The elephant in the room is Light Bicycle (which just opened a US-based distribution network). They’ve got similar rims on DT-240s for half the price. Roval’s biggest advantage appears to be the warranty: 3 years vs. 1 year.

    > From sprinting to climbing, it was as if I’d unlocked another gear. That lack of rotational weight also made a significant difference when cornering. Compared to the feel with the heavier Traverse wheels, the bike now took on a surgical like precision when hitting corners.

    Stuff like this undermines the credibility of your review. The front Control rim is, at most, 50g lighter than the Traverse, and that’s inboard of a tire that weighs 700g. The front total for wheel, tire, and sealant would be something like 1400g vs 1500g, for a difference of all of 7%. That’s borderline noticeable (and obscured completely if you didn’t equalize the tire pressures or used different tires.) The extra weight is even less consequential on the back end.

  • Brian says:

    David, It’s not clear where the weight is distributed in the wheel but either way if the weights are accurate it’s ~125g per wheel which I’d claim is very noticeable.

    Also in addition to warranty advantage over LB wheels, Having owned both, I’d say there’s an (arguably large) quality advantage as well.

  • David says:

    The Traverse set uses DT350-based hubs, which are something like 75g heavier over the set relative to the DT240. The Traverse spokes are about 20g lighter, so you’re right, the difference is nearer to 100g per rim. That’s still marginal relative to the tire and certainly not enough to transform the handling. I can’t speak to quality, though I’m interested in your experience. Comments from folks endorsing or swearing off both brands are common.

  • preston says:

    I had a set of LB built up with Novatec hubs in a slightly narrower width than the Traverse SL (30mm iwidth) wheels I run now. For whatever reason the Roval wheel was about 100g lighter on each end, plus another 30g lighter per wheel when you use the rim plugs instead of strips.

    I chalked that up to the lighter Specialized hubs, lower spoke count, and possibly lighter higher tension spokes. I built the LB’s with my local bike shop using nice (single butted ?) DT spokes but nothing fancy, and so they were not assembled by some wheel specialist wizard, just a good basic build. Both wheel sets have proven robust, but I felt like the Specialized wheels were significantly ligher just because they were an engineered system – they went with 28 spokes front and lighter spokes overall whereas I wasn’t willing to take that risk based on my non-knowledge. I believe between proper spec and doing real world experimentation with their equipment, they were able to spec me a lighter wheel than I could build myself on one go around. I couldn’t weigh the bare rims but I doubt there was too much difference they don’t vary all that much usually 400-440 g for a non DH rim.
    Of course I built the LB for $700 real world while the the Roval’s retailed at $1500.
    But my bike shop takes care of me and the warranty is much more easily engaged than LB. If I broke an LB rim I’d probably just write it off. Actually I have broken their DH rims on a DH bike but the trail wheels have been fine.
    This was a 29er btw.

  • Nancy says:

    Not a word about durability. Stay in true? Ease and effectiveness of wheels with a tubeless set-up? Burping?

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