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Battle tested: Reserve 35 road wheels hit the dirt

Words/images: Tim Schamber

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Let’s get one thing straight: There are more gravel wheels out there to choose from than ever before. In fact, it seems that everybody and their mother is producing the tubeless-carbon variety, and it wasn’t so long ago that if you decided to detour and hit the dirt, you did so with your road wheels and prayed for the best. Fast forward really quickly and here we are in a world of endless options and carbon tubeless (or tubeless-ready), wide wheelsets that command the spotlight. They’re burly and light at the same time; they are nimble and durable because of the obvious evolution of carbon fiber; and, because bike manufacturers are making framesets that allow for wider and taller tires, you can mount a 32mm gravel tire on the Reserve 35 road wheelset and attach them to a Trek Émonda and still have a little bit of clearance! Yeah, we did that—why not?!

Technically, they are road wheels but “F-it” we wrapped them with gravel tires and went rippin’.
The basics

The Reserve 35s are of the hooked-rim variety—tubeless-ready and with a 21mm internal rim width that can handle any tire from 25 to 35mm. That range, of course, means you can go from road slick 25s to chunky 35mm “dirt-whompers” if you desire. For our review, we mounted some tubeless 32mm Panaracer GravelKings. The depth is 35mm, which gives the rim the burliness and stability you want in a wheel. The Reserve 35s come with a 24-spoke count and three different DT Swiss hub/freewheel setups: DT 180, 240, or 350 and XDr or HG-EV driver options (what our wheels came with). Disc-mounting is center-lock and in the 350 configuration the wheelset weighs in at around 1,497 grams (sans tires and cogset). You’ll shed around 100 grams if you choose the DT 180 setup and a little more than 50 grams if you go with the 240 hubs. In the scheme of things for rolling weight, we don’t think that’s much considering you’ll pay $1,000 extra for the 180 configuration and $600 more for the 240 option. Naturally, it’s based on personal preference; but we think all three DT Swiss hub options are good and simple to work on, so ultimately it comes down to how thick your wallet is.

Hit the dirt

The stance of the Reserve 35s is a real standout. The width sits in that sweet spot of “not too skinny” and “not too wide” but “just right.” Wrapped with the GravelKings, it makes for a steady setup. A couple of my routes involved a mixed bag of terrain: gritty asphalt, smooth bike path, wide-open gravel, flowy singletrack, and rutted trails covered in leaves. It’s the perfect testing ground for these wheels because you can transition between the varying surfaces at a moment’s notice and really put the screws to the wheels quickly and get immediate impressions.

On the road with 32mm knobs is not bad. Punch the tire pressure up a bit and resistance is minimal. It’s what you would expect from such a setup. What I really love about the Reserve 35s is the stiffness. Up and out of the saddle punching up a rise in the road, you don’t get any lateral flex. Your disc isn’t going to rub under that stress and the smoothness of the DT Swiss hubs keeps momentum consistent. Pop over the roller and down the other side and descending is clean and stable. The 35mm wheel depth is the perfect number in my opinion, especially in crosswinds. Anything taller and you certainly feel it. While some prefer the “noise” of a freehub body, I love the “purr” of the DT Swiss 350s. It’s subtle, yet clear, without barking, “Hey, I’m here!”

DT Swiss 350s are plenty great. You can roll the higher-priced models if you want, but odds are you may not notice the difference.

Take a left to rip through a loamy single track and the wheels come alive. This is what this wheel was meant to do even if it’s not considered a gravel wheel. It’s clear at this point that the Reserve’s origins from engineers at Santa Cruz Bicycles are present and accounted for. Responsive and aggressive—even though they’re attached to a Trek road bike! They feel at home in the dirt with the width and depth, strength and conviction. Round the corner, hit a rutty climb, slow things down, shift to make things easier, steadier. My tire pressure is spot on. Out of the saddle grinding out a familiar climb on terrain that is a bit rough, and the same characteristics of being on asphalt hold true. The whole concept, notion, and mention of stiffness are oft-overused in our industry, but this characteristic in the 35s holds so true that I believe they do make for a much more responsive ride, especially when climbing.

The climbing continues through a mix of mud in the shady, tree-covered areas and rutted, dry-packed dirt in the open meadow near the top. After leveling off, I transition to true gravel of the white variety. It’s packed most of the way with a mix of soft, sandy patches here and there. It’s an opportunity to drop into the 36×10 and step on it a bit, rattle around on some washboards, get dusty and negotiate the sections of softer gravel. The 35s track easily into the variations with obvious help from the GravelKing tires. At certain points, I questioned my tire-size choice, but the shape and pattern of the tread bailed me out in all-terrain variations. By no means are these “mudders” but they will get you through some slop and sludge without issue.

As I reach the end of the wide gravel road, I roll along for a while on a traditional dirt road until I take another left on to single track guarded by giant trees. The track is covered in leaves, rendering the trail I know every inch of into a mystery tour. Hard to believe that leaves can do you harm but they can. Under them are ruts, tree roots, rocks, branches, and undulations that at a moment’s notice can throw you offline, over the bars, or whatever. I plow on. It’s not steep but it’s quick and curvy. Bam, hit a hidden rut. Compress the tire. Give a jolt to the wheel. Another root or rock. No problem.

Panaracer GravelKings in the 32 tubeless variety. Just enough tread to handle moderate mud, loamy singletrack, dusty gravel, and are just fine on asphalt.

Aside from the hidden surprises beneath the bike, I’m confident in the performance of this combination of wheel and tire. More mud to negotiate. Up a short rocky rise. Back down through tight turns, then a wide one. Speed is up. There are fewer leaves at this point; I can see the track clearer. Up ahead, maybe 30 feet, is a segment of switchbacks that descend and are quick and steep. I meet it full-on. It’s a bit slippery so I grab a handful of brake. No harsh pull or chatter, but instead an even modulation on the discs. The wheels point perfectly through the tricky section. Out the other end, down a chute of the packed trail for a few miles and on to a bike path of traditional asphalt.

I’ve ridden this route and similar routes on the Reserves, maybe 30 or 40 times. Also, these wheels have seen plenty of strictly asphalt rides in rain and heat, smooth and battered on city streets and neighborhood roads. I’ve crashed on loose gravel, rammed through hidden ruts, launched off curbs and single-track humps, and even ridden 8 miles on a flat (don’t do that). The wheels are as straight today as they were when I first got them.

Still not convinced that “road” wheels work in dirt? Or do you need to run wider tires? Don’t fret, Reserve has a gravel lineup, too.

Reserve didn’t just come out of nowhere. The history with Santa Cruz and the world of mountain bikes is notable and explains why the road and gravel wheels are so durable. The pain and punishment a mountain wheel endures is the perfect testing ground for both their road and gravel lineup. With this, Reserve has a lifetime (not limited lifetime) warranty. Of course, you can’t murder it with your Subaru and expect to get a replacement for free, but it does cover all the usual stuff like a typical crash, or if something somehow breaks.

Everything’s great with the Reserve 35s. I truly found no faults. While you can opt for a different hub setup and pay more, we have no issue with the DT Swiss 350 model. They have seen a fair amount of grunge and still perform well and if necessary are easy to pull apart and work on. The wheels, too, because they are bombproof (figuratively) makes the $1,800 price reasonable if you consider the overall performance, durability, warranty, design and aesthetics, versatility, and tubeless-ready feature.

$1,800 (wheelset with DT 350); 24 spokes; 1,497 grams (pair);