Which wheels to buy, the basic guide.
Buying wheels can be a bit of a mine field, even an entry level set of quality bike wheels will set you back over £100, a set of serious race wheels can cost well over £1000 so you have be sure you’re purchasing wheels that are fit for purpose.
I’ll be unbiased here and I won’t focus on our own Cero wheels.
Aero pros and cons
The faster you go the more benefit you get from aero wheels, on a long solo ride either flat or hilly aero wheels can save you significant amounts of time.
A few years ago you would get a 50mm V shaped rim that was very triangular with flat sides, in a straight line the aero benefits where there but once cross winds came in to play a lot of the benefit was diluted, V shaped rims also developed drag and the turbulence created around the wheel and frame would take away a little of the speed advantage.
Current aero rims have a U shape or a toroidal rounder profile, people are combining this with a wider 25mm tyre, this disturbs the air flow less, the trailing edge is smoother and drag is reduced, cross winds are smoothly directed around the rim rather than hitting a flat side and causing balance and steering issues.
The 25mm tyre retains its shape better than a 23mm tyre, grip is improved and imperfections in the road surface are ironed out.
A toroidal 45mm rim will give the straight line benefit of a V shaped 60mm rim while also having little trouble with cross winds.
An aero wheels set will generally come with quality aero spokes, these can make a slight difference but it’s not huge, the most important factor when considering spokes is quality and strength, over time spokes will weaken and can then eventually snap. The spoke is a part of the wheel where quality is essential.
As you go down in price there are shallower aluminium rimmed wheels on the market, these will still have a good aero benefit and the rims will accelerate quicker due to their lower weight.
As an everyday wheel these are a good choice for most cyclists as they have a little bit of everything, a quality set of 30mm aluminium wheel can perform incredibly well.
There are some very cheap aero wheels on the market, the weights of these can be extremely high but still on a flat road you’ll have an advantage over a lightweight shallow section wheel.
There are still negatives with aero wheels, they can be expensive due to the engineering and design costs, the materials used and often the brands themselves charge a premium.
If you choose to ride a full carbon rim the braking performance may be reduced, specific brake blocks are needed as standard rubber blocks used on aluminium rims can pick up debris that will score and scrape a carbon rim.
In recent years manufacturers have managed to develop brake blocks that work extremely well with carbon rims and performance is only slightly compromised.
An old problem with full carbon wheels was heat buildup, on a long twisty descent with constant braking enough heat could be generated to soften the resin and deform the carbon rim, and once this happens the rim is permanently damaged and must be disposed of.
Newer technology is eliminating this problem, I can only speak about our own wheels but with the Cero RC45’s we have a very thin layer of tightly woven aluminium mesh in the surface of the rim, this disperses heat before it penetrates the surface, the carbon never manages to overheat and with the RC45’s carbon warping is now a thing of the past.
If you’re doing a tight twisty circuit with constant accelerations a carbon rim will need to be slowed down and sped up hundreds of times where as a light shallow rim will take significantly less effort to stop and then to get back up to speed.
If you use an aluminium rim it won’t have quite the same aero shape as a formed carbon rim so aerodynamically the benefit will not be the same but the cost will be fraction of what you’d pay for a carbon rim.
Generally the more you spend on a carbon wheel set the more benefit you’ll get, brands like Zipp, Enve and Mavic produce lightweight aero wheels with all the latest technology.
Our own Cero RC45 wheels have the benefits of the big brand wheels and share much of the same technology but at less than half the cost, there are other even cheaper brands out there manufacturing their own carbon wheels but as the price gets lower the benefits and quality are reduced.
Light weight wheels pros and cons
A light weight will set comes in to its own on long steep climbs, there are no real benefits on the flat but on mountain roads or even a hilly UK sportive a lightweight wheel set would give an advantage.
Big brand names produce wheel sets the get down in to the 1200g range, there are high end and custom brands who go much lighter than that, these can cost £3000 or more and there are rider weight limits in place, some as low as 75kg.
A light wheel set generally has a great feel to it and even the slowest accelerations feel easier, these wheels are very minimalist and like aero wheels have a great look, light wheels can finish off a retro build nicely.
Light wheels can be excellent on the flat but they won’t have the speed advantage of a full aero wheel set, there are light wheels with rims up to 30mm deep, these can tick the aero and weight weenie box.
As with aero wheels you will find aluminium and carbon rims, there will always be a slight performance drop off with carbon braking surfaces but the lightest wheels produced all use a full carbon rim, a quality full carbon rim will be feather light and be over ten times the strength of steel
The lightest options out there often have tubular rims where the tyre is glued on rather than a clincher which has an inner tube.
Tubulars have benefits and problems of their own (too many for this blog) so I’ll look at that later.
Lightweight wheels can often be flexy, for heavier riders there is often little benefit to a super light wheel as the flex through the wheel can create brake rub.
Light wheels work best with lighter riders, if you’re a big guy you’ll need to choose your wheels carefully, most modern road wheels aren’t designed with 100kg+ riders in mind.
With aero and light wheels there are other things to take in to account, cup and cone hub or cartridge bearing, shimano still use the cup and cone while other brands tend to use push in cartridge bearings.
Cartridge bearings are usually smaller, they may wear out quicker but they can be replaced very easily and bought for a few pounds, ceramic options are available for just over £10 but the current general consensus is that they don’t give any real advantage.
A quality bearing set by SKS, EZO, NFK or Phil Wood is all you would need, you can get different seals, some spin easily and are great for dry conditions, if riding in wetter weather you’d need a thicker seal, this creates the tiniest amount of drag but the wheels will last you much longer.
Cup and cone hubs are very serviceable, you don’t need to replace the bearings as often, the balls themselves are larger and the load is placed over a bigger area.
Both hubs types are good and have been used at the highest level, it’s just two different ways of achieving the same result.
When everything is taken in to consideration there are quality wheels of all kinds out there, mass manufactured and hand built.
Only you know which set is right for you, if you choose carefully you should end up with something that brings miles of smiles and years of use. Don’t forget to check out our award winning Cero wheels, for the money there’s nothing better.