A month or so ago, the representative from Rolf Prima asked me what I knew about their wheelsets, Other than I vaguely remember that they had a patent on some sort of spoke pattern and that they were on a lot of Treks, I didn’t know much. We than had a 30 minute conversation about Rolf Prima’s history, technology and products.
The spoke pattern is indeed unique to Rolf Prima and is patent protected here in the USA and I’m sure in many other countries. In a conventional wheel the spokes are evenly spaced at the rim resulting in a series of right and left forces. This results in significant lateral forces on low spoke count wheels thereby making them difficult to keep in true. In contrast, Rolf wheels are designed so that the spokes meet at the rim in pairs evening out the lateral forces. By pairing the spokes, Rolf can build an exceptionally strong and light weight wheel with fewer spokes.
I mounted up a pair of 25c tires and installed the wheels on the Jamis. The first thing I noticed is that these thing are really wide, 27 mm according to the website. I had to run the SRAM Red brakes wide open just to get them to fit.
The first ride was on our normal Saturday 32 mile loop. The day was windy, cold and wet; not a perfect day for a test ride. The first thing I noticed was how fast the wheels spun up. It didn’t take long to get up to speed and when I did, they held the speed exceptionally well. The only downside to the ride was the strong cross winds on Bee Cave Road which made for some difficult handling. These, along with every other 40mm+ wheel I’ve ever ridden, were going to take some getting used to. Over the next two weeks I was able to ride the wheels on some calm flat days where they really impressed.
Near the end of my time with the wheels, I was finally able to test the aspect of the wheel that really concerned me. Would a sixteen spoke count wheel be strong enough for a 185lbs rider during maximum effort hill repeats? I was really starting to like the wheels and was hoping for the best but expecting the worse. I was expecting enough flex for the wide rim to cause significant brake rub under effort. After an hour of hill repeats in Apache Shores near Mansfield Dam, I had my answer. They were rock solid – no perceptible flex at all.
Overall, I was impressed with the wheels. They spun up nicely, held speed well, were rock solid in the climbs and, once I got used to them, were fairly stable in the cross winds. The view from the cockpit at that wide front wheel did take some getting used to though. At an MSRP of $2300, including Swiss Stop brake pads, titanium skewers, and a double wheel bag, they are a good value. Easily 20% less expensive than the better known competition.
These wheels are not for everyone, but if you are looking for an aero, light weight and strong carbon clincher you should certainly consider a set.
More details about the wheels can be found at http://www.rolfwheels.com/products-ares4.php