If there was one aspect of cycling that the vast tentacles of Specialized couldn’t lay a claim to, its been top end wheels. By top end wheels I mean the carbon type that emit a rumble akin to the Death Star and bestow the X-factor to your bike.
Carbon wheels carry a certain mystic in cycling circles, a gravitational pull that leads to your cycle-club mates and star struck passers by stopping you mid-ride to ask ‘can you notice the difference? (Having likely dropped the best part if a month’s salary on you are obliged to say YES!)
Turn the X-Factor up tenfold if your sporting a rim depth of 40mm or more.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed at Specialized and whilst multiple Pro-Teams have long ridden Specialized bikes at the biggest WorldTour races until recently their Tarmac / Roubaix / Venge bikes would be shod in another manufacturers’ hoops: Shimano/FFWD/Zipp.
So back in 2005 Specialized acquired the name of French wheel manufacturer Roval, with a history of innovation and back story providing the springboard for an in-house wheel manufacturer with ready-built cache. Fast forward a few years and range topping Specialized and S:Works bikes wear Roval. With the new CLX range Specialized firmly have the top end aftermarket wheel market in their sights too.
Whilst component manufacturing history is only interesting to a few, much more interesting is how long it’s taken Specialized to establish a top-end wheel worthy of a World Champion – Peter Sagan will be riding Roval this year and has already been spotted warming up for the Tour Down Under on a pair.
Things are looking promising for Sagan as Specialized have thrown their sizeable R&D budget at their new CLX50 wheelset to create a “Unicorn Wheel” – Specialized marketing spiel for a wheel that mixes aerodynamics and low weight.
The “50” denotes the rim depth – 50mm – slotting in between Specialized’s CLX 64 (most aerodynamic) and their CLX 32 (lightest) carbon wheelsets. What it can’t convey is some of the other standout features – full carbon rim, 3 versions (rim brake (clincher and tubular) and disc brake), tubeless compatible, wide internal rims for the new higher volume tyres, Aero Flange Hubs with bullet-proof DT Swiss internals that can accommodate both quick release and bolt thru.
Nor can it convey the stand out-stand outs:
- Specialized claims the CLX 50 is the lightest 50mm or mid-depth wheelset available with the rim brake versions barely tipping the scales at 1,375g, disc brake 1,415g and Tubular at an incredible 1235g. Giving over 100g weight savings versus a Zipp 454’s or ENVE SES 4.5’s – more than enough to excite the weight weenies.
- The wind-tunnel designed Aero Flange hubs are slippery on the outside as well as the inside with CeramicSpeed bearings – no other wheelsets come with ceramic bearings at this price (£1,700 for the complete wheelset or £700 for front / £1,000 for the rear – you have Specialized’s incredible buying power to thank for that).
There is a final noteworthy point to dwell on, we’re maybe at the point that cycling component historians will look back on and say “the disc brake version of the CLX50 made disc brakes universally acceptable (except by the UCI)”.
The disc brake wheel is an altogether different wheel to the 2 rim brake versions. Without the need to ‘compromise’ the rim for braking stresses Specialized (Roval) employed a specifically designed carbon layup that is more impact resistant as well as being stronger but also 20g lighter than the rim brake version. This moves the disc brakes on road bikes debate on from braking to disc brakes being the catalyst for innovation in wheel design; (disc brakes still need to get less screechy).
For now , sit back and watch Sagan closely and see how the Rovals live up to their promise in the Tour Down Under – as the CLX 50s not even available in the shops yet.
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