Cantu Rova Wheelset: Checkpoint

Cantu Rova Wheelset: Checkpoint – by MG

MG at Gravel Worlds by Gravel Guru
Cantu’s reflective graphics pop for Gravel Guru‘s camera in the early miles of Gravel Worlds 2018.

It’s incredible how time flies… It’s been four months since I introduced you to the Cantu Rova gravel wheelset, and in that time I’ve logged well over a thousand miles on them. They’ve been ridden in a wide range of conditions – gravel, mud, pavement, singletrack and more – on multiple bikes, in training and racing conditions. As a result, I have a very good feel for the nuances of their performance.

Be sure to check out my earlier Getting Rolling post for specifications, pricing and initial impressions of the Rova wheelset.

Speed Unleashed

The Rova wheelset was first installed on the Lauf True Grit we recently tested. On that bike, the one pound reduction in rotating weight unleashed the true potential of the True Grit from an acceleration standpoint.

Ride quality was markedly improved as well. Compared to the stock alloy wheels, the Rova wheels have a more calm, composed ride quality, especially in chunky, rough gravel. Even after 1000+ miles, there’s not one single part of the wheels that I can point to and say “this is why they ride so well”. Rather, I suspect the fantastic ride quality is the result of careful parts selection and the skill of a very talented wheel builder in Cantu’s John Wilmeth.

Cantu rear hub
Cantu’s hubs are easy to configure for quick release or thru-axle use, and the smooth, free-rolling bearings are easy to feel in motion.

The Cantu hubs deserve special mention too, as they roll incredibly well. At 165 pounds ready to ride, I’m not typically much of a threat on downhill coaster races, but that changed with the Rova wheelset installed. I don’t suspect the 35mm tall rims gave me a huge aero advantage, so I have to chalk up the new found speed to the smoothness of bearings in the hubs. You can feel the free-rolling bearings when you spin the wheels with the axle in your hands, and the impression is even more profound on the road. In my 30 years as a cyclist, I can count on one hand the number of hubs I’ve felt that offer a similar, virtually frictionless feel.

The rear cassette hub feels robust under foot, and while Cantu doesn’t specify the degrees of engagement, I’d estimate it at about 6-degrees. And while there are hubs with faster engagement, the positive feel of the Cantu hub’s engagement somehow feels stronger… like it’s designed to go the distance. And based on my experience so far, it seems that’s exactly the case.

All that said, if you’re a fan of silence when coasting, the Cantu hubs won’t be among your favorites. Personally, I’m a fan of the ‘loud hubs save lives’ movement, so I take solace in knowing my friends will be able to easily hear when I’m coasting up on their back sides.

Going the Distance

If I’m spending nearly $1,600 on a new set of wheels, I expect them to not just be light and great riding, but durable as well. I view wheels as a long-term investment, so I like the balance Cantu strikes with the Rova wheelset. They’re lightweight, but not at the expense of durability.

Cantu Custom Build Quote
Cantu’s website features their stock builds, or if you’d like to go the custom route, you can quickly get a quote on the wheels of your dreams. Pretty cool…

While it’s true the Rova wheelset could be lighter if they’d used alloy spoke nipples, for example, in using brass nipples, Cantu choose to sacrifice a small amount of weight for a major improvement in durability and ease of maintenance.

If you really want alloy nipples on your wheels, John will be happy to oblige. That’s one of the best things about working with your wheel builder – everyone has different priorities, and an experienced wheel builder can take your priorities into account when deciding on the best parts to use for you and your riding style.

Since axle standards are constantly evolving, it’s nice to have the easy to change endcap design of the Cantu hubs. It took me less than five minutes to swap out the through axle endcaps, install quick release endcaps and install the wheels on my Salsa Ti Fargo when it came time to send the True Grit back to Lauf. I like that a lot.

Another thing I like a lot is the fact that our Rova wheels have required no maintenance whatsoever during the test period. They’re as true and round as they were on day one – a testament to the quality components and build. The hubs spin ultra-smooth and the reflective red graphics continue to look great.

Riding with Cantu
MG hooked up with Cantu’s John Wilmeth and Venny Alub for a quick spin before Gravel Worlds 2018. They’re talented cyclists and Cantu’s wheels reflect their perspective and experience.

The Verdict… For Now

There are very few upgrades that can have as positive an impact on the ride quality of your gravel bike as a great set of wheels, and Cantu has a winner on its hands in the Rova wheelset. They strike an excellent balance between strength, weight, quality and value. At $1,595, the Rova wheels aren’t the most expensive carbon wheels out there, nor are they the least, but on the road, the performance upgrade they provide is easy to feel. They feel like they were built for me – which they were – and that’s the value of working with an actual wheel builder like John Wilmeth. Regardless of your size or stature, you too can ride wheels built just for you and the riding you do.

That’s value to me.

Check back in the coming weeks for our At the Finish review of the Cantu Rova wheelset, or learn more about Cantu’s vast wheel offering at


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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