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Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels

Vital Rating: (Spectacular)
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Tested: Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels

Simply put, these are the best carbon wheels we've ridden to date. Take note.

Rating: Vital Review

Carbon wheels are a polarizing component in the mountain bike world. On one hand they offer promises of performance increases, weight reduction, and that unmistakable "wow" factor. Conversely, some have commented their durability, overly stiff nature, and price point leave a lot to be desired.

Santa Cruz set out to build the best wheelset on the planet some three years ago, and finally released their Reserve Carbon creation this spring. Most notably, the wheels feature a true lifetime warranty – the first in the business to do so.

Not a company that simply regurgitates what is already out there, Santa Cruz tested and learned from their competition, addressed problem areas, and ultimately brought something to market that has all the potential to be very special.

We put a whole bunch of miles on a pair of Reserve 30 wheels with DT Swiss 350 hubs. From downhill laps to a cross-country race and everything in between, the wheels were hammered. How’d they work out? Read on to find out…



  • Available in 27.5 and 29-inch diameters
  • 29-inch wheels in three widths: 25, 27 and 30mm (tested) internal
  • 27.5-inch wheels in two widths: 27 and 30mm internal
  • 1.5:1 width to height ratio
  • 28 spokes pre wheel with three-cross lacing pattern
  • Asymmetrical profile and offset drilling for even spoke tension
  • Wax bladder molding technique for less variability during manufacturing
  • External nipple reinforcements
  • Industry 9 Torch or DT Swiss 350 hub options
  • J-Bend DT Swiss Competition Race double butted spokes
  • Sapim Secure Lock alloy nipples (no spoke prep required)
  • Hand built in Santa Cruz
  • OEM upgrade for Santa Cruz and Juliana bikes
  • Pricing: $1,899 with Industry Nine hubs // $1,599 with DT Swiss hubs (tested)
  • Lifetime rim warranty with 24-hour turnaround

27.5-inch Rim Weights

  • Reserve 27: 435g
  • Reserve 30: 470g

29-inch Rim Weights

  • Reserve 25: 390g
  • Reserve 27: 455g
  • Reserve 30: 490g


Saving weight is a funny thing on a bike. People sometimes pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to shave the equivalent weight of a breakfast pastry. Most of this weight savings can be filed in the “hard to tell” category, as we would wager most cannot feel 100 grams of frame weight.

Wheels and tires are perhaps the exception to this rule. There is no place on a bicycle where weight is more obvious than rotating mass, specifically the most-outboard of this mass in the rims and tires. Don’t believe us? Go add two of those massive early-2000s DH tubes from Matt Thompson’s garage to your trail bike while ditching the water bottle, spare tube and multi-tool you generally carry on the frame. Go for a ride. Now go back to tubeless and add the weight (of those tubes) to your frame. Chances are you’ll notice what we mean in a big way.

Carbon hoops aim to ditch some of this pivotal rotating weight while adding to the performance of the bike, promising better energy transfer as the result of less lateral flex. Win-win situation, right? Well, sort of.


A number of carbon wheelsets were developed before the advent of Boost axle spacing and engineers really nailing the whole frame chassis stiffness thing. As a result, when a set of these uber-stiff carbon wheels are paired with a modern carbon frame, like the Santa Cruz Hightower LTthese were tested on, you end up with an overly stiff package.

When a rider goes to lean his/her bike over, the spokes and frame act as the bike’s suspension in a way (listen to The Inside Line podcast with Cesar Rojo at 45 minutes for more), and this compliance is actually responsible for absorbing trail undulations while still supporting the rider. Too soft and the bike feels like a noodle, causing ill handling and an overly vague feel. Too firm and the bike loses traction abruptly as it isn’t able to conform to the terrain as well. Similarly, your wheels help "hunt" for the right line in technical terrain. Again, too stiff and the tire/wheel will penalize the rider for not being perfectly precise. A bit of compliance can help the wheel and bike stay in the right line.

The frame, wheel, tire, spokes and hub are all part of a complete system, and it's one many sort of had wrong with super stiff carbon wheels on super stiff carbon frames. It also caused more tire failures than most brands are willing to acknowledge. Santa Cruz aimed to address all of this with their Reserve wheelset.

On The Trail

First, yes, they are light. Light enough you will notice, especially in larger diameter wheel sizes. In this test, the weight savings over the high-end aluminum wheelset in our garage was over a pound of rotating weight. Truthfully, we didn’t care about this weight savings in the bike park, but it was awesome come those big rides. Another nice advantage was that the weight savings allowed us to run something like the CushCore tire insert for race days without really being penalized the same way we would on a heavier aluminum wheelset.


Second, the rim is extremely well thought out. From the asymmetric drilling pattern to the way they reinforce the spoke holes, no stone was left unturned. The company offers the rims in a number of widths depending on application, giving the rider a way to tune their tire profile to their liking. At 30mm, we found 2.4 and 2.5-inch tires had a great round profile while still giving the sidewall support a wider rim can offer. A shorter sidewall is a stiffer-feeling sidewall, which we like when cornering.

There's enough compliance that the wheel doesn't jostle you to death and the tire doesn’t break free prematurely, but also enough stiffness to keep things from feeling vague.

Third, Santa Cruz tuned the wheelset to have just the right feel for the modern mountain bike frame. There's enough compliance that the wheel doesn't jostle you to death and the tire doesn’t break free prematurely, but also enough stiffness to keep things from feeling vague. This was accomplished through careful spoke selection and how the rim itself was profiled and constructed.

The perfect mix of these performance attributes created the best riding wheelset we’ve ever been on. Period.

They retain all the benefits of carbon and none of the downfalls, except price. When you consider that you're getting a lifetime rim warranty, that too becomes easier to stomach.

Pro rider testing with Mark Scott...
Josh Bryceland...
and Cedric Gracia.

The wheels were precise and offered a nice blend of stiffness and compliance on trail; light enough that we did some seriously big rides on a long-travel 29er without hesitation; and durable enough to have no issues. We also had zero tire failures or ride-ending flats over the course of the test as a result of the wheels.

Combined With Tire Inserts

Mark our words, tire inserts will become more and more of a thing as time goes on. For a combined three weeks out of the six month test period, we used CushCore with these rims with excellent results. Performance was stellar, but so was installation. It took just a handful of minutes extra per wheel, as opposed to the much longer period some rim/tire/CushCore combinations can take. This combination provided a class-leading ride and transformed our test bike into a real weapon. It was the biggest performance increase this tester added to a bike all year.

This combination provided a class-leading ride and transformed our test bike into a real weapon. It was the biggest performance increase this tester added to a bike all year.

Long Term Durability

We weren't nice to these rims over the last six months. Despite more than a few rim strikes, cased jumps, loose scree fields, and sideways landings they are running as though they're new, but they don’t look new. There were no broken spokes or rim cracks to report, just some scuffs to the carbon. Each wheel required just one truing session.


As expected, the DT Swiss 350 hubs have also have worked well. From the factory they aren't the high-engagement option some may want, but they have lasted well and are solid performers. Those wishing to upgrade from 36 to 54-tooth engagement can do so easily by swapping out the Star Ratchet mechanism for a reasonable cost.

Santa Cruz chose to use a j-bend spoke that works well. Break one somehow? No problem, replacements are easy to find at any bike shop in the world.

Should you happen to break a rim while riding, just send the whole wheel back to Santa Cruz to receive a rim replacement with a fast turnaround time. Given this final benefit it's easy to see that these wheels are in class of their own.


What's The Bottom Line?

These are the best wheels on the market for their intended use, and we're giving them five stars – something you don't see often on Vital MTB. Some may scoff at this as the price is anything but "affordable," but the Reserve wheels offer performance that is above the rest, an industry-leading warranty, and are priced competitively.

In the words of Ferris Bueller, "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking [these wheels] up."

Visit for more details.

About The Reviewer

Jeff Brines - Age: 32 // Years Riding MTB: 18 // Height: 6'2" (1.88m) // Weight: 200-pounds (90.7kg)

Jeff didn't go on a real date until he was nearly 20 years old, largely as a result of his borderline unhealthy obsession with bicycles. Although his infatuation with two wheels may have lead to stuttering and sweatiness around the opposite sex, it did provide for an ideal environment to quickly progress through the ranks of both gravity and cross-country racing. These days, Jeff races enduro at the pro level, rides upward of 150 days a year while logging over 325k of human powered ascending/descending on his bike. Bred as a racer, Jeff is more likely to look for the fastest way through a section as opposed to the most playful. He lives in the shadow of the Tetons in Jackson, Wyoming.

Photos by Mike Thomas, Jeff Brines, Gary Perkin, and Sven Martin

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35 comments newest first

Jeff, what size HT LT did you ride? I'm also 6'2 and considering the whole package (bike + reserve wheels). Thanks!

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Jeff, I really enjoyed reading your write up on the reserve wheels. Glad Vitalmtb does these reviews.

I also read all the comments, but nothing was said about the new Enve M series wheels and how they compare to the Reserve. And, does the stiffness/rideablility really matter for the average rider, such as myself, if you put cushcores in them?

I am looking for the lightest and most comfortable wheel available. And, since the Enve M 630 is 220 grams lighter and I was going to Cush core them, would the new Enve M series be a better wheel then the Reserve?


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Hey Billbo,

I really can't comment on the comparison, as I've been under feet of snow and unable to test the M 630s. I am sure they are stellar, as our other tester has found. You are right, 220 grams is significant, and yeah, Cushcore is absolutely going to offer a lot to the ride quality. If you have the pockets, I'm sure you'll be impressed with the Enve stuff!

Fun side point, you could run the M630 + Cushcore and be basically at the same weight as the Reserve.

I LOVE the Reserve wheelset, but on paper, this is a very tempting option for those that want the lightest ride + inserts...Kind of get a free lunch on this one (well, your checking account doesn't...but yeah)

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See the Images tab, we have weighed our Reserve 30 27.5 wheelset on Industry 9 Hubs and the weight is amazing for such a strong wheel.

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Bear with me, I'm thinking aloud:

Let's say after this raving review I'm temped to drop top dollar on these SC carbon wheels because of the way they feel and saving 50g don't hurt.
One of the advantages seems to be that they dampen trail chatter (and lessen arm-pump?)

In parallel, everybody is raving about cush core. Besides protecting the rim, they supposedly also dampen trail chatter and reduce arm pump.

Despite the good reviews that cush core receives, I'm very reluctant to add 260g per wheel. In this review, it is said how beneficial it is to remove weigh from the wheel. The carbon wheel shaves 50g from the equivalent aluminum DT-Swiss EX1501 (at almost three times the prices). Of course the lighter the wheel, the less the penalty when adding cush core. But still, it seems out of proportion. If I gonna create super heavy wheels by adding 260g, why should I care about saving 50g for that much money first? (Imagine compare two aluminum wheel set where one weight 260g more than the other. Nobody would by that wheel because it would be ridiculously heavy and out of competition). I might as well ad cush core to E1900 wheels.

I was wondering if you could make up for the weight penalty with lighter casing tires because you don't need the damping anymore that a heavier tire provides over a lighter tire. Jeff says no and puncture protection really might become an issue. At least I would not dare to go lighter than EXO or Super Gravity casing.

To come to the point, there are three elements that all improve damping
- carbon over aluminum rims,
- cush core over tube less, and
- heavier over lighter tires).

Do I need to combine all three (with a big weigh penalty), or aren't two enough?

After reading the review, I was going to get the the SC wheels. But maybe I achieve almost the same result by adding cush core to an aluminum wheel (while saving a lot of money). The review almost sounds like you are missing out on a huge performance gain if you don't add cush core to SC carbon wheels.
However, if I'm willing to make the wheel so heavy by adding cush core, I'm not willing to pay so much for a carbon wheel set.

Many possible combinations (3x3x3). Which one is the most beneficial?
(PS: Rim protection is not important to me, never damaged a rim so far.)

Thank you for reading that far.

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Good questions

At risk of sounding redundant, the reason I'm a fan of the SC wheels (read, the whole wheel) is it rides in a very unique way when paired with a modern carbon enduro frame. Its something you have to try to understand. I also am not suggesting that there aren't other ways to accomplish a similar feel. Maybe a softer aluminum rim with a similar profile and a thicker gauge spoke might yield a similar feel? I don't know, but I'm not sure 'damp' or 'not damp' is really the best way to define this. More like "offers more traction" and "doesn't offer as much traction" (though that too is lacking)

As far as inserts go, let me put it this way. In a race situation, where cornering speed is everything and keeping air in your tires paramount, I'll take a 1900 gram wheelset that is far from perfect with CushCore (adding another 260 grams) WAY before I take the hottest wheelset on the market without Cushcore. I know, I sound like a walking talking advertisment for the company, but taking some pressure out of your tires and not having them squirm was a pretty awesome thing when it came to actually keeping me upright on the bike (when I otherwise wouldn't be) or finishing a run with good pace after loosing a massive amount of air (which happened).

Going to a lighter casing is possible for sure, but again, I'm coming into this as a racer, and am confident no insert is going to keep me from slicing a tire.

So why didn't I run them all the time? Well, most of my riding involves a lot of uphill and solo riding. This means I'm not riding the ragged edge like I am on a race course when I'm going downhill and am often climbing fast, trying to get to work on time or race the sunset. This made the inserts not as "worth it", in which case the superb feel of the SC wheel was more noticeable, as was their light weight.

Many in the comments have pointed out they aren't THAT light, and they are right. But I would like to point out they are measuring with valves and rim tape, something I am positive much of the competition isn't doing. To add, the 350 hubs aren't light, though this isn't felt all that much being its at the center of the rotating mass.

Now, to finally answer your question I need to ask a question...

What frame? How much do you weigh? Where do you ride (okay, that was three questions...)

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Really interesting conversation going on here, I've definitely wondered some of the same things while trying to figure out a weight/cost vs performance analysis with regards to wheel, tire and inserts combinations. I haven't ridden CushCore yet so Jeff please correct me if I'm wrong, but my thinking thus far is is to draw an analogy to the different parts of the suspension stroke.

In that line of thinking I'd compare CushCore to the small bump sensitivity and compliance offered by the top of the stroke. CushCore allows you to run lower pressures while keeping the tire supported and that should translate to much better compliance to trail chatter and the smaller "hits" that it causes, trail surfaces that cause your tires feel skittery and lose traction. Having a great wheel with a tuned ride quality like the Santa Cruz's might be the equivalent of your mid-stroke, adapting to to slight undulations and changes in camber as well working with the small bump absorption offered by the cushcore to soak up the bigger irregularities, the type of events that normally knock your tires off line. Having a wheel that is compliant without being too noodlely might be though of as the difference between having a well supported mid-stroke vs a fork that dives through its mid-stroke too easily. Like GeorgeMichael said, I'm really just thinking through this aloud so please correct me if I'm wrong.

As a final note, no it doesn't sound like you're shilling for CushCore, more so just that you've found a product that really offers some notable benefits and you're being straight forward about stating it. Other reviewers such as Cam at have pretty much have the same thing about them Besides that, you've done enough honest and well though out reviews here to earn the benefit of the doubt, when you rave about a product it rings true, because you are thoughtful and critical about what doesn't work as well.

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You aren't wrong in your analogy, but maybe a bit overthought wink (and yes, I'm the king of overthinking)

In the vein you are talking, Cushcore does Two big things. First it adds sidewall support. Second, it takes up volume, much like volume spacers in a fork. The tire feels more "progressive" when you load it, if that makes any sense. So I suppose yeah, it kind of does let you tune your "small bump" feel. Anyone who has run them can attest its one of the best ways to reducing finger pain on rougher tracks as even the best riders (gwin) can take a few psi out, which really does translate to a better on the bike experience when going for it.

I suppose the wheel is akin to mid stroke in a way. If you've listened to all the Vital podcast stuff over the year you'll note a number of smart dudes (Giant team manager, Cesar and Greg) all comment how both the wheel and frame (or fork stiffness) can be used to "tune" how a bike interacts with the ground.

Front end pushing even though everything else is spot on? Maybe drop some spoke tension to get it to hook up a bit better (this from Giant).

We're getting really granular. To the point I think what we really need, even as consumer bike dorks, is real telemetry to isolate what is doing what.

Trying to use your tires to tune how your bike is hooking or spoke tension to get your bike to do something while your suspension is setup like shit is a surefire way to leave a lot of performance on the table.

If you read between the lines every frame, every rider, may want a different setup. For me, as a bigger guy on a stiffer frame, I found the SC wheels to be outstanding. I think lighter riders, down to even 150lbs, would agree. But hey, beyond that, maybe they too are too stiff? On the flip side, maybe a dude who is 240 would find them too soft. Or maybe you are running them on a frame more prone to flex? The mind reels and I can't quickly ditch 70 pounds to see what someone really light may think. Its one of the inherent problems with reviews that I'm willing to acknowledge, though again, I try my best to step out of my own biases - as hard as that may be!

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Jeff, your last comment was right. sort of. I'm glad Enve has taken a step in that direction but I am hoping for some manufacturers to push further.

I'd just like to add a little to this discussion being on the heavy side (200lbs) and a downhiller who is hard on wheels.

What I'm really liking about this whole prospect of really nice rims with inserts is that, for the first time, we might have a system where a rim can be a "permanent" component on a bike. It may be hard to really quantify an aluminum vs carbon rim since the only real standard we have are widths and weights. But the fact of the matter is, for riders like me, aluminum rims are consumable items. We accept that tires and brake pads should last 6-9 months but in my experience that's how long aluminum rims tend to stay undented or without flat spots (disclaimer: i run pressures at 30F 30R for smooth tracks and 35F 35+R for rocky tracks - yes it rides like rubbish but I want to finish the race). I can't run tubeless because a heavily dented rim won't hold air, even if it's still runs straight and true. Then products like cushcore came along. I've never seen any on this side of the world but it seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel.

If rims stop becoming a consumable it might actually be justifiable to drop coin on a really nice wheelset. Before cushcore, it would be absolutely out of the question to buy a wheelset with nice rims. A normal bad dent would have resulted in a shattered rim. I'm glad that now we actually might have the option to get our rims that last years, ride well, and not spend a third of the day fixing flats. Now if they could only knock 100g off cushcore...

P.S.: I haven't ridden non-dual-ply tires in about decade but it's getting impossible to ignore how awesome short travel bikes have become. Is a ripped sidewall something that happens regularly? It's disappointing how EXO and Silkworm marketing speak is specifically saying how the features are targeted and making sidewalls tear resistant when it sounds like the real improvement is in DD which is 200g heavier per tire and is literally just dual-ply-lite. In the weight ranges were talking about here (260g for cushcore so 130g per tire?), that is a significant amount of weight.

Two things...

1) Telemetry even at the top level still requires an expert to read the results. Otherwise its just a lot of meaningless information. (and if you read between the lines, it seems they even get it wrong a fair amount.

Shockwiz and the likes are cool for intermediate level tinkerers, but they are not sophisticated enough to do what we are asking such technology to do. Maybe in due time.

The hardware exists, but the software behind it would take a lot of time and money to do something with. Still, I'd even love to run something that analyzed the weight distribution between my front and rear wheel alone. That'd be a hell of a teaching tool! But I am digressing...

2) Mark my words, we will see an integrated wheel/insert system in the next 12-24 months (if not something even more comprehensive). The gains are all too real and keeping air in a tire all too obvious a problem. More refined solution will be coming down the pipe

(this is all pure speculation...)

Yup, you've got me pegged on that one; but I suppose it might take one over-thinker to recognize another one ;-)
I hadn't really thought about the way that CushCore would make the "air spring" of the tire more progressive, but it makes a ton of sense now that you've pointed it out and I can see that being a major advantage.

I definitely agree with you about the "need" for consumer level telemetry for the level of granularity that we're talking about. It's great that shockwiz is on the market now, but with the move back to coil springs it would be great to have a system available to work with them as well. There was a Kickstarter product called Suss My Bike that got some press on Vital a couple years back that I was optimistic about, but they seem to have gotten stalled out which is really to bad. There is a definite gap in the market there and digital tech is getting better all the time so I'm sure that someone will offer something up in the not so distant future.

To go back to wheels and tires, with the advent of tire inserts I've been wondering if it might make sense to take a new look at how tires are designed. If we design wheels, tires and inserts as part of an integrated system, instead of as separate units, I think that there might be some real weight and performance gains available. And maybe, just maybe, we would see less World Cup and EWS races being decided by flat tires.

I've actually been thinking about this quite a bit and wrote something up on it, probably at least partially because I'm a big Greg Minnaar fan. If you or anyone else is interested in taking a look at it I just posted it up in the vital forums and I'd be really curious to hear what other people make of it.,2/Do-tire-inserts-mean-its-time-to-rethink-tire-design,9949

Dear Jeff, many thanks for your great article and taking the time to answer to my rambling.

The wheels would go with a Yeti SB 5.5 that I would use mostly on my home trails (forrest, lots of roots, steps, small jumps, no downhill like rock gardens). Thus, based on your comment, I'd just add the SC Reserve carbon wheels (and the stock tires with EXO casing). So far I used the YT Capra, but the Yeti SB 5.5 just peddals much better, keeps more momentumg and goes over braking bumps and roots better than the dowhill bike.

I'm 187lbs plus clothes. No races.
I have a YT Capra and a Solid Strike downhill bike for when it gets rocky. Might add cush core there, mostly for the benefit of the "feel".

Best regards

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I'd say for that bike the SC wheels are an EXCELLENT fit. The SB55c is one of the stiffest rides I've ever been on (as far as an enduro bike goes).

Go for the wheels if you have the coin, then add cushcore later or perhaps to one of your other bikes that more often get "pushed hard" when descending.

Don't get me wrong, every bike can benefit from inserts, but if you aren't riding that edge of traction/no traction its not as big of a deal.

My $0.02.

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Thanks for the great review. As another bigger guy its always great to hear a review from someone who puts a lot of force on things.

A couple questions and thoughts:
First off, unless I'm missing it somewhere, you've included rim weights in the review, but no complete wheel weights; that seems like pretty important information that should be added in.

Moving on to questions about CushCore, what made the installation so much easier on these rims? I'm assuming that it had something to due with their interior shape, but I'm curious to know if you can point to anything in particular? Beyond that, you said that it was the biggest "biggest performance increase" that you've added to a bike all year, but you only used them for 3 weeks out of 6 months of testing? Was that so that you could give a review of the wheels without it being overly influenced by the performance gains of the inserts, or was it because the total wheel wight with the inserts was just too much for full time use, even with the performance that they offered? As a final question on that front were you using the Double Down style casings with the inserts, or did you find that you were able to get away with a lighter exo type casing?

If you ever get a chance to review the We Are One Agent wheelset, I'd love to hear how they compare to these. I haven't had a chance to ride them yet, but I'm hoping to line up a pair for next season. They've certainly put a lot of emphasis on tuning the wheels for ride quality in their online material. Their warranty isn't lifetime, but they do offer a 5 year no questions asked warranty, and 50% off of replacement cost after that. Combine that with stellar prices -$1200 with Hope hubs, and $1625 with Project 321s- and the fact that they are made in North America by a company that genuinely seems to care about lessening their environmental impact and I'm pretty sold...
They don't have the same resources behind them as Santa Cruz, but I like to root for the little guy, so I'm really hoping that they have been able to achieve a similar ride quality.

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1) Wheel weights can be found on the SC page. We only included rim weight as that is the only part SC is actually manufacturing, though, to be fair you are right, we probably should have included full wheel weights.

2) Frankly, I'm not sure why Cushcore was easier, but it was. Again, it took me a handful of minutes extra per wheel. This was using both double down and EXO casing (not DH). As far as which casing, well personally i don't think you can "go to a lighter casing" when running any insert, at least in a race situation. A cut casing is a cut casing after all.

3) I utilized Cushcore on other wheels throughout the year. Main reason I didn't keep them in the SC wheels is I felt it skewed the durability test too much as well as my non-racing riding consisting of a whole lot of climbing and descending by myself (where the risk taking isn't as high...)

4) I will keep an eye out for those wheels you speak of!


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Jeff, You say that these are the best carbon rims for their intended use-trail/durotard. Would these rims then be your first choice for the new nomad? or would you skip carbon altogether for a bike that is mostly being shuttled up the mountain? personally I'm a heavy rider and I wouldn't mind the set up being a bit stiffer even on a 29" wheel.

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If you have the money, I'd go for it, absolutely. Its not just light weight that is great here (and as others have pointed out, these aren't the absolute lightest wheels on the market), but rather the way the wheel interacts with the frame and ground.

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We have got these in-stock and I'm not going to lie, when Santa Cruz told me they are doing carbon wheels we where all going %^&* they shouldn't do this, after all we've now seen a few brands doing their 'own branded' rims (probably made by a company beginning with L - which by the way are very good for the money). So after using our demo set last week, and looking at the quality of the build, I can honestly say they are the best we've come across. Though we would need to be testing them longer to be 100% sure. But I would say and don't want to upset the apple cart, they are equal to Enve if that helps. The bottom-line is carbon wheels are a huge investment, and a lighter wheel so less rotational mass, stiffness etc will make the bike faster more than any other component upgrade, so the lifetime warentee is a key factor. We aim to test them at some more UK trail centers over the next few weeks, but so far I can say nice work SC smile

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Meh.... trail centre's. No exactly a ticking all boxes proving ground. Got exactly 3 days use in the alps with my last set of carbons, great investment

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As a real world owner of these and a lot of other carbon rims I agree 100% with Jeff's conclusions. I did not expect to feel any difference compared to my other wheels, but they are next level. The way they smooth out the chatter, but still remain stiff enough to nail narrow line choices is uncanny. I won't be riding anything other than the Reserves in the future.

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Stans Flow MK3 29" - 527 grams
Santa Cruz Reserve 30 29" - 490 grams
I would argue it would be very difficult to notice 37 grams in a rim while riding. I am not saying they are near as stiff or any of that other carbon arguments. But arguing these huge weight savings over aluminum is not really there.

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A couple comparisons from Industry 9. Total wheel set weight of the Enduro-s is 1750 grams (27.5 size) , total weight of the Enduro 305 is 1700 grams (27.5) . Both aluminum rims and 30mm inner, the S has steel spokes. The SC Reserve 30 total weight is 1731 grams for 27.5 wheels with I9 hubs. So as far as weight is concerned, there is no difference...

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I don't disagree there. In fact, I've run many alloy wheelsets with awesome results, especially in racing prior to tire inserts where a dent could actually save your race run.

However, the Flow MK3 has a very different feel to it, some may like it, but I can tell you at my weight, the SC setup is notably better with respect to precision and durability...

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And like I said, I am not arguing stiffness or precision, just weight. You may argue Stan's are not a high-end aluminum rim (I will disagree) but my point is strictly about the weight penalty.
Good review and don't want to be too critical

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1) I encourage people to be critical. Its how we get better. Thank you for bringing this up.
2) I shouldn't have inferred they aren't high quality, they just have a different feel to them and for me, not as good of a feel (but yes, this is very subjective). As I also said, before inserts, I'd consciously chose aluminum over carbon just because it was better assurance I kept air in my tire on a race run...

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First, this was a really great write-up. I really enjoyed reading it.

There was only one thing that I wanted to ask. In the end, you said that these are the best wheels on the market for their intended purpose (which I assume is AM/Enduro.) There's a handful of those rims very similar to these besides the obvious Enve. I know you're super stoked on these wheels as you should be. As a reader and open to the idea of getting carbon wheels, I would like to know how inclusive your list of AM/enduro wheels are; or in other words what specific wheels do you feel these rims out perform.

To be honest, I just pulled the trigger on a set of carbon wheels from a very small but reputable company. They are in the mail and nearly match every spec given in your review. I'm curious to see if they fall in that list of wheels these ones out performed.


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Hey dirtworks, great question. Pinned on time so I can't go into too much depth but here is my short answer...

Here is what I have direct experience with...

Ibis 935, Ibis 928, Ibis 941
Specialized Roval Control 29 Carbon
A smattering of Enve wheels
Bontrager Carbon (proto), but turned out to be their top end enduro offering (XXX?)

When compared to all the competition, SC wheels stand out in a few ways:

1) Feel. When paired with the modern (stiff) carbon frame, these wheels had just the right amount of flex to not over penalize a bad line choice and hold traction well while cornering (remember, your wheel flex is a tool, responsible for following the contour of the ground when your bike is tipped over). That said, these are not noodles, they have a great "snappy" feel to them. I know SC spent a lot of time "tuning" this, playing with width/height ratios, layups etc. It paid off massively.

2) Warranty. It's just plain silly.

With respect to width, tire profile, lightness, etc, the rest is at least on par.

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Rim only option? Paired with hub of choice would be nice for the uber geek mtb crowd... onyx, chris king, profile, 321.

Nice review and responses to the commets!

Thank you

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Gotta be a rim only option as they offer only boost at present. Missing a massive market without rim or normal options

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There will be a rim only option - timing TBT if I remember right (I think it's soon). Be aware however, if you were to go to a totally different spoke and hub flange it would greatly change my thoughts. For the right builder, however, you could make them stiffer for a softer frame (like the Niner RIP).

Anyway, thanks for the question and kind words.

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First Look: Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels

Santa Cruz brings years of carbon experience to the wheel game, promising big things and backing them up with a lifetime warranty.

Santa Cruz is set to ruffle some feathers in the wheel world with the launch of their new Reserve lineup of wheelsets. The high performance, top dollar wheelset is aimed at leaving no compromises, complete with a lifetime warranty. Is it indeed a game changing product or mere marketing riffraff? Read on for our first look...


  • Available in 27.5 and 29-inch diameters
  • 29-inch wheels in three widths: 25, 27 and 30mm internal
  • 27.5-inch wheels in two widths: 27 and 30mm internal
  • 1.5:1 width to height ratio
  • 28 spokes pre wheel with three-cross lacing pattern
  • Asymmetrical profile and offset drilling for even spoke tension
  • Wax bladder molding technique for less variability during manufacturing
  • External nipple reinforcements
  • Industry 9 Torch or DT Swiss 350 hub options
  • J-Bend DT Swiss Competition Race double butted spokes
  • Sapim Secure Lock alloy nipples (no spoke prep required)
  • Hand built in Santa Cruz
  • OEM upgrade for Nomad/Strega starting today, and all SC and Juliana Bikes starting July 1
  • Aftermarket (as rims and complete wheels) in Fall 2017
  • Pricing: $1,899 with Industry Nine hubs // $1,599 with DT Swiss
  • Lifetime rim warranty with 24-hour turnaround

27.5-inch Rim Weights

  • Reserve 27: 435g
  • Reserve 30: 470g

29-inch Rim Weights

  • Reserve 25: 390g
  • Reserve 27: 455g
  • Reserve 29: 490g

Santa Cruz is no stranger to carbon fiber, employing the material for the better part of a decade throughout the company’s line. In typical Santa Cruz fashion, these wheels were designed from the ground up in the company’s quest to make a wheel that struck an ideal balance between weight, ride quality and top rung durability.


The specs sheet alone is enough to make even the most critical bike dork blush. Wow. From the lifetime warranty to the rim’s profile and shape, it's hard to find a fault with these hoops. The only knock we can find on initial gander is the price. At $1,599-1,899, they are hardly cheap, but then again, they are very much in line with several top run carbon fiber wheelsets from their competitors.

The answer to the question you’re thinking right now is simple: we know we can do it better.

Santa Cruz left no stone unturned when it came down to blending durability, ride quality and internal width into a package that leaves little to be desired. The project has been in development for the better part of three years, and even involved setting up a new carbon fiber testing/prototyping facility in Santa Cruz, California. The result is a beautiful, lightweight carbon wheelset.

Refining Ride Feel & Durability

Here at Vital, we've had our hands on a number of top shelf carbon wheelsets over the years. One thing we've noticed is that some carbon wheels can be so stiff it borders on harsh, sometimes transmitting unwanted feedback to the rider and being more prone to deflection. Santa Cruz recognized this problem and put a lot of energy into engineering a product that strikes a balance between stiffness and compliance to offer the best trail experience.

To achieve this, Santa Cruz chose a rim profile that features a 1.5:1 width to height ratio, which is something they claim offers the best blend of stiffness and feel. Add to this double butted DT Swiss Comp Race spokes, an asymmetric shape, and an offset drilling pattern both contributing to more even spoke tension, and you have a package that aims to be more "baby bear porridge." Not too stiff and not too soft – just right.


Aesthetically, it's impossible to miss the nipple reinforcement point on the rim. Though other companies also reinforce this critical interface on the wheel internally, doing so in an external fashion allows for more consistent quality control in the drilling process where the reinforcement is always hit or the wheel is rejected from the line. Santa Cruz claims a common failure point on other carbon wheels is this critical, high stress area where the nipple meets the wheel and the center of the reinforcement is missed by a small margin in the rim’s drilling process.


The wheels are molded in a way that Santa Cruz claims has less variability in the manufacturing process, one of the challenges with carbon. In essence, we all know carbon is very strong. However, failure of the material is often a result of variance in the manufacturing process. Santa Cruz is employing a method of manufacturing whereby they utilize a wax bladder molding technique to ensure more complete compaction with less likelihood of voids or air bubbles compared to other methods.


Rim Width

Internal rim width is a big deal these days with 25-30mm seeming to be most popular depending on application. Santa Cruz has covered all basis here, offering an XC 29er variety in 25mm for smaller tires in less abusive cross country applications, with the 27 and 30mm widths offered in both rim sizes aimed more toward trail and gravity use.

Though this may seem overkill, Santa Cruz claims the goal was optimal tire shape depending on application and tire width. We can personally attest the pitfalls of utilizing too wide of rims on too narrow of tires making for an incredibly blocky, tough-to-corner-on shape. By allowing the user to pick the right rim width for his/her application and tire preference, the user should be able to better tune their ride to optimal levels.

Spokes Matter

Spokes are J-bend DT Swiss Competition Race mated to Sapim Secure Lock nipples (spoke-prep-less nipples), again to ensure more consistency. The company found spoke prep to sometimes create inconsistencies when tensioning a wheel. We at Vital appreciate off-the-shelf spokes, which are something that most riders should have little issue finding in a pinch.

Reserves are claimed to be so strong thanks to their external reinforcement that the spokes break before the rims do in this spoke pull-through test.
In addition to employing guys like Josh Bryceland and Danny MacAskill as Test Engineers, Santa Cruz built test fixtures to more accurately simulate real world mountain bike wheel impacts.

Lifetime Warranty

Perhaps the biggest game-changer here is the lifetime rim warranty. There are very few companies offering a warranty like this, with the buyer needing to put up no additional money for the warranty. Santa Cruz has a dedicated wheel service staff and claims a 24-hour turnaround time.

Got a warranty claim? Willie is your man.

Pricing & Availability

The company is launching the 27.5-inch 30mm variant on the all-new Nomad, with the wheels proliferating across the entire Santa Cruz line as of July 1 for a $1,200 upgrade. Aftermarket will begin sometime this fall with prices slotting in at $1,899 with Industry Nine Torch hubs or $1,599 with DT Swiss 350 hubs.

Initial Impressions

We had a brief amount of time on them while riding the new Nomad. Despite a few pings and dings, there were zero failures. To add, though anecdotal, the wheels did in fact seem to strike a good balance between flex, responsiveness and weight. Tire profile was spot on, with the 2.5-inch Maxxis Minion tires remaining just round enough to provide endless amounts of cornering traction without squirming, even at lower than normal pressures. Overall, we’d need much more time to fully comment on the performance of the Reserves, but the future of wheels looks promising for the boys (and girls) of Santa Cruz.


Head over to for more details.

Photos by Mike Thomas, Jeff Brines, Gary Perkin, and Sven Martin

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For what its worth - I wasn't paid by SC. Yes, SC is an advertiser on the site but Vital goes to pretty crazy lengths to keep their reviews (and reviewers) objective. Separation of Church and State if you will.

I"m a "consultant" for the company. I have a job outside of Vital (where I spend majority of my time). This means I don't pay my mortgage (or really anything) based on what I write.

I also know I'm only as good as my reputation. If I start strongly sugegsting product that doesn't perform, I'll lose this awesome gig I have very quickly as nobody will trust me. I take it super seriously, to a fault at times, as I can be a bit nauseating to be around.

The fact is there is less and less "bad" product in the industry these days. And the bad product that does make it into my hands, usually doesn't end up getting released. Stand out products like this are hard to come by, but any company willing to do a lifetime warranty on *anything* in the bike industry is pretty wowing. Add to that great performance and you have an exceptional product.

Happy to answer any questions pertaining to the review and why you may feel I am somehow not being honest.

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Wow, "No questions asked" lifetime warranty? Legendary rider Danny Macaskill abusing the hell out of these wheels trying to destroy them. Now a 5 out 5 star review? Santa Cruz has been killing it lately. I already have a set of Carbon wheels so I'm not looking to buy another set but man, if I were these would be it. Honestly, they may be expensive but compared to ENVE they are are steal.

Great review!

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From the Santa Cruz website:

Lifetime Warranty
Lifetime. No gimmicks. Not limited. If you do actually manage to break our rim while out riding, we'll replace it for free. And probably high five you in the process! If it gets run over by a truck we'll help you out with a low cost accidental 'crash replacement', because life's too short to argue. We know riding time's too precious to keep you waiting, so we'll do our best to sort you out fast.

Never Miss A Ride
If you buy a set of our wheels, or they come as stock equipment on a bike you buy, they're covered by a lifetime warranty. If you break a rim, just fill out the warranty form, and we'll get a replacement headed your way within 24 hours. Simple as that. If you're on vacation, we can even ship a new wheel to wherever you're staying.

If you break a wheel through some momentary lapse of judgement, just get in touch with our warranty department and we'll still help you out. We stand behind our products, and we want you to be happy with your purchase. If you're ever unhappy, give us a call or shoot us an email and we'll try to make it right.

Make sure you take a minute to register for your warranty so that we can process your claim as quickly as possible if the need ever arises. We'll keep that image of your receipt on file so you never have to worry about proving that you're the original owner.

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Are there any plans for a 27.5 wheel with about a 35mm internal rim width? Since that seems to be the direction wheels seem to be headed these days.

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Product Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon Wheels
Riding Type Cross Country, Trail
Wheel Size 27.5" (650b), 29"
Rim Material Carbon
Rim Santa Cruz Reserve
Inner Rim Width
  • 25mm
  • 27mm
  • 30mm
Hole Count 28
Tubeless Compatible Yes
Rear Hub Industry Nine Torch or DT Swiss 350 hubs
Rear Axle 12mm x 148mm (Boost)
Front Hub Industry Nine Torch or DT Swiss 350 hubs
Front Axle 15mm x 110mm (Boost)
Disc Mount Type 6 Bolt
Spokes DT Swiss Competition Race, double-butted, J-bend, 3x lacing
Nipples Sapim Alloy Secure Lock
Colors Black
Weight N/A
Miscellaneous Carbon reinforcements around the spoke holes
External nipple access for easy servicing
Built in Santa Cruz, California
Rim weight: 390g - 490g
Lifetime Warranty
  • $1,599
  • $1,899
More Info

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