Aerodynamic, light and stable – Roval claim to have overcome these contradictions with the Rapide CLX wheels. To combine such seemingly opposing characteristics, the front and rear wheels have different shapes. We put them through their paces to find out if this allows Roval to achieve their goal.
#aeroiseverything – for Californian bike brand Specialized and their in-house component brand Roval, this is more than just a marketing slogan. Both companies have committed themselves to the fight against wind resistance and they have their own wind tunnel to do so, which they call the Win Tunnel. The Roval Rapide CLX wheels were developed with the insights they gained from spending time inside it and they’re not just any wheels. No, in fact, they’re claimed to be the world’s fastest all-round wheels, performing just as well on the climbs as they do on fast, flat straights where wind resistance is your biggest enemy. It’s a bold claim. However, it’s backed by the technology and innovations that have gone into the wheels. The most obvious of these is the different shapes of the front and rear rim. The front wheel is more susceptible to crosswinds than the rear due to its steerability, having a bigger impact on the handling.
As such, the 51 mm front rim profile of the € 2,600 Roval Rapide CLX wheelset is 9 mm shallower than the 60 mm rim on the rear. However, with an external rim width of 35 mm, it’s also significantly wider than the rear with an external rim width of 30.7 mm. However, the internal width measures 21 mm front and rear, which means that the rim flanges on the front wheel are significantly thicker. While the rear Roval Rapide CLX wheel looks like a classic aero model, the front wheel takes a lot of getting used to as the rim is noticeably wider than the tire.
Nevertheless, the most notable thing about the Roval Rapide CLX wheels isn’t their looks, but the fact that they’re exclusively compatible with tubes. Thus, Roval have strayed away from tubeless, which the company had previously proclaimed was the future. It’s even more surprising coming from a brand that, together with Specialized, was one of the first to introduce tubeless tires to professional racing.
The pros of WorldTour teams Deceuninck–Quick-Step and BORA-hansgrohe were able to bag almost 100 victories in the 2021 season, including stages in all three major national tours, monuments such as the Tour of Flanders and the Road World Championship. Much of this was achieved on Roval Rapide CLX wheels, proving that they’re able to contribute to the greatest cycling victories even with tubes. As such, the excitement around tubeless wheels has subsided and we’ve had time to test the Roval Rapide CLX wheels thoroughly ourselves. But first, let’s talk tech.
Tech talk – The Roval Rapide CLX wheels in detail
What is the technology that promises to make the Roval Rapide CLX the world’s fastest all-round wheels? The innovations of the Roval wheels are focused on the rim profiles, their associated wind resistance and the handling characteristics in crosswinds. Here, the development team have broken new ground and thrown conventions overboard – including those regarding looks. Apart from that, the Roval Rapide CLX are fairly standard wheels without any technical highlights. You don’t get internal nipples that can still be serviced from the outside, like on the Campagnolo Bora Ultra WTO wheels, or an undrilled rim bed, allowing you to go tubeless without rim tape, though this doesn’t apply to the Rapide CLX anyway. Instead, the Roval wheels rely on external DT Swiss nipples together with 18 DT Swiss AEROLITE T-head bladed spokes on the front and 24 on the rear. They’re crossed once on both brake-sides, twice on the drive-side at the rear and radially at the front drive-side. The second generation of DT Swiss’ aero spokes, which are even flatter and more aero, are reserved by DT Swiss for their own high-end wheels. Unfortunately, therefore, Roval couldn’t use them for the Rapide CLX.
At the other end, the spokes are attached to Roval’s AeroFlange hubs, which rely on DT Swiss internals and are compatible with 100 x 12 mm thru-axles at the front and 142 x 12 mm models at the rear. Unlike the previous Roval CLX wheels, the latest generation runs on sealed steel bearings instead of ceramic bearings from CeramicSpeed. Transferring your power to the rear wheel is a Ratchet EXP freewheel, which is also supplied by DT Swiss and is compatible with all common cassette types. Thanks to its quick engagement, you won’t have any delays in propulsion. When Roval first started producing the Rapide CLX wheels, the Ratchet EXP freewheel caused problems and slipped, allowing the cranks to just spin. Fortunately, DT Swiss have eliminated the source of danger by recalling the faulty batch of hubs. Weighing in at 1,410 g (for the set with rim tape), they’re 10 g heavier than specified, but they’re still among the lightest wheels with a rim depth of 50–60 mm. For comparison: the 45 mm Campagnolo Bora Ultra WTO wheelset weighs 15 g more (1,425 g, according to the manufacturer), while the 60 mm version weighs 120 g more (1,530 g, according to the manufacturer). The 51 mm Bontrager Aeolus RSL wheels weigh the same as the Rapid CLX (manufacturer’s specs), but they’re 110 g heavier with 61 mm rims (1,520 g, according to the manufacturer). With a maximum permissible weight limit of 125 kg, heavier riders aren’t excluded from enjoying the Roval Rapide CLX wheels.
The Roval Rapide CLX wheels on test
For the purposes of our review, we mounted the Roval Rapide CLX wheels to a Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 (click for review) and equipped them with a pair of 700 x 26C S-Works Turbo Cotton. We found these to suit the Roval Rapide CLX wheels perfectly. When fitting the tires, it can be difficult to get them over the wide rim flanges, especially at the front. You might even find it impossible to fit a new tire that’s still cold. So, to spare your nerves, always warm up the tires first. Once they’re on the rims and inflated, the 26 mm tires make a nice U-shape, meaning they’re well-supported. Thanks to the generous internal rim width of 21 mm, the tires inflate slightly wider than specified, measuring 28 mm, which increases the size of the tire’s contact patch and therefore the grip. Let’s go!
Everything’s as it should be when you get on the pedals. Thanks to their stiffness and weight, the test bike accelerates very willingly with the Rapide CLX wheels, making you feel like every watt of input is converted into propulsion. The faster you ride, the more the wheels seem to come into their own. Their efficiency is first-class, on par with significantly deeper aero wheelsets, seemingly unaffected by wind resistance. With the Roval Rapide CLX wheels, you get the feeling that they allow you to ride a few km/h faster without any additional effort, tempting you to ride faster and faster to enjoy their efficiency even more.
At this speed and when standing up to pedal, the wheels reveal another characteristic that’s easily on the same level as deeper aero wheels: their sound. If you like riding quietly, you won’t be happy with these wheels as pedestrians will hear you coming from far away. Aside from that, the wheels don’t just perform well in acceleration and at speed, they’re fast on the climbs, too, not holding you back with their weight. In crosswinds and gusts from the side, it turns out that Roval’s shallower and wider front rim design makes a difference. They’re relatively stable, though the Rapide CLX wheels can’t entirely hide the fact that they have deep rim profiles. In terms of comfort, the wheels err on the stiff side of the spectrum and the 26 mm tires can only offer a very limited amount of damping. You can remedy this with higher volume tires run at lower pressures, which the rims can easily accommodate, though you’ll want to keep an eye on the point at which the benefits of this break even with wind and rolling resistance. We’re impressed with the quality of the wheel build, having nothing to complain about after using them continuously over several months and thousands of kilometres: no creaking, no rattling, no loose spokes, no lateral or vertical wobbling.
The trends and use-cases of the Roval Rapide CLX wheels
Roval follow some trends and discard others with the Rapide CLX. The most obvious trend that the Californian brand don’t follow is tubeless technology, which the Rapide CLX wheels aren’t compatible with. However, Roval seem to stand by their word that tubeless is the future. Team riders were spotted with a tubeless version of the Roval Rapide CLX in several pro races. We can’t wait to see what Roval come up with. However, tube-only also means that they’re not compatible with tubular tires either, following that trend and indicating the end of this technology in professional cycling. Unsurprisingly, the wheels are disc-only, which has become a commonly accepted standard with most wheels, no longer just a trend. In general, the wheels follow the same approach as the Specialized Tarmac SL7: one to do it all, taking the guesswork out of figuring out which wheelset to use.
The Roval Rapide CLX wheels may not keep up with 80 mm deep aero rims in a flat time trial and they may be slower on steep climbs than super-light climbing models. But who only rides on flat and fast roads and who climbs a mountain pass without coming back down? The trick of the Rapide CLX wheels is that they’re extremely close to the respective specialists in every field, offering great advantages in mixed terrain. So, they’re not just made for the Specialized Tarmac SL7, but for all bikes and riders who ride in varying terrain.
Our conclusion on the Roval Rapide CLX wheels
The Roval Rapide CLX wheels offer an excellent aero-to-weight ratio. So, if you typically ride in undulating terrain and are looking for one wheelset that can do it all, you’ll love these. However, if you only ride on flat roads or mountain passes, you’ll be better off with specialist wheels for the respective terrain. The world’s fastest all-round wheelset? Roval’s marketing team might be right. The only thing faster would be a tubeless setup, which, unfortunately, isn’t an option yet.
- outstanding aero to weight ratio
- highly efficient in any terrain
- very robust
- loud enough to make using a bell superfluous
- DT Swiss Ratchet EXP freewheel
- not tubeless compatible (!)
- external spoke nipples
- fitting a tire on the front wheel is difficult
- don’t feature DT Swiss’ best aero spokes
For more info on the Roval Rapide CLX wheels head over to rovalcomponents.com
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Words: Photos: Tobias Hörsch & Valentin Rühl