Review: Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels

  • By Chris Degenaars
  • 14 Nov, 2017

"Simply put, these are the best carbon wheels we've ridden to date. Take note." - VitalMTB.com

*This review was published on VitalMTB.com as a review their staff created after testing and using the Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheelset - the opinions expressed do not reflect those of Dallas Bike Works or its staff
Carbon wheels are a polarizing component in the mountain bike world. On one hand they offer promises of performance increases, weight reduction, and that unmistakable "wow" factor. Conversely, some have commented their durability, overly stiff nature, and price point leave a lot to be desired.

Santa Cruz set out to build the best wheelset on the planet some three years ago, and finally released their Reserve Carbon creation this spring. Most notably, the wheels feature a true lifetime warranty – the first in the business to do so.

Not a company that simply regurgitates what is already out there, Santa Cruz tested and learned from their competition, addressed problem areas, and ultimately brought something to market that has all the potential to be very special.

We put a whole bunch of miles on a pair of Reserve 30 wheels with DT Swiss 350 hubs. From downhill laps to a cross-country race and everything in between, the wheels were hammered. How’d they work out? Read on to find out…

The Highlights

  • Available in 27.5 and 29-inch diameters
  • 29-inch wheels in three widths: 25, 27 and 30mm (tested) internal
  • 27.5-inch wheels in two widths: 27 and 30mm internal
  • 1.5:1 width to height ratio
  • 28 spokes pre wheel with three-cross lacing pattern
  • Asymmetrical profile and offset drilling for even spoke tension
  • Wax bladder molding technique for less variability during manufacturing
  • External nipple reinforcements
  • Industry 9 Torch or DT Swiss 350 hub options
  • J-Bend DT Swiss Competition Race double butted spokes
  • Sapim Secure Lock alloy nipples (no spoke prep required)
  • Hand built in Santa Cruz
  • OEM upgrade for Santa Cruz and Juliana bikes
  • Pricing: $1,899 with Industry Nine hubs // $1,599 with DT Swiss hubs (tested)
  • Lifetime rim warranty with 24-hour turnaround
27.5-inch Rim Weights
  • Reserve 27: 435g
  • Reserve 30: 470g
29-inch Rim Weights
  • Reserve 25: 390g
  • Reserve 27: 455g
  • Reserve 30: 490g
Saving weight is a funny thing on a bike. People sometimes pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to shave the equivalent weight of a breakfast pastry. Most of this weight savings can be filed in the “hard to tell” category, as we would wager most cannot feel 100 grams of frame weight.

Wheels and tires are perhaps the exception to this rule. There is no place on a bicycle where weight is more obvious than rotating mass, specifically the most-outboard of this mass in the rims and tires. Don’t believe us? Go add two of those massive early-2000s DH tubes from Matt Thompson’s garage to your trail bike while ditching the water bottle, spare tube and multi-tool you generally carry on the frame. Go for a ride. Now go back to tubeless and add the weight (of those tubes) to your frame. Chances are you’ll notice what we mean in a big way.

Carbon hoops aim to ditch some of this pivotal rotating weight while adding to the performance of the bike, promising better energy transfer as the result of less lateral flex. Win-win situation, right? Well, sort of.

A number of carbon wheelsets were developed before the advent of Boost axle spacing and engineers really nailing the whole frame chassis stiffness thing. As a result, when a set of these uber-stiff carbon wheels are paired with a modern carbon frame, like the Santa Cruz Hightower LT  these were tested on, you end up with an overly stiff package.

When a rider goes to lean his/her bike over, the spokes and frame act as the bike’s suspension in a way (listen to The Inside Line podcast  with Cesar Rojo at 45 minutes for more), and this compliance is actually responsible for absorbing trail undulations while still supporting the rider. Too soft and the bike feels like a noodle, causing ill handling and an overly vague feel. Too firm and the bike loses traction abruptly as it isn’t able to conform to the terrain as well. Similarly, your wheels help "hunt" for the right line in technical terrain. Again, too stiff and the tire/wheel will penalize the rider for not being perfectly precise. A bit of compliance can help the wheel and bike stay in the right line.

The frame, wheel, tire, spokes and hub are all part of a complete system, and it's one many sort of had wrong with super stiff carbon wheels on super stiff carbon frames. It also caused more tire failures than most brands are willing to acknowledge. Santa Cruz aimed to address all of this with their Reserve wheelset.

On The Trail

First, yes, they are light. Light enough you will notice, especially in larger diameter wheel sizes. In this test, the weight savings over the high-end aluminum wheelset in our garage was over a pound of rotating weight. Truthfully, we didn’t care about this weight savings in the bike park, but it was awesome come those big rides. Another nice advantage was that the weight savings allowed us to run something like the CushCore tire insert  for race days without really being penalized the same way we would on a heavier aluminum wheelset.

Second, the rim is extremely well thought out. From the asymmetric drilling pattern to the way they reinforce the spoke holes, no stone was left unturned. The company offers the rims in a number of widths depending on application, giving the rider a way to tune their tire profile to their liking. At 30mm, we found 2.4 and 2.5-inch tires had a great round profile while still giving the sidewall support a wider rim can offer. A shorter sidewall is a stiffer-feeling sidewall, which we like when cornering.

There's enough compliance that the wheel doesn't jostle you to death and the tire doesn’t break free prematurely, but also enough stiffness to keep things from feeling vague.

Third, Santa Cruz tuned the wheelset to have just the right feel for the modern mountain bike frame. There's enough compliance that the wheel doesn't jostle you to death and the tire doesn’t break free prematurely, but also enough stiffness to keep things from feeling vague. This was accomplished through careful spoke selection and how the rim itself was profiled and constructed.

The perfect mix of these performance attributes created the best riding wheelset we’ve ever been on. Period.

They retain all the benefits of carbon and none of the downfalls, except price. When you consider that you're getting a lifetime rim warranty, that too becomes easier to stomach.

The wheels were precise and offered a nice blend of stiffness and compliance on trail; light enough that we did some seriously big rides on a long-travel 29er without hesitation; and durable enough to have no issues. We also had zero tire failures or ride-ending flats over the course of the test as a result of the wheels.

+ Tire Inserts

Mark our words, tire inserts  will become more and more of a thing as time goes on. For a combined three weeks out of the six month test period, we used CushCore with these rims with excellent results. Performance was stellar, but so was installation. It took just a handful of minutes extra per wheel, as opposed to the much longer period some rim/tire/CushCore combinations can take. This combination provided a class-leading ride and transformed our test bike into a real weapon. It was the biggest performance increase this tester added to a bike all year.

This combination provided a class-leading ride and transformed our test bike into a real weapon. It was the biggest performance increase this tester added to a bike all year.

Long Term Durability

We weren't nice to these rims over the last six months. Despite more than a few rim strikes, cased jumps, loose scree fields, and sideways landings they are running as though they're new, but they don’t look new. There were no broken spokes or rim cracks to report, just some scuffs to the carbon. Each wheel required just one truing session.

As expected, the DT Swiss 350 hubs have also have worked well. From the factory they aren't the high-engagement option some may want, but they have lasted well and are solid performers. Those wishing to upgrade from 36 to 54-tooth engagement can do so easily by swapping out the Star Ratchet mechanism  for a reasonable cost.

Santa Cruz chose to use a j-bend spoke that works well. Break one somehow? No problem, replacements are easy to find at any bike shop in the world.

Should you happen to break a rim while riding, just send the whole wheel back to Santa Cruz to receive a rim replacement with a fast turnaround time. Given this final benefit it's easy to see that these wheels are in class of their own.

The Bottom Line?

These are the best wheels on the market for their intended use, and we're giving them five stars – something you don't see often on Vital MTB. Some may scoff at this as the price is anything but "affordable," but the Reserve wheels offer performance that is above the rest, an industry-leading warranty, and are priced competitively.

In the words of Ferris Bueller, "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking [these wheels] up."

Dallas Bike Works is a proud dealer of Santa Cruz and can get you a set of the Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels! Stop by to learn more!

By Chris Degenaars 14 Nov, 2017
*This review was published on VitalMTB.com as a review their staff created after testing and using the Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheelset - the opinions expressed do not reflect those of Dallas Bike Works or its staff
By Chris Degenaars 25 Sep, 2017
Dallas Bike Works is excited to announce that they will now be an official dealer for all Cannondale Bicycles products!

This is very exciting news for both the White Rock Lake and Oak Cliff locations, and both shops are excited to begin carrying Cannondale Bicycles! They will be one of only a handful of dealers in the immediate Downtown Dallas area and look forward to providing their excellent customer service and knowledge to new Cannondale customers!
By Chris Degenaars 28 Aug, 2017
Giant Bicycles, a world leader in cycling technology, has unveiled its all-new Propel Disc range of aero road bikes. Engineered and designed over a multi-year development phase involving Giant engineers, Team Sunweb pro racers, and aerodynamics experts at the Aero Concept Engineering facility in France, this cutting-edge aero road machine features all-new frame airfoils and shapes, plus integrated disc-brake design.
By Chris Degenaars 01 Aug, 2017
Released on August 1st of 2017, Wahoo announces the redesigned ELEMNT that offers users a simple and compact computer that offers insightful data without the overwhelming overload many computers come with. At just $99 you can get yourself a new, smart, powerful computer with an RPM Speed Sensor included! 
By Chris Degenaars 24 Jul, 2017

Giant Bicycles has introduced an all-new range of Reign enduro bikes featuring updated  Maestro suspension technology  and refined frame geometry. Aimed at competitive enduro racers, big-mountain adventurers, and anyone who loves to tackle aggressive trails, the new Reign comes to market with pro off-road performance in its DNA.

Engineered, designed and developed with valuable input from Giant Factory Off-Road Team riders, the new Reign incorporates several new technologies and frame features that have been put to the test on the most demanding trails and enduro races around the world. Josh Carlson, who scored a top-10 ranking in last year’s Enduro World Series, rode multiple prototype versions, testing the Reign’s improved suspension capabilities at race events and on his local trails in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The updated Maestro rear suspension features 160mm of smooth travel and some key improvements to shock performance and the overall handling of the bike.  

A new trunnion mount allows for a longer shock stroke and a lower leverage ratio, which improves small-bump compliance and pedaling efficiency. The trunnion mount also allows for more insertion depth for longer dropper posts. And a new Advanced Forged Composite upper rocker arm increases frame stiffness, adds strength and reduces overall weight.

Every model in the new Reign range features new frame geometry including an aggressive 65-degree headtube angle and 73-degree seattube angle, engineered for 160mm of suspension travel front and rear. Developed and refined over time, the new geometry boosts overall control without sacrificing agility or climbing efficiency. And it’s all optimized for 27.5 wheels, which strike the perfect balance of lightweight agility, acceleration and control that’s needed to tackle aggressive terrain.

The 2018 Reign range includes two series. The Reign Advanced series is built on a lightweight, super-stiff Advanced-grade composite mainframe with an ALUXX SL aluminum rear swingarm. The Reign series  features a full ALUXX SL aluminum frame. This series also includes a Reign SX model with an added 10 millimeters of front suspension travel and a special build kit that places more emphasis on technical all-mountain descents.

All the new Reign models are engineered and handcrafted by Giant, the only major bicycle brand that controls the entire frame-making process every step of the way. In addition, all models in the 2018 Reign range are engineered with Boost hub spacing for stiffer wheel performance, added tire clearance, and improved handling on the trail.

For flat-out speed and confidence on rough and rowdy enduro terrain, this is the fastest, most capable range of Reign bikes yet.

For more information, including a video and all the technical details on the entire new Reign range, click here.

By Chris Degenaars 26 Jun, 2017

Giant has introduced a new addition to its legendary collection of Anthem cross-country bikes, the all-new Anthem 29 range . Designed for competitive XC riders and racers, and featuring all-new 29er-specific geometry with key updates to its Maestro Suspension system,  the Anthem 29 range consists of three different series ranging from a superlight full-composite frame race bike to a new ALUXX SL aluminum frame series.

Engineered, designed and developed with valuable input from Giant pro riders, the new Anthem 29 range is aimed at providing XC riders with the ultimate in speed and efficiency on technical terrain. The flagship Anthem Advanced Pro 29 series features a full-composite mainframe and rear triangle, and is the lightest 29er full-suspension frame ever produced by Giant. Each of the new models in the 2018 Anthem 29 range is engineered with 90mm of rear suspension travel and 100mm up front.

Every model in the new Anthem 29 range has a 69-degree headtube angle and 73.5-degree seattube angle. The updated Maestro Suspension system includes a new trunnion mount shock,which produces a lower shock leverage ratio for improved pedaling and braking efficiency. The rear suspension is further bolstered by its new Advanced Forged Composite upper rocker arm, which is lighter, stiffer and stronger than the aluminum version.

Models in the Anthem 29 range are engineered with Boost hub spacing for stiffer wheel performance, added tire clearance, and improved handling on the trail. And they all feature Giant Tubeless System technology, which means every bike is delivered with Giant WheelSystems and tubeless ready tires, making it easier than ever to enjoy the benefits of added traction, smoother trail control, and a reduced risk of flat tires.

Giant Factory Off-Road Team rider Carl Decker has been racing the Anthem platform since it was first introduced in 2005. He has experienced the evolution of a bike that started out as a World Cup XC weapon with 26-inch wheels and sharp-handling race geometry. The first 29er version of the Anthem debuted in 2010, and later a 27.5 version—aimed at more aggressive XC/trail riding with added suspension and slacker geometry—was introduced in 2014.

This all-new Anthem 29 range marks a strong commitment to the bike’s original DNA: uncompromising XC speed, efficiency and control.

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