The first thing you should know about Santa Cruz before we start talking wheels is this; Santa Cruz have made significant investments in recent years in order to be a 'carbon first' manufacturer. What does that mean? Making things out of carbon fibre is infinitely more complicated than a more traditional material such as aluminium. That's not to say that aluminium is a walk in the park, it's just that the number of variables introduced by using carbon fibre as your construction material of choice grows exponentially. Rather than only creating aluminium test mules locally and outsourcing your carbon engineering in its entirety; if your designers and engineers are in the same building as your carbon prototyping facility, the iterations come quicker, the testing is more thorough, and the time that is saved can be spent on innovations like wax moulds (more on that later). All that ultimately leads to is a much better final product.
You first saw the Reserve Wheels back in October 2016, although like everyone else in the world you probably didn't notice. Danny Mcaskill rode a set of unbranded prototypes on his Santa Cruz 5010 in the film 'Wee Day Out'. This alone says a lot about the wheels strength and abilities. Along side Danny, the 50:1 crew and Santa Cruz' Pro Enduro Team have also been putting them through their paces in the 'real world' since the start of the year.
Comparing one carbon wheel set to another is a tricky. Flex, feel, comfort, compliance are all nice words to use but it's also rather subjective. The bike they're on, the suspension set up, the riders experience and ability, how the wheel was built and by who all come into play when an opinion is put forward. Whether that opinion is relevant to you or not, only you can decide. However, there are also hard facts that absolutely differentiate the Reserve rim from (insert generic chinese rim brand here). When your aim is to build the best carbon wheels possible, the complex web of options and approaches when it comes to mass production with carbon fibre all boils down to one word. Variability.
Variability is essentially a lack of consistency, or a liability to vary or change. The trick with carbon manufacturing is to reduce the variability as much as possible in order to get consistent performance.
Most internal shapes of a carbon fibre structure are formed with the use of an inflatable bladder. When carbon fibre sheets are laid into 2 halves of a metal mould, the internal bladder is inflated and presses the sheets against the mould in order to form the required shape. The 'variability' of how this bladder inflates can cause creases in the carbon sheets which lead to voids or inconsistencies and therefore weak points in the final structure. You may well have heard a story of someone who cracked their ENVE rim with a tyre lever; chances are, all the force from the tyre lever was right on top of an internal void or weak spot that you could never spot from the outside. To be fair to ENVE, that same thing could happen to any carbon rim that uses the same construction method.
Remember earlier when we mentioned wax moulds? That's the method of construction used here. Santa Cruz are keeping the details a secret so we can't be too descriptive about the technique, but, the above images are a clear representation of the benefits of having your carbon prototyping facility in the next room, which is what 'carbon first' is all about. Our inner geek is very excited by this! If 'wax moulds' can do this for wheels, you can be sure its going to turn up in Santa Cruz' frame manufacturing very soon. If it hasn't already.
You might get lucky with a cheap chinese carbon rim. It might be crazy stiff and rattle your brains out, but might last just fine. Because all carbon fibre is laid up by hand, It probably depends on whether or not the person doing the work had a heavy night or not. Santa Cruz own their own manufacturing facility too, so working conditions is another link in the chain taken care of. The wellbeing of your workforce is just a good thing to care about, the direct result is another positive impact on variability and therefore quality.
The goal for Santa Cruz from the start, from a variability perspective, was to make the worst performing Reserve rim better than the best performing rim from any of the competition. Setting the bar that high for your first shot at a whole new product line is pretty admirable, but they already have everything in place to make it a reality.
The bold move of offering a lifetime warranty on a carbon rim should tell you that the engineers at Santa Cruz reckon they've done a pretty good job. It's a further testament to the already excellent customer service on offer from Santa Cruz that it's not just the rim that gets replaced; it's the whole wheel, hubs and spokes included, ready to ride, sent to wherever you happen to be in the world!
To be clear, no one is saying that you'll never break a Reserve rim. Nothing is indestructible. The promise here is that if you do manage to break one while riding, a new one will be sent out to you within 24 hours of a warranty claim being approved. The aim is to get you back on the bike as soon as possible. There's even a 'crash replacement' pricing scheme for the times when a momentary laps in judgement leads to disaster. There aren't many companies willing or able to offer this sort no fuss of back up.
Santa Cruz Reserve Wheels are available in 29" and 27.5" diameter and 25mm, 27mm and 30mm internal widths; a choice of Industry 9 Torch or DT Swiss 350 hubs is available and all are hand built using DT Swiss Competition Race J-Bend Spokes and Sapim Secure Lock nipples. They're available as at a reduced price as an upgrade for all CC bikes in the range, and now aftermarket as a standalone wheel set.