Friday, October 26, 2012

Product Review: ROL Wheels

Since 2 years I’ve been training and competing using wheels made by ROL Wheels, a local Austin-based company. I’ve raced on many, many wheels in the past – alloy, carbon, clincher, aero, deep-dish, low-profile, tubular – you name it. Having lived and raced bicycles in Texas and the region it is good to have the support of a local company. Not only do they provide me with their latest products but I feel like they actually care about my feedback and want to know how their wheels endure under my daily training and weekly racing. I don’t have to call the customer service of some wheel company; I can just go straight do Sean Lambert, the CEO of ROL, check into the office, chat with the wheel builders, “talk shop”, and built a good athlete-business relationship. It’s awesome and I’m very thankful for their support and help in the last 2 years.

ROL 58 Carbon Tubular
The ROL 58 Tubies are my standard “go-to” wheel when I do road races or fast, technical crits. At 58mm they’re aerodynamic but still not too deep for the Texas wind. Mine have a set of in-house 3D forged ROL alloy hubs, Sapim spokes, and a basic 58mm carbon rim.  The Japanese steel bearings are super smooth and don’t require much maintenance. Those wheels weigh in at 1465grams and I’ve ridden them to race wins on the road and even in Cyclocross. The 21mm wide carbon rim usually meets with a Vittoria EVO SC 23mm tubular tire as my preferred wheel/tire combination. When used in Cross, I put on 32 or 33mm Challenge Grifo tubies (with the “Belgian tape” method for added support). Even with bumpy Crits (think bricks) or Cross (think dirt, logs, sandpits, roots) I’ve never been able to get them out of true or break a spoke on these wheels!
Carbon 58 all blacked out. Only shows it's true decals with flash at night!
Sporting the 58 Tubular Rear and 38 Tubular up front at 2011 Ruts 'N Guts in Oklahoma
The new ROL logo becomes visible with flash
ROL C58 Carbon Clincher
If you’re looking for a nice, lightweight, stiff carbon Crit wheel yet don’t want to mess with gluing tires then this is what I' would recommend. Why spent $2700 on a set of ZIPP 404 Carbon Clinchers when you can get these for half the price? I use a set with DT Swiss 240 Hubs and I race pretty much every local Thursday Night Driveway Crit on it. I’ve never owned a pair of carbon clinchers until Sean gave me those to try and I love ‘em! They are very durable, stiff, with 20 spokes up front, and 24 in the rear. The Driveway is a race course where you can see some of the highest power numbers all year long, given the nature of the race course and the competition. Lots and lots of force being pushed onto the pedals but these wheels never failed on me. No hassle in case you flat riding out to the Driveway, you can change your tube like a regular clincher yet you have a nice carbon race wheel. I also raced a pair of these in a 7-day stage race in the Dominican Republic, where we encountered many potholes and some rough roads....But except one flat these wheels held up on Central American roads (and off-roads!). I usually run Michelin Pro 4’s (23mm) on these rims; again they’re 21mm wide.
C58 - Crit wheel!
The C58 Carbon Clincher is a great every day crit wheel, aero yet light and quick to respond
ROL 38 Carbon Tubulars
Just like the ROL 58 Tubies, the C38 wheels are made for road racing, with the slight difference that they’re a bit lighter, more low-profile at 38mm and good for hilly road and circuit races with climbing. I raced a set of these wheels - with Vittoria EVO SC 23mm tubular tires mounted -  all year in 2011 and won a few P12 races with them (road and cyclocross). They have crossed the Continental Divide at 7080ft. in the Gila National Forest at the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico and were my wheel of choice at the Tour de Depot in Salt Lake City, UT. In Utah, I put them to a test in freezing temperatures and sleet & snow. The perfect wheel if you’re looking to save some extra weight and aerodynamics don’t play a huge role. Weighing in at an amazing 1225grams!
The C38 carbon tubulars are a great mix of aerodynamics and lightweight. Here after winning Tour de Depot Stage Race in Utah
1210grams for the C38's!
ROL C25 Tubulars
Best climbing wheel I’ve ever ridden. No question, period! They feature the already mentioned DT Swiss 240 hubs, a 23mm wide and 25mm high full-carbon rim. Similar to a pair of Corima's. Weighing in at just 1100grams, too! You put a 23 or 24mm tubular tire on these bad boys and they’re a great wheelset to have when it goes uphill. I raced those at UCI Tour of the Gila for all stages (except the TT), including the downtown Criterium. Also ridden at the Joe Martin Stage Race's final hilly & 13-turn Crit – and no problem on these! Super stiff, supple and perfect in the corners. With the wider, 23mm rim you can run lower pressure and I usually would air them up to ~100psi combined with a 23mm Vittoria EVO SC tubular tire. These are still prototype and not in full production. But you might be able to score a pair to test-ride if you ask Sean nicely…!

The C25 Carbon Tubulars are great for hilly, technical Crits like Joe Martin Crit or Stillwater at Nature Valley
ROL Race SL Clincher
When it comes to every day riding, this is my wheel. Durable, durable, durable! A alloy clincher with a fat 23mm wide and 30mm high rim makes for a super comfy ride on asphalt, chip ‘n seal or even on a dirt or gravel road when you’re way out in the country. Weighing in at just 1520grams it’s the perfect training wheel. They’re very stiff (spoke count: 24R, 20F), corner really well and I feel very safe going down a fast, steep descent at 45+mph. For a rainy Crit I choose these wheels, too because I know they’re indestructible in any weather conditions, the brake surface is very robust and my SwissPads have good grip in rain and sunshine. I’m running some 23mm wider Continental Gatorskins with these wheels and combined with the wide rim I can run a comfortable 95-100psi for a normal day’s ride. They tire itself is actually 2-3mm wider once put onto a wide rim (see pic below). It’s pretty much impossible to pinch-flat these if you put a thick, heavy-duty tire on the rim. Note: these are tubeless compatible, too!
Race SL's
The Race SL's are great for dirt riding, as shown here at the 2012 Wooly Mammoth Ultra Provocatorio Invitationale
Put a 23mm Gatorskin on a 23mm rim and get a 25mm tire!
ROL Race SLR Clincher
Just like the Race SL, this wheel set features a 23mm wide rim and is tubeless-ready, too. Key difference here is the spoke count: SLR has 24 up front and 28 in the rear. In my case, they’re both double-laced in the front and rear as these are my Cyclocross wheels for every day riding. Super stiff and the double-laced spokes in the front make the wheel great for Cross where you tend to hit some objects pretty hard sometimes when out on trail. I’m running these as tubeless, with a 32mm wide KENDA Slant-Six tire and some Stan’s No Tubes sealant. The wide rim with the 32mm tires make for a great combination when I go out on some rough trails which usually feature roots, some rocks and other obstacles. I can ride over them at speed and keep up with my buddies on Mountain Bikes because I know I won’t flat on these bad boys. They’re my spare wheels for Cyclocross and on my pit bike. So in case I flat my ROL 58 Carbon Tubulars I know I got a set of the Race SLR tubeless wheels in the pit waiting for me :-)

My new favorite: The Race SLR with double-laced spokes front and back (24F/28R) and KENDA tubeless tires. Awesome wheel for every day riding on the trails, grass, sand, gravel, dirt etc.
And there’s more exciting stuff to come from ROL Wheels soon. For example, a new alloy tubular wheel is being tested right now and soon out for public release. Check them out at or call the office at 512-219-1145

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