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ROVAL RAPIDE CLX II – RACE OR FUN MODE?

The Roval Rapide CLX II presents enthusiasts with an existential question about our cycling: is it our purpose to ride like we’re racing or ride like we’re having serious fun?

Of course, the two can sometimes be the same.

But, riding in race mode is about getting to the finish first, whereas riding in serious fun mode is about having as much fun as anyone.

I raise this question because, for me, the Roval Rapide CLX II performs differently on several criteria depending on whether I use a 26mm tire that Roval recommends to optimize this wheelset’s aero performance or a 28mm tire that I generally prefer to ride for overall performance (i.e., versatility, aero, stability, stiffness, compliance, responsiveness).

To evaluate the Rapide CLX II wheels, I used Specialized’s 26mm S-Works Turbo RapidAir 2Bliss Ready T2/T5 (or “RapidAir”) and their 28mm S-Works Turbo 2BR 2Bliss Ready T2/T5 (or “2BR”) both introduced by Roval’s parent company on the same day as the Rapide.

Note that the Rapide CLX II is a tubeless-ready carbon disc wheelset, whereas the CLX was not approved for tubeless tires. While you can use clincher tires with tubes on these CLX II wheels as they have hooked rims, the best tubeless tires with puncture protection belts, including the RapidAir, have lower tire loss rolling resistance than clincher ones in drum testing that simulate road conditions.

Using these Specialized tires was the closest I could come to comparing the Rapide wheels with the same tires at different widths. They don’t (yet) make a 28mm size in the latest version of the RapidAir. And the 28mm 2BR uses the same compound as the RapidAir, just with an additional casing layer.

Roval Rapide CLX II

Yes, I did test the Rapide CLX II with 28mm wide Continental Grand Prix 5000 S TR tires but not initially (more on this below). In part, that’s because Roval and Specialized designed these wheels and tires to work together (Rapide & RapidAir). Also, the prior generation RapidAir was one of my and fellow testers’ highest-rated tubeless tires across a range of wheelsets. In my judgment, the new RapidAir remains one of the best.

Interestingly, I can’t tell any difference in how well the Rapide holds its momentum for a given level of effort at speeds above 20mph/32kph – my surrogate for aero performance – with the 26mm RapidAir vs. the 28mm 2BR tire in warm temps. And neither does as well as the ENVE SES 4.5 (with 28mm Schwalbe Pro One TLE tires ) or Zipp 454 NSW (with a 25mm front tire, 28mm rear Schwalbes) against this performance criterion.

With the 26mm RapidAir tires mounted, the Rapide CLX II feels light and reactive. The wheels are very lively accelerating on a straight, coming out of a turn, and heading up a hill. They are very responsive and both fast and fun in these situations, nearly as much as the category-leading Zipp 454 NSW.

With the 28mm 2BR, that responsiveness is muted a bit and more on par with the average all-around wheelset. Is it the added 60g/tire of the 28mm tires? I don’t know, but I doubt it. The 28mm 2BR weighs essentially the same as the prior model 28mm RapidAir and only about 35g/tire more than the 28mm GP5K S TR. And aero is just as important as weight in acceleration. So maybe it’s just that the 26mm tires are a more aero setup.

The Roval Rapide CLX II’s compliance and handling are notably better, however, with the 28mm tires. No hot take there. A 10psi lower pressure and a wider contact patch undoubtedly explain that.

Regardless, the Roval Rapide CLX II’s “race-feel” comfort with 26mm tires (the setup I use to compare the Roval’s performance criteria against other wheelsets in this category) is on par with the average all-around wheelset and is certainly fine for the 50+ mile rides I did on these hoops.

I initially tested the Rapide carbon disc wheels during the late summer and fall months when there were enough days of 10-20mph, often swirling winds, to really put the wheels’ sidewind management to the test. And they performed admirably, as stable as the ENVE 4.5 and Bontrager RSL 51.

Curiously though, I did feel a few rather erratic tugs on the front wheel with the 26mm tires mounted on days when the winds were their strongest, something I never felt with the 28mm tires on similarly windy days. The tugs weren’t often big enough to make me back off of my pace; it was just something I took note of.

While I don’t know if it is related, the Specialized tire product manager did tell me their testing showed the 26mm tires were more aerodynamic on the Rapide wheels in head-on winds while 28s were more aero in crosswinds, though he wouldn’t share any details of the aero differences, wind angles, or testing protocol.

Roval Rapide CLX II

The 26mm RapidAir inside the 35mm wide Rapide front rim from two angles

Looking at the wheels while riding along in the saddle, both size tires appear rather odd to me in the Rapide’s front rim. That rim measured 34.9mm at its widest. I’m sure there’s some engineering (or perhaps, marketing) explanation for the front wheel’s width, but it’s still weird.

The rear is a more “normal” 30.4mm outside, while both rims measure 21.0mm between the hooks.

And, like the ENVE SES wheels that started this whole trend, the Roval Rapide CLX II’s front wheel has a blunt nose spoke edge and measures 51.5mm deep, while the 60.3mm deep rear has more of a traditional V-shaped spoke edge and a toroidal rim profile.

The following spring, I mounted up the 28mm Continental Grand Prix 5000 S TR tires on the Rapide CLXII. They clearly felt faster and more responsive than with the 28mm 2BR and gave me the added comfort and handling you get over a 26mm RapidAir.

Until Specialized comes out with a 28mm RapidAir, which I expect they will do eventually, I’d recommend riding the 28mm Conti tires over the 26mm RapidAir with this wheelset in both race and fun mode.

Finally, I’ll note three other considerations that may affect your decision about buying this wheelset.

First, I needed to use tire levers to install the Specialized, Continental, Schwalbe, and Michelin 25/26mm and 28mm tires included in my best tubeless road tires review on the Roval Rapide CLX II front and rear rims. In most cases, I don’t need to use levers with the eight rims of varying inside and outside widths I use to compare the ease of tire installation.

While I can’t measure it, I can only guess that Roval makes the Rapide CLX II wheels to the larger end of the rim diameter standard, aka the ETRTO and ISO 622mm ±0.5 mm rim bead seat diameter tolerance range or has a shallower center channel. If so, that’s not unsurprising, considering that Roval’s first attempt at making a tubeless Rapide (the Rapide CLX) created an unacceptable chance of tubeless tire blowouts due to claimed structural issues in the rim.

So, perhaps they are being more conservative with the Roval Rapide CLX II dimensions to create a tighter fit between the tire and updated rims, something I can’t fault them for. And, needing to use a tire lever is a minor inconvenience rather than a deal breaker.

Secondly, the DT Swiss 180 Ratchet EXP internals used in the rear hub on this new Roval Rapide CLX II carbon disc wheelset make its freehub pleasantly quiet while coasting with a well-maintained chain. That’s different than the DT Swiss 240 EXP freehubs that are more commonly used on carbon disc wheels these days and are far louder than their nearly quiet DT 240 predecessor, though not annoyingly so.

So, you’ve got choices with the Roval Rapide CLX II depending on your purpose in life cycling and commitment to Specialized tires. You can race with primo aero performance and responsiveness on 26mm Specialized RapidAir tires. Or, you can ride fast and have serious fun on the same wheels with 28mm Specialized 2BR tires for better handling, crosswind stability, and comfort.

Or, you can let your mind and legs decide which mode you want to ride in with the 28mm Conti GP 5K S tires now and likely the 28mm Specialized 28mm RapidAir if and when they are introduced.

Either way, the Roval Rapide CLX II sells for US$2800, £2250, €3000. That puts it in a similar price range as the ENVE and Bontrager all-around wheelsets. You can order the Rapide using these links to recommended stores Performance Bike, Sigma Sports, and BikeInn.

If you generally like what the Rapide represents but want to save a boatload of money, the Roval Rapide CL II – no “X” in the name – is another option.

The CL II sells for $1750, £1400, €1800, considerably less than the CLX II. It uses the same rims as the CLX II but is equipped with slightly heavier and less aero yet still very capable and always quiet DT Swiss 350 hubs and lower spec, round DT Competition Race spokes instead of the more aero, bladed DT Aerolite on the CLX II.

I haven’t tested the CL II but, based on the hub and spokes used, likely not as fast or responsive as the CLX II.

The Roval Rapide CL II is available using these links to Competitive Cyclist, Performance Bike, Sigma Sports, and BikeInn.

You can compare our reviews and ratings of the Roval Rapide CLX II and competitively performing all-around road disc wheelsets in my review of the Best Carbon Disc Wheelset.

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18 comments

  • Hi Steve – Thanks for taking the time to do this much anticipated review! Is there any further insight you might provide comparing the CLX II’s to the Enve and Zipp competition? Did you simply feel the Roval’s weren’t QUITE able to carry speed as well as the SES 4.5’s and 454 NSW’s?

    • Kyle, You’re welcome. Yes, they didn’t seem to carry the speed as well. Rode them back to back with the ENVE and it just wasn’t the same. And I’d previously ridden the ENVE and Zipp back to back to compare them. As to the other comparisons between the Roval and the other all-arounds, the comparative chart shows where it is better or on par with other wheelsets in the category, based on using the 26mm Specialized RapidAir tire on the Roval. Cheers, Steve

  • Would love a review of Princeton Wake 6560 Didc with Tactic hubs. Very hyped wheels and used by Ineos.

    Thank you for this review, I was considering to buy the new rovals to replace my old CLX 50s. I want a really allroud lightweight superfast and snappy aero wheel. Best of all worlds I guess.

    So Enves seem to be the best bang for the buck still as Zipps 454 are more expensive?

    • Adrian, No holy grail wheelsets but some damn good ones out there. Best to look at my all-around review to pick the one that has the combination of performance attributes that are most important to your goals and riding profile at a price that fits your budget. Steve

    • Adrian – I just got a pair of Princeton Carbonworks Wake 6560 Strada wheels a few weeks ago (March, 2023) with White Industries hubs. I only have around 60 miles on them but have done flats, rollers, and 7%+ climbs. For context, I’m around 80kg (winter bloat) with an FTP around 200w, and these wheels are mounted on a Pinarello Dogma F with Conti GP 5000 S TR tires (w/tubes) in the 75psi range.

      TLDR: If you have $3k-ish to spend on wheels, ride at 18+ mph on flats when solo/20mph+ in a group, buy these wheels. Worth the slight premium to SES 4.5, Rapide, Firecrest, and a MUCH better deal than 454 NSW’s.

      In the NYC area, the wind has been as bad or worse than normal, including my 1st ride which had 25mph+ cross wind gusts. Coming from 50mm deep wheels, I expected to be blown into the woods, but honestly it wasn’t really that bad at all. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m used to riding in an area with bad croswinds, because I’m heavier than normal (especially for my height), have a strong upper body, or because that wavey pattern on the wheels actually does anything. Regardless, I expect only feather light riders with little upper body strength will have a problem with crosswinds.

      In normal riding conditions, these wheels are FAST, and let me reiterate, they are freaking fast! On flats, in head, tail, and low winds, I feel like I’m flying along like Tom Pidcock (plus 50lbs, minus 80w). I 100% thought these things were marketing hype, but they’re so, so awesome. It is absolutely mind boggling that anyone would pay $1,200 more for Zipp 454 NSW’s, and I say that with full knowledge there’s a lot of people with similar setups as mine for whom money is no issue; it’s just a matter of principle!

      I have rode over potholes and rough tarmac intentionally to test out the tire/wheel/bike combo (all being new) and I’ve yet to feel like I’m getting kicked in the seat, bucked off the bike, or anything teeth chattering, one obnoxious railroad crossing being perhaps the only exception.

      Caveat: Cannot speak to durability but warranty/etc seems to be comparable.

  • The clxII how do they compare with the enve 4.5 ses in a cross wind.

    • Howard, here’s an excerpt from my review on the topic…

      I initially tested the Rapide carbon disc wheels during the late summer and fall months when there were enough days of 10-20mph, often swirling winds to really put the wheels’ sidewind management to the test. And they performed admirably, as stable as the ENVE 4.5 and Bontrager RSL 51.

      Curiously though, I did feel a few rather erratic tugs on the front wheel with the 26mm tires mounted on days when the winds were their strongest, something I never felt with the 28mm tires on similarly windy days. The tugs weren’t often big enough to make me back off of my pace; it was just something I took note of.

      While I don’t know if it is related, the Specialized tire product manager did tell me their testing showed the 26mm tires were more aerodynamic on the Rapide wheels in head-on winds while 28s were more aero in crosswinds, though he wouldn’t share any details of the aero differences, wind angles, or testing protocol.

  • Hello steve,

    When using these Rapide’s with the Continental tyres, it sounds like they improved both speeds and handling, would you say they got closer to the Enve 4.5’s speed and agility and also overall performance?

    Also how would you rate them overall compared to RSL51’s?

  • Eric, I’d still rate the ENVE 4.5 (and Zipp 454 NSW) higher and on par with the RSL 51. Steve

  • Steve, do you find the 26mm tyres too narrow for the front wheel of the CLX II? I had the 26 RapidAirs on mine and there was so much carbon poking out that I suffered a crack on a pothole because the tyre wasn’t wide enough to be flushed with the rim to protect it. Do you think that’s a design flaw?

    • Mervyn, That sucks! Frankly, there’s also a lot of carbon poking out with 28mm tires and probably would be for 30 and 32mm tires had I tried. Roval claims they redesigned the Rapid CLX II to avoid cracks and blowouts for hard impacts. So it may be that your wheel has a defect more so than a design flaw that should be covered under your crash replacement policy. Steve

  • Hi Steve, great take on the Rovals. I have a question. I currently use the Enve 4.5 Ar disc laced with chris king hubs and I’m looking to upgrade. Do you think these Rovals are the a step in the right direction and will experience significant difference in speed and comfort from the Rovals? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

  • Hi Steve: Thanks for the excellent in-depth reviews. I’m considering the Roval CL II (no X) or the Zipp 404 FC for a new Tarmac build. I want an all-arounder for training and Cat 3 racing. As an older racer, my Achilles heel is closing gaps during repeated accelerations. Would you recommend either of the wheels on my short list or another in the ~$1,500 range (taking sales into account)?

    • Ken, Between those two, I’d probably favor Roval as an all-arounder. While they’re both pretty responsive, your ability to close gaps is going to be less a result of the wheelset you choose (or your age) and more an outcome of your training. So, if you don’t already have them, I’d also suggest you budget some money for a good trainer and training program this off season to better close those gaps or keep them from opening in the first place. 🙂 Cheers, Steve

  • Thanks so much for your reply Steve. Training is on track and disciplined. If I were to consider moving up to the Enve 4.5, would you think it noticeably better for my purposes than the Roval CL II?

  • Ken, depends on your goals, avg speed, how often/long you ride, terrain, bike, etc. But if you’re a Cat 3 looking to move up to Cat 2 and racing at 20-22mph on flat to rolling terrain on a Tarmac SL7 or 8, yes, the ENVE SES 4.5 is noticeably better than than the Roval CLX II so will be better than the CL II. Check out my comparative review of all-around wheels, which compares those two and others: https://intheknowcycling.com/carbon-disc-wheelset/ Steve

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