Iconic Californian bike brand Santa Cruz jumped into the carbon wheel market two years ago with a bang, or should I say a lack of a bang.
For their launch, they challenged team rider Danny Macaskill to break a set. His heroic efforts culminated with him riding down a flight of concrete steps on only the rim. Viewers watched and waited for the inevitable bang as it cracked, but nothing—the rims stayed intact. This bit of marketing nous certainly perked our interest in getting our hands on a set of Reserve wheels to test for ourselves. The other intriguing thing about them was that Santa Cruz were backing that if Danny couldn’t break them then no one could, and were giving them a lifetime riding warranty. Meaning as long as you break the rim while riding (not reversing over it in the car or melting it on the exhaust) they’ll replace it no questions asked. For us this was another huge plus as we’ve always been wary about the cost factor of carbon wheels.
The benefits and pitfalls of carbon wheels are well documented—big weight savings and snappy responsive performance versus the high cost, unforgiving stiffness and tear-inducing fragility have been hotly debated by riders for years. The thought of a bulletproof carbon rim with a lifetime warranty at a competitive price sealed the deal and we knew we needed to get our hands on a set.
Santa Cruz offer the Reserve rims in variety of internal widths but since I was going with a 27.5” wheel, my options were 27mm, 30mm and 37mm. For the sake of experimenting with something slightly outside the box I decided to try the Reserve 37mm rims and went with tried-and-true DT Swiss 350 hubs. Other hub options include Industry 9 and Chris King.
One of the first visual differences with the Reserve wheels is the rectangular raised zones around the spoke nipples, which give the rim a cool rippled look. The tech feedback on these from Santa Cruz during their extensive R&D process was that one of the common failure points of many carbon rims they tested was the spoke hole. The extreme forces simply pulled the nipples through the rim as the wheel flexed on impact. Therefore, Santa Cruz made the call to reinforce that area with extra carbon.
My reason for going with the widest rim option was that since 30mm has become very much an industry standard, I thought it was worth dabbled with a wider choice to see how it affected the performance of my go-to tyre widths. Santa Cruz’s recommendations for the 37’s is for tyres 2.5” and bigger, but for the initial rides I mounted them with a Maxxis Assegai 2.5WT on the front and a Onza Ibex 2.4 on the back, which was an easy and painless exercise. I added the sticker colour of my choice (black of course) and was ready to ride.
Once on the trails my first impression was one of surprise: I was taken back by the forgiveness the wheels provided. It seems like the word is out, riders no longer want harsh, overly stiff carbon hoops that bounce them around the trail, and Santa Cruz have listened. The ride comfort and trail feel of the Reserve wheels was right up there, in fact it was not far off that of a set of alloy rims, yet they were as light and responsive as carbon should be.
I’ve ridden the Reserve 37’s for close to three months with reckless abandon, never shying away from rocks or impacts and consistently at below average tyre pressures. I’ve never flatted or touched the spoke tension, and once the dust is wiped off them they look like they did the day they came out of the box.
I did experiment more with tyre choices and widths although I never dropped below 2.5” on the front I did try a less aggressive 2.35” on the rear and was mightily impressed as to its performance even stretched out on such a wide rim. Perhaps the future is a mixed rim width wheelset a 37mm on the front for wider tyres and narrower option on the rear!
Santa Cruz has achieved an almost perfect balance of responsive yet relaxed trail feel and brutally strong durability—the holy grail for all carbon wheels. Reserve wheels are lightweight (under 1800g a pair), available in an array of widths, sit on the lower end of the carbon wheel price scale (starting at $3000) and look great. The lifetime warranty is a massive factor too as it provides much needed assurance for buyers nervous about investing in carbon, and I think Santa Cruz should be praised for backing their products with such conviction.