Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels

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Tested: Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels

Simply put, these are the best carbon wheels we've ridden to date. Take note.

Rating: Vital Review
Tested: Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels

Carbon wheels are a polarizing component in the mountain bike world. On one hand they offer promises of performance increases, weight reduction, and that unmistakable "wow" factor. Conversely, some have commented their durability, overly stiff nature, and price point leave a lot to be desired.

Santa Cruz set out to build the best wheelset on the planet some three years ago, and finally released their Reserve Carbon creation this spring. Most notably, the wheels feature a true lifetime warranty – the first in the business to do so.

Not a company that simply regurgitates what is already out there, Santa Cruz tested and learned from Read More »

Carbon wheels are a polarizing component in the mountain bike world. On one hand they offer promises of performance increases, weight reduction, and that unmistakable "wow" factor. Conversely, some have commented their durability, overly stiff nature, and price point leave a lot to be desired.

Santa Cruz set out to build the best wheelset on the planet some three years ago, and finally released their Reserve Carbon creation this spring. Most notably, the wheels feature a true lifetime warranty – the first in the business to do so.

Not a company that simply regurgitates what is already out there, Santa Cruz tested and learned from their competition, addressed problem areas, and ultimately brought something to market that has all the potential to be very special.

We put a whole bunch of miles on a pair of Reserve 30 wheels with DT Swiss 350 hubs. From downhill laps to a cross-country race and everything in between, the wheels were hammered. How’d they work out? Read on to find out…

Highlights

  • Available in 27.5 and 29-inch diameters
  • 29-inch wheels in three widths: 25, 27 and 30mm (tested) internal
  • 27.5-inch wheels in two widths: 27 and 30mm internal
  • 1.5:1 width to height ratio
  • 28 spokes pre wheel with three-cross lacing pattern
  • Asymmetrical profile and offset drilling for even spoke tension
  • Wax bladder molding technique for less variability during manufacturing
  • External nipple reinforcements
  • Industry 9 Torch or DT Swiss 350 hub options
  • J-Bend DT Swiss Competition Race double butted spokes
  • Sapim Secure Lock alloy nipples (no spoke prep required)
  • Hand built in Santa Cruz
  • OEM upgrade for Santa Cruz and Juliana bikes
  • Pricing: $1,899 with Industry Nine hubs // $1,599 with DT Swiss hubs (tested)
  • Lifetime rim warranty with 24-hour turnaround

27.5-inch Rim Weights

  • Reserve 27: 435g
  • Reserve 30: 470g

29-inch Rim Weights

  • Reserve 25: 390g
  • Reserve 27: 455g
  • Reserve 30: 490g

Saving weight is a funny thing on a bike. People sometimes pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to shave the equivalent weight of a breakfast pastry. Most of this weight savings can be filed in the “hard to tell” category, as we would wager most cannot feel 100 grams of frame weight.

Wheels and tires are perhaps the exception to this rule. There is no place on a bicycle where weight is more obvious than rotating mass, specifically the most-outboard of this mass in the rims and tires. Don’t believe us? Go add two of those massive early-2000s DH tubes from Matt Thompson’s garage to your trail bike while ditching the water bottle, spare tube and multi-tool you generally carry on the frame. Go for a ride. Now go back to tubeless and add the weight (of those tubes) to your frame. Chances are you’ll notice what we mean in a big way.

Carbon hoops aim to ditch some of this pivotal rotating weight while adding to the performance of the bike, promising better energy transfer as the result of less lateral flex. Win-win situation, right? Well, sort of.

A number of carbon wheelsets were developed before the advent of Boost axle spacing and engineers really nailing the whole frame chassis stiffness thing. As a result, when a set of these uber-stiff carbon wheels are paired with a modern carbon frame, like the Santa Cruz Hightower LTthese were tested on, you end up with an overly stiff package.

When a rider goes to lean his/her bike over, the spokes and frame act as the bike’s suspension in a way (listen to The Inside Line podcast with Cesar Rojo at 45 minutes for more), and this compliance is actually responsible for absorbing trail undulations while still supporting the rider. Too soft and the bike feels like a noodle, causing ill handling and an overly vague feel. Too firm and the bike loses traction abruptly as it isn’t able to conform to the terrain as well. Similarly, your wheels help "hunt" for the right line in technical terrain. Again, too stiff and the tire/wheel will penalize the rider for not being perfectly precise. A bit of compliance can help the wheel and bike stay in the right line.

The frame, wheel, tire, spokes and hub are all part of a complete system, and it's one many sort of had wrong with super stiff carbon wheels on super stiff carbon frames. It also caused more tire failures than most brands are willing to acknowledge. Santa Cruz aimed to address all of this with their Reserve wheelset.

On The Trail

First, yes, they are light. Light enough you will notice, especially in larger diameter wheel sizes. In this test, the weight savings over the high-end aluminum wheelset in our garage was over a pound of rotating weight. Truthfully, we didn’t care about this weight savings in the bike park, but it was awesome come those big rides. Another nice advantage was that the weight savings allowed us to run something like the CushCore tire insert for race days without really being penalized the same way we would on a heavier aluminum wheelset.

Second, the rim is extremely well thought out. From the asymmetric drilling pattern to the way they reinforce the spoke holes, no stone was left unturned. The company offers the rims in a number of widths depending on application, giving the rider a way to tune their tire profile to their liking. At 30mm, we found 2.4 and 2.5-inch tires had a great round profile while still giving the sidewall support a wider rim can offer. A shorter sidewall is a stiffer-feeling sidewall, which we like when cornering.

There's enough compliance that the wheel doesn't jostle you to death and the tire doesn’t break free prematurely, but also enough stiffness to keep things from feeling vague.

Third, Santa Cruz tuned the wheelset to have just the right feel for the modern mountain bike frame. There's enough compliance that the wheel doesn't jostle you to death and the tire doesn’t break free prematurely, but also enough stiffness to keep things from feeling vague. This was accomplished through careful spoke selection and how the rim itself was profiled and constructed.

The perfect mix of these performance attributes created the best riding wheelset we’ve ever been on. Period.

They retain all the benefits of carbon and none of the downfalls, except price. When you consider that you're getting a lifetime rim warranty, that too becomes easier to stomach.

Pro rider testing with Mark Scott...
Josh Bryceland...
and Cedric Gracia.

The wheels were precise and offered a nice blend of stiffness and compliance on trail; light enough that we did some seriously big rides on a long-travel 29er without hesitation; and durable enough to have no issues. We also had zero tire failures or ride-ending flats over the course of the test as a result of the wheels.

Combined With Tire Inserts

Mark our words, tire inserts will become more and more of a thing as time goes on. For a combined three weeks out of the six month test period, we used CushCore with these rims with excellent results. Performance was stellar, but so was installation. It took just a handful of minutes extra per wheel, as opposed to the much longer period some rim/tire/CushCore combinations can take. This combination provided a class-leading ride and transformed our test bike into a real weapon. It was the biggest performance increase this tester added to a bike all year.

This combination provided a class-leading ride and transformed our test bike into a real weapon. It was the biggest performance increase this tester added to a bike all year.

Long Term Durability

We weren't nice to these rims over the last six months. Despite more than a few rim strikes, cased jumps, loose scree fields, and sideways landings they are running as though they're new, but they don’t look new. There were no broken spokes or rim cracks to report, just some scuffs to the carbon. Each wheel required just one truing session.

As expected, the DT Swiss 350 hubs have also have worked well. From the factory they aren't the high-engagement option some may want, but they have lasted well and are solid performers. Those wishing to upgrade from 36 to 54-tooth engagement can do so easily by swapping out the Star Ratchet mechanism for a reasonable cost.

Santa Cruz chose to use a j-bend spoke that works well. Break one somehow? No problem, replacements are easy to find at any bike shop in the world.

Should you happen to break a rim while riding, just send the whole wheel back to Santa Cruz to receive a rim replacement with a fast turnaround time. Given this final benefit it's easy to see that these wheels are in class of their own.

What's The Bottom Line?

These are the best wheels on the market for their intended use, and we're giving them five stars – something you don't see often on Vital MTB. Some may scoff at this as the price is anything but "affordable," but the Reserve wheels offer performance that is above the rest, an industry-leading warranty, and are priced competitively.

In the words of Ferris Bueller, "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking [these wheels] up."

Visit www.santacruzbicycles.com for more details.


About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines - Age: 32 // Years Riding MTB: 18 // Height: 6'2" (1.88m) // Weight: 200-pounds (90.7kg)

Jeff didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. He lives in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming.

Photos by Mike Thomas, Jeff Brines, Gary Perkin, and Sven Martin

Rate review: +3 Up Down
Vital MTB member jeff.brines
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First Look: Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels

Santa Cruz brings years of carbon experience to the wheel game, promising big things and backing them up with a lifetime warranty.

First Look: Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels

Santa Cruz is set to ruffle some feathers in the wheel world with the launch of their new Reserve lineup of wheelsets. The high performance, top dollar wheelset is aimed at leaving no compromises, complete with a lifetime warranty. Is it indeed a game changing product or mere marketing riffraff? Read on for our first look...

Highlights

  • Available in 27.5 and 29-inch diameters
  • 29-inch wheels in three widths: 25, 27 and 30mm internal
  • 27.5-inch wheels in two widths: 27 and 30mm internal
  • 1.5:1 width to height ratio
  • 28 spokes pre wheel with three-cross lacing pattern
  • Asymmetrical profile and offset drilling for even spoke tension
  • Wax Read More »

Santa Cruz is set to ruffle some feathers in the wheel world with the launch of their new Reserve lineup of wheelsets. The high performance, top dollar wheelset is aimed at leaving no compromises, complete with a lifetime warranty. Is it indeed a game changing product or mere marketing riffraff? Read on for our first look...

Highlights

  • Available in 27.5 and 29-inch diameters
  • 29-inch wheels in three widths: 25, 27 and 30mm internal
  • 27.5-inch wheels in two widths: 27 and 30mm internal
  • 1.5:1 width to height ratio
  • 28 spokes pre wheel with three-cross lacing pattern
  • Asymmetrical profile and offset drilling for even spoke tension
  • Wax bladder molding technique for less variability during manufacturing
  • External nipple reinforcements
  • Industry 9 Torch or DT Swiss 350 hub options
  • J-Bend DT Swiss Competition Race double butted spokes
  • Sapim Secure Lock alloy nipples (no spoke prep required)
  • Hand built in Santa Cruz
  • OEM upgrade for Nomad/Strega starting today, and all SC and Juliana Bikes starting July 1
  • Aftermarket (as rims and complete wheels) in Fall 2017
  • Pricing: $1,899 with Industry Nine hubs // $1,599 with DT Swiss
  • Lifetime rim warranty with 24-hour turnaround

27.5-inch Rim Weights

  • Reserve 27: 435g
  • Reserve 30: 470g

29-inch Rim Weights

  • Reserve 25: 390g
  • Reserve 27: 455g
  • Reserve 29: 490g

Santa Cruz is no stranger to carbon fiber, employing the material for the better part of a decade throughout the company’s line. In typical Santa Cruz fashion, these wheels were designed from the ground up in the company’s quest to make a wheel that struck an ideal balance between weight, ride quality and top rung durability.

The specs sheet alone is enough to make even the most critical bike dork blush. Wow. From the lifetime warranty to the rim’s profile and shape, it's hard to find a fault with these hoops. The only knock we can find on initial gander is the price. At $1,599-1,899, they are hardly cheap, but then again, they are very much in line with several top run carbon fiber wheelsets from their competitors.

The answer to the question you’re thinking right now is simple: we know we can do it better.

Santa Cruz left no stone unturned when it came down to blending durability, ride quality and internal width into a package that leaves little to be desired. The project has been in development for the better part of three years, and even involved setting up a new carbon fiber testing/prototyping facility in Santa Cruz, California. The result is a beautiful, lightweight carbon wheelset.

Refining Ride Feel & Durability

Here at Vital, we've had our hands on a number of top shelf carbon wheelsets over the years. One thing we've noticed is that some carbon wheels can be so stiff it borders on harsh, sometimes transmitting unwanted feedback to the rider and being more prone to deflection. Santa Cruz recognized this problem and put a lot of energy into engineering a product that strikes a balance between stiffness and compliance to offer the best trail experience.

To achieve this, Santa Cruz chose a rim profile that features a 1.5:1 width to height ratio, which is something they claim offers the best blend of stiffness and feel. Add to this double butted DT Swiss Comp Race spokes, an asymmetric shape, and an offset drilling pattern both contributing to more even spoke tension, and you have a package that aims to be more "baby bear porridge." Not too stiff and not too soft – just right.

Aesthetically, it's impossible to miss the nipple reinforcement point on the rim. Though other companies also reinforce this critical interface on the wheel internally, doing so in an external fashion allows for more consistent quality control in the drilling process where the reinforcement is always hit or the wheel is rejected from the line. Santa Cruz claims a common failure point on other carbon wheels is this critical, high stress area where the nipple meets the wheel and the center of the reinforcement is missed by a small margin in the rim’s drilling process.

The wheels are molded in a way that Santa Cruz claims has less variability in the manufacturing process, one of the challenges with carbon. In essence, we all know carbon is very strong. However, failure of the material is often a result of variance in the manufacturing process. Santa Cruz is employing a method of manufacturing whereby they utilize a wax bladder molding technique to ensure more complete compaction with less likelihood of voids or air bubbles compared to other methods.

Rim Width

Internal rim width is a big deal these days with 25-30mm seeming to be most popular depending on application. Santa Cruz has covered all basis here, offering an XC 29er variety in 25mm for smaller tires in less abusive cross country applications, with the 27 and 30mm widths offered in both rim sizes aimed more toward trail and gravity use.

Though this may seem overkill, Santa Cruz claims the goal was optimal tire shape depending on application and tire width. We can personally attest the pitfalls of utilizing too wide of rims on too narrow of tires making for an incredibly blocky, tough-to-corner-on shape. By allowing the user to pick the right rim width for his/her application and tire preference, the user should be able to better tune their ride to optimal levels.

Spokes Matter

Spokes are J-bend DT Swiss Competition Race mated to Sapim Secure Lock nipples (spoke-prep-less nipples), again to ensure more consistency. The company found spoke prep to sometimes create inconsistencies when tensioning a wheel. We at Vital appreciate off-the-shelf spokes, which are something that most riders should have little issue finding in a pinch.

Reserves are claimed to be so strong thanks to their external reinforcement that the spokes break before the rims do in this spoke pull-through test.
In addition to employing guys like Josh Bryceland and Danny MacAskill as Test Engineers, Santa Cruz built test fixtures to more accurately simulate real world mountain bike wheel impacts.

Lifetime Warranty

Perhaps the biggest game-changer here is the lifetime rim warranty. There are very few companies offering a warranty like this, with the buyer needing to put up no additional money for the warranty. Santa Cruz has a dedicated wheel service staff and claims a 24-hour turnaround time.

Got a warranty claim? Willie is your man.

Pricing & Availability

The company is launching the 27.5-inch 30mm variant on the all-new Nomad, with the wheels proliferating across the entire Santa Cruz line as of July 1 for a $1,200 upgrade. Aftermarket will begin sometime this fall with prices slotting in at $1,899 with Industry Nine Torch hubs or $1,599 with DT Swiss 350 hubs.

Initial Impressions

We had a brief amount of time on them while riding the new Nomad. Despite a few pings and dings, there were zero failures. To add, though anecdotal, the wheels did in fact seem to strike a good balance between flex, responsiveness and weight. Tire profile was spot on, with the 2.5-inch Maxxis Minion tires remaining just round enough to provide endless amounts of cornering traction without squirming, even at lower than normal pressures. Overall, we’d need much more time to fully comment on the performance of the Reserves, but the future of wheels looks promising for the boys (and girls) of Santa Cruz.

Head over to www.santacruzbicycles.com for more details.

Photos by Mike Thomas, Jeff Brines, Gary Perkin, and Sven Martin

Rate review: +1 Up Down
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Specifications

Product Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels
Riding Type Cross Country, Trail
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b), 29"
Rim Material Carbon
Rim Santa Cruz Reserve
Inner Rim Width
  • 25mm
  • 27mm
  • 30mm
Hole Count 28
Tubeless Compatible Yes
Rear Hub Industry Nine Torch or DT Swiss 350 hubs
Rear Axle 12mm x 148mm (Boost)
Front Hub Industry Nine Torch or DT Swiss 350 hubs
Front Axle 15mm x 110mm (Boost)
Disc Mount Type 6 Bolt
Spokes DT Swiss Competition Race, double-butted, J-bend, 3x lacing
Nipples Sapim Alloy Secure Lock
Colors Black
Weight
Miscellaneous Carbon reinforcements around the spoke holes
External nipple access for easy servicing
Built in Santa Cruz, California
Rim weight: 390g - 490g
Lifetime Warranty
Price
  • $1,599
  • $1,899
More Info

www.santacruzbicycles.com