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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 by riding fast while not needing to be first.

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.

Roval Rapide CLX II

Note that the Rapide CLX II is a tubeless-ready wheelset whereas the CLX was not. While you can use clincher tires with tubes on these wheels with hooked beads, 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 RapidAir. And the 28mm 2BR uses the same compound as the RapidAir, just with an additional casing layer. (I’ve written a review of the RapidAir but not yet the 2BR.)

No, I didn’t test the Rapide with Continental Grand Prix 5000 S TR tires. 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.

And, to be completely transparent, the cool late fall/early winter weather arrived about the time I would have started testing the 28mm GP 5K S TR, otherwise, I would have tested the Rapide – Grand Prix combination.

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. 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.

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 tested the Rapide during the late summer/early fall months when there were enough days of 10-20mph, often swirling winds to really put the wheels 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 or 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 that their 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 Rapide’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.

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

First, I had 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 Rapide CLX II front and rear rims. In most cases, I don’t need to use levers with the 8 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 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 an inconvenience rather than a huge deal.

Secondly, the DT Swiss 180 Ratchet EXP internals used in the rear hub on this new Roval wheelset is pleasantly quiet. 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. You can race with primo aero performance and responsiveness on 26mm tires. Or, you can ride fast and have serious fun on the same wheels with 28mm tires to get a bit better handling, crosswind stability, and comfort.

Either way, the Roval Rapide CLX II has an MSRP/RRP of US$2800, £2500, €3100. 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 Competitive Cyclist, Performance Bike, and Jenson in the US and Tredz (10% off with code ITKTDZ10) and Sigma Sports in the UK.

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, £1500, €1750, 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 (also 36 tooth/10 points of engagement) 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.

The Roval Rapide CL II is available using these links to Specialized, Tredz (10% off with code ITKTDZ10), and Sigma Sports.

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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First published on November 16, 2022. The date of the most recent major update is shown at the top of the post.

2 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

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