Monday, June 17, 2013

Rolf Prima Vigor Wheelset

This wheelmaker has managed to stay under the radar, despite (or maybe as a result of...?) an early association with Trek.

I must have had these wheels for about 15 years.

Sometime in the late '90s I had bought myself a fairly basic Trek as a get-around-town bike while working in Singapore. The wheels that came with it were these funky-looking-disco-dancer wheels that were actually remarkable effective - with this paired-spoking idea which seemed to make them pretty solid.

The next serious bike I bought, I went looking for these Rolf things. They weren't hard to find at the time, though their association with Trek had already evaporated. The set I found was the Vigor model. The specs were impressive.

I really loved these wheels. My friends loved these wheels. They defied logic in the way that they worked: an aluminium wheelset with a reasonably deep rim (33mm) that flared outward slightly on the spoke side, that was nicely aero and extremely light (1540g).

They have had some pretty bad press over the years, in fact I'm hard-pressed to find any review with anything positive to say about them. Very strange. I don't think they'd suit the heaviest rider, but then I'm not exactly the lightest, and I've never had an issue with them.

The paired spokes are supposed to give extra rigidity to the wheels, but most of the bad reviews focus on the fact that the spokes break, and that once a paired spoke breaks it puts the whole wheel so out-of-true that it's unrideable. Firstly I would say that any wheel that has a low spoke count is probably unrideable once a spoke has gone, and secondly: the only time I had to replace spokes was after an accident where someone rode over the back wheel.

I had stopped riding them actually since that accident. The back wheel came out of it with a slight dent in the rim which makes it ever-so-slightly-out-of-true. However, they still work, and I've been reviewing my ideas on wheels recently, so I got them out again for my ride through Fraser's Hill and Gohtong Jaya this past weekend. Lots of ascending and descending (over 3000m of elevation gain in 200km), and these were always the lightest and most fast-rolling wheels in my collection.

They were awesome! There's this short stretch of fast downhill that I use to test the speed of wheels. It's around 1km long with a couple of fast curves and reaches 11% near the bottom. I test the wheels by just freewheeling from the top and seeing what speed I can hit at the point just before I have to brake. I hit 68.9kph with these wheels, which beats my previous recorded best of 66.9 with the Fulcrums or 64.4 with the Fulcrum front and the 32-spoke powertap on the back.

So they roll like a dream - zero mechanical drag and very aero to boot. In fact on some descents I find myself braking just because they feel too fast - I'm not used to it. Braking too is way better than I'm used to, and once again I'll need to ride them for a while before I get the braking a bit smoother.

Uphill they are of course very light and from what I can tell they also seem very stiff. The second day up to Gohtong Jaya involves a lot of grinding up long steep sections and I'm out of the saddle a lot. These wheels seem to be taking whatever I crank into them with little sign of any flex.

I will probably have to retire these wheels completely soon. The braking surfaces are getting a little too worn-looking, but considering the amount of life these have seen, it's hardly surprising. What this rediscovery has shown me however, is that it is possible to get a pair of wheeks that are: A) light, B) stiff, C) aero, D) easy to stop, and E) inexpensive (they used to cost around US$800).

You have to remember we're talking about a 15-year-old model of these wheels, so I'm sure the new version has improved on what these can do. I've checked out the Rolf Prima website for specs on the latest version and they now have some added features including ceramic bearings, a 22mm rim width, and they now weigh in at merely 1450g a set! At US$1299 a pair I'd say they were worth some serious consideration.

Watch this space though, as I've come up with this great idea for testing wheelsets and publishing the information. This is part of my quest for the perfect all-rounder wheelset.

More to come!

Road Test - Wheels


  1. I owned a pair of Rolf Vector Pro (top of the line). So what happened when one of the very unique bladed spokes broke after Rolf split from Trek? I'll tell you what, Trek said they had no spares and Rolf said they wouldn't support or supply them as they were under Trek!!!!! Nice one Rolf, fab wheels but a completely crap attitude to customer service. The rear hub also wore out. Very cool (and at the time expensive) wheels to own but I'd NEVER go near Rolf again.

    On the other hand I own 2 pairs of Mavic Ksyrium SSL (again top of the line). Both sets have done tens of thousands of km's with my fat butt on them, they're years old (more than 10). I've had one spoke break in all that time and other than that NEVER had to true them. They are bomb proof and light. I use them as training wheels as I use Zipp 808 and Disc sub9 for racing tri's. The Mavics have to be the first choic for road racing though.

  2. Hey Simon, thanks for that feedback.

    Most of the problems with Rolf seem to stem from their after-sales service. For what it's worth I'm told by a dealer that they have improved.

    Anyway, the real villain in your saga was Trek as they were still ultimately responsible to their customer. It wouldn't be inconceivable to get replacement spokes made if you took your customers seriously.

    I'm hoping to get my hands on a pair of the Ksyrium SSLs when I start doing my wheel comparison. As your comments reflect, they do seem to be the standard by which all others will be judged.

  3. Great artcile on the Rolfs. I'm from BikePlus, the Singapore dealer for Rolf Prima. I have to say the Rolf Prima team have been superb in their support and service to customers here.

    It has been a long time since the departure from Trek but one thing has proven the test of time - that Rolfs are great wheels - strong, reliable and faster than ever.