If you were to design your own dream tubeless cyclocross or gravel wheels, what would they entail? Most of us would want something light, durable and tubeless. Many would want a wider rim to accommodate the ever-expanding tire volumes, with a rim profile that makes for easy installation and burp-free performance. Home mechanics would probably want easily-available parts with freehub and axle options, while retail customers might value a robust warranty for peace of mind.
Roval Components officially unveiled its family of carbon Terra wheels today, with a sub-1300g, 25mm-wide 700c Terra CLX, and 30mm-wide Terra CLX EVO in both 650b and 700c sizes.
Based on our first two weeks of testing, the new Roval wheels appear to check all the boxes. Read on for the details of the three new wheel models, as well as our early review impressions.
A Return to Roval’s Roots
The Terra launch represents a new effort by the brand to make serious inroads into the aftermarket wheel market. While many think of Roval as a Specialized house brand for its bikes, the brand aims to compete with companies like ENVE and Zipp for high-end wheel upgrades.
The new Terra wheel models are the first Roval wheels since Specialized acquired the name that are not designed or launched around a new Specialized bike model.
In some ways, Roval is returning to its roots. In the 80s and 90s, before it became part of the Specialized portfolio, the French company produced aftermarket wheels that were coveted by triathletes and cyclists for their aerodynamic benefits. They were cutting edge at the time, with low spoke counts, slotted hubs, bladed spokes and hidden nipples that sat on nylon washers inside the rim. Truing was labor-intensive, as it involved removing the tire (often a tubular), relying on pliers to hold the bladed spoke in place, and using a nipple driver with some effort to break the thread locker on the nipples.
The Roval brand and product eventually lost its way, and after a period when the once-heralded brand simply slapped its name on Alex brand wheels, Specialized acquired the name in 2005 and began its resurrection.
That resurrection included countless wins on Specialized bikes and under sponsored athletes (notably cyclocrossers Peter Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe), and a few missteps in innovation, like the leaky plastic rim plugs and the Fusee Star hubs.
To launch Roval’s new Terra gravel wheels and kick off its renewed push into aftermarket wheels, Roval hosted a few journalists in Downieville, in California’s Lost Sierra. I tested the wheels on three gravel rides in Downieville, and have been riding them on more familiar terrain after the event.
Terra Enters New Terrain
The new Terra gravel wheels roll Roval into new territory in several ways. It’s not only the first Roval wheel designed without a new Specialized bike in mind, but it’s also the company’s first wheelset aimed specifically at gravel and cyclocross riders.
It’s also Roval’s first drop-bar oriented rim designed specifically for disc brakes. Previous Roval wheels all featured a rim that had both rim brake and disc brake variants, forcing the company to use extra material for a brake track, whether or not it was going to be used. The disc-only Terra rims help the company break into weight weenie territory, as the wheels shave major grams off both previous Roval models and competitor products.
Think that the Terra gravel wheels mean they’re overbuilt wheels unworthy of a road bike? Think again. The Roval CLX, with its 25mm internally wide rim, is the lightest disc brake clincher wheelset the company produces. The Terra CLX boasts a 368g carbon rim paired with lightweight spokes, alloy nipples and new Roval hubs with DT Swiss internals and freehub. The entire wheelset 1296g including tape and valves.
Need an apples-to-apples comparison with another company’s weight? We estimate 30-35g per wheelset for tape and valves, which translates into a 1266g per wheelset. That’s about 84g lighter than Roval’s lightest road disc clincher, the CLX 32, and lighter than most carbon tubular wheelsets we see.
Roval didn’t stop there. The team says it put “the monster in monster cross” with its Terra CLX EVO wheels. The CLX EVO models are 30mm wide internally, feature the same hubs and barely weigh more than the CLX. With tape and valves, the Terra CLX EVO 650b, with a 360g rim, tips the scales at 1303g per set, while the 700c version, with a 377g rim, weighs just 1357g per set.
The CLX rim is narrower but deeper than the CLX EVO models, at 32mm deep. The wider CLX EVO rims are 25.3mm deep. The CLX EVO rims are barely heavier than the CLX rims because they are both shallower and are hookless, while the CLX has a hook to retain narrower, higher pressure tires.
All three models could easily save one or two pounds off a stock bike, some of which is rotating weight.
The major weight savings come at a major price, of course. All three models retail for $2500.
Roval Terra: Premium Ingredients
The Terra wheel line uses the same hubs, spokes and nipples for all three models. It pairs DT Swiss Aerolite T-Head spokes with alloy Pro Lock nipples and Roval AFD1 and AFD2 hubs.
Roval still uses its 2:1 spoke lacing pattern, with doubling the spoke count on one side (drive on the rear, disc rotor on the front). Up front, the right side is radially laced, while the left side is 2x. Out back, the drive side uses 2x lacing, while the rotor side uses 1x. Spokes, nipples and hubs are all black.
The hubs are interesting in that they feature DT Swiss internals, including bearings, freehub and end caps. The freehub is not your standard DT Swiss Ratchet freehub as seen on the popular 240s hubs, but the new Ratchet EXP freehub the company unveiled in May.
In designing the EXP freehub, DT Swiss went from two springs to one, fused the inner ratchet to the threaded ring, and widened the bearing stance.
The result is fewer components, and according to DT Swiss, a stiffer hub with some (undisclosed) weight savings.
The hub offers tool-free disassembly. The end caps pop off by hand, and the freehub also can be disassembled easily by hand. That’s great for maintenance, but can also be problematic. When I was photographing a wheelset, a gust of wind knocked over the rear wheel and the entire freehub and cassette popped off with the spring falling into the dirt. Thankfully, it was almost as easy to put it all back together, but if you’re lucky enough to have Terra wheels in the cyclocross pit, keep them from getting knocked over. (Before disc brakes and thru axles, the quick release would keep it all together.)
Why didn’t Roval just use DT Swiss’ own 180 hubs that feature the EXP freehub? Roval stayed true to the brand’s heritage, using its AFD hubs that feature the iconic flanges that shield the spoke heads from the wind. The look is sleek and elegant and might save you a few seconds if you’re racing for an hour (or all day) in the wind.
Beyond the Components
A good wheel can be more than the sum of its parts, and Roval stresses that in the case of the Terra, that’s especially true. The Terra rims (currently) are not available separately. That allows all three rim models to be engineered, laid up and drilled exactly for the lacing pattern, spoke angle and tension required by the Terra wheel design and Roval hubs. Specialized calls this an “Integrated Systems Approach.” Marketing lingo aside, it does result in the nipple and spoke angles to be perfectly aligned.
We typically don’t pay much attention to rim tape, but Roval’s rim tape job is worth some attention, not because of the tape material, but because it’s done well. Roval invented its own machine to not just tape the rims, but also to press the tape down tightly against the rim for maximum adhesion. This will save many a rider the headache of dealing with leaky tape, or worse, ripped tape due to popped air pockets where the tape was not conforming to the rim.
If you’re going to spend $2500 on wheels, the last thing you’ll want to redo is the tape, and the Terra wheels should eliminate that worry.
Tire Installation: A Snap!
Roval Components’ Ben Capron emphasizes the Terra rims are designed for tool-free and compressor-free tire installation and burp-free performance. To accomplish this, the company adopted the tried-and-true features of a deep but relatively narrow center channel, with wide, downhill (towards the sidewall) sloping shoulders for the tire beads to sit on.
In my testing, it sure seems like Roval did its homework. Installing a new 38mm Specialized Trigger, a used 42mm WTB Resolut and used 33mm Islabikes Greim Pro was easy without levers. I did have to use a tire lever to get a brand new 50mm Soma Cazadero gravel tire on the rim.
Inflation was amazingly easy without a compressor on all tires except the Greim Pro. With just a floor pump, I could inflate and seat the tires, and after two loud, satisfying pops, the beads were seated on the rim and held air overnight. I didn’t need soapy water or a compressor pump.
I’ve tested a lot of tubeless wheels and tires, and the Roval CLX is the easiest wheelset I’ve tested to install and seat a wide variety of tires.
With the Greim Pro, one of the harder tires to set up, I needed to guide parts of the tire bead near the valve onto the rim’s shelf, and then use a compressor pump. Once I did that, installation was, literally, a snap. To my surprise, I didn’t have to remove valve cores or use soapy water to get the tire seated.
I’ve tested a lot of tubeless wheels and tires, and the Roval CLX is the easiest wheelset I’ve tested to install and seat a wide variety of tires.
The Roval Terra Ride
I tested two of the three models of wheels: The 650b CLX EVO model, with Specialized Pathway 47mm rubber in the rocky Sierra mountains, and the 700c CLX model with the above-mentioned tires in more familiar terrain.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Roval boasts “engineered vertical compliance” for “an exceptionally smooth ride.” Testing new wheels, on a new bike, on new, off-road terrain with new tires is not the perfect laboratory for deciphering ride comfort. So much of cyclocross and gravel comfort is tire choice, tire volume and tire pressure, and until I match these wheels with the exact same tires as another wheelset, I can’t make any ride quality claims, at least not at the level of the vibration-absorbing Spinergy PBO spokes.
What I can say is that on every ride, with every cyclocross or gravel tire I tried, on all the terrain I encountered, the Roval Terra wheels have been fantastically reliable. I hit rocks, stream crossings, brown powder, cement stairs and my regular trails, often riding with extremely low pressure, with nary a burp. I kept checking, and after each ride or race, the wheels have remained perfectly true and round.
What’s also easy to notice while riding or scaling a run-up is that the wheels are very light. Some of the weight savings compared to other wheelsets is rotating weight, not just from flyweight hubs. The gram savings makes for spirited acceleration out of corners, and a smaller dent in your shoulder.
With a lightweight tubeless clincher on the Terra CLX, you could easily have a setup that’s lighter than most carbon tubular wheel and tire combinations and far easier to swap treads or fix flats.
Even the narrower Terra CLX has a rim width that adds welcomed tire volume. A narrow cyclocross tire like the 33mm Greim measures out just over 35mm wide—something most amateurs will appreciate. (Sorry, USA Cycling National Championship Masters and Singlespeeders, you might fail the wooden block test one day a year.)
Swap a cyclocross tire for a gravel tire, and you’ll enjoy good volume and a well-supported sidewall, whether that’s with the CLX or CLX EVO rim. Roval recommends 28-42mm tires for the CLX, and “up to 2.1″” on the CLX EVO, but I wouldn’t be really testing the product if I didn’t push the limits. The 50mm Cazadero, which measured 48mm wide at 20 psi, was my tire of choice for a dry, dirt and gravel road-filled cyclocross race. I raced it on the rear at 15 psi (I weigh 160 pounds) with success. I was impressed—it didn’t burp or squirm during the race despite a few high-speed downhill turns—exactly what you should expect on a race-worthy cyclocross or gravel wheel.
I’ve been particularly impressed by the wheels’ ability to remain airtight right after installing a tire. So often with other wheels fresh out of the box, we’ve had to find leaky areas, shake sealant around the area, and repeat in hopes of creating a reliable, ride-worthy seal with tires. And even after that process (or resting the wheel on each side on a bucket), tires, especially loose models like the Greim, would lose much of their air by the next morning. The Terra wheels have been impressively airtight with every tire I’ve tested.
How to choose between the models? If you want the option of throwing these on your road disc bike, or take your cyclocross or gravel bike out on a road ride, the CLX is the model for you. The hook bead and narrower width can handle tires as narrow as 28mm at higher pressures than the wider CLX EVO variants.
If you never ride high pressure or narrow tires, go for the wider CLX Evo in either diameter. The hookless, wider and shallower rim will offer more tire volume and sidewall support for bigger tires.
Two weeks of riding does not make for a long-term test. I’m curious how they’ll hold up when the inevitable mud and crashes arrive. How will they emerge from the first crash and after multiple power washes? After the cassette and freehub fall off a few more times? Only time will tell. Yet if you’re inclined to wait for our long-term review before spending your hard-earned money, Roval hopes to ease your fears with its…
Warranty Includes No-Cost Crash Replacement
The Terra wheel line is covered by Roval’s new lifetime warranty from defects in material and workmanship, as well as a two-year “It Happens” no-fault policy that repairs or replaces the wheels for free if they are damaged in the first two years (and registered in the first 30 days).
That should offer peace of mind for anyone who can afford spending $2500 on carbon wheels but needs them to last. Even second owners are covered for two years after the original purchase date.
How does that stack up to its competitors? Other companies like Zipp limit the duration of the warranty to two years without crash coverage, while ENVE offers lifetime crash coverage but limits defect and material coverage to five years and restricts coverage to original owners.
The Roval Terra wheels impress both with their numbers, setup convenience and performance. The three Terra CLX and CLX EVO models offer climbing wheel weight with all-road and gravel wheel versatility.
$2500 is a lot to spend on any wheelset, by any measurement, but it’s in line with Zipp’s 303 wheels and $50 less than ENVE’s SES and GX models.
Roval, thanks to the impressive Terra line, should no longer be seen as just a Specialized house brand. The Terra’s specs, weight savings and warranty demand consideration if you’re in the market for a high-performance, ride-anywhere wheelset.
Stay tuned for a long-term test. Roval Terra wheels are available now through authorized retailers.
See the Roval Terra CLX EVO and CLX specs below the photo gallery.