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First Ride: SRAM’s 2014 Roam and Rail Wheels

April 11, 2013
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More from the Trail House:
Last week, we gave you a first look at RockShox’s new suspension components from our trip to SRAM’s Trail House. SRAM also had some secrets of their own that came in the form a new line of wheels designed for trail riders. 

Rather than simply getting a marketer’s view of the new product, the Trail House is all about getting us the story from the guys who spend hours sweating the details of the new products. On hand to share their knowledge were Product Manger, Bastien Donz‚ and Design Engineer, Jesse Jakomait.

SRAM’s new Roam and Rail wheelsets pick up where their initial wheel offering, Rise, left off. Where the Rise is centered around cross-country and trail use, Roam and Rail are geared toward trail and all-mountain riders. More on those specifics later.

Balance, Versatility, Options:
When SRAM discusses their approach to wheels, three words jump out: balance, versatility and options. When designing wheels, there are always tradeoffs made which are determined by the intended use. However, trailbikes have become incredibly versatile. Today’s 6-inch travel bikes are able to be pedaled nearly as well as cross-country rigs, don’t weigh much more and can smash downhills with capabilities beyond what full-fledged downhill bikes could offer a handful of years ago. For designers faced with the challenge of creating a competent trail wheel that can wear as many hats as the bikes themselves, finding a balance between strength, weight, durability and stiffness has never been more important. 

“A wheel is a pretty specific component on the bike. It’s an element that needs to be extremely balanced and there are a lot of design parameters that are always contradicting each other. Our belief at SRAM is that if you want a wheel that offers the best ride quality, then you have to find the balance between all of those design parameters” – Bastien Donz‚, SRAM Product Manager for Wheels

Aside from balancing the wheels’ traits and pushing the limits of versatility, SRAM also stressed the importance of giving riders options. “Our job is not to tell you what is the best for you. Our job is to make the best option after you’ve decided what suits you best,” said Donz‚. For SRAM this means not only having a wheel for every job, but giving riders configuration options to a number of bikes. 

Roam 60

  • Intended Use: XC/TR/AM
  • Price: $2,199
  • Available in all 3 wheel sizes: 26″, 27.5″ and 29″ 
  • CARBON TUNED unidirectional and woven carbon fiber, asymmetrical rim profile
  • WIDE ANGLE profile: 21mm inside, 29mm outside rim width
  • UST compatible
  • Available with 11-speed XD driver body for SRAM XX1 or 9/10-speed driver body 
  • Aluminum nipples with nylon lock ring
  • SOLO SPOKE design with double butted, stiff stainless steel spokes
  • Durable hub internals with STAR RATCHET 36T system
  • SIDE SWAP easy conversion to all axle types
  • 26″?-?1495g
  • 27.5″?-?1550g
  • 29″?-?1625g

From SRAM:
It’s the only wheel you need. By layering extra material onto stress points, ROAM 60’s CARBON TUNED rim design makes it light enough for long climbs yet strong enough for the toughest Enduro races. UST compatible, its WIDE ANGLE 21 millimeter-wide rims give you greater stability around corners while its lightness and low inertia make for a more explosive ride. If you love to ride, this is your wheel. 

Roam 50

  • Intended Use: XC/TR
  • Price: $1,072
  • Available in all 3 wheel sizes: 26″, 27.5″ and 29″ 
  • Lightweight aluminum rim with asymmetrical profile
  • WIDE ANGLE profile: 21mm inside, 25mm outside rim width
  • UST compatible
  • Available with 11-speed XD driver body for SRAM XX1 or 9/10-speed driver body 
  • Aluminum nipples with nylon lock ring
  • SOLO SPOKE design with double butted, lightweight steel spokes
  • Durable hub internals with STAR RATCHET system
  • 26″ 1475g
  • 27.5″?-?1530g
  • 29″?-?1611g

From SRAM:
It’s everything the modern mountain biker could ask for. One of the lightest alloy trail wheels in the market, ROAM 50 delivers a smart balance of weight, inertia and stiffness?making for a very responsive and predictable wheel. Thanks to our WIDE ANGLE 21 millimeter-wide rim, its tire profile delivers superior traction. 

Rail 50 

  • Intended Use: AM
  • Price: $1,072
  • Available in 2 wheel sizes: 26″, 27.5″ and 29″
  • Lightweight aluminum rim with asymmetrical profile
  • WIDE ANGLE profile: 23c, 28mm outside rim width
  • UST compatible
  • Available with 11-speed XD driver body for SRAM XX1 or 9/10-speed driver body
  • Aluminum nipples with nylon lock ring
  • SOLO SPOKE design with double butted, stiff steel spokes
  • 26″?-?1690g
  • 27.5″?-?1750g
  • 29″ – 1830g

From SRAM:
An alloy rim that does what other alloy rims can’t. With WIDE ANGLE rim design providing superior stability, RAIL 50 can withstand the most aggressive All-Mountain/Enduro riding while setting a new benchmark for lightweight in the category. Featuring the perfect balance of strength, stiffness and width for All-Mountain/Enduro terrain, RAIL 50 delivers best-in-class ride quality all the way down. 

Rim Technology:

Taper Core

SRAM took a long look at how to maximize strength and weight in their aluminum rim offerings. Taper Core refers to the extra wall material underneath the rim bed and the subsequent thinning of the rim wall where less material is needed. According to SRAM, this strengthens the rim against blunt impacts and prevents denting while keep the rim weight low. 

Wide Angle
As the move toward larger volume tires has progressed so have wider rim beds. While this isn’t new ground, progressing to appropriate rim bed widths have proven to be very important to getting the most performance out of wider tires, mainly in the cornering department. The wide rim bed gives the tire a less bulbous profile which deforms less and resists burping or worse when cornering hard. 

Carbon Tuned

The Roam 60 rim represents somewhat a shift in thinking when it comes to the benefits of carbon. SRAM felt that their aluminum rims were already light enough thanks to the taper core technology. So the focus shifted to laying up the rim to be stronger than aluminum.

“Most of the time in the bike industry, manufacturers use carbon to take some weight out of aluminum components. The cool thing with carbon is that you can mold it the way you like. So you can either have it lighter [than metal] at the same strength or you can have it at the same weight and much stronger. This is what we call Carbon Tuned,” said 

Hub Technology:

Solo Spoke
Whether it is a front, rear, drive side or non-drive side spoke, it is the same length for a given wheelset. This means that the rider only needs to keep spokes of one length on hand should one break on their wheelset. They accomplished this by machining the spoke interface with the hub flange to different depths to account for the usual discreptancy in length needed. 

Side Swap
Side Swap simply refers to the interchangable end cap system employed on the Roam and Rise hubs to fit any axle configuration. You don’t need any tools to swap them, just pop them in and out with your hands. 

Star Ratchet
SRAM hubs use DT Swiss Star Ratchet freehub mechanisms. While this may not be groundbreaking technology, if they are going to use an existing design, we’re glad its a really, really good one. We’ve always had great results with DT Swiss hubs and knowing that the rear hub is essentially a DT Swiss 240s packed into a different shell is comforting. The top-tier Roam 60 wheelset gets the upgraded, 36-tooth Star Ratchet for quicker engagement than the traditional version found in the other two models.

UST Certified
UST certification is always a welcomed feature. Anything that makes setting up our tires into a tubeless configuration is a-okay with us. The SRAM wheels still come with drilled rim beds, so tape is still necessary to seal the rim. SRAM installs tape at the factory and if this needs replacing at any point, they say any tubeless tape on the market should work fine. 

Defining the Line:

This chart shows where SRAM’s new wheels fit in with their existing Rise series. On the aluminum side, the Roam 50 and Rail 50 wheels cover the spectrum from rougher cross-country to all-mountain use. However, because of the weight and strength goals SRAM is able to acheive with the carbon Roam 60, only one model is needed to handle the job of two.

Riding the Roam 60 Wheels: 
The group was divided between the 26- and 29-inch bikes as well as wheel models. Those riding 29ers were on the Roam 50 aluminum wheels, while the 26er crowd rode the Roam 60 carbon wheels. I was on the latter. 

Sedona is chock full of obstacles and harsh conditions to push a wheelset (as well as a bike) to it’s durability limits. The trails can change from smooth and flowing to technical at the drop of a hat. Square edges are abundant and as I was riding most of these trails for the first time, I certainly found a few to call my own. After an especially good “rim durability test,” I hopped off the bike and spun the rear wheel. I was sure I would find some physical sign of my poor line choice, but alas, nothing. The wheel was perfectly straight and there wasn’t a mark on the rim to speak of. 

SRAM’s hubs, packed with DT Swiss internals, performed without a hiccup. The freehub engagement was solid and quick thanks to the RISE 60’s upgraded, 36 tooth Star Ratchet system.

As is always the case, I can’t make any concrete claims to the overall quality after a brief product presentation. When we test wheels at Mountain Bike Action, we spend months riding them, not two days. We will have to hammer out hundreds of miles on SRAM’s new wheels to come to a solid conclusion, but we are looking forward to it.  


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