Rolf Prima Hyalite Wheels: Getting Rolling- by Grannygear
I cannot remember when we had this many choices in wheels for cycling. We have fat ones, skinny ones, light ones, tubeless ones, aero ones, carbon ones, aluminum ones, cheap ones and expensive ones. The word ‘plethora’ comes to mind and I never pass up a chance to use that word in a post if I can get away with it.
And it seems that every week we have a new company touting another option for us to choose from. It follows then, since gravel/adventure/all-road, etc, is the latest darling of the industry, well, that and e-everything…it follows that we are seeing many new wheels designed just for gravel/adventure/all-road: Almost roadie, yet maybe just a bit more rugged than a typical road wheel would be, but not quite 29″er XC either. Spoke counts are increasing in road wheels too thanks to disc brakes. 18/20 count wheels are being replaced with 24/28, etc, and this plays well into the gravel/adventure setting.
Internal rim widths are spreading out faster than the horizon in Kansas. 21mm used to be what a 29″er MTB wheel was, but now MTB rims are 25mm-30mm wide on the inside and even pure road wheels are 19mm and up. A modern gravel bike wheel will usually fall between 19mm and 21mm internal although wider is becoming more common.
Sorting out the choices to find the ones best for you can seem daunting. To quote the King of Siam, “It’s a puzzlement!”. I have two wheel sets here to look at over this summer. They represent two segments of the category that I think are important or at least significant.
One of those two segments is a high end wheel NOT made of carbon. Aluminum may not be the buzz word in wheels right now, certainly for road, especially with the focus on aero shapes and deeper wheels, but for gravel I think that aluminum is not only still relevant, it might even be ‘better’ in some ways.
The other segment represented in what I have on hand is a private labeled, carbon wheel/rim combo. We are talking Asian based manufacturing, yet with good QC, modern specs/features, and a (typically) lower cost to the consumer than something like Enve would offer. Their ilk seem to be popping up like daisies in a lawn. Turn around for a second and there’s another one.
So I will be unpacking these two pairs, beginning with a wheel set that represents the high end, aluminum wheel. I will be running them on my Lynskey GR250 with a set of WTB Resolutes set up tubeless. Here we go.
If you had said the word “Rolf” and “wheel” to me in the same sentence. I would have immediately given you the ‘sideways eyes’ look that my dog gives me when I suggest she do something she considers foolish…like becoming vegetarian. I would have envisioned those old Trek road wheels or maybe just had a look at those odd, paired spokes with big gaps where there are no paired…or non-paired for that matter…spokes. Yeah…dunno ‘bout that stuff.
Silly me. Because these have been some of the best wheels I have ridden, bar none. But first, let’s look at what they are and who makes these things.
Reading the time line chart of the history of the company, I see that Rolf traces things back to a 1997 beginning when Rolf Dietrich had this funny idea on how to build a bicycle wheel. Here is a written timeline:
Short history of Rolf Prima:
1997 the birth of Paired Spoke Technology
1997-2001 Rolf licensed the Paired spoke technology to Trek Bicycle Co. For that period, wheels were built by Trek under the Rolf name.
1999 Rolf wheels debut in Tour de France
2002 Rolf, along with Brian Roddy and two other partners establish Rolf Prima as a separate company in Eugene, Oregon
2002 Vigor wheel model first introduced
2003 Elan wheel model first introduced
2006 First carbon models introduced – TdF38 & TdF58
2009 Rolf retires, Brian Roddy, one of the original partners takes full ownership
2011 Rolf Prima moves all testing in-house with new machines
2013 Rolf Prima starts moving alloy rim production in house in their Eugene, Oregon facility.
2014 In-house rim production goes into full swing
See the full history details at: www.rolfprima.com/history
Wanting to explore get a bit more of my thoughts about this company and about the wheel ‘state of the union’, I put some questions to Brooke Stehley at Rolf Prima so let’s chat a bit.
RG: The timeline for Rolf Prima that you have on your website is amusing to read. There is a bit of history here for sure. How does the Rolf Prima of today differ from the company in the old days?
Stehley: Hmmm… loaded question. Our product line has grown each year in options, but more so in technology and innovation. 5 years ago road disc was just really starting to be talked about, now we have more road disc options than I’d like to count. Gravel wheels were not something you even thought of… now we’ve got rim depth and rim width options just in that category alone. Not to mention all the new axle, freehub and even for that matter wheel sizes we have. As the industry grows, we’ve grown with them.
RG: One thing that has not changed is the paired spoke arrangement, something that must have seemed pretty controversial in the day, and frankly, even now it seems odd. However, it has withstood the test of time. Why is that?
Stehley: Simply put – it works and it works well. It’s been over 20 years and yeah, if it didn’t work I think by now the market would have laughed us out. Odd, strange or cool, it’s technology that allows us to build some of the best wheels available. Wheels that withstand rough roads, heavier riders, crazy gnarly single track, bike-packing, and more. It’s funny, but you’ll find the nay-sayers are those who have never tried them – while those who have rode them, love to tell us about the tests them put them through daily.
RG: Tell me about the Rolf Prima experience as a customer. Take me through the buying experience and then past that point. What if I have some issues going forward?
Stehley: Our wheels can be found in bike shops throughout the US. If for some reason your local shop does not work with us, we can help you directly, but we’ve got some great partner shops. Internationally we’ve got some really strong distributors. For after purchase – all Rolf Prima wheels come with a 5-year warranty and a life-time crash replacement. We’ve spent a lot of time designing and engineering our wheels to last – so they are not wheels that you need to continually service. We’ve got customers all over who have put 20-30k miles on a set without having to touch them and we hear that a lot. If service is needed though, we’re here to always help and also recommend working with your local shop. Paired spokes do not make them any harder to work on, spoke replacement, bearing adjustment or replacement is just as easily done on a Rolf Prima as any other wheel.
RG: I see aluminum as still quite viable for a rim material, especially in gravel based wheels. However carbon is fast approaching the cost of a high end aluminum wheel, although there has to be a bottom end to that somewhere. As a wheel company, where do you see the value in aluminum over carbon and when does that line get crossed?
Stehley: Yes, the price of carbon and alloy have become closer than they used to. We offer both and very much recommend both. It really depends on where you put your focus. We are able to offer a more entry price point on carbon, by using our entry level hub. If you compare our alloy models with the US made hub to our carbon models with the US made hub, you’ll find carbon is still the higher price point by quite a bit. Alloy very much has it’s place and we believe it always will – and like you mention gravel is a great place I think it will continue to hold it’s weight.
RG: The new Hyalite strikes me as a thoroughly modern wheel: Internally spacious, tubeless ready, light enough to be fun to ride, and not a compromised, older design based on rim brake function. It seems like it would make a very decent road wheel for the coming crop of larger tires (30c, etc) and disc braked road bikes, although you guys make more road-centric wheels as well.
Stehley: Yes, the Hyalite is a very versatile wheel. It is the wheel that can go from your road disc frame to your XC mountain bike frame. For the real roadie we’d still suggest looking at our road wheel models, like the Vigor or Ares (both have disc brake options), but if you are looking for a set of wheels that can really transfer from bike to bike, the Hyalite is your tool.
RG: It is a tough season in the cycling industry right now. Competition from Asia and the world market, direct to consumer bikes, the changing face of the bike shop as they seek to re-invent themselves…yet there still seems to be room for the ‘hand made just for me‘ product. We see that in the bespoke bike frame market, now even in USA made carbon. I happen to like that part of our cycling experience. How does a company like Rolf Prima stay relevant and current as things change around us?
Stehley: Yes, we are very much in the world of “hand made” and “US made”. Our wheels are built to order – because of so many custom options we offer, that is something many of our competitors can’t offer. We have focused to stay current with offerings as bike manufactures have changed, we have followed. This means as consumers buy bikes or upgrade bikes wheels are still something they can consider. We’ve been at this since 1996, the industry has seen many shifts and updates since then and we’ll continue to make sure our offerings are right there with them.
So the model we have is the Hyalite, offered under the Gravel/Adventure category. From the website:
The adventure seeker
The Hyalite’s off-road bonafides allow it to move easily between bikes and terrain. Developed as a tubeless clincher Adventure wheel, it is at home set up tubeless, running road slicks or low-pressure knobbies in the mud of a ‘cross course. These versatile crossover wheels let you conquer varied terrain and hop from season to season and bike to bike without trade-off. The Hyalites come tubeless ready with tape and valves and are available in 700c and 650b. The hubs are available in many configurations – even the oddball ones – to fit your bike. Hyalites are great for gravel adventuring, cyclocross and the road.
Rolf Prima Hyalite (Hyalite ES)
700c or 650b Adventure/Gravel wheelset
25mm external / 22mm internal width alloy clincher, Asym rim – Made in the US
Tubeless ready – comes taped w/ valve
20/20 spoke count (24/24 spoke count for ES version)
XST hubset with Titanium freehub body and T2 High Engagement Drive Mechanism (XR hubs on ES version)
Center Lock disc hubs
1520g-1470g a set / 1575g-1520g – ES version
Shimano/SRAM 10/11-speed compatible or SRAM 1×11
Front: 9mm QR, 12mm TA, 15mm TA
Rear: 135mm QR, 142mm x 12mm TA
XD driver option for SRAM 1×11 compatibility
MSRP $1199 / set ($899 for ES version)
What’s behind every Rolf Prima wheel?
30-day trade out or return*
Lifetime crash replacement
Real person customer service
Guaranteed reply to service calls and emails. Normally same day and not longer than 24 hours during the work week.
Service work resolved within 3 days of receipt of your wheels**
Replacement parts availability – If it’s a Rolf Prima, we’ll get you back on the road no matter how old the wheel is.
What else is inside every Rolf Prima wheel box?
Over twenty years of experience building wheels in the USA by a wheel building team who knows wheels.
An in-house engineering and testing lab. We don’t farm out our testing and engineering. We do it and we always have.
Two decades of proven technology backed up by eleven patents.
Over 10,000 hours of lab testing to above industry standards because we demand more.
Unknown millions of miles on the road and trail experience.
Countless victories and podiums worldwide. Not to brag, but yeah, this too.
What you will notice when you poke around the website is how customizable Rolf wheels are. There are often a few versions within a certain model, not to mention color options and the typical axle and free hub choices. For instance, there are five versions of the Hyalite with different rim materials, widths, and hub variations. The Hyalite we have is the upper end aluminum model with the premium XST hub. The XST is based on a White Industries hub with a Ti free hub body and bearings that are smooth and fast rolling. Many of the better wheel choices on the market are based on the DT Swiss Star Ratchet hub, either 240 or 350, and that is a great choice to build upon. White Industries does not get the recognition they likely deserve, but when you get to talking about high end hubs like Chris King, etc, one has to include a White Industries hub in the discussion. Made in the USA to exacting standards, it’s hard to do better than White Industries stuff.
The hub is not as user configurable as some others are though, so converting between axle types is not a simple end cap swap like many hubs. You need to order it as you want it axle wise, although I did easily convert the front hub from 12mmTA to 15mmTA with little more than an Allen wrench.
Unboxing the Hyalites, I first noticed the attached tag from the builder right there in Oregon. Cool. It might be getting cliche in our society, but ‘Made in the States’ by passionate folks is still a perk to my way of thinking. The paired spokes, the offset bed rim with the semi-aero shape, the high flange/low flange hub shell…nice looking wheels. I weighed them at 840g rear and 718g front. That was with tape but no stems. The internal width is very generous at 22mm and the rim height is 23mm.
I used some adapters to run my 6 bolt SRAM rotors on the Centerlock type hub and the 11-36 cassette slid on the beautifully machined Ti free hub. Setting up the WTB 42c Resolutes tubeless was a floor pump deal. Very nice. A bit of fresh Orange Seal Endurance formula and we were done.
We will be running these for a bit and seeing if there is anything to this “The animals go two by two, two by two, two by two.” spoke deal. I am more curious about these than usual for a wheel set. Can the Hyalite wheels, set to sell for $1199.00, compete with carbon wheels selling for right about the same cost? We shall see, dear readers, we shall see.
NOTE: The Rolf Prima Hyalite wheels were sent over to Riding Gravel for test and review at no cost. We were not bribed, nor paid for this review and we strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.
About The Author: Grannygear hails from SoCal and spent most of his cycling days as a mountain biker from the formative years of mountain biking all the way up to the present day. His day job is in the tech sector, but he has spent time writing about off road 4X4’s, 29″ mountain bikes, and cycling in general. Grannygear and Guitar Ted have worked off and on together since 2009 after a chance meeting at Interbike. With gravel cycling on the rise, Grannygear has been exploring how this genre’ works in SoCal and now does guest pieces for RidingGravel.com in his spare time.