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Testing Reserve’s 30|SL and 30|HD Wheels Head-to-Head

What exactly separates these two similar wheels?


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Back in February, Reserve released its 30|HD wheelset, replacing the popular Reserve 30. The 30|HD is the third and latest wheel to be released since Santa Cruz dropped its own name from its wheel line in an effort to gain more broad level appeal, and more importantly, they quite resemble the 30|SL released in the summer of 2021.

But I didn’t need to tell you that. As you would have already guessed from their names, one stands for Slightly Lighter and the other, Hardly Different.

The SL is Reserve’s answer to the lightweight trail category and is designed for everything that happens in between cross country and enduro. The thing most of us do most of the time, that is. I reviewed them here.

At just 187 grams heavier (that’s for the pair), the 30|HD wheels are positioned to target the hard-hitting enduro crowd. How’d they get so much extra radness with such a small weight penalty? I’m wondering the same thing. But I’m not doubting that the 30|HDs are strong, because Pinkbike’s Matt Beer tested them and that dude’s quick. Not only that, but in his review he talks about them rolling away unscathed from an impact that he suspects would have taco’d something else.

I happen to have both of these wheelsets, so I decided to pit them against each other in an attempt to understand the difference, or lack there of, between them.

Construction

To the naked eye, the 30|SL and 30|HD appear very similar. Both have the same internal width, run 28 spokes front and rear, and feature a new lower profile rim for improved vertical compliance. Both rims have the same profile design as well. The difference is essentially how much carbon is in each rim, with the 30|HD getting a beefier layup.

The extra carbon on the HD rim makes the outer width a bit wider, but not by a ton. Each sidewall on the HD rim is less than a half-millimeter wider than those on the SL. The difference in the overall depth is more, varying between 1 and 1.2mm depending on if you’re measuring right between the spoke holes or at the reinforced nipple area.

There is also a 1mm difference in effective rim diameter (ERD) between the two wheels suggests that the change in rim depth is not simply more layers of carbon built on top of an SL rim, but an ever-so-slight change to the shape of the profile. In order to give the HD its 598mm ERD, the nipple bed would have to move .5mm.

Reserve claims the rim weight of the 30|HD is 490 grams, 50 grams more than the claimed weight of the SL rim. If accurate, it’s an impressive weight for an enduro rim.

I did find a discrepancy between what Reserve publishes for complete wheel weights and what my scale said. The HDs have a claimed weight of 1,800 grams. This is accurate. Mine came in at 1,805g. But they claim the SLs to be just 50 grams lighter, at 1,750 grams. This isn’t the case—thank God, because that’s basically a rounding error of a difference for two wheels that are supposed to actually be functionally different. I suspect Reserve published the weight of the SLs with rim tape and valves, and the HDs without. The actual weight of the SLs is an impressive 1,618 grams, according to my scale. My weights are with the wheels naked—no tape, no valves.

Specs

Reserve offers both the 30|SL and 30|HD in two build levels, and both feature Industry Nine Hydra hubs at the top tier. It’s worth noting here that that when choosing the I9 Hydra hub spec, both are available with either 6-bolt or Center Lock, I just happened to get two different specs on the wheels I received.

The second tier hub options stray from one another a bit. The 30|SL goes with 6-bolt-only DT Swiss 350 hubs for the lower priced build, while the 30|HD’s second option sticks with Industry Nine, getting the 1/1 hubs—and you still get to choose between 6-bolt and Center Lock.

Pricing for the 30|SL  is $1,900 for the I9 Hydra spec pictures, and $1,600 if you’d rather go for DT Swiss 350 hubs. The HDs are a bit pricier at  $2,200 for Hydra and $1,800 for 1/1. Those extra layers of carbon will cost you.

The other notable difference in spec between the two wheels is wheel size. While the 30|HD is offered in both 27.5” and 29” options, the 30|SL’s are 29er-only. It makes sense, considering there are very few lightweight trail bikes with 27.5” wheels.

However, lighter-weight, less powerful, or just super smooth riders could definitely benefit from a fun-sized SL option. Personally, if I were building, say, a Yeti SB140, I think I’d want the SL’s so that I could benefit from the different ride characteristics. Speaking of which …

On the Trail

To compare ride feel, I tested both sets of wheels back-to-back with the same tires set at the same pressures, on the same bike and course. The course began with a 3-mile, 1,800-foot climb, which I then came back down. I repeated the lap 3 times, going from the HD to the SL and then back to the HD. Here’s what I noticed:

With less than 100 grams separating the two rear wheels, not all of which is located at the rim, it was difficult to detect a significant change in acceleration between the 30|SL and 30|HD. According to physics the lighter wheel will accelerate faster, but let’s put it this way: It was small enough that I couldn’t tell if I was actually feeling a difference or if confirmation bias that had me thinking, “maybe these do accelerate better.” And with the same number of spokes and lacing patterns between the two, I also didn’t feel any difference in torsional stiffness.

What’s much more noticeable, though, is the difference in overall ride feel at speed. Both wheels have excellent lateral stiffness, but in just the right moments of hard cornering or g-outs, you can feel the SL loading up a little more. And when pinging through rock gardens, the SL is a bit more forgiving. Unlike the acceleration test, I could actually detect this. The smoother ride does a better job of absorbing bumps rather than bouncing off them, which translates to better traction, improved predictability, and higher speeds.

The 30|HD, both front and rear, are more solid, less forgiving, and almost beg to be brutalized when compared to the 30|SL wheels. That isn’t to say the SL’s aren’t tough and secure-feeling, though. I can ride them as hard as I want to, and I’m 6 feet tall and weigh 195 pounds. I’ve also ridden them on a Specialized Kenevo SL, despite the fact that they’re not enduro wheels, and definitely not rated for e-bikes. But, I spent the first decade of my life riding hardtails ranging between terrible and nonexistent front suspension, so I learned to ride smooth. But, I’ve tested a lot of wheels and for their weight, the 30|SLs show an impressive mix between stiffness and comfort.

When it comes down to it, I actually prefer the more forgiving, poppier-feeling SL, which isn’t a surprise considering that my favorite wheels are still the even more compliant Crankbrothers Synthesis E. Those are heavier than both these, but track the ground better, without feeling too flexy like I find the the Zipp 3ZERO MOTO wheels to be. The Reserve 30|SLs don’t smooth the chatter in the same way, but are very noticeably lighter and more lively than my longtime favorites. They have a unique feel that as a rider who prefers wheels on the more comfy end of the spectrum, can appreciate.

Where do the HD’s fit into the equation for me? They sort of don’t to be totally honest, but that’s definitely not to say that they shouldn’t for you. I”m not sure my preference aligns with popular bropinion, which dictates one gets rad at all costs. The 30|SLs are already on the stiffer side of how I like my wheels to feel. I love the ride characteristics, but I don’t want or need anything much stiffer. And since I can ride the SLs without blowing them up, I don’t really need to consider the HDs. For my riding style, I’d probably be over-wheeling with the HDs. But that’s me. The HDs have an excellent ride quality that’s only a hint stiffer than the SLs.

Going overkill on the HDs isn’t a huge sacrifice in this case, since the two wheels are so similar. The difference in vertical compliance isn’t night and day between the two. It’s detectible, but not extreme. Also, the weight is close enough that it’s hardly noticeable. I think that if you’re worried about breaking wheels, the HDs are the option, but if you’re not too concerned about that (and maybe you shouldn’t be, considering the generous warranty) the SLs will be a bit more comfy on the trail.