Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha wheelset - review - Road Cycling UK

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Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha wheelset – review

Excellent do-it-all aluminium wheelset with very few spokes - but they're not cheap

Rolf bills its Vigor family of wheels as all rounders (no pun intended) – but if one of them can do everything, why have a whole range of them? The short answer is that while every Vigor wheelset is a jack of all trades, each of them is more of a master of one particular thing. The Alpha is the premium offering in the Vigor range and is a highly-capable all-rounder for a rider who wants one wheelset which can turn its hard at almost anything.

The standard Vigor does everything well. “[It’s aimed at] the road rider who rides a lot but doesn’t necessarily race,” says Declan Deehan of Rolf’s UK distributor, Hotlines. It has a 14 front/16 rear spoke count which uses Rolf’s paired-spoke pattern, a 22mm-wide rim, a bit of an aero-profile thanks to its 33mm rim depth, Rolf’s TdF4.4 hubs with carbon-chrome bearings and, according to the Rolf website, weighs in at 1,495g.

The Vigor RS on the other hand is the family’s strongman. It gets a rim with the same width and depth but a slightly higher spoke count (16 front/20 rear), which makes it a bit heavier (a  claimed 1,545g) but a bit tougher. So bigger riders or those looking for a more durable wheel might lean towards this model.

The Rolf Prima Vigor Alpha is the flagship wheelset in the American firm’s Vigor range of aluminium clincher wheelsets

The Alpha we have here, meanwhile, is the racier member of the Vigor family. It’s shares the same width and depth dimensions as the other Vigor wheels and the 14/16 spoke count of the standard model, but it’s also lighter (1,460g according to the Rolf website, but 1,572g on my scales – without QRs, cassette, tubes and tyres) and gets flasher CX-Ray bladed spokes and TdF5.5 hubs with Enduro Zer0 ceramic bearings.

“The Alpha is for riders who race a bit so they want the extra advantage,” explains Deehan. “The Vigor Alpha is one of the best-selling wheelsets from the Rolf Prima line up and for good reason, we believe. From the slightly lighter weight, to the bearing and spoke upgrades, all these little details build into a great package.”

Spokes: few and far between

The first thing everyone notices about any Rolf wheelset is the spokes… Or rather the lack of them. The Vigor Alpha wheelset is laced up with just 30 spokes in total and the fact that they’re paired and spaced so far apart makes it seem like there’s even fewer.

Rolf introduced this ‘few-and-far-between’ lacing pattern back in 1997. The ‘Paired Spoke Concept’, as it’s known, is said to have grown out of the desire to reduce the weight of the early aluminium aero wheels that were appearing back then. It was thought the drag-reducing benefit of those rims was being undermined by the extra weight required to create the deeper profile, so wheel builders began looking for ways to make them lighter.

Rolf Prima’s wheels have a distinctive ‘Paired Spoke Concept’ lacing pattern
  • Specification

  • Price: £899.99
  • Weight: 1,572g (692g front, 880g rear)
  • Spoke count: 14 front, 16 rear
  • Rim depth: 33mm
  • Rim width: 22mm
  • Website: Rolf Prima
  • UK distributor: Hotlines UK

Rolf Dietrich, the man behind Rolf Wheels, was one of those wheel builders and came up with the idea of using a lighter rim with fewer spokes but connecting them to the rim in pairs to better balance the tension. With fewer spokes, the tension on each one would have to be higher, and if they were spaced evenly there’d be so much force pulling the rim to each side that it couldn’t be straightened. So instead of running true, it would waver to the left and right as each spoke span past.

But by pairing the spokes together, those opposing forces balance each other out, allowing a high enough tension to construct a useable wheel with a lighter, deeper rim and fewer spokes.

Exactly how much weight the design saved over the early aluminium aero wheels is difficult to say. But the front and rear Vigor Alpha wheels on test here tip my scales at 692g and 880g respectively (1,572g total). A conventionally laced and similarly deep Shimano RS81 C35 wheelset weighs in at 1,707g (760g front/947g rear) – 135g more than the Rolfs.  

The wheels are handbuilt in the USA

Adding it all up

The thing is the Rolfs Vigor Alpha RRP is £900, whereas the Shimano wheels cost £600, and £300 seems like a lot to spend just to save 135g. But your £900 doesn’t just buy you that weight saving. It also gets you Rolf’s higher-spec TdF5.5 hubs with ceramic bearings.

The effect of ceramic bearings may be negligible but then so is the rims’ shallow 33mm aero profile, the broader rim bed and the higher-spec hubs and spokes. And, according to the ‘accumulation of marginal gains’ credo: all those little things add up to a big difference, right?

Well, big would be overstating it. But they certainly make for a very nice ride. The Vigor Alpha wheelset is a classy and very capable all-rounder which never feels out of its depth. They’re easy to accelerate, they climb well, they hold higher speeds nicely and they’re decent under braking. In short, it never seems as if you’re asking too much of them.

There are more aero wheels and there are lighter wheels that are better for climbing but they’re the specialist models tailored to those specific tasks. And while they do the job they’re designed for very well, ask them to do anything else and you encounter a certain unwillingness. It’s as if they’re reluctant to do things they know they don’t excel at.

And that’s not to say there aren’t other wheels that work well as all-rounders. But ones which work as well as the Vigor Alpha wheels generally cost over a grand and are constructed from carbon, and as such they suffer from that material’s shortcomings when it comes to stopping – especially in the wet. Granted, carbon wheels with disc brakes may solve that problem, but you won’t be able to race on them (yet) and you’re still looking at a price premium.

The Vigor Alphas are excellent all-rounders but they’re at the top-end of what you’ll pay for an alloy wheelset

Conclusion

All of that makes quite a convincing case for the Rapha Vigor Alpha wheels. Yes, it’s expensive. And yes, there are wheels which do some things better. But there are precious few that do so many things so well. Nobody’s saying £900 isn’t a lot of money to spend on one pair of wheels but it’s likely to be less than you’d end up paying if you bought a lightweight or aero wheelset to add to the wheels you train on.

Pros

  • Great all-rounders: lightweight, aero, excellent braking
  • Ceramic bearings
  • Distinctive spoke pattern

Cons

  • Expensive for an aluminium wheelset

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