by Ward Bates
I've had these wheels for a little while and I've actually been sort of lazy about pulling my HED Ardennes training wheels off and getting these Rolf Prima TdF 38s on there. It wasn't that I didn't want to ride them, I'm just incredibly lazy about switching wheels. So lazy that I normally just race with whatever I have on my bike for training. After riding these, I think that's going to change, though. I'll find the time to get my wheels switched out and I might just leave them on for more than just racing.
Out of the box, they are crazy light at 1165 grams for the set -- and it's noticeable when you pick them up. These are very light wheels. On closer inspection, you notice more. Like, the nice carbon work on both the spoke side of the rim and also on the braking surface. The cassette body is a nice piece of machining and is something that you notice right away. Be careful with it, though. The splines are so well machined that they are literally razor sharp.
Probably more noticeable than the quality is the sheer lack of spokes. There are 14 spokes in the front and 16 in the rear. Not very many. Rolf's patented design has always relied on a very low spoke count, but with opposing spoke placement. As in, one pulls this way and one pulls that way in order to balance each other out and provide very uniform, but very high tension. In my years of riding, I have not noticed a higher amount of spoke breakage with Rolfs. If anything, I think they might actually have less.
We see a lot of the newer lighter weight wheels coming in with broken spokes. Our non-expert theory is that in order to make the wheels lighter, manufacturers are making the rims thinner, which means that high spoke tensions simply aren't possible. They would pull the nipples through the rim. So, the lower tension means there is flex when the wheel and spokes load and unload under acceleration and in turns. That flex leads to a "snapping effect." To illustrate this, take a sheet of paper with an end in each hand. Pull gently, but steadily increase the force. Pretty strong, eh? Now, holding the paper the same way, move your hands closer together to allow the paper to slacken and then quickly pull them apart. Most likely, either the paper ripped or your hand slipped off the paper. Your poor spokes go through that constantly. So, at least in theory, it makes sense that a constantly higher tensioned AND opposed spoke would not have as much "snap" happening and would therefore hold up better. Pretty cool.
STFU, already, and tell me: "How do they ride??"
I ran the wheels with some brand new Vittoria Corsa EVO-CX 290 tpi tubulars that I have used in the past. These aren't crazy expensive, they mount easily, and they are good tires. It's a good reference point, since I have the same tires on my Reynolds SDV66 tubulars.
Almost immediately, I noticed that Rolfs are very quiet for carbon wheels. I've become used to the resonance of my Reynolds and the Zipp 404s. You just hear those wheels. Obviously they are deeper rims, but I would have expected the Rolfs to have a little of that resonance. However, the Rolfs aren't any louder than my Zipp CSC wheels. Nice and quiet and no extra drive train noise.
On the road and in a straight line, they are very smooth, but also feel light and responsive. My Reynolds are smooth, as well, and a lot of that might have to do with the tubular setup on both wheels, but I didn't notice the "dead" feeling that I think is there with Reynolds and Zipps. The TdFs aren't harsh, but there is definitely more road feedback with the Rolfs - in a good way. The Rolfs are noticeably lighter while riding. They just feel light, which is cool because you also know that they are aero.
Many deep carbon wheels feel like they are "wandering," especially in headwinds. Sort of like a rudder on a boat. Once moving, it wants to put the trailing edge in line with the leading edge and many deep V wheels have that same effect. The wheel wants to go straight, whether you want it to or not and this can give you that wandering feeling. I didn't notice that with the TdF 38s, but I'd be interested to see if the TdF 58s (Rolf's deeper, but heavier carbon wheel) have that same feeling. I know it's not fair to compare a 38 mm rim to a 60+mm rim, but that's not really my objective. I'll give up the straightline speed (IF there's any loss at all) in order to have fast wheels that I don't feel like I'm fighting.
Cornering is where these wheels really shine. The opposing spoke design makes for a very stiff and very predictable wheel while you are leaned over. They track smoothly and securely. When you get back on the pedals, they definitely accelerate and again the lightness is noticeable. They accelerate extremely well with no noticeable wheel flex - even with my svelte 170 lb body on them.
I've always raced "metal" sidewalls in crits just because of the better braking, but the braking on these wheels is so good that I will definitely use these in crits without hesitation. I'm surprised, but have to say the braking performance is at least as good as my Zipp CSC Training wheels (alloy) and my HED Ardennes (scandium), if not better. Braking performance is very, very good. Not grabby and there isn't any of the "stuttering" that you get with a lot of carbon wheels and even some non-carbon. Just smooth stopping. At the end of my ride, I was in my neighborhood sprinting and slamming on the brakes over and over. It was quite entertaining - both to me and to our neighbors.
- Price is very good in comparison to other carbons on the market. At $1,800 +/-, they are actually pretty darn cheap (yeah, buy two sets!).
- These wheels look great. You'll get compliments and questions, definitely.
- Lightweight. Light enough to be climbing wheels, but still very aero.
- Stiff and predictable handling.
- Aero, but without the "wandering" of the deeper V wheels.
- Quiet. They don't tell the whole world when you are shifting, coasting, or out of the saddle accelerating.
- Tubular only. An all carbon clincher version, even if a little heavier, would be killer.
- Cassette body is literally razor sharp. It's CNC machined titanium and actually something you notice immediately, but care is needed when working with it. The edges are so sharp that you will slice your fingers if you are not careful.
Model: Carbon TdF38
Wheel size: 700c
Weight: 1165g set [490g/675g]
Spoke count: Bladed 14F/16R
Hubs: Campagnolo and Shimano compatible