Review: Santa Cruz Reserve Wheelset

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in issue 206 of Dirt Rag Magazine in our Stuff section. Like what you see? Subscribe now at

Santa Cruz Reserve Wheelset – $1,600
By Scott Williams

“We (Santa Cruz) believe in building quality bicycles and components (hence the tagline ‘Quality Bicycles Since 1994’), and quality, to us, means building stuff that lasts, that can be easily maintained for a long time (no complicated and proprietary widgets that are hard to source and which require crazy specialist tools or qualifications to operate) and which we will stand by for a very long time (either through having a very robust warranty, keeping a supply of parts and frames so spares are easy to provide riders, and making it easy for riders to file a claim with us). All of this is about ensuring riders suffer no missed rides. Or if something does happen then we try really hard to minimize the number of rides a rider will miss. “ – Seb Kemp, Santa Cruz brand manager.

A wheelset with a lifetime warranty
The Santa Cruz Reserve rims have 28 spoke holes and are available in both 27.5 and 29 hoops. The internal width ranges from 25 to 37 mm depending on the diameter of the hoop. To create a more durable wheel, Santa Cruz went with an asymmetrical spoke hole pattern. Providing a 3 to 5 mm offset results in even spoke tension side to side and produces a stronger wheel. While the rims are manufactured in the company’s exclusive carbon facility in Asia, all wheelsets are designed, tested and built at the factory in California. Available hub options are DT Swiss, Industry Nine and Chris King. If you’re looking for the nitty-gritty details, like the reinforced carbon around the spoke nipples, head over to Santa Cruz’s website for the full rundown.

… but how do they ride?
Back in February at the Santa Cruz Factory (check out the story on our website), I built a 29er wheelset using the Reserve 27 rim, DT Swiss 350 hubs and Competition Race spokes. Both Maxxis and Schwalbe tires mounted up easily with only the use of a standard high-volume, low-pressure floor pump. In addition to this wheelset, I also had the opportunity to ride a few other Reserve wheelsets on everything from hardtails, short travel 29ers as well as the new 5010 and Bronson.

Making the switch to the Reserve wheelset on my personal hardtail, I immediately felt as if the bike gained a bit of snappiness even though the prior wheelset with same tires was a couple of hundred grams lighter. It accelerated noticeably faster when on the center tread and felt like it continued the acceleration through corners. With the front end not having the slight delay I was accustomed to, it often felt like I was missing my line through the tight and twisty tech. Not until after about 30 minutes was I able to adjust my timing and body English a bit and begin to fall in sync with the new wheels. From my experience, the Reserve wheelset is more forgiving than the Bontrager Line Pro 30s and a bit stiffer than a DT Swiss XMC 1200 or Light Bicycle AM928.

If you are looking for a carbon wheelset for your hardtail with endurance racing in mind, I probably would pick something more forgiving for those long, chattery days in the saddle. However, whether you are endurance racing on ultra cross-country courses or ripping down the bike park, the Reserve wheels felt like pure magic when paired with a modern full-suspension bike. On both the Santa Cruz Blur (cross-country) and Bronson (all mountain), the wheels and bikes formed perfect cohesive units for maximum fun. The Santa Cruz Reserve wheels are a perfect balance of stiffness and predictability allowing for precise handling characteristics all while keeping the rider from feeling like they are aboard a wooden roller coaster.

Competitor wheelsets within the same class will on average cost $1,350 and typically offer a stingy 1-3 year limited warranty. The Santa Cruz Reserve wheelset, while more expensive, includes a lifetime warranty to the original owner without having to jump through any hoops. If a Reserve wheel were to break, the process begins by filling out the claim form through the Santa Cruz website, meaning you don’t need to go through a shop. Once the claim is submitted, Santa Cruz will hustle and bustle to ship a brand-new wheel within 24 hours to get the rider back up and rolling as fast as possible. All of this is possible thanks to Santa Cruz building every Reserve wheelset here in the United States at the company’s factory in Santa Cruz, California.