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Review: Santa Cruz’s new plus-size Reserve Carbon Wheels

Santa Cruz has just released a plus-sized version of its Reserve Carbon Wheels in both 27.5 and 29 inch diameters. The rims’ internal width of 37mm is optimal for tire sizes in the range of 2.5 to 2.8 inches wide, but will allow up to 3.0 inches. The original Reserves came out in the spring of 2017, but plus-tire riders wanting to upgrade had to wait until the summer of 2018.

The Reserves are claimed to be the strongest on the market. Santa Cruz also designed them to be more compliant and less harsh than other carbon rims. To prove their toughness, Santa Cruz created a convincing YouTube video featuring Danny MacAskill abusing these wheels to the point of failure: On top of this durability, the Reserves come in at a competitive price, especially when you consider their quality and the lifetime warranty.

The idea of upgrading my Santa Cruz Hightower with carbon wheels took a lot of consideration. At issue was the expense of quality carbon fiber rims. Why spend that kind of money when I already had perfectly good rims? Would it be worth it? For me, it was my love of the sport and the desire for more performance that drove my curiosity.

The Hightower is my go-anywhere trail bike…great on technical terrain and descents. With a carbon fiber frame, 2.8 inch plus-size tires mounted to 27.5 inch aluminum rims, 135 mm of rear travel and 150 mm fork travel; this bike is a good performer. While the 2.8 inch tire width can really grip the terrain, it comes with a loss of efficiency from the inherent rolling resistance of the tires’ large footprint. Another consideration with the plus-size is the weight of the hefty rim. These shortcomings made me wonder if upgrading to lighter wheels would compensate for them.

What is said about carbon rims is that their stiffness will make the bike feel “snappier”. Their lighter weight will allow faster acceleration, and this will be most noticeable coming out of the turns. They also say that it’s one of the best upgrades you can do. Just the thought of switching to carbon fiber and making my “fun” bike perform better was intriguing. …it sure would be nice to make going faster a little easier. All of these factors clinched it for me… it’s time to upgrade.

Purchases must be made through an authorized dealer, and when ordering, a choice of hubs has to be made: either DT350s, which along with the rims retail at $1599, or Industry Nines and rims retailing at $1899. I went with the DT350’s, which are the same as my originals. This was also an opportune time to replace my worn Maxxis Rekon tires, so I went with the popular and more aggressive, albeit heavier, Maxxis Minion DHF in the front and the DHR in the rear.

The original weight of my bike was 32 pounds. The new weight with the Reserves and tires installed is 29 pounds. Since this three pound reduction is all rotational weight at the wheels, it’s a significant improvement. It was now time for the real test: their performance on the trails.

First on the checklist was a long hill climb. In this arena, the noticeability factor wasn’t really there. It may have made a difference, but it was not enough to say that this is a solution to making tough climbs easier.

The next test was on a winding, bermed downhill trail. Here is where a difference was noticeable. Although there was a big improvement in grip from the Maxxis Minion tires, the Reserves felt light and more agile, they seemed to give an improved ability to react to the sudden changes in direction. Near the end of this run, the trail cuts across a gully. In the past I’ve never made it up the other side, but on this day, I popped right over the edge and was able to continue without stopping. This is when I was sure that the carbon rims are making a difference. As a result of all of this, I made a Strava personal record (PR) on this trail.

After that success, I followed up with another downhill trail that had a combination of steep declines, sudden turns, and multiple sharp mounds…some intended for jumping. It’s called XXX. While the new tires gave great confidence on the steeps, it was the light feel of the rims that made it easy to ride up the mounds and at times get a little air. Once again, a PR was made.

An uphill trail with multiple switchbacks was another important test that had to be made. After initiating each turn, a sudden burst of power is required to follow through and complete the switchback. Here, the Reserves really shined. Their quick acceleration made hooking the switchbacks easier. In fact, they performed so well that I made a PR on this trail that I’ve ridden many times before.

Last but not least, an extreme, rocky downhill trail was on the list. The technicality of this particular trail makes it more suitable for DH bikes, and anything less will require some careful line selections. As I made my way down, the lighter wheels allowed rapid adjustments in direction, which helped me to stay on the best line. This “flickability” really made a difference. What I didn’t notice was if these rims felt compliant or harsh, because the cushioning effect of the plus size tires inflated to 18 psi in the front and 22 in the rear tended to soften the blows. In any case, their performance was outstanding and another PR was made.

Setting Strava PR’s all over the place could just be a sign of a good day, but I can confidently say that the new wheels made a big difference. Anybody that is interested in enhancing the performance of their bike should consider upgrading their aluminum wheels to the Reserves.

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