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.
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.
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 has an MSRP/RRP of US$2800, £2350, €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, Tredz (10% off with code ITKTDZ10), and Cyclestore.
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, €1850, 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.
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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