Review: The New Reserve 28 XC Wheels Don't Mess Around

May 14, 2021
by Sarah Moore  

Reserve launched their first mountain bike wheels in 2017 with an unheard-of-at-the-time lifetime guarantee. Four years later it seems like almost every carbon rim manufacturer has to include a lifetime warranty with purchase, or at least a generous limited warranty.

While the newly released Reserve 28 wheels keep their lifetime guarantee and straightforward naming nomenclature with the internal width of the rim determining the model name, these are the first Reserve wheels that don't include the words Santa Cruz on them. Likely in an attempt to get more wheels on bikes that aren't Santa Cruz, these new wheels will be known simply as Reserve 28s.
Reserve 28 Wheel Details
• 29" only
• Carbon rims, 28mm internal width
• 24 straight-pull DT Comp Race spokes
• 2 cross lace pattern
• Hub options: DT Swiss 180, 240 or 350 CL hubs, Microspline or XD
• Weight: 1367 grams with DT Swiss 180 hubs, rim tape & valves
• Lifetime warranty w/ no weight limit
• MSRP: $1,599 - $2,199 USD (as tested)

Reserve says they went back to the drawing board to create the latest generation of Reserve XC wheels. They told me that they wanted to keep the new wheels fairly light since they're being raced on the World Cup XC circuit by Maxime Marotte, Luca Braidot, Martina Berta and Greta Seiwald on the Santa Cruz FSA team, but they prioritized ride quality over just making wheels that are as stiff and light as possible.

The Reserve 28s (left) have an internal rim depth of 20mm, 2.5mm shallower than the Reserve 25s (right).

The rims use a lower profile for "added lateral stiffness with increased vertical compliance" (our favourite marketing phrase), an asymmetrical design flipped front to rear for increased strength, and have a step in internal rim bed to ease tubeless installation. The Reserve 28s have an internal rim depth of 20mm which is 2.5mm shallower compared to the Reserve 25 rims and 5.1mm shallower compared to the Reserve 27 rims. Both the Reserve 25 and 27 will be phased out by the 28s in coming months as XC wheels trend wider. The recommended tire width to pair the Reserve 28s with is 2.2" to 2.5", but you can run as narrow as a 2.0" tire.

The carbon rims weigh a sensibly lightweight 385 grams apiece and have an inner width of 28mm. They're built up with DT Comp Race spokes around 24-hole straight-pull DT Swiss 180 hubs. If you buy a complete wheelset, the rims will come with pre-taped with valve stems, and if you buy rims only, the tubeless valve stems and tape are included. The Reserve 28s will only come in a 29” wheel size, with the version tested here weighing in at 1367 grams. It retails for $2,199 USD and comes with a lifetime warranty. It's worth noting that while some brands have a weight cap on that lifetime warranty, Reserve will honour the warranty regardless of rider weight.

There are two other builds for the Reserve 28s, with the wheels with DT 240 hubs weighing 1450 grams and retailing for $1,899 USD, and the wheels with DT 350 hubs weighing 1,550 grams and retailing for $1,599 USD.

The hookless carbon rims have an internal width of 28mm and have a step in internal rim bed to ease tubeless installation.

The Reserve 28s here are built up with DT Comp Race spokes around 24-hole straight-pull DT Swiss 180 hubs.


Reserve got us these wheels ahead of the launch date, but despite my XC roots I've actually been putting miles on them on my light trail bike for the past month. We're just coming out of the rainy season here in Squamish, so I ran a relatively low 17 and 19 psi in a pair of Specialized Butcher T9 2.3" tires for the duration of the test. It's maybe more tire than these wheels will normally see, but they probably faced some tougher terrain than usual too. As for setting them up, it’s always nice when rims comes pre-taped, and tubeless installation was straightforward.

Overall, the wheels were extremely quiet, with no unexpected twangs or unsettling noises. It was easy to forget about the Reserve 28s entirely on both the climbs and the descents and just focus on choosing the smoothest lines. The performance of carbon wheels is an age old debate and we're not going to shout about the material's superiority from the rooftops, but they also ran true and kept their tension flawlessly throughout my time on them.

I will say that they felt like they did a great job of absorbing buzz from the trail and I never felt like my upper body was taking a beating. Like the choice of riding a full-suspension bike versus a hardtail in a race, the perception may be that you're riding slower on a wheel that's more compliant, but overall the added comfort could mean you still have the energy to eke out a couple extra watts at the end of the race. Or maybe it's all in my head, but hey confirmation bias gains are still gains!

Overall, the Reserve 28 rims survived all of the root and rock smashing I subjected them to, and the DT Swiss hubs were flawless, with quick engagement that’s so important for those quick cross-country race starts. After a month of testing and a fair amount of PNW rain during the testing period, the bearings are still smooth and there’s no lateral play.

The Roval Control SL is a benchmark for progressive XC wheelsets.

Compared to Roval's Control SL Wheelset

It can be difficult to evaluate compliance and stiffness when you’ve got a couple of inches of suspension, tires, and all of the pesky variables of real world testing. So I grabbed our set of Specialized Roval Control SL Team Issue wheels to do some back to back testing. I'd have loved to put Bontrager's Kovee XXX wheels in the mix too but Dan Sapp is guarding our set jealously out in North Carolina.

The wheelsets are remarkably similar. Both the Rovals and the Reserves are house brands trying to break away from their respective bike brands. The Rovals are 1mm wider at 29mm, ~84g lighter at 1283g, and $300 more expensive at $2500 USD. The Rovals also have a 275lb weight limit while the Reserves do not. Our Reserves had DT 180 hubs, while the Rovals have DT 180 internals. Both were set up with 2.3mm Butchers in the T9 compound with 17/19 PSI in them.

Absolutely nobody will be surprised to hear that the differences on trail are subtle, but they're definitely apparent. In back-to-back testing it's clear that the Reserves are on the more compliant side. They felt less sprightly, but my upper body also felt less tired at the end of the ride. The Rovals felt more stable at speed than the Reserve 28s however, despite being a little over 100 grams lighter, possibly due to their slightly wider internal rim width. The Rovals also make the occasional terrifying noise that reminds you you're on a very light wheelset, while the Reserves were a little more confidence inspiring. [Ed. note: despite the Rovals making occasional sproingggg lightweight noises, I've been riding them on my hardtail for the last few months and Levy put in a lot of time on them last year, so we're pretty confident in their durability. –Brian]

The rims' lower profile reportedly contributes to their lateral stiffness and increased vertical compliance (those words again!).


+ Comfortable, confidence inspiring ride
+ Reserve continues to lead with a lifetime warranty & no weight limits
+ Nice to see 28mm ID becoming the go-to width for progressive XC


- Not as light as some similarly priced house brands, let alone European exotica
- Not made domestically, if that's important to you
- Flagship carbon XC wheels are never going to be amazing value

Pinkbike's Take
bigquotesThe Reserve 28s are a worthy contender in the premium XC wheel space. They strike an excellent balance of compliance and stiffness for XC racing, while not being afraid of some trail bike antics. The lifetime warranty on them with no weight limit means that you'll have peace of mind no matter what size you are. Sarah Moore

Author Info:
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Member since Mar 30, 2011
1,197 articles

  • 166 14
 Cons: Shimano brakes
  • 68 0
 Cons : no bottle mount
  • 57 2
 Damn you PB, how hard is it to change the locked Upvote/Downvote button? Opinions change and fat fingers don't work with small buttons.
  • 9 1
 Cons: No chain tool.
  • 12 3
 They should have done a video for this review
  • 99 1
 @msalcher: no I hate video, I require words and pictures to read while I'm at work.
  • 39 0
 I don't bother reading PB articles any more. I just scroll straight to the comments for my daily dose of confirmation bias.
  • 11 0
 Press fit bearings are the worst!
  • 10 0
 Cons: Slack Seat tube angle 78 degrees.
  • 8 0
 Cons: idler pulley might break
  • 4 2
 @brianpark: at least include a video of the scrolling text!
  • 3 1
 @ultimatist: And an audiobook of the article. Then I don't have to read. Haha.
  • 112 2
 $1500??!! I could buy a tenth of the new specialized e-bike for that
  • 40 0
 yeah but what are you going to do with 20 xc wheels

edit: I take it back. I have thought of several uses for such a quantity of wheels
  • 8 0
  • 7 0
 @DAN-ROCKS: give 18 to a cat, keep a couple for yourself?
  • 8 0
 @DAN-ROCKS: in case you didn't think of it, PUT EM ON YER HELLCAT
  • 66 4
 "The Rovals also have a 275lb weight limit" in Specialized's defense, no one weighing over 200 pounds is going to benefit from wheels this light (especially with 24 spoke count) and should be on something heavier.
  • 10 0
 I need to drop a few pounds You should buy these wheels
  • 16 50
flag jerrytek (May 14, 2021 at 9:58) (Below Threshold)
 It's always a great idea to make sweeping generalizations about the concerns of a very large group of people, especially when you clearly aren't a member of that group or have any relevant personal experience to draw upon.
  • 9 1
 I am pretty sure I would. I am like 215 kitted, but I am just tall and lean. I climb quite a bit still and think that a light wheelset on my Spur would make the bike climb a bit faster.
  • 15 54
flag Derekag77 (May 14, 2021 at 10:36) (Below Threshold)
 if your that fat you should probably just lose some weight- or take a shit before you ride rather than demand carbon because you think you are anywhere near skilled.
  • 30 2
 @Derekag77: wow dick of the day award. Congratulations
  • 11 0
 @jerrytek: Spoiler: I'm a member of that group (200 pound + club)
  • 18 1
 I think regardless of the prospective rider's weight, I'd have more confidence in the strength of products with no weight limits. Honestly though the Rovals have impressed me too. They haven't had an easy life on the XC-ified SolarisMax over the winter. I swapped Sarah for the Reserves now so we'll see how those do longer term under a fat guy on a hardtail. I still can't stand that DT 180s only have centerlock.
  • 5 0
 @brianpark: But its a titanium hard tail! It imbues the rest of your bike with its magic!
  • 4 0
 @hamncheez: lol no the Moots went back long ago. I bought an 853 SolarisMax to try some weird shit.
  • 1 0
 @brianpark: ha, and they just launched their new FlareMax
  • 4 0
 @brianpark: when do we get to hear about your SolarisMAX?
  • 17 0
 @CircusMaximus:My apologies mate. I was super upset about my parents fighting this morning and took it out in an unfair way. keep on shredding everyone, and sorry to anyone I offended.
  • 13 0
 @Derekag77: sorry to hear you had a rough day. Here’s hoping tomorrow is better. Cheers.
  • 4 0
 @brianpark: yeah categorizations with an upper limit don't exactly give trust in the product. On the other hand, even if not stated, every wheel has an upper weight limit where it just will fail if ridden hard, and manufacturers kind of silently agreed to make it such so most people can ride without anyone noticing too many failures, and without exceeding about 2000g for a wheelset. Here you at least know what you can expect.
  • 4 0
 @CircusMaximus: thanks man that means lots.
  • 38 1
 Soooo Santa Cruz's long-teased xc bike review later today or Monday?
  • 14 0
 For an incredulous couple of seconds I thought there was a new wheel size when I read the title.
  • 13 1
 All wheels should be tested on a fully rigid bike to test for compliance......
  • 10 0
 the wheels are so stiff that one could say they complyn't
  • 11 0
 Seems like a better comparison is the non-SL Control Carbon for $1350 and 1450 g
  • 8 0
 You're probably right but I didn't have those on hand so I rode the fancier ones!
  • 3 0
 Interested in this too...My Non-SL Control Carbons are 1463g, so ~100g lighter and $250USD cheaper. 28 spoke count too, with the newer 350 hubs.
  • 4 0
 The DT180 configuration of the Reserves was what was available to us, so price/weight/width/intended use/etc. the Control SLs seemed like the best comparison to me. They're both the flagship XC wheelsets from the respective brands.

If it were my money I'd probably choose a 240 hub and a ~1500g wheelset in this category, but these wheelsets are much closer to the pointy end than.
  • 8 0
 Reserve is banking on the typical XC rider to competitively race these, not NFL linemen doing DH runs. The lifetime warranty strategy is a calculated risk on a product that likely fetches 100%+ profit margin on every sale.
  • 8 0
 reserves are by far the best wheels i've ever owned. I would assume these to be no different
  • 7 1
 So with these XC lifetime warranty wheels - what’s stopping me running them on my DH bike and getting a new set every month or so?
  • 18 0
 Well, fitting these on a DH bike due to different axle and hub standards would be the first problem. After that, if/when they do fail catastrophically, there is no replacement warranty on your collarbones or pelvis.
  • 13 0
 I mean, you could. Or you just get the Reserve DH wheels, ride your bike and never have to think about getting them replaced.
  • 6 0
 @woofer2609: in his defense, he totally should try it. Reserve will send stickers for his body cast.
  • 4 0
 Its COVID, your replacement wheels are stuck on that ship...
  • 4 1
 I would also seriously consider the ENVE M525 (stock or custom) along with the Reserve XC 28 and Control SL.

Wheelsets ranked below if you are interested.

Weight: 1 Roval / 2 ENVE Custom / 3 ENVE Stock / 4 Reserve
Price: 1 Reserve / 2(tie) ENVE Custom / 2(tie) Roval / 3 ENVE Stock
Warranty: 1 (tie) ENVE / 1(tie) Reserve / 2 Roval
POE: 1 ENVE Stock / 2(tie) ENVE Custom / 2(tie) Roval / 3 Reserve
Weight Limit: 1(tie) ENVE Stock & Custom / 1(tie) Reserve / 2 Roval
Width: 1 Roval / 2 Reserve / 3 ENVE
Rim Weight: 1 ENVE / 2 Reserve / *Roval has no posted rim weight/

ENVE M525 w/ I9 Hydra (Stock)
Rim and Hub Made in USA
Warranty: No Questions Asked
Rider Weight Limit: None
Hub POE: 690
Spokes: Sapim CX-Ray
Internal Rim Width: 25mm
Wheelset Weight: 1340g (claimed)
Rim Weight: 341g
Price: $2550

ENVE M525 w/ Carbon Ti (Custom)
Rim Made in USA and Hub Made In Italy
Warranty: Lifetime No Questions Asked
Rider Weight Limit: None
Hub POE: 54
Spokes: Sapim CX-Ray
Internal Rim Width: 25mm
Wheelset Weight: 1244g (claimed)
Rim Weight: 341g
Price: $2500 (depending on exchange rate for hubs)

Reserve 28 XC w/ DT 180
Rim and Hub Made in Asia
Warranty: Lifetime No Questions Asked
Rider Weight Limit: None
Hub POE: 36 (Optional 54)
Spokes: DT Comp Race
Internal Rim Width: 28mm
Wheelset Weight: 1367g (claimed)
Rim Weight: 385g
Price: $2199

Roval Control SL w/ DT 180 internals
Rim and Hub Made in Asia
Warranty: 2 Years No Questions Asked (does not cover shipping to and from)
Rider Weight Limit: 275lbs
Hub POE: 54
Spokes: DT Aerolite
Internal Rim Width: 29mm
Wheelset Weight: 1240g (claimed)
Rim Weight: NA
Price: $2500

I think my dream Burly Ultralight XC Wheelset is still the M525 built up with Carbon Ti Hubs. If I really had unlimited funds then I'd build them with Berd Spokes over CX-Rays. That would probably be sub 1100g Wheelset that can actually hold it's own. Would be nutz.
  • 7 2
 What was the Keith Bontranger quote? Light, strong, cheap -pick two? I wonder which two Santa Cruz chose
  • 27 2
 I think they misunderstood and picked two to not include.
  • 8 1
 Certainly not cheap, its Santa Cruz.
  • 6 0
 "but hey confirmation bias gains are still gains" Ha, I love the honesty!
  • 6 0
 Straight pull spokes are a pain in the butt.
  • 2 5
  • 5 0
 @ultimatist: Expensive, harder to find, and if you ever want to re lace a wheel, or even replace a spoke, they twist when you try and tighten the nipple.
I know this doesn't happen often.
Just my experience of course. I've never had issues with j-bend spokes.
I do realize that if you're spending $2000 on a wheel set, these are pretty minor issues that somebody else will deal with, but downtime is a killer.
  • 4 1
 I prefer them. No need to remove the wheel, disk or cassette to replace a snapped one.
  • 2 0
 @mcozzy: good point, never thought of that!
  • 2 0
 @mcozzy: but you need to loosen other spoke(s) to get the affected one out, also if you are replacing a spoke it is best practice to check bearings, and regrease the paws on the freehub. at least that is what they do at a good lbs.

Also I know this is anecdotal but this year in our shop for example I had 5-6 straightpull wheels come in with snapped spokes, where as i havent seen any failed j bend ones in years. I know they are supposed to be stronger, but I what I find is that most of the straightpull wheels are not handbuilt and the tension is all over the place, which results in issues.

the other issue is could be is that it is really hard to measure straightpull hubs, Good luck, if you want to build a perfect wheel with spot on spoke length etc. I realise this is not so important for most people, but I build wheels for quite a few team riders, and they really appreciate if their wheels last 2 seasons instead of 2 months.

this is where the reserve rims come in also. I just built up a megatower today for a team rider, everything is new on the bike except his reserve 30-s. Amazing wheels those, they have been going strong for 2 years and the guy rides 5 days a week, fully scratched up, still straight still no issues. I had to rebuild his alloy wheelsets every 2-3 months before he finally decided to try the reserves. Thank god he did, I finally have more time for paying customers Smile
  • 4 0
 Love to see you compare these to Nobls 32 and Weareone XC wheels
  • 1 0
 I wonder if the rims will be available? I have a set of nice hope xc hubs that are languishing in my workshop that seemingly have no use
  • 1 0

an interesting look at the technology behind the santacruz reserved rims!
  • 2 1
 Why would you test XC carbon wheels with 1000 gr+ trail/enduro tires? Are you testing the new Butchers as well?
  • 1 0
 "Or maybe it's all in my head, but hey confirmation bias gains are still gains!" - lmao I can't even disagree with that.
  • 1 0
 Nothing on build quality?
  • 1 0
 Or external width...prob assembled where DT Swiss are, judging from their guts and the absence of a price increase. 350 build will be 28h (?). I bet rebuilds are better with straight pull

@commental: betwixt 27 and 29
  • 1 0
 @ceecee: external width would indeed be nice to know
  • 2 0
 @Happymtbfr: their webpage was laid out more informatively before it became freestanding--now it's low-quality prosaic compared to bike site
  • 6 1
 There is never really any material commentary on build quality. Which is why it's such an intangible thing for most people, and way to often looked past all together. Most people don't get that you can take $2000-3000 of great parts and actually have a really crappy wheelset if they aren't built well.
  • 1 0
 @privateer-wheels: intangible and difficult to see until first truing. I look for end of rim tape to be stuck firmly down and w/o greasy handprints. No offense to Moore, but I'd rather see these tested by Lucas at lower limits of tire pressure and upper limits of recommended use. Wheels appear to have been photographed only before test; did it really happen or was test conducted by confirmation bias AI
  • 1 0
 Curious how Ibis s28 compare, same width and both start at 1600.
  • 11 13
 WE ARE ONE or nothing.
  • 2 0
 I will probably buy we are one wheels when I buy carbon, but there are other acceptable options haha.
  • 4 0
 1452g Hydra build with CX-Rays for the Revive XC Wheels($2055 CAD) Imagine it with a 180 Hub - dang - canadian rocket wheelset!
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