Reserve Wheels 52/63 aero road wheelset review: Maybe some turbulence is good

The novel engineering principle behind the 52/63 aero road wheels might actually move the needle on the category.

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At first glance, Reserve’s new 52/63 aero carbon road wheels look like many others out there, and in terms of performance, they’re not dramatically different from other top-end competitors. However, the aero road wheel game is one of subtlety and nuance, and if the 52/63 wheels stand out in any sense, it’s in terms of stability. Despite the relatively aggressive section depth, they’re a cinch to handle in windy conditions. 

If Reserve’s claims are to be believed, that stability comes about from a fundamental change in how the company is designing and testing aero wheels — and there’s at least a fighting chance this new way of doing things might find favor with the competition, too. 

Story Highlights

  • What it is:Reserve’s new everyday aero carbon wheels, designed with a genuinely novel philosophy.
  • Wheelset features:Differential front and rear profiles, asymmetrical rear rim, emphasis on crosswind stability.
  • Weight:1,522 g (689 g front; 833 g rear), pre-taped, without valve stems.
  • Price:US$1,700 (starting price); pricing for other regions is TBC.
  • Highs:Superb blend of speed and stability, solid build quality, standard components, reasonable weight, excellent road feel.
  • Lows:Buzzy rear hub, stubby valve stems, tight tire fitment.

Turbulent Aero vs laminar flow

We’ve all seen those fancy computational fluid dynamics illustrations with those colorful lines meant to depict how air moves around bikes and wheels and riders. It’s informative and pretty, and steady improvements in processing power have made CFD an invaluable tool for helping engineers and aerodynamicists understand how air interacts with our bodies and equipment. It’s like having a personal wind tunnel inside your computer, only without the hefty hourly rental rate or the annoying din, and with no need to wear a jacket to keep from getting chilly.

However, while those neat and tidy lines are good for consistency and repeatability, none of us actually ride in those mathematically perfect conditions — and certainly not the simulated perfect conditions in most reputable wind tunnels. So why is the industry still using those theoretical scenarios for developing and testing aero bike products, and how might wheels be different if you looked at things through a more realistic lens?

According to the folks at Reserve Wheels, the main limitation has been insufficient computing power to crunch the exponentially more complex numbers associated with non-laminar flow. But now that more advanced computers are more readily available — and more affordable — Reserve’s engineers decided it was high time to start evaluating and designing aero products in the more turbulent airflow seen in the real world. 

But before Reserve could even begin, there was a basic question that needed answering: how much turbulence did they need to build into the computer models in order to replicate the real world? And then once that information was gathered, would this so-called Turbulent Aero philosophy yield any changes to the status quo?

To help answer the first question, Reserve bought one of those three-wheeled scooters commonly used at races like the Tour de France, mounted a custom rig fitted with pitot tubes and other instruments to gather wind information, and then had someone drive it around at a range of locations.

Needless to say, driving a rig like this is bound to elicit some questions from onlookers. Photo: Brian Vernor.

That information was then plugged into the computer models for the CFD stages of wheel development, while a wind tunnel was also modified with “vortice inducing spires” for physical testing. 

As for the second question, Reserve says that switching the test conditions from laminar flow to this new turbulent flow tended to “reshuffle” the order of flagship aero road wheels. Lots of other questions still needed to be answered at that point, but even just that result supported the company’s hypothesis that introducing turbulent airflow to the design process might yield some advancements in a category that has been largely stagnant over the past several years.

Aside from the change in airflow conditions, Reserve’s process for developing new wheels at that point wasn’t all that different than it was before. Shapes were built virtually and tested using CFD software, plastic samples were printed and built into wheels, and then the engineers headed into the wind tunnel for validation. 

And what came out of this process indeed looks a little different.

Competitive specs

I should first remind you that this isn’t Reserve’s first aero road wheelset. In fact, the company introduced three models back in 2020. Those all felt a bit like placeholders to us at the time given their generic shapes and ho-hum specs. While it seems we were right in that assessment, what Reserve was apparently cooking up behind the scenes was much more interesting.

Reserve’s new 52/63 aero road wheelset takes a page out of Enve’s playbook with its differential rim profiles. The front rim is 52 mm-deep, but the rear is 63 mm-deep. The cross-sections are also distinct between the two, with the front sporting a broader 35 mm external width and a more blunted shape, while the taller rear is slightly narrower at 34 mm externally. Internal widths are very generous, too, at 24.4 mm out back and a whopping 25.4 mm up front. Most 28 mm-wide tires — the narrowest Reserve recommends — will puff up to an actual width of over 30 mm.

The front and rear rims have very different profiles.

As I mentioned earlier, though, the aero wheel game is one of subtlety and nuance, and it’s more a matter of how Reserve has shaped those rims, not just how wide and tall they are.

Up front, the rim’s maximum external width is positioned closer to the tire bed, which Reserve says provides more stability in crosswinds. But Reserve says the rear can concentrate more on aerodynamic efficiency: there isn’t any steering input back there, the wind has to push around more of the rider’s body mass, and yaw angles are lower. As such, the widest section is closer to halfway down the side of the rim, and the taller section also yields a stiffer rim that’s better able to transfer power to the ground.

Along that same line of thinking, the rear rim is also slightly asymmetric, with the spoke bed offset to the non-driveside by about 2 mm to help equalize the spoke tensions from side to side. That’s not ideal aerodynamically speaking, but according to Reserve’s testing, the air is sufficiently turbulent behind the rider’s legs that it isn’t enough of an issue to override the structural advantages. 

Reserve is only offering the 52/63 wheels in a tubeless-compatible clincher format, and only for disc brakes with splined rotor fittings front and rear (and the hooked format means most tube-type clinchers should be fine, too). Conventional straight-pull bladed stainless steel spokes are used throughout in a 24-hole drilling, along with standard external nipples for easy servicing. 

Claimed weight for the front rim is 435 g, and 505 g for the rear, and actual weight for a set of wheels with the top-end DT 180 hub option is 1,522 g (689 g front; 833 g rear), including rim tape. DT Swiss 240 and 350 hubs will also be available, with retail prices starting at US$1,799. Prices for the other hub options and other currencies are still to be confirmed, but lifetime warranties are included regardless of which way you go.

On the road

Reserve showed off in a presentation a couple of graphs comparing the new 52/63 wheels to a handful of competitors. No surprise, they’re supposedly a bit faster than some benchmarks, such as the Enve 5.6 — particularly at higher yaw angles. That said, Reserve isn’t making a big deal of straight numerical comparisons, and my test rides over the past few weeks might offer a suggestion as to why.

Yes, the Reserve 52/63 wheels feel fast, and they’re reasonably light for the depth. But in my opinion, their appeal lies more in the ancillary details.

A 28 mm-wide (printed width) tire puffs up to a little over 30 mm, yet still yields a smooth transition to the rim.

I stopped regularly using 50+ mm-deep wheels several years ago as the winds always seem to be swirling where I am in Colorado, and I’m not heavy enough to comfortably battle the breeze. Some wheels have proven excellent in that regard — the Princeton Carbonworks Wake 6360 comes to mind — but by and large, my sweet spot for everyday wheels has hovered around 40-45 mm.

As promised, the Reserve 52/63 wheels are quite impressive in terms of stability. They still get blown around when it’s truly blustery out, but it’s very manageable and rarely alarming overall. They react to gusts with more of a gentle tug instead of feeling like someone is trying to pull your front wheel out from under you, and despite plenty of windy days, I haven’t felt compelled to pull them off just yet. They’re also very stiff and responsive, with a reasonably firm ride quality that conveys a lot of information about the road surface without beating you up too much. 

The central well is broad and deep, and there’s a prominent ridge that locks the tires in place. Many of the tires I sampled fit quite tight, though.

Tubeless devotees might have more of a mixed opinion, though. All of the tires I tried readily seated with a floor pump, but it was also a little challenging to get the tires on and off. Reserve says the rims are fully compliant with the latest ETRTO guidelines — which are meant to produce consistent tire bed dimensions between various tubeless-compatible brands and models — but it’s still a bit of a crapshoot since those guidelines don’t apply directly to tires. 

That said, the fitment thankfully isn’t so tight that I’m worried about roadside repairs, but good technique is still key.

Kudos to Reserve for sticking to off-the-shelf components for the 52/63 wheels. Although the rims are obviously the company’s own design, the spokes are standard straight-pull stainless steel affairs, and the hubs are standard DT Swiss items so there are no worries about not being able to find some proprietary little widget years down the road. 

Reserve doesn’t bother with custom hubs, instead sticking with readily available, off-the-shelf components.

One downside of the nicer DT Swiss options is arguably their new Ratchet EXP driver mechanism. It offers positive engagement and easy serviceability, and DT Swiss says it’s more reliable than the older version. However, it’s also very loud and buzzy when you’re coasting — well, most of the time, anyway. Most Ratchet EXP-equipped wheels I’ve used to date have also been piercingly loud, but for whatever reason, there were certain speeds at which these Reserve wheels suddenly quieted down to much more reasonable levels when coasting. YMMV.

Bonus points are awarded for the understated graphics on the rims. There’s simply no need to visually yell to the world what these are. More kudos to Reserve for the lifetime warranty on the rims (and Reserve is pretty well known for offering outstanding support for things like crash and impact damage). 

Hopefully Reserve has updated the length of the tubeless valve stems that are included with these since my pre-production samples were delivered, though. The rear one was frustratingly short, which is particularly curious since Reserve makes in-house some very, very nice high-flow tubeless valve stems in multiple lengths.

The included tubeless valve stems are curiously short, particularly for the rear. I eventually replaced these with the company’s own Fillmore valves, which are not only now offered in the appropriate length, but also largely impervious to clogging with sealant.

All in all, I’ve been quite impressed with what Reserve has done here. Again, I wouldn’t describe these wheels are overwhelmingly groundbreaking, but considering how generic Reserve’s initial trio of wheels came off, it’s a big step forward. 

More intriguing is whether this Turbulent Aero design methodology will catch on with other brands — and not just wheel ones, since the concept would apply to frames and other equipment, too. And surely, Reserve’s sister brand, Cervelo, will also be using Turbulent Aero for frame development. 

Interesting times are ahead, for sure.

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