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

The new Control SL is Roval’s premiere carbon XC wheelset. Photo by Ian Collins

There’s been a recent shift across the entire spectrum of mountain biking towards more capable equipment. The XC world, in particular, has seen drastic changes. While efficiency and low weight remain critical, there’s increasing attention being paid to trail worthiness. This gradual realignment is a welcome change. For years, UCI World Cup courses were barely more than fire roads, but more technical features are being reintroduced, which means burlier components are required.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

Wider, lighter, faster? Mtbr visited with the product team in Santa Cruz to find out. Photo by Ian Collins

To keep up with the changing landscape, Roval Components has completely redesigned their premium XC wheelset, the Control SL Carbon. The end result is a wider, lighter, and tougher offering.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

Key rim metrics include 25mm wide and 30.4mm deep. Photo by Ian Collins

Rims

Key inspiration for the new wheelset came from the Traverse SL, Roval’s all mountain wheels. These hoops have a 30mm inner diameter. That extra girth gives your tires better sidewall support, which allows you to run lower pressure for improved traction and less chance of burping.

Carrying that concept over, Roval has created a new hookless rim shape designed specifically for cross-country applications. The new rim has a 25mm inner diameter that’s 3mm wider than the outgoing version.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

These wheels play best with tires between 1.95-2.3, although you could squeeze on a 2.5. Photo by Ian Collins

During testing, Roval found this setup offered impressive gains in ride feel, and resulted in a stiffer more impact resistant rim. More importantly, it was faster. They tested both the old and new wheelsets with the same Specialized Fast Trak 2.0” rubber at 20 and 30 PSI. In all of their rolling resistance tests, the wider rims were faster.

Despite the increase in rim width, the new Control SL wheelset is 50 grams lighter than the previous version. To further reduce weight, these wheels also receive Roval’s Tubeless Plug System. Unlike tubeless tape which add weight and can be unreliable, this wheelset ships with small plugs that snap into the spoke holes to seal the rim bed. On a wide MTB rim, the product team claims this can save up to 70 grams over a traditional tubeless setup.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

The wheels are hand built. Photo by Ian Collins

Hand built, mechanic friendly

While machine built wheels have come a long way, nothing beats old school hand built hoops. All Roval wheels are built by skilled technicians in their factory in Taiwan, where they undergo multiple phases of tensioning, de-tensioning, and quality assurance checks.

While the rims and hub shell are designed by Roval, the remaining components are easily sourced. There’s nothing proprietary. If you break a spoke or nipple, you’ll be able to find a replacement almost anywhere in the world.

Roval Control SL Carbon 2017

External spoke nipples make for easier servicing. Photo by Ian Collins

And mechanics will appreciate the use of external nipples. Carbon rims tend to break before they need to be trued, but if the situation arises, it’s nice to be able to fix them without removing a rim strip or sourcing an exotic nipple wrench.

Continue to page 2 for more of the Roval Control SL MTB wheel first ride review »


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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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