California Gravel Rush: Adventures on the All New Roval Terra Wheels

Well known for its history off-road, the gold rush town of Downieville is perhaps most recognized today for the downhill mountain bike race that bears its name. The “Classic” descends 5000ft of singletrack over 15 miles, covering just a slice of what this mountain town and the surrounding buttes have to offer. With an invitation to join the crew from Roval Components on a 3-day gravel adventure in the Lost Sierra, I jumped at the opportunity to experience the more supple side of Downieville.

Blacksmith Cycle out of Toronto pulled together a nice set of handmade rigs for the week including this Festka.

THE LURE RESORT

The accommodations for the week couldn’t have been better, as we were set to stay with the rest of the crew at the freshly re-opened Lure Resort, a short pedal east from Downieville’s town center. Along with some new and familiar faces, we arrived at the riverside retreat Tuesday afternoon just as the alpenglow set in along the surrounding pine covered mountains. We took our choice from one of the eight camping cabins, free from everything but the sound of the North Yuba River.

Mike and Erik chat on the front porch of a cabin at the Lure Resort, Downieville CA.

TERRA IN THE SIERRA

The experience had a twofold objective, real world testing of the all new Terra CLX gravel wheels from Roval Components, while enjoying some out-of-this-world gravel roads and singletrack in the region well known for events like the Lost and Found and Grinduro. These events, and the aforementioned one in Downieville, all go to benefit the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, a volunteer powered organization that’s been successfully restoring and managing sustainable trails in the Lost Sierra since 2003. We would collectively have the opportunity to enjoy the organization’s work on equipment designed specifically for the challenge.

The all new Roval Terra CLX Evo 650b wheels, shown here with Specialized Pathfinder 47mm tires.

While you may recognize Roval as the wheel brand under Specialized, the team there has operated in a more independent fashion for over a year. With three key members of the team joining us for the camp, I was squarely impressed by not only their commitment to making the best wheelset possible, but their love for the gravel experience. Ben Capron, Brand Manager at Roval, told us that “the target was to make a wheel that was durable enough to take people deep, and bring them back home.” I soon realized my time in Downieville would involve just that, rides that would push some in our group beyond what they were prepared for, but nothing the wheels couldn’t handle. 

Cameron Falconer, a local rider and established framebuilder, gives the crew details on the planned route.

GRAVEL RUSH 

Framebuilder and local rider Cameron Falconer devised a set of well-crafted routes for our visit, the first being an out-n-back grind up Lavezzola Road. The shakeout ride had an easy pace as we rolled through town and followed the Downie River north on Main Street, paying respect to the town that is home to fewer than 300 residents by pausing at each stop sign. Given the geography of the area, we learned quickly that all trails lead up the sides of the surrounding canyon walls. The first thing you may notice when riding here are the highly exposed trails giving way to spectacular views. With some climbing behind us, I lowered the pressure on both of the 650b x 47mm Specialized Pathfinder tires, mounted on the new Terra CLX EVO rims for a more comfortable descent. Before getting back to camp someone suggested a short detour to a waterfall, where both Cam and Ben took turns cliff jumping into Pauley Creek while Matt cracked a Modelo he packed along for the ride.

Roval Terra CLX

Experienced engineers and gravel riders themselves, the team at Roval set out to create a comfortable, lightweight tubeless wheelset without compromising on durability or versatility. The result is the launch of three new wheelsets, two 700c and one 650b. At 700c, the CLX and CLX EVO 700 offer riders a choice between an “all-road” style for tires 700 x 28-47mm or a more supple EVO version for tires between 38-47mm in width. A second EVO set comes in a 650b version, for tires 650b x 42mm-2.1.

In addition, all CLX wheels come with the latest freehub innovation from DT Swiss, with their new DT 180 EXP hub internals for improved durability at a lower weight. The wheelsets are available with both the Shimano HG or SRAM XDR freehub bodies.

Roval Terra CLX wheel with Trigger 700 x 33c tires on a custom Fara gravel bike.

Going WIDE

While Roval’s gravel specific wheelset launch may be seen as coming in late to the market, their timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Rapidly changing trends have seen bikes with increased clearance along with riders exploring the benefits of wider tires. But just because your new gravel bike has the clearance, doesn’t necessarily mean the spec’d wheels can go the distance. Perhaps the most critical detail that differentiates a 700c gravel wheel to the same sized road or cross wheel is internal rim width, as just a few millimeters can have a big impact on performance and feel. With riders increasingly finding the benefits of wider tires, it can be easy to overlook the importance of what their wheels were meant to handle. Wider than any other road wheel on the market today, the CLX EVO rims measure to a massive 30mm internal, while the CLX offers 25mm between rim walls. A small difference I can appreciate given my preference for tires over 42mm in width.

A sunrise peeks through the tall pine trees at the Lure Resort.

Forest Route 93

Our second day would bring us deeper into the mountains, along with the biggest climb of the week. After a few miles up California State Route 49, we arrived at the start of Forest Route 93, a 12 mile dirt road that climbs over 5000ft to where most people have only shuttled to.

After a long break at the summit, which included snacks and a cold lacroix, a few of us pushed on with Cam to explore the Gold Valley Rim Trail. The technical singletrack was a welcome change, and gave the CLX EVO’s I was on a whole different look. Dropping pressures to around 25psi gave more than adequate traction and confidence on everything from tight rock gardens to loose switchbacks.

With tired legs and a few unwelcome bruises we agreed to call it for the day, with plenty of descending still ahead. The only crash for the week would come next. Fortunately Erik would get up with only a few minor scratches, nothing the cold Yuba River and good night sleep couldn’t fix.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for an unforgettable gravel escape I’d definitely recommend keeping Downieville and the Lost Sierra on your short list. And if you’re seeking the right equipment to carry you on this gravel rush and back again, the new Roval gravel hoops can do just that. The Terra CLX in 700c and CLX EVO wheels in both 700c and 650b set a new standard, matched only by the gravel bikes and riders they were designed for.

Both Terra CLX and Terra CLX EVO wheelsets are now available, retailing for $2500.

Learn more at Roval Components

Also visit:

Lure Resort

Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship

Blacksmith Cycle

Falconer Cycles

Words and Photos by Dave Malwitz