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Components

First Impressions: Reserve 30|SL Wheels

Reserve comes out swinging with its new trail-duty hoops.

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Cyclists are a particular bunch. The list of unspoken rules and taboos is long and nonsensical. Like this one: Despite the fact that we’re severely limiting our options, we hardly ever run tires from different brands front and rear. Why? Because the hotpatches don’t match? Yeah, that makes sense. Speaking of hotpatches, they have to line up with the valve stem, or someone will call you out. And when building a wheel, you must be able to read the hub branding through the valve hole in the rim. Why? Zero reason. But if you don’t do it, some jerk like me will come around and turn their nose up at you.

And that’s why one of the first things you might notice about these new Reserve 30|SL wheels is that they’re a bit light on logos. They no longer don any Santa Cruz branding, which of course makes sense if you want to sell your wheels aftermarket. If I’m a diehard Yeti rider, perhaps I don’t want my wheels to say “Santa Cruz” on them. It’s a small detail, but likely a smart one. You know, because us cyclists are weird. It’s the same reason Specialized resurrected the Roval name in 2005 rather than branding its wheels as Specialized. It’s also why Trek makes its wheels under its component brand name, Bontrager. Because, how dare you have the name of one bicycle brand on your bicycle from another brand. That’d be like wearing a Patriots jersey and a Giants cap. Or something like that. I should really stay away from sports analogies.

Though we’ll always know that Reserve wheels come from Santa Cruz, increasing the likelihood that someone will put them on their Specialized is a good thing—because, they’re pretty dang nice.

Sure, everyone and their mom is a wheel company now, but when Santa Cruz got into the carbon wheel game, their Reserve hoops immediately garnered respect for being tough and reliable, just like the company’s carbon bikes. And, when they’re not reliable, or when you’re just riding like a cave-person and smash your fancy carbon hoop, these suckers have the best warranty possible: Lifetime, no-fault. Ride past a disc golf course on your way back from the trail but don’t have your “clubs” on you? No worries, just use your front wheel, it’s covered.

 

Of course, buying a product simply based on its warranty is never a good idea. Especially wheels, because wheels can have a tremendous impact on your bike’s ride quality. There are a few main factors with wheels that can contribute to how they feel and perform on the trail: rotational weight, lateral stiffness, and vertical compliance; and each plays a significant role when it comes to ride quality.

It’s a good thing, then, that the Reserve 30|SLs are a fantastic balance of all three.

But before we get into that, let’s talk about what the Reserve 30|SL wheels are and where they fit into the lineup. If you didn’t already notice, they’re carbon. And, they’re for “trail” riding. The trail category has a pretty broad range these days, but basically they’re made for whatever is in between lightweight XC and burly enduro. As such, they replace the Reserve 27 wheels in the lineup. As represented by the name, the 30|SLs are a few millimeters wider. 30mm is really taking over as the standard internal rim width in both trail and enduro categories. The “SL” designation is what distinguishes these wheels from their stouter sibling, the Reserve 30.

Weight-wise, the set I have, which are running Industry Nine Hydra Center Lock hubs, come in at 1,618 grams. That’s without rim tape and valves. Oh and 29er, for reference—they’re not actually offered in 27’5″. That’s more than 100 grams less than the advertised weight of 1,750 grams. Cool! This is a very respectable number for a wheel sporting a rim this wide. Even if they came in as advertised, they’re still not heavy. Even better of a story, is the breakdown between front and rear. The rear wheel I have weighs 875 grams.

My go-to favorite wheelset, the Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 has a 1,060-gram rear wheel. I’m singling out the rear wheel here, by the way, because it’s the rear that has the biggest impact on acceleration. During back-to-back testing, the Reserve 30|SL’s acceleration immediately stood out above the Synthesis. It’s not the best comparison since the Synthesis is marketed as an enduro wheel. But, it’s about the same width, and like I said, it’s my favorite wheel. When compared to the much narrower 24.5mm-wide Synthesis XCT wheel, the Reserve 30|SL is 10 grams lighter and is much more relevant to the modern trail category.

 

So, they accelerate better than my favorite wheels, but how do they stack up against them when it comes to the thing I’m most critical about with carbon hoops, vertical compliance?

After some back-to-back testing with the two sets of wheels with the same tires at the same pressures, I came away with this: The Reserve 30|SL wheels are slightly stiffer in vertical compliance than the Synthesis E. But, not in a bad way at all. The marginal stiffness they have over the Synthesis wheels translated, to me, not as harshness, but as poppies and liveliness. Sort of like the difference between a coil shock (Synthesis E ) and an air shock (Reserve 30|SL). While the Synthesis wheels do soak up a little more chatter, they also mute the trail a bit more than these wheels, which not everyone will love.

I really like the sprightly feel of these wheels in comparison. They liven things up without giving much up in the traction department, and they’re far from cavity-rattling, like many carbon wheels still are.

 

A member of the Reserve team told me that the 30|SLs came in around 10 percent more vertically compliant than the Reserve 27 wheels they replace. To achieve this, the rim profile was reduced to a shallower depth, a trend we’re seeing proliferate in order to make carbon wheels more comfortable. As far as impact strength is concerned, I’m told that the 30|SL tested basically one drop test higher than its predecessor, which essentially amounts to a couple percentage points.

Another thing that the 30|SL rim has going for it, other than the asymmetric drilling which we’ve seen before on Reserve rims, is the UST-like bead bed in the rim. I’m dating myself with UST references, I know, but when Mavic invented the bicycle tubeless system, the inner rim bed shape was a big part of the equation. All tubeless rims should have a little trough for the tire bead to snap into. Now, the Reserve rims do too.

The Reserve 30|SLs might only be available in one diameter, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options. You can choose between DT Swiss 350 hubs or Industry Nine Hydra, and either can be ordered with 6-bolt or Center Lock rotor fitment, and of course with a SRAM XD driver or Shimano Microspline. Wheelsets start at a respectable $1,600, and rims cost $600. The wheels and rims are 28-hole only.

All and all, I think the Reserve 30|SL hits a really nice sweet spot between stiffness, weight, and ride quality. They’re responsive and lively without any harshness, and they come backed by the best warranty around.