Cantu Rova Gravel Wheelset: Getting Rolling

Cantu Rova Gravel Wheelset: Getting Rolling – by MG

Avid readers know that we write a lot about wheels here at Riding Gravel. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is we simply love great wheels. When combined with the right tires, few if any other upgrades have the potential to improve the quality of your ride more than a great set of wheels.

Lauf True Grit
With a build more suited to a mountain bike, our test Lauf True Grit’s stock wheels put a damper on the bike’s performance.

I was reminded of this recently, after receiving the awesome Lauf True Grit for testing (read my “Getting Rolling” post here). During my early rides, I could feel the greatness lurking within the bike. Unfortunately, the heavy, dead-feeling stock wheelset specced on the mid-level build kit kept me from experiencing the best the Lauf had to offer on the road.

On the bright side, the stock rims had a contemporary 25mm internal width, but the burly build pushed the wheelset weight to nearly 2,000 grams. While not obscene, I knew there was much room for improvement, both in weight and ride feel.

As I considered my options, I decided to give John Wilmeth at Cantu Wheels a shout and get his perspective. I’ve seen Cantu’s wheels under a number of riders I respect recently, so I wanted to learn more about his approach to wheel building.

I’ve built my own wheels for more than 20 years now, so I have some pretty solid opinions on what I want in a great wheelset. Over the course of our conversation, I could tell that John and I were on the same page.

Cantu Rova rear wheel
Combined with the 716g front wheel, the wheelset weighs 1567g on MG’s digital scale. For the record, that’s 13g less than claimed. Impressive…

After discussing the options, we agreed that Cantu’s Rova gravel wheelset was the best choice for the goals I had in mind. The lightweight carbon rims and Sapim CX-Ray aero spokes would significantly reduce rotating weight (the best type of weight to cut), while the tough, smooth-rolling sealed bearing hubs would take all the punishment I could muster.

John builds each Rova wheelset by hand, so while there is a stock build, he has the ability to customize any aspect of the wheels to suit the owner’s specific needs. Cantu offers wheels with a choice of Shimano 11sp or SRAM xD drivers, as well as 6-bolt or CenterLock rotor mounting. The hubs are easy to configure for virtually any bike that uses quick release or thru-axle hubs. The front wheel can run either a 12mm or 15mm through axle with a simple end cap swap.

Rova-equipped Lauf True Grit
On looks alone, the Rova wheelset is a significant upgrade for our Lauf True Grit test bike. MG will report on the feel and ride quality upgrades in the next installment of his review.

My Rova wheelset uses 35mm tall, 31mm wide (24mm internal) hookless carbon rims laced to 6-bolt disc hubs with black spokes and Sapim ProLock brass nipples. Yes, you read that right, brass nipples. While many wheel builders choose the weight savings of alloy nipples, John (and I) prefer the long-term durability and serviceability brass nipples afford. Since I consider wheels to be a long-term investment, having the ability to service them easily a few years down the road is a high priority.

Cantu Color Options
Cantu offers 12 different colors of wheel graphics to choose from, including multiple reflective options. (Photo: Cantu Wheels)

Cantu also gives customers the ability to customize the graphics on their wheels. Choose from one of a dozen different colors, some of which are reflective – a great option for gravel road cycling. I went with the reflective red option for my Rova wheels, and they look fantastic mounted up to the Lauf True Grit.

MSRP for the stock Rova wheelset is $1,595, which is right on par with other quality hand built wheels with carbon rims.

Initial Ride Impressions

With carbon rims that are designed to work with modern tubeless-compatible tires, the Rova wheels are easy to set up. Once the rims were taped to seal the spoke holes, the Rova wheelset had no problems with bead-up or air retention running tubeless.

Rova-equipped Lauf True Grit
Compared to the stock wheelset, the Rova wheels have a calm, predictable ride quality in dry, loose gravel conditions.

Rolling out on my first ride with the Rova wheelset, it was easy to feel the weight savings compared to the stock wheels. The bike accelerates with an urgency that simply wasn’t present before.

Furthermore, the wheels have a very composed, calm feel that’s particularly evident when traversing deep and/or loose gravel. I’ll talk more about this in the Checkpoint installment of the test, but I need more time on the wheels to determine exactly what’s going on. Suffice it to say, I’m stoked with the feel and performance upgrade the Rova wheelset has given our True Grit, and am looking forward to putting more miles in on the combination.

Look for my next installment of the Cantu Rova wheelset review to come in early August. In the meantime, you can learn more about Cantu Wheels’ extensive offering of road, gravel, ‘cross and MTB wheels at

Please Note: Cantu Wheels sent the Rova wheelset to for test and review at no charge. We are not being paid or bribed for this review and we will give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.


Author: MG

Matt Gersib is the 2014 Gravel World Champion in the Fatbike category. He's also finished some of the most challenging gravel events in the country, including the Dirty Kanza XL, TransIowa and the Dirty Kanza 200, among others. In 2015, Gersib was an inaugural inductee into the DK200 "1,000 mile club" of five-time finishers. In addition to his gravel cycling, Gersib is an accomplished mountain bike racer, with numerous race wins and championships, including the 2012 Nebraska State Marathon MTB Championship.

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7 thoughts on “Cantu Rova Gravel Wheelset: Getting Rolling

  1. Super excided to hear about this review as this wheelset was going to be my best bag for my buck upgrade to my cutthroat

  2. Great review. I also am running the same wheels which I purchased from John recently. I ran them in numerous local races, the DK200 and the Crusher in the Tushar’s this last weekend. I have to echo everything you’ve said, and John is been fantastic to work with. I would point out one minor difference in my experience. I’ve tested three different sets of tires on these rims (650b), WTB Byways, Panaracer Gravelking SK and Teravail Ramparts. The Ramparts were the only tire that seated up easily after mounting (and the only non-gum walled). The Byways and Gravelkings needed a tube to seat one side of the tire, then I removed the tube, installed the valve and then the tires seated up without issue. Once these tires were initially seated, I could reseat them easily when needed. So, in my experience, you may have an extra step when mounting new tires (it maybe just gum walled tires), but this is probably true with other performance rims in this category and I don’t regard it as that big a deal. They are great wheels from a great company and I would certainly buy them again.

    1. Thanks @Onurlf. That’s good perspective. I’ve had pretty solid success with tubeless installations on my 700c Cantu wheels. I’ve tried three different tires – Compass Switchback Pass, WTB Riddler and Kenda’s Flintridge Pro – and all beaded up easily with a compressor, without needing to pull the presta valves. Two of the three were able to bead up with my Silca Super Pista Ultimate floor pump. The Kenda wouldn’t bead with the pump, but the other two worked great.

      Sometimes I think tubeless installation success is as much about luck as skill… But once installed, the advantages are clear.

      Thanks again for your thoughts!

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