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review

Vel 38 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset

8
£999.00

VERDICT:

8
10
A fast set of wheels for any road or gravel ride
Great performance
Easy tubeless installation
Understated looks
More expensive than direct sales equivalents
Intrusive freehub noise
Weight: 
1,490g

At road.cc every product is thoroughly tested for as long as it takes to get a proper insight into how well it works. Our reviewers are experienced cyclists that we trust to be objective. While we strive to ensure that opinions expressed are backed up by facts, reviews are by their nature an informed opinion, not a definitive verdict. We don't intentionally try to break anything (except locks) but we do try to look for weak points in any design. The overall score is not just an average of the other scores: it reflects both a product's function and value – with value determined by how a product compares with items of similar spec, quality, and price.

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Vel's 38 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset has proved a reliable, durable and impressive performer during a month or so of testing. It weighs a respectable 1,490g (on our scales) and the £999 price isn't bad – it's not the cheapest, but you can pay a lot more for similarly specced wheels from other brands.

As the name suggest, it's the 38mm-deep version of Vel's top-of-the-range RSL wheels. Vel offers two ranges, the RL and RSL, which share the same Toray 24/30T carbon rims, but while the 38 RL uses Vel's own hubs and Pillar Wing spokes, the 38 RSL has DT Swiss 240 S hubs and Sapim CX-Ray spokes with brass nipples.

Vel claims a weight of 1,550g for the RLs and 1,460g for the RSLs (the difference with the road.cc scales more than likely being a double-wrap of tubeless tape). The RLs are £699, the RSLs £999 – that's a £300 premium for a 90g weight reduction, and better hubs, spokes and nipples.

> Buy these online here

The RSLs' 38mm carbon rims measure 27.5mm wide on the outside, and have an internal width of 20.3mm. That is wide enough to see some aerodynamic benefits from a smoother surface for air to pass where the tyre and rim meet.

2021 VEL 38 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset - rim bed.jpg

Vel doesn't provide any aerodynamic testing data for these rims; if you're looking for an aero wheelset you'll probably be looking at deeper rims anyway. I think 38mm is a good compromise between having some aero benefits without affecting weight much and, more crucially, without affecting bike handling in crosswinds. Going deeper than about 40mm is where I start having to be a bit more careful when the wind is up, and there was no such issue with these.

2021 VEL 38 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset - valve hole.jpg

As I mentioned above, the hubs are the lovely DT Swiss 240s, using Center Lock discs. These wheels will fit bikes with a 12x100mm front axle and 12x142mm on the rear, which is the most common standard for road disc wheels, but you can buy aftermarket adapters for almost any standard to fit the 240 hubs. Vel clarified it also offers 15mm front axle compatibility, but only 12mm axles are available as part of the normal checkout process as far as we can tell from the product page on Sigma Sport's website.

2021 VEL 38 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset - rear hub.jpg

The front wheel is built up with 24 two-cross-laced Sapim CX-Ray straight-pull spokes with brass nipples. It's the same two-cross lacing on the back with 28 of the same spokes and nipples. You get spare spokes and nipples in the box.

2021 VEL 38 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset - front hub.jpg

Tubeless installation

The Vel 38 RSLs come with tubeless rim tape installed, and tubeless valves in the box. I tried all the tubeless tyres I had available, and all went on more or less hassle-free. These were 28mm Schwalbe Pro Ones, 30mm Schwalbe G-One Speeds and 43mm Panaracer GravelKing SKs. I did notice after running the GravelKings without issue that Vel specifies a maximum tyre size of 34mm. Meh.

When I say hassle-free, I don't quite mean they'll pop on easily and all you need is a track pump. What I do mean is they go on (and off) with mild use of a pair of tyre levers, but don't require swearing. I used a compressor to get them up initially, and they mostly seated just fine without taking the valve cores out. For the GravelKings, I did have to take the valve cores out for a couple of attempts, and they then went on fine.

Obviously, I haven't tried every tyre out there, but this is about on a par how I'd expect an 'easy' tubeless installation to go. For reference, I had two Hunt wheelsets, one carbon and one alloy, to hand that I was rotating those tyres on, and tubeless installation was about the same.

How they ride

The first few 100 miles of testing were on my Ribble Endurance SL and they really made the bike come alive. They really make such a difference from the Aksiums the bike came with, putting a smile on my face on every ride. The understated looks of the Vels made the bike look better too, which for me is almost as important as performance in a wheelset. They have to make you want to go out on your bike every time you look at it.

2021 VEL 38 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset - rim detail 2.jpg

When you put the hammer down, they are there, responding quickly and transforming power into speed. There are no issues with flex losing some of what you put in.

They work equally well on those slightly downhill roads that make you go into time trial mode, especially when there's a bit more wind from the side than would be ideal.

Through the corners on a fast descent they are surefooted and inspire confidence to push the pace a bit, with the disc brakes giving you the stopping power to leave braking a bit later too.

On long descents is where I noticed the only negative point I can think of, and it's quite a small, subjective one. The sound the freehub makes at speeds around 50kph is high pitched and a bit piercing, to the point where I tried to slow down or speed up to change the pitch. It wasn't bad enough to make me stop enjoying these wheels, or to mark them down for it, but worth mentioning.

They are billed as a road wheelset, but I thought taking them out gravelling would be a good test for their durability, so they've seen a long day out to Wales, and even a bikepacking trip over Exmoor and the Quantocks.

2021 VEL 38 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset - rim detail 1.jpg

That last trip, particularly, was a real test; the route took us over some pretty 'interesting' terrain where a full suspension mountain bike would have been more at home. The Vel 38 RSLs stoically just got on with it, staying true and round.

When I took the cassette off, there were some indentations in the freehub body, but not deep enough to stop the cassette coming off smoothly. That's about what I'd expect to see based on experiences with other wheelsets.

Vel 38 RSL freehub body after testing period.jpg

After 1,300km of testing on a variety of surfaces, I can say with some confidence that these are well built and should last you a long time.

Value

These cost £999, which is a fair bit of cash, though you can spend a lot more. The DT Swiss ARC 1100 DICUT 50 DBs cost £2,199 and weigh about the same at 1,468g, but they do have deeper rims. The Princeton CarbonWorks Wake 6560 Disc Tune wheels are even more expensive at £3,199, weigh 1,540g, but are much deeper.

The FFWD RYOT44 wheelset is closer at £1,549, but quite a bit heavier at 1,680g.

Hunt's 35 Carbon Aero Disc Wheelset costs less than the 38 RSL at £859. It's 100g lighter and is available for different axle standards, with aftermarket adapters available. The hubs are Hunt's own, so don't have the brand reputation of DT Swiss, but Stu reviewed the 30mm version of these (no longer available) last year and liked them a lot.

You can spend less too, the most obvious candidate being Vel's own 38 RL. As I said, it costs £699, though it's a bit heavier and uses cheaper hubs and spokes.

> Buyer’s Guide: 33 of the best disc brake road wheelsets

So, in this price bracket, between the two sets of Vel wheels and the Hunt wheelset, you can decide how much you want to spend and what is important to you: weight, brand reputation and cost. If it's the combination that the Vel 38 RSLs offer, I reckon you're getting decent value for money.

It's also worth noting that Vel offers help with crash replacement. It says that if you've registered your wheels within three months of purchase and you have an accident, it'll replace them with an equivalent product up to 40% off within the first three years of ownership for the original purchaser.

Conclusion

Vel's 38 RSL wheelset is a reliable partner for any road or gravel ride. The wheels are a joy to ride, perform well and, if the test period is anything to go by, they'll go the distance.

Verdict

A fast set of wheels for any road or gravel ride

If you're thinking of buying this product using a cashback deal why not use the road.cc Top Cashback page and get some top cashback while helping to support your favourite independent cycling website

road.cc test report

Make and model: Vel 38 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset

Size tested: Shimano

Tell us what the wheel is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?

Vel says this about the 38 RSLs:

'Vel's lightest road wheel design, the handbuilt 38 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset combines low weight with reliability and efficiency for a great ride. The 38mm deep Toray 24/30T carbon rims offer some aerodynamic advantages over standard rims, particularly as their width helps the tyre/rim junction present a smooth interface to the wind, but isn't so deep that crosswinds are ever an issue. The rim's width also helps the tyre to open out for greater volume and adds stability to the sidewalls when cornering so that it is both more comfortable and faster. Tubeless-ready, and supplied with valves and a double wrap of rim tape already fitted, conversion to tubeless running is quick and simple.

'The hubs are courtesy of DT Swiss, with their renowned, super reliable and light 240S model doing the duties. Engagement at the rear is near-instant with the 36 tooth ratchet, which also spreads the load more evenly than a pawl design, adding to the reliability and efficiency. Using both Center Lock and 12mm thru-axle standards, the wheels will fit virtually all modern disc road bikes. Holding the wheel together is another revered wheel brand in the form of Sapim's CX-Ray spokes and brass nipples, keeping the weight low and strength high. Spare spokes and nipples are provided with the wheels to help with any maintenance.'

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?

Vel says:

Clincher / tubeless-ready clincher tyre compatible

Double wrapped with tubeless rim tape

Wheel Size: 700c

Rim: Toray 24/30T carbon

Rim ERD (Effective Rim Diameter): 563mm

Rim Depth: 38mm

Internal Rim Width: 20.3mm

External Rim Width: 27.5mm

Spokes: Sapim CX-Ray, straight pull, 14g, two-cross lacing with brass nipples

Spoke Count: Front - 24 / Rear - 24

Hubs: DT Swiss 240S, sealed bearings, 36 tooth ratchet

Disc Standard: Center Lock

Front Axle: 12x100mm

Rear Axle: 12x142mm

Maximum Tyre Size: 25mm-34mm

Manufacturer Claimed Weight: Front - 675 grams / Rear - 785 grams / Wheelset - 1,460 grams

Maximum Tyre Pressure: 120psi

Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM / SRAM XDR / Shimano Microspline

Includes: Tubeless valves, spare spokes and nipples

Maximum system weight: 110kg

Rate the wheel for quality of construction:
 
8/10
Rate the wheel for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the wheel for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the wheel for weight
 
8/10
Rate the wheel for value:
 
5/10

Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?

The wheels stayed true throughout, despite using them outside their comfort zone for a couple of long gravel rides.

How easy did you find it to fit tyres?

Tubeless tyres were easy enough to fit, but not so loose as to make inflation an issue. Vel has struck a good balance.

How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?

The wheels come with tubeless valves and double wrapped with tubeless rim tape. Both worked without issues.

Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose

The Vel 38 RSLs are a real pleasure to ride. Their low weight and rim depth are really noticeable when you put down the power, and they have stood up to whatever I've thrown at them.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel

I like the understated looks, the easy tubeless tyre installation and the performance.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel

The freehub noise has a frequency that I found a little intrusive at certain speeds. That is about the only thing I can come up with to dislike.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

Cheaper wheels are available from the likes of Hunt with a similar spec at first glance, but they don't have DT Swiss hubs or Sapim spokes.

You can spend a lot more too, of course, on wheels from the likes of Enve and Zipp. We've also reviewed some more expensive options from Princeton CarbonWorks, DT Swiss and FFWD.

Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes

Would you consider buying the wheel? Maybe

Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Yes, if they wanted brand reassurance for the hub and spokes.

Use this box to explain your overall score

Vel's 38 RSL wheelset is very good: a reliable partner for any road or gravel ride. The wheels are a joy to ride, perform well and – if the test period is anything to go by – they'll go the distance.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 44  Height: 1.78m  Weight: 77kg

I usually ride: All of them!  My best bike is: Ribble Endurance SL disc

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, mtb, Zwift

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