Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon Wheelset Review
Cons: Freehub engagement could be better, expensive
Manufacturer: Santa Cruz
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Santa Cruz only makes Reserve Carbon wheels and their range currently consists of three rim widths for both 27.5" and 29" wheel sizes. They really upped the ante when they first brought the Reserve Carbon wheels to market, offering them at competitive prices and with a lifetime warranty. The market has been forced to respond as a result, and now we see more carbon fiber wheels being offered at more reasonable prices and with better warranties. Additionally, Santa Cruz has helped to bust the durability myths surrounding carbon wheels through their product testing, marketing, and especially a video featuring Danny MacAskill trying to destroy his wheels. Do they live up to all the hype? Read on to find out.
The Reserve 30 Carbon wheels have a unique rim design intended to improve both their ride quality and durability. The rims have an all-carbon construction with a 36.4mm external and a 30mm internal rim width that is in line with modern trends and recommended for tires from 2.3" up to 2.6" widths. The rims are made with a 4mm offset that is intended to optimize bracing angles, help improve balanced spoke tension and enhance wheel stiffness. The bead flanges are hookless, allowing for a thicker and more consistent bead wall which is meant to pair well with modern tire designs and improve the durability of the rim bead. In an effort to further enhance the durability of the rims they have also incorporated a square-shaped reinforcement around each spoke hole. Santa Cruz claims this visible spoke hole reinforcement helps reduce failure of the rim at this interface and helps improve quality control.
The base model Reserve 30 Carbon wheels we tested come with DT 350 hubs. DT Swiss is known primarily for their wheels and hubs, and their 350 hubs have a proven and reliable design. The freehub employs a 3 pawl system paired with a 36 tooth drive ring that equates to a 10-degree engagement. The hubs and wheels are connected by 28 j-bend spokes front and rear that are arranged in a 3-cross pattern. Santa Cruz chose DT Swiss Competition Race double-butted spokes and Sapim Alloy Secure Lock nipples for their construction. They currently come in Boost spacing only and have a standard 6-bolt brake rotor mount.
The wheels have a non-descript matte carbon finish with just 2 small decals, one around the valve stem and one on the opposite side of the wheel. They come with tubeless rim tape and valve stems installed. The rims are also backed by a lifetime warranty.
In the past few years, it seems like wheel manufacturers have figured out that riders want the lightweight and precise feel of carbon fiber, but they don't want to feel like they're getting beat up or deflected by an over-stiff wheel the entire time they're riding. Gone are the days of all carbon wheels feeling stiff to the point of harshness, and this is reflected in the ride quality of wheels like the Reserve 30 Carbon. They have a stable and confident feel with just enough give that you don't get bounced around or feel too much trail feedback up through the handlebar.
The Reserve 30 Carbon wheels have a 30mm internal rim width that pairs really well with 2.3" to 2.6" wide modern trail tires. This width allows the user to run lower tire pressure with a greater air volume and effectively get more traction and suspension out of your tires. Like many carbon wheel manufacturers including the Race Face Next R31 and the Reynolds TR 309 S, Santa Cruz has settled on 28 spokes for both the front and rear wheel. In general, more spokes means more stiffness and durability, but in the case of carbon wheels, it seems like they are backing off the spoke count slightly with the goal of decreasing the stiffness slightly. This spoke count seems to achieve that goal, as the Reserve wheels don't feel harsh at all while still feeling stable and stiff in most situations.
The one place where the Reserve 30 Carbon wheels were outperformed is in the freehub engagement. The DT350 hubs that came on our test pair roll very smooth and fast and have a history of reliability. That said, the freehub has a 3 pawl system paired with a 36 tooth drive ring that results in 10-degree engagement. Ten-degree engagement is fine if you've never experienced something better. On a premium set of carbon wheels, however, we would expect a higher performance freehub, like the 5-degree engagement, found on the Reynolds TR 309 S, or the 3-degree engagement of the Race Face Next R31, both of which cost slightly less.
At our wheelset weigh in the Reserve 30 Carbon tipped the scales at 1,832g. Considering their durability and ride quality, we feel this is a respectable weight. They aren't the lightest wheels by any means, but unless you compare them side-by-side with the lighter wheelsets you'd never know. They weigh 34g less than the Roval Traverse Carbon, the heaviest carbon model in the test, but 94g more than the Reynolds TR 309 S, one of the lightest models.
It would seem that Santa Cruz is quite confident in the durability of their carbon rims based on the fact that they were the first to offer a lifetime warranty on what was previously considered to be a somewhat fragile product. It took years of testing and product development, but any brand that backs their products with that type of warranty is pretty darn sure they can handle just about anything. To further drive the point home they even made a video featuring trials rider and mountain bike legend, Danny MacAskill, doing his best to break them while stunting around with super low tire pressures and eventually with no tires.
During testing, we also found the Reserve 30 Carbon wheels to be unflappable. These wheels saw action on the steepest rockiest technical rides from the Lake Tahoe area to Finale Ligure in Italy. After hundreds of miles of serious use and abuse, we are really impressed with how well they've held up. Despite repeated rim-outs, flat landings, and terrible line choices there is no consequential damage to speak of. We experienced no broken spokes, the rim beads have no cracks or dings, the wheel hasn't even been knocked out of true. The only wear the rims show is some very minor scratching from contact with trail debris during normal riding.
Like most modern carbon mountain bike rims, Santa Cruz has made the Reserve with a hookless rim bead. This simplifies the process and allows for a more consistent carbon layup and a thicker and more durable rim bead. Additionally, they identified the spoke holes as another failure point and designed their rims with visible spoke hole reinforcements. Not only do these reinforcements strengthen the holes, but the fact that they are visible helps with quality control and ensuring the holes are drilled in exactly the right spot. While the DT350 hubs don't have the best engagement, we have no complaints about their durability, plus they have an excellent reputation for reliability.
When the Reserve 30 Carbon wheels hit the market they definitely came in at a lower price point than most people were used to for a carbon wheelset. In the short period of time since then, several other brands have followed suit and the cost of getting a premium wheelset isn't quite as high as it used to be. That said, the Reserve 30 Carbon wheels are the most expensive in this test with a retail price of $1,599. This is only $50 more than the Reynolds TR 309 S, and $100 more than the Race Face Next R31, but a full $399 more than the Roval Traverse Carbon.
While you can get slightly less expensive carbon wheels that offer a similar level of performance, we do still feel that the ride quality, durability, and lifetime warranty of the Reserve wheels still makes them a pretty good value. At this price, however, our testers were a little disappointed in the sub-par freehub engagement compared to the other top performers. The 3-degree engagement delivered by the Race Face and the 5-degree engagement of the Reynolds wheels feels far superior and higher performance and those wheels cost less. You can upgrade the star ratchet inside the DT 350's freehub to improve the engagement for around $100, increasing the cost of these already relatively expensive wheels. Again, the freehub engagement isn't a total deal breaker, we just have high expectations at this price.
The Reserve 30 Carbon is an impressive wheelset from Santa Cruz. They've managed to make a highly durable product that is backed with confidence by a lifetime warranty. Ride quality is top-notch, with a stiff and precise feel that remains compliant enough to avoid being harsh. Our only gripe with these wheels is the 10-degree freehub engagement which we feel slightly decreases the performance of these otherwise high quality and super durable wheels. Assuming you can look past the freehub engagement, you will likely enjoy the rest of their performance attributes and get your money's worth thanks to their durability and excellent warranty.
Other Versions and Accessories
Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon wheels are available in 27.5" and 29" wheel sizes in Boost spacing only.
In the 27.5" wheel size the rims are offered in 27, 30, and 37mm internal rim widths. All widths are available with DT Swiss 350 hubs (tested) for $1,599, and also offered with Industry Nine hubs for $1,899. Both the 27mm and 30mm widths are also available with Chris King hubs for $2,199.In the 29" wheel size the rims are offered in 25, 27, and 30mm (tested) internal rim widths. All widths are offered with DT Swiss 350 hubs (tested) for $1,599, with Industry Nine hubs for $1,899, or with Chris King hubs for $2,199.
— Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens