Roval Traverse SL Fattie Wheelset Construction
As the saying goes, "everything old is new again," and when it comes to wheels, we're in the midst of a wide rim resurgence. Although once common in the DH world, the last generation of wide rims tended to be prone to denting and extremely heavy, traits that saw their popularity slowly fade. Now, the use of carbon fiber, along with updated rim profiles has helped usher in a new era, allowing for the creation of wide, strong, and light wheels that are aren't solely suited for the DH track.
Specialized's carbon rimmed Roval Traverse SL Fattie wheelset joins the recent wide rim movement with an internal width of 30mm and an external width of 35mm, and a light weight of 1550 grams for the 27.5" pair. The use of carbon fiber typically results in a wallet-emptying asking price, but the Traverse SL Fattie wheelset falls on the more reasonable side of the spectrum, coming in at $1,500 USD. For those not willing to shell out that much cash, Specialized also offers an aluminum option for $600 that has similar dimensions, but with a slightly different hub internals and a weight of 1690 grams. Specialized does impose a rider weight limit of 240lb for the carbon rimmed wheels, but no such limitation is in place for the aluminum versions.
• Rims: carbon fiber, hookless bead
• Intended use: trail / all-mountain
• Width: 35mm outer, 30mm inner
• Diameter: 27.5'' (tested
• Tubeless ready
• Spoke count: 24 front, 28 rear
• 3 vinyl decal color options included
• 3 year warranty.
• Crash replacement: $125 per rim plus labor.
• Rider weight limit: 240lb
• Weight (actual, w/ rim strip
): 1550 grams
• MSRP: $1,500 USD
The SL Fattie's carbon rims use a zero bead hook design that allows for a the creation of a stronger sidewall, one that's claimed to be more impact resistant than a more traditional hooked profile. It's also a design that's less costly to manufacture, which helps keep the overall price of the wheels down. During the assembly process the wheels are laced, tensioned and trued by hand; the front wheel is laced up with 24 straight pull DT Revolution spokes using a 2:1 pattern, meaning there are twice as many spokes on the disc side as there are on the non-disc side, which is radially laced. The rear uses 28 spokes and the more common 3-cross lacing pattern. What's the reasoning behind the reduced spoke count? Specialized claims that the rims used on these wheels are the stiffest they've ever made, and running additional spokes actually made the wheels too
stiff. Plus, there's the added benefit of the weight reduction that comes with running fewer spokes. No special tools are required for truing, and the spoke nipples are accessible without removing the tire, making any trailside adjustments or repairs that much easier.
Both the front and rear hub can easily be configured for varying axle standards (15 or 20mm thru axle for the front, 142 or 135mm for the rear) by switching out the included end caps, and an XD drive is available for running a SRAM 11 speed cassette. The rear hub shell houses the same internals that are found in a DT Swiss 350 hub, including a 54 tooth drive ratchet system, which works out to 6.7 degrees between engagement points. Installation
The SL Fatties come with rim tape already installed, and valve stems are also included, so setting them up tubeless is extremely simple. There is also the option of replacing the rim tape with the included Delrin plug system
that Roval came up with, an ingenious solution to close up the spoke holes which saves 60 grams. Tires from Maxxis, Specialized and Bontrager were mounted on the SL Fattie wheels at different points during the test period, and there was no trouble getting any of them installed with only a floor pump. Everything seated and sealed by the time the pump's gauge reached 40 PSI, and it was smooth sailing after that. The fit between the tires and the rim was snug, but not unduly so, which prevented any loud cursing or the smashing of inanimate objects when installing and removing the tires. On the Trail
Detecting the difference between one set of wheels and another isn't always easy, especially when there's five or six inches of suspension involved, but that wasn't the case with the SL Fattie wheels. Within the first few hundred feet of trail their light weight was readily apparent, especially since the wheelset whose place they were taking weighed nearly a pound more. Standing up to sprint was met with a quicker than usual burst of speed, and the same held true on the descents. I took the SL Fatties on the most rugged trails around, wheel punishers full of sharp rocks, roots, and countless jumps and drops, and came away impressed. I'll admit to being skeptical of the low spoke count, and my track record with carbon wheels isn't the best, but these unflinchingly handled everything I threw their way, and they remained true for the duration of the test, without any spoke or rim damage despite repeatedly being taken on DH-bike worthy trails.
The stiffness of a set of carbon wheels is one of their most touted benefits, but just like with handlebars, trying to make them as stiff as possible isn't always the right tactic. I've been on wheels that felt too stiff, creating an unforgiving ride that's quite jarring, a sensation that gets old on long, rough downhill runs. Fortunately, Specialized has struck what seems to be the perfect balance with the SL Fatties. They're quite stiff without being harsh, with quick, precise handling that's extremely responsive to rider input.
I experimented with a number of different tires to see what effect the 30mm inner rim width would have on their handling. Of particular interest was how Maxxis' 2.3” Highroller II would fare, as this was the tire that ended up feeling too squared off when we ran it on Ibis' 35mm internal
width wheelset. It ended up working just fine, with no adverse changes to its handling. If anything, the wider sidewall profile and lower pressures that were possible gave it even more traction, which was especially appreciated when navigating down steep chutes full of a mixture of mud and hoar frost.
It seems as if 30mm is still narrow enough to avoid negatively affecting the profile of most 2.3” tires that are on the market. The profile does become more squared, but not to the extent that occurs with the super wide, 35mm or greater rims, and the center tread still remains elevated enough to preserve the handling during cornering. Other tires that were used during the test period included a 2.3" Specialized Butcher, along with a 2.3" Bontrager XR3 and an XR4. The rounder profile of the Bontrager tires was particularly well suited to the wider rims, giving them a very predictable feel in all conditions. While ideal tire pressures will vary depending on tire, terrain, and rider weight, I was able to run pressures in the low 20s without experiencing any excessive rolling or squirming, and the bead stayed securely seated without emitting even the slightest burp of sealant.
The Highroller II on the left is mounted to a rim with a 23mm inner width, while the one on the right is on the 30mm SL Fattie. On the wider rim the tire's width, when measured from sidewall to sidewall increases slightly, and the side knobs stand up straighter. You can see how the tire on the SL Fattie is a bit flatter in the center portion compared to the one mounted to the 23mm rim.
The occasional high pitched 'thwang' that the wheels emitted during hard cornering or slightly off-kilter landings was the only issue I had, and it's a fairly minor one at that. The noise is likely the result of the low spoke count and straight pull spokes reverberating from being rapidly loaded and unloaded. At first I thought that incorrect spoke tension could be the cause, but I found everything to be as it should be - there's simply something about the SL Fattie's design that makes them a little more resonant than other wheels I've been on recently. Otherwise there's nothing else to report – the bearings are still spinning smooth and are free of any play despite being subjected to numerous muddy, grimy rides, and the wheels haven't needed to be trued yet.Pinkbike's Take:
|I'll admit, I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to wheels, and I'll always have a soft spot for a handbuilt, aluminum rimmed, 32 hole, 3-cross wheelset, but spending time with the Traverse SL Fatties had me singing a different tune. Wide, light, stiff, and strong, they have all the qualities a high end set of wheels should possess, and the fact that they're not exorbitantly priced (for a top of the line carbon wheelset) earns them bonus points as well. In fact, I'd say that Specialized have created a benchmark that other companies would do well to try and emulate - the SL Fattie's numbers all add up to make an impressive wheelset, one that would be an excellent upgrade for just about any bike out there. - Mike Kazimer|
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