Roval Rapide CLX review: One speedy tube-only wheelset
A long-term review of Roval's self-proclaimed fastest road racing wheelset.
A long-term review of Roval's self-proclaimed fastest road racing wheelset.
It was a year ago that Roval announced its new premium Rapide CLX and Alpinist CLX road wheel line-up. With that announcement, Roval didn’t just go from three depth options to two; the wheels were also disc-brake-use-only, and limited for use with inner tubes, too.
Specialized and Roval have since racked up a staggering number of wins on these tube-only wheels and the brands continue to be consistent in saying this is the lightest and fastest combination that they can produce with current technology. And teams like Deceuninck-QuickStep have only assisted with sharing that message by (almost) entirely moving to the tube-based clinchers that these new wheels dictate.
Tyre debates aside, Roval says the Rapide CLX is the fastest road racing wheel it’s ever produced. Almost a year on, this is my long-term review of those wheels.
Where all-around speed matters, the Rapide CLX is Roval’s top-tier road racing wheel. The company claims it offers the aerodynamic performance of its older CLX64 (64 mm depth) with the stability of its CLX32 (32 mm depth). Those are some big (and debatable) claims, but the Rapide CLX is the successor to both the CLX50 (50 mm depth, and a wheel that Hunt says is very fast) and the CLX64.
The Rapide’s rim depths, external widths, and profiles are all front- and rear-specific. The 51 mm-deep front rim talks to the “wider is better” philosophy that Enve’s 4.5 AR wheels first realised, and Hunt’s Limitless 48’s then furthered. The goal is to smoothly hold onto the air coming over the tyre, and as tyres have increasingly become wider in recent years, so too have the rims to match.
The front Rapide rim gets to 35 mm at its widest point and flatters Hunt’s pre-existing efforts to use a U-shaped profile and such an extreme width. The outcome is a rim that Roval claims to be 25% more stable in gusty wind conditions compared to the CLX50 while remaining comparably fast.
Sitting at a deeper 60 mm depth, the rear rim is a little more traditional in its ways. The shape is noticeably more triangular (aka, V-shaped) with a sharper point at the spoke bed, while the external width sits at a still-wide but comparatively more modest 30.7 mm width. Being a rear-wheel Roval has been able to focus more on aerodynamics than pure side-wind stability, however, another likely perk of the slightly narrower rim is sure to be easier frame clearance with most bikes.
Neither the ultra-wide front rim nor the more modest rear rim should present any fitment issues in modern disc road bikes (designed to fit 30 mm+ tyres).
While you can certainly run wider (or narrower) tyres, the Rapides are aerodynamically optimised with a “26C” tyre (roughly a 25C equivalent), such as Specialized Turbo Cotton. A 26C S-Works Turbo measures out at a shy over 27 mm (80 psi) on these rims, and that width looks oh so skinny against the front rim.
Look inside the rim, which sits at a modern 21 mm front and rear, and you’ll find a traditional hooked sidewall that’s ready to accommodate just about any tyre you wish to use, so long as you put a tube in it.
The new Rapide CLX and Alpinist CLX wheels continue to be shrouded in controversy. Not only do the rim beds look like they were designed to be compatible with tubeless, and they can in fact be inflated with a tubeless tyre, but also some pre-release marketing materials stated as much. And let’s not forget that Specialized made a big song and dance about tubeless road the year prior.
These rims offer a snug fit with most tyres, and even regular clincher tyres pop into place with a reassuring bang. Roval claims this allows a more secure fit that will resist roll-off in the event of a flat, and while that may be so, it does make installing certain tyres rather difficult (Continental’s GP5000 being one such example). Meanwhile fitting a looser tyre such as Specialized’s S-Works Turbo is quite easy without tools.
We’ve previously taken a deep dive into why Roval has stopped producing tubulars and why these new wheels are apparently not suitable for tubeless. More recently we also produced a dedicated podcast about Deceuninck-QuickStep’s move back to the humble inner tube.
Long story short, Roval states the wheels can simply be made lighter by not having to reinforce the rims to withstand the increased compression forces of a tubeless setup, a subject I have a dedicated article for (follow that link). And if you’ve ever measured the spoke tension loss of a tubeless tyre versus one with a tube, you’ll know that this isn’t bullshit. Now whether Roval had always intended these wheels to be too light for tubeless use or found that out by accident remains a question we’ll never have answered, and it doesn’t change what the wheels do and don’t do today.
Either way, these tube-only wheels are extremely light for the rim depths and widths provided. My sample pair weighs an actual 1,420 grams (660 g front, 760 g rear) including rim tape and set up with a Shimano freehub body (which is heavier than the SRAM XDR often used for claimed weights). To compare against other disc-brake wheelsets, the closely comparable (at least in rim width and depth) Hunt Limitless 48 wheels come in at 1,670 g, Enve’s AR 4.5 are 1,519 g (without tape), and Zipp’s new ultra-expensive 454 NSW weighs 1,358 g (without rim tape. The more price comparable 404 Firecrest is 1,508 g).
Looking to Roval’s previous range, the new Rapide CLXs may only save some 15 g compared to the already-light CLX50 (which also happen to be tubeless-compatible), but they’re a whopping 215 g lighter than the deeper CLX64.
The wheels themselves can be purchased with either white (tested) or gloss black decals (my personal preference). The wheels are shipped for use with common 100×12 mm and 142×12 mm spacing. An HG (Shimano-style) freehub body is equipped as stock. If you need a SRAM XDR or Campagnolo then it’ll be up to the retailer if such a swap is included in the wheelset price or not (more likely not). Each wheel comes with a quality padded wheel bag, as well as a couple of spare spokes and nipples.
Expect to pay US$2,500 / £2,200 / AU$3,800 for a pair (also available individually) – not cheap, but a competitive figure when you consider performance options from other big names.
And in case you’ve stumbled across this review in the hope of reading about the OE-only (not available aftermarket) Rapide CL wheels as found on select Specialized models, well, you’re in luck. The Rapide CL wheels feature the identical rim as the tested CLX, so much of what’s said here applies. The only differences are that the CL wheels move to a round spoke and a well-proven DT Swiss 350-level hub. But back to the Rapide CLX.
Sitting at the centre of the wheels are the same Aero flange centerlock-disc hub shells as the previous CLX range. This design sees the front disc-side and rear driveside flanges swoop up to support shorter spokes, a move that helps to provide a wider bracing angle (and in theory a stiffer and stronger wheel).
What has changed in these hubs is hidden away, and inside you’ll now find DT Swiss’s newly updated EXP hub internals with a 36T ratchet ring. This new freehub system offers fewer parts than the original Star Ratchet and therefore helps to save grams and widen the bearing spacing. The 240-equivalent internals are also easier than ever to get into for servicing or freehub swapping. The use of DT Swiss internals also means that finding replacement freehub bodies, bearings, or axle end-caps is a cinch and will unquestionably remain as such.
The use of DT Swiss hub internals used to mean undeniable reliability, but the new EXP design has had issues (i.e. hubs freewheeling in both directions) that DT Swiss is in the midst of rectifying. I’ve been using these hubs across both the Rapide and Alpinist with zero issues, but Chris Wehan from Roval did say that as one of the first companies to adopt the new design they were caught up in the issues. Roval is being attentive to solving the problem in existing wheels on the market, while new wheels have already been fitted with the new parts.
Roval’s previous CLX range rolled on ceramic bearings, while the new Rapide (and Alpinist) made the move back to stainless steel bearings. Yes this is a way to cut costs, but I have no issues with high quality stainless steel bearings being used here, and it’s a part that’s easily upgraded by a competent mechanic if your racing is at a level where this matters.
Those hubs are strung up with DT Swiss’s Aerolite T-Head bladed spokes. Unlike more common straight pull spokes, the new T-Head flattens the head to provide a shape that, according to DT Swiss, offers improved “aerodynamic alignment”. Another benefit is that the slimmer spoke head allows more room for the hub shell flanges to be slimmed or strengthened.
Despite disc brake wheels typically featuring a higher spoke count, Roval has kept things minimal with 18 spokes on the front and a more common 24 spokes on the back. Roval employs 2x lacing to go with the taller hub flanges, while the opposite sides of the front and rear wheels are given radial and 1x lacing respectively. The recommended weight limit of these wheels is 125 kg (275 lbs).
The evenness and balance of spoke tensions can reveal a great deal about the build quality of a rim and wheel, and in this regard the Rapide CLXs fare decently but not perfectly. On the front wheel things are pretty even all the way around, but there are a couple of spokes that sit high and low of the average tension by almost 10%. On the rear things are better again, and the driveside and non-driveside are impressively balanced in tension, sitting at averages of 115 kgf and 104 kgf respectively.
I did experience some light spoke-settling noises on the first few kilometres, suggesting that the wheels weren’t pre-stressed as well as they could have been. However, neither the trueness of the wheels nor spoke tensions appear to have been impacted by this. On to the ride.
From an aerodynamics standpoint we don’t have any in-house data to validate nor question Roval’s claims. What we do have is wind tunnel data provided by Specialized showing how the new Rapide CLXs compare to the previous CLX wheels. As noted, we also have Hunt which has included Roval’s Rapide CLX wheels in its own white papers.
From the in-house data we can see that at lower yaw angles the Rapides (tested in a Tarmac SL7) actually lose ground compared to the previous CLX50 wheels and no doubt give up even more compared to the CLX64. However at greater yaw angles the Rapides offer substantial improvement, with even negative drag figures present at extreme angles (sailing effect, weee!)
Claims of the “fastest wheel” should always be taken with a grain of salt as an endless number of variables can quickly change the pecking order. But what the available data does show is that Roval has a history of producing competitively fast wheels and the Rapide CLXs appear to continue that general trend.
Perhaps more important in a modern aero wheel than absolute speed is the focus on how they handle in the real-world, and ‘stability’ is fast becoming the buzzword of new aero wheels. Roval, DT Swiss, and Zipp have begun to make the rather obvious claims that a more stable wheel is indeed faster, and all three companies seem rather secretive about how they’re defining such stability.
Roval has gone deep down the research rabbit hole into human reaction time and short, sharp gusts of wind. The company’s research found that unexpected and brief gusts happen faster than most people can react to, and in turn the rider will typically overcorrect after the moment. Roval’s answer to this is to emphasise stability on the front and speed on the back, and that’s exactly why the front rim is noticeably shallower, broader, and blunter in its profile.
On the road these wheels roll with impressive efficiency and that only gets more rewarding the faster you go. And while I could actually feel the improved stability the Rapide front wheel offered over the CLX50 (well, actually the CL50), there’s just no hiding the fact the rear wheel is deeper and more pointed in its shape.
Jumping between these and a similarly shaped wheel like the Hunt Limitless 48 only furthered this opinion. The Hunts use the same 48 mm rim front and rear, and feel a touch more stable than the staggered wheel depths of the Roval. However it is a trade-off, and in good conditions, the deeper Rapides give the hint of easier pedalling for a given power figure.
“The rims can feel a little too deep on certain bikes – there’s no denying that these still feel like a deep race wheel,” said CyclingTips’s editor-in-chief Caley Fretz, who also test-rode the Rapide CLX wheels. Caley mostly rode these wheels while testing the Specialized Tarmac SL7, and it’s the wheels that he attributes to the bike feeling so fast. And while these wheels provide confidence in gusty conditions, Caley and I still dispute Roval’s claims the Rapides are as stable as the older CLX32s (superseded by the Alpinist CLX).
Those Rapides begin to really shine as gradients rise or when jumping from a standstill, and the fairly substantial weight saving over the Hunt wheels can absolutely be felt. The Rapides feel more eager to jump to speed and are more akin to a shallower wheel in this regard. That’s not to say such weight savings will have any measurable impact on the clock, but you are treated to a wheel that feels lively.
My initial concerns about flex – due to such a low spoke count and a light wheel – were quickly quashed with no negative feelings under heavy accelerations or riding the edges of the tyres. But while I couldn’t feel it having a negative impact on the bike, pushing on the rim does reveal vastly more wheel deflection than a known stiff wheel such as a Cadex 36 Disc.
The wide and hollow structure of rims make for an interesting cacophony of tyre noises. And speaking of noise, that new 36T DT Swiss EXP is undeniably louder and more obnoxious than DT Swiss’s former Star Ratchet system. DT Swiss used to be a hub option for those who didn’t appreciate loud freewheeling, but I’m afraid those days may be gone.
The above video compares the sounds of four noisy hubs. The absolute volume isn’t accurately presented, and the DT Swiss EXP hub isn’t actually as loud as the Hunt or Scribe.
And on the topic of noise, rear spoke-creaking under power was an occasional complaint about the previous generation of Roval’s wheel. Such noise is a common occurrence on many wheels that have diverging spokes touching each other and is typically only heard with black spokes (the theory being that the black coating produces friction). Now I didn’t have any creaking issues with my test sample of the Rapide CLXs, but the noise did appear on a sample pair of the Alpinist CLXs after about 5,000 km of use.
The Rapide CLX is stiffer in its construction and should ward off the noise better than the feathery Alpinist, but it’s worth noting that the hubs and spokes are the same and therefore the noise is all too possible. Thankfully a little bit of chain lube where the spokes cross brings silence to the Alpinist wheels so, at worst, it’s a nuisance.
I previously mentioned the fairly tight-fitting rims, but it’s also worth noting that an extra level of care is required when using tyre levers around such light, wide, and therefore thin rims (just three layers of carbon ply at the thinnest section). Similarly, the front rim protrudes beyond any 25, 28 and even 30 mm tyre, so it’s something that may need attention when leaning the bike up (although leaning a bike by the front wheel is generally a bad idea). And certainly don’t go squeezing the centre of the rim profile!
Thankfully such concerns about the durability in everyday use (I experienced no issues) are almost entirely mitigated by Roval’s lifetime guarantee which is easily one of the most generous in the industry. Add in the quality components that are easy to source parts for and these wheels should keep spinning for a good time to come.
There’s no denying that the Rapide CLX is a high-performance wheelset with an incredibly impressive weight for the given rim profiles. They feel extremely fast and do so without feeling nervous in windy conditions. However what these wheels so obviously trade-off is the ability to (safely) use tubeless now or in the future.
And I’m honestly quite torn over this. On one hand, I truly believe that road tubeless will continue to progress and modern wheels should offer the option of going that route. And on the other hand, a number of Roval’s closest competitors are currently going down the tubeless-only path before the technology (and the market demand) is wholly baked, and for that, I can’t help but think that Roval’s backward step is actually quite clever. It’s even more clever when you consider that the majority of road riders out there are still very much #teamtubeinside.
Whatever you may think about Roval’s decision, the Rapide CLX remains an impressively speedy pick for those that couldn’t care less about tubeless.
Many of the technical elements of this review apply to the low-weight and low-depth Roval Alpinist CLX wheels, too. These wheels share the same internal rim width, the same tube-only specifications, the same generous crash replacement policy, the same spoke type, and they roll with the same hubs, too.
The main selling point for the Alpinist CLX wheels is the impressive 1,248 g paired weight (actual, with rim tape). Such a low weight is afforded by the shallow 33 mm depth rim that reaches 26 mm at its widest exterior point. Much like Roval claimed with its predecessor CLX 32 Disc wheels, the Alpinist CLX rim offers some aerodynamic benefit, but that’s certainly not the key feature here.
I truly enjoy the wickedly light feeling these wheels provide to a bike, and the shallow rim depth seems to offer a little more control (in swirling conditions) and comfort to the bike, too. Perhaps what’s most interesting is just how much switching between the Alpinist and Rapide changed the characteristics of a bike. On rolling or flatter terrain the Rapides are certainly the more efficient. You can see it in your speed, but the Alpinist has the ability to make a bike feel more playful on climbs.
As noted above, the only real negative experience with these wheels was the spoke creaking at the rear wheel. Otherwise, they’re a wonderful option if you desire a feathery feel over aerodynamic efficiency (while keeping in mind the tube-only nature).