Specialized Tubeless Gone Wrong

How does this happen in 2020?

By Troy Templin

How does a company like Specialized launch a new line of wheels that are designed with tubeless specific shapes, look like they have the appropriate specifications and even come with tubeless accessories but they claim are not tubeless in 2020?

Let’s step back a few months when Specialized dropped off the new Tarmac SL7 to the palatial, well-lit RBA office. This was about a month or two before the launch and they were, like normal, telling us how great the SL7 is. Much of the focus was around the pinnacle S-Works models. We remember clearly noticing the different rim profiles front to back and asking what the deal was. The Specialized reps told us that they would connect us with the Roval team, as they were still working on final launch details. We were left with the SL7 Pro model that we reviewed and is delivered with a new set of Roval Rapide CL wheels. These wheels don’t seem to be available for aftermarket and were not in our Roval launch material. On top of that Specialized was nice enough to build and tune our new bike so there was no small parts box or materials included.

Since the launch quite a few people have emailed me asking about the wheels and whether they are tubeless. Then the team at Roval and Specialized reached out to see if I would update my review saying they are not tubeless. This was a shock because while I rarely read the press kits telling you all the “great things” a bike has, I was sure I had deliberately removed the tires from both wheels to check internal construction as well as taken my own measurements.

Original photo taken before launch verifying internal construction and measurements.

JUST ASK THE SMART GUY

Since one of our smartest test riders (he is a NASA rocket scientist) had the bike I asked if he could bring it in for me to check and to get his feedback. He is not an official expert in bike wheels but he has raced for a world champion jersey on the track (leaving with a respectable bronze) and is a passionate cyclist. Upon yet another inspection of the rims our assumptions were correct.

The wheels have all the telltale signs of a tubeless wheel. They are internally wide at 21mm, they have a large bead shelf for the normally more robust tubeless beads and there is a distinct 0.4mm (ETRTO max) rim bead hump/lock (not required for tubeless but NEVER on a non-tubeless rim). The well of the rim is fairly shallow for easier tubeless setup too. Then they use their Roval tubeless ready rim tape to put a little icing on the cake.

“Without any response from Roval and Specialized, we can’t properly determine the true risk of utilizing a tubeless setup on their new Rapide and Alpinist lines…”

Our local smart guy (from NASA) commented that in his opinion they were designed to be tubeless and a better design than most in fact. His comment was that the fact that Roval claims they are not tubeless means that something didn’t pass inspection at the last minute and they were too invested to change it. It’s as if he could read our thoughts, and was just further verification that something is up.

Maybe the bead shelf wasn’t the correct diameter (we don’t think this is the case) or the bead wall fails when running overinflated pressure (we doubt that because it would effect a tube setup too.) It is more likely that the full line of Specialized tires are not compatible but this is only a guess. For us, all the tubeless tires we tried (different brands) worked flawlessly. We have not done any long-term tests but the setup, bead retention while deflated and performance on a handful of rides was flawless.

While Roval and Specialized have not responded to the request for more info but instead have just asked that they are not promoted as tubeless. We reached out to a few of our local shops and have gotten mixed feedback. Some said that the first few complete bikes with the new wheels came with tubeless valves in the small parts box (early delivery launch timing) but since then have not been included.

WHAT WE RECOMMEND

We would always encourage people to follow the manufacturer’s specifications. Road tubeless has evolved very quickly in the last two years with much better performance, reliability and compatibility but as you can see, mistakes still happen at the highest levels. Enve has a tire compatibility list for their different wheel lines. Most of the incompatibility comes from tires not meeting the hookless requirements that some of their wheels have. We personally had no issues with our tubeless attempts on our Rapide CL wheels and even came away impressed. The addition of the bead lock (previous Roval road tubeless rims didn’t have this) makes it much easier to maintain tubeless system and the reason we believe there is more to the story than Specialized will tell. Without any response from Roval and Specialized, we can’t properly determine the true risk of utilizing a tubeless setup on their new Rapide and Alpinist lines and for that, we would steer clear until there is more information available.

If we get a response we will add it to this article, but don’t hold your breath.

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