Best road bike wheel sets reviewed: rim and disc wheels 2018

Our complete guide to what to look for when buying your new wheels

If there’s one upgrade that will help to take your bike to the next level, it is a new pair of wheels. Some new hoops can completely transform your bike, shedding weight to help in the hills or improving aerodynamics so you can power along on the flat, hoovering up KOMs without breaking a sweat.

We’ll start this guide with our immediate product recommendations, split into four different groups: sub-£550 rim brake wheels, then £550-1000 rim brake wheels before the best £1000+rim brake wheels, followed by our pick of the best disc brake road bike wheels.

>>> Best Black Friday deals for cyclists 

There’s a lot to think about when buying a new pair of wheels, so further down the page you’ll find a detailed guide to help you make the right choice.

With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.

The best rim brake road bike wheels under £550

Mavic Ksyrium Elite UST £529

Score: 10/10

Read more: Mavic Ksyrium ELite UST review

For any bike costing £2000 or below, a pair of the Mavic Ksyrium Elite UST wheels will be a huge step up in performance. The UST stands for Universal System Tubeless, and the Ksyriums are now tubeless ready at the point of purchase. That means a wider rim that better suits 25mm tyres, with no more mushrooming of the tyre on the rim.

The wheel comes with high quality QRM+ bearings, which are the same as those found in the more expensive Mavic Cosmic wheels. The wheels are also bombproof and stiff and have survived being clattered into potholes and up curbs.

Cero AR30 EVO wheels £499 10/10

Score: 10/10

Read more: Cero AR30 wheels review

Buy now: Cero AR30 EVO wheels at Cycle Devision for £299

You can tell that these Cero AR30 wheels are built with considerable thought, and that’s what makes them standout from the competition. You get class-leading Sapim CX Ray straight-pull spokes, an anti-bite guard on the hub to stop the cassette digging into the body and wide internal rim widths.

This means the tyre sits wide on the rim, and we found that 25mm tyres look more like 28s. This gives an aerodynamic advantage as well as bolstering comfort. They’ll definitely bring any stock bike to life.

Hunt Race Season Aero Wide tubeless ready wheels £369 10/10

Score: 10/10

Read more: Hunt Race Season Aero Wide wheels review

Buy now: Hunt Race Season Aeri Wide Wheels at Hunt Wheels for £369

Being tubeless ready, strong, light and stiff we honestly thought that the Hunt Race Season Aero Wide wheels were too good to be true – but thankfully we were wrong! Out the box, these wheels are ready to ride because Hunt provides them tubeless ready, and once set up the rims give a perfect seal.

This is because internally, the rims are 19mm wide and work well with both narrow 23mm tyres and wide 25s. A reasonable weight of 1570g, an aerodynamic rim and a killer price tag make these wheels a must have.

The best rim brake road bike wheels £500-1000

Fulcrum racing zero wheels £849.99 9/10

Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels

Carbon front hub and aluminium rear for the optimal weight and power transfer

Score: 9/10

Read more: Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels review

They’re not the lightest wheels available, but for the price they’re excellent all-rounders and tubeless ready. We threw these on a Pinarello Dogma F10, a bike known for showing up flexy wheels and they held their own. Partner this stiffness with decent rolling speed and these upgrade wheels would be very good for budding racers.

Prime RP-50 Tubular wheelset £844.99

Prime RP-50 tubular

Prime RP-50 Tubular wheelset

Score: 9/10

Read more: Prime RP-50 tubular wheelset review

Buy now: Prime BlackEdition 50 Carbon Tubular Wheelset for £824.99

With these being tubs (something we see less and less of nowadays) we thought we’d give them to a young British racer to try out in the rough and tumble of junior racing – and they held their own nicely.

Speed and stiffness are all present and correct, while they also proved very tough, completing Paris-Roubaix and surviving a crash that actually broke the racer’s collarbone!

Cero RC45 Evo carbon clincher £999

Cero RC45 Evo Carbon Clincher wheelset 2017

Score: 9/10

Read more: Cero RC45 Evo carbon clincher review

Buy now: Cero RC45 Evo carbon clincher at Cero for £849.05

Lightweight, stiff and robust, Cero has managed to create a superb set of carbon wheels. Their 45mm depth gives them a great rollover speed, especially off the bottom of descents or when turning along the flat and they really hold their speed.

They’re a touch lacklustre at low speeds, but fortunately a light weight 1475g means they aren’t a chore on the hills.

The best rim brake road bike wheels £1000+

Zipp 302 carbon clincher £1299

Zipp 302

Score: 10/10

Read more: Zipp 302 carbon clincher review

Zipp’s first foray into this competitive price point has been a complete success. It’s clear that the Zipp 302s have retained all of Zipp’s extensive knowledge and experience, just in a stripped back form.

But meeting this price point has done nothing to dampen the performance of the wheels and these clinchers are devastatingly fast, holding their speed like a deep aero wheel.

Zipp 454 NSW carbon clincher £3,417

Score: 9/10

Read more: Zipp 454 NSW carbon clincher review

With their sawtooth profiles and humpback wale led designs the Zipp 454 NSW has been coveted and joked about in equal measure. But when testing them we quickly realised that these wheels are no joke, they roll exceptionally well and climb better than their almost 58mm depth would suggest.

In all honestly, we found them to be the perfect do-it-all wheelset and the probably the pinnacle of deep section wheels at the moment.

Deda Elementi SL38C wheelset £1,319

Deda Elementi SL38C wheelset

Deda Elementi SL38C wheelset

Score: 9/10

Read more: Deda Elementi SL38C wheelset review

Buy now: Deda SL38 Carbon Clincher Team Wheels at Websters for £999

These sit at the top of Deda’s wheel tree, and they offer premium performance. They’re wide and robust, even robust enough to be ridden off road. The extra width allows you to run wider tyres at lowers pressures which helps deflect some of the discomfort from the rough road surface. These are also tubeless ready, but the conversion kit must be bought separately.

They are more expensive than other carbon options of the same stature, but we were able to forgive them because of their versatility and excellent rolling speed.

Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST £1,579

Score: 10/10

Read more: Mavic Cosmic Pro carbon SL UST

It’s rare that we test a pair of wheels that we feel have genuinely changed the game, but with these we’re confident in saying that. Mavic updated the wheels to be tubeless ready and improved the braking. The result is one of the fastest and best braking deep section wheels on the market.

The best disc brake wheel sets

A disc brake wheel set is specifically designed to be slowed via rotors mounted to dedicated hubs. Since the rotor is braked by a caliper close to the hub, disc wheels often have a higher spoke count than rim-braked wheels because of the additional and one-sided twisting forces the system generates.

>>> Best rim brake road bike wheel sets reviewed 2018

However, disc brake wheels have no need of a braking surface at the rim, so less material can be used in that area, making a disc wheel potentially faster to accelerate.

>>> Disc brake road bikes: all you need to know

Current disc brake rims can be – and are – often wider, designed for bigger tyres since they are freed from the constraints of the rim caliper. Proponents of disc brakes claim that they offer better modulation at the lever for less input from the fingers.

Why go for disc brakes?

It has been argued that before carbon clinchers arrived, there was no need for disc brakes in road cycling since rim braking on aluminium was safe, predictable and progressive in all weather conditions and heat was dissipated reliably enough. Whether you’re a disc-brakes fan or not, it’s indisputable that disc brakes have solved that particular problem for the now-ubiquitous carbon clincher.


Watch: How to bleed your disc brakes


Disc brake wheel sets reviewed

Miche Revox Carbon 38 RC disc brake wheel set £1,099.99

Miche Revox Carbon 38 RC disc brake wheel set

Miche Revox Carbon 38 RC disc brake wheel set

Score: 7/10

Read more: Miche Revox Carbon 38 RC disc brake wheelset

Buy now: Miche Revox Carbon 38 RC disc brake wheel set at Chicken Cycle Kit for £1099

The Revox has a unidirectional carbon rim laced to an aluminium axle and freehub body via J-bend, double butted Sapim spokes. It’s Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo compatible but not tubeless ready since it has a pierced rim bed.

At 24mm wide externally and 17mm internally, there’s nothing particularly standout-ish about the measurements of the rim: it’s more about what they don’t have – a deep enough central channel to assist tyre fitting. After an almighty struggle in the garage that we didn’t want to repeat by the roadside we opted for robust 25mm Conti Grand Sport Extras that we hoped would withstand more road detritus than a faster, lighter tyre and swapped tyre levers for a phone and credit card.

Adding a set of 38mm deep-section carbons to any bike is always going improve its looks and the Miches didn’t disappoint. The grey decals are nicely subtle, but being stuck on, they will eventually scuff and start to peel.

Out on the road it took a while to find the Miches’ sweetspot, which happens to be on flat roads or downhills. They are quite slow to pick up, but as we said in our review of the rim brake version, they do have punch there, and once you get up to speed, they roll reasonably fast.

But climbers they are not. That’s not to say might fare better with some lighter rubber, and in their favour they hardly suffered from any form of wind buffeting of the type that deep-section wheels with flat bladed spokes are often known for.

There were no braking issues to report when paired with the Shimano Ultegra hydraulic set up and they seemed happy under load.

The Miche Revox RC DX wheels will instantly give an upgraded look to any bike, and they hold their own on the flat and descending. However, overall they felt slightly underwhelming. Without a real USP in an overcrowded wheel market, the Miches are somewhat overshadowed by competitors.

Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon disc brake wheel set £1,049.00

Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon disc brake wheel set

Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon disc brake wheel set

Score: 7/10

Buy now: Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon disc brake wheel set at Cycle Republic for £785

The Cosmic Pro Carbon Disc wheels have a lot of Mavic’s best tech but aren’t tubeless ready since they’re one of Mavic’s older designs.

Having seen failures of other brands’ carbon clincher rims, which didn’t cope with the heat produced by sustained braking, Mavic included an alloy insert in the rim to help with heat dissipation and durability when it launched the Cosmic Pro Carbon range. Of course, heat build-up is not an issue for disc brake wheel rims, but the design is still carried over from the original design.

The 45mm deep carbon section is essentially a fairing and is non-structural. Its profile is a bit pointier than that of many newer mid-section carbon rims.

The 17mm internal rim width is also a little narrower than newer rims, although it still provides good support and plenty of air volume for the 25mm wide Mavic Yksion Pro Griplink/Powerlink front and rear wheel specific tyres that it supplies as part of the package. These are effective and grippy, rolling well in wet and dry conditions.

Mavic’s 24 patented steel spokes front and rear are noticeably wider and flatter than other makers’ spokes and so are likely to be more aero. They are straight pull, laced two-cross front and with Mavic’s Isopulse crossed/radial pattern at the rear.

Hubs have the gamut of quick release and thru-axle compatibility you’d expect and the freehub uses Mavic’s Instant Drive 360 ratchet with 9o engagement and easily swappable hub bodies. Pickup is very fast indeed. You get quality sealed cartridge bearings.

Ride quality is all you’d expect from Mavic, with a fast, direct feel. Although more rounded sections might be more fashionable, the pointy 45mm deep rims felt just as fast and were relatively untroubled by cross-winds.

With no brake tracks to wear down and Mavic’s quality build, the Cosmic Pro Carbon Disc wheels are likely to be durable too.

But the narrow, pointy carbon-alloy hybrid rim and inability to run tubeless mark the Cosmic Pro Carbon Disc as an older design.

Borg 45 Disc brake wheel set £870.00 BEST VALUE

Borg 45 Disc brake wheel set

Borg 45 Disc brake wheel set

Score: 8/10

Buy now: Borg 45 Disc brake wheel set at The Cycle Clinic for £940

The Borg 45 Disc wheel set is hand built in the UK by Malcolm Borg using Far East-made carbon rims on Italian-made Miche hubs. As you’d guess, the rim depth is 45mm. Internal width is 18.5mm and external width 26.6mm, so it supports wider tyres well.

Borg says that the Borg 45 Disc is good for cyclo-cross and gravel as well as road racing, with tyres from 23mm up to 45mm mountable. The wheels come pre-taped for tubeless running and are supplied with valves.

Borg will supply and fit IRC tubeless tyres too, offering a range of models and tread patterns and widths from 25mm up to 32mm. Our test wheels came with IRC Formula Pro 25mm tyres with a fine file tread.

The rims are laced to the hubs with 24 two-crossed J-bend Sapim CX-Ray black spokes front and rear. With high spoke tension, this leads to a responsive feel and minimal lateral flex under out-of-saddle efforts.

At the heart of the Borgs are good-quality Miche SWR DX hubs, which Miche uses in its own wheel sets.

The test wheel set is made up with 6-bolt rotor mounts, but you can also specify the centre-lock mounts that are more prevalent on roadgoing disc brake wheels. There’s also the option to choose Campagnolo or SRAM XD cassette bodies as well as the usual Shimano/SRAM version.

As with most disc brake wheelsets, there’s compatibility with a wide range of axle standards, to cater for the variety used on different bikes. The supplied kit lets you adopt 12mm or 15mm front thru-axles and 142x12mm rear. There’s also a set of quick release adaptors and skewers supplied. It’s easy to push out the end caps and swap between standards.

It all adds up to a nice package that, out on the road, feels fast and responsive. There’s enough depth to give you an aero advantage and stable handing on fast descents, without feeling edgy in crosswinds. At just under 1,700g, they’re on the money for weight for a wheel set of this depth too.

It’s also nice to have out-of-the-box tubeless readiness and all the bits and bobs to set them up for tubeless and for different axle standards too.

Roval CL 50 Disc wheel set £1,200

Roval CL 50 Disc wheel set

Roval CL 50 Disc wheel set

Score: 9/10

Buy now: Roval CL 50 Disc wheel set at Certini for £1200

When we reviewed the Roval Rapide CLX 50 last year, we gave it a resounding 10 out of 10. In our opinion Specialized had come up with a wheel set that was perfect for real-world riding with the mid-section rim giving a perfect balance of aerodynamics and light weight.

The CL 50 Disc is a more affordable version of the CLX 50 Disc that keeps the same rim but has DT Swiss Competition round spokes instead of DT Aerolites, uses Specialized’s Aero Flange Disc hubs with DT Swiss 350 internals and has steel bearings instead of the CLX’s CeramicSpeeds. That saves a good £600 while adding about 100g onto the wheelset.

With its external width of 29.4mm the Roval rim is one of the widest currently on the market, and of course the disc version isn’t hampered by any of the difficulties often encountered when trying using a modern wide rim with caliper brakes which are frequently do not operate optimally when they are wide open.

Specialized says it tested the Roval rim – and its competitors’ – with a 24c tyre that actually measured 26mm on the wide rim – and says it actually designed the rim around a modern tyre width that offers less rolling resistance and more comfort as well as sound aerodynamics – and they do indeed feel fast.

The Roval rims are, as you’d expect tubeless ready.

The disc version of both the CL and CLX 50 has 21 spokes at the front and 24 out back compared to the 16/21 of the rim-braking model, which adds rigidity. There are other variables to be taken into account – including the tyres – so it’s not possible to make an accurate like-for-like comparison, but the disc CLs didn’t feel quite as nimble as the rim-braking CLXs and that could be down to the higher spoke count as well as the higher overall system weight. However, compared to other disc wheel sets they’re not harsh.

Although they’re clearly an superb wheel set, they are well over the £1K mark and we wonder whether it wouldn’t be worth going the whole hog, paying the extra and getting the aero spokes, superior ceramic bearings and lighter weight of the CLXs.

Zipp 302 disc brake wheel set £1,299

Zipp 302 disc brake wheel set

Zipp 302 disc brake wheel set

Score: 9/10

Buy now: Zipp 302 disc brake wheel set at Hargreaves for £999

Like the Roval CLX 50s, the rim-braking Zipp 302s got a perfect 10 when we reviewed them a few months back and won our deep-section carbon wheels groupset in the March 29 issue.

This new carbon clincher is available in both rim and disc-braking configurations and is surprisingly cheap. The 302 is built in Indianapolis like its much more expensive stablemates but it has a stripped-back design that lacks some of Zipp’s trademark features such as dimples or humpback whale-inspired rim profiles. Instead the 302 has smooth carbon and user-friendly Sapim CX-Sprint J-bend aero bladed spokes with brass nipples laced to Zipp’s new utilitarian-looking but very modern 76D/176D hubs. These have removable end caps for thru-axle or QR compatibility and are compatible with the SRAM XDR driver body (obviously sold separately) so that a 10t sprocket can be used in a versatile 1x set-up.

The rim depth is 45mm and, as is the current trend, the external rim width is pretty wide at 26.4mm.

The disc version gets a higher spoke count – 24 both front and rear instead of 21/24 in rim-brake configuration, and this adds a little bit of weight to the front and more spokes means more aerodynamic drag. However, the rear wheel, which is slightly lighter than the rim-brake equivalent thanks to its lack of braking surface, makes acceleration super snappy and once up to 40kph holds onto its speed in a seriously impressive way.

In some ways it’s a pity the new Zipps aren’t tubeless ready – other wheels in this test have that particular advantage over them – and for the latest generation of riders who are already willing to break with tradition and ride disc brakes that could be a sticking point.

However, standard 25mm clinchers were easy enough to fit – unlike with the Miches – and if you’re using these mainly on the road it won’t be an issue.

Giant SLR 1 Disc Full Carbon 42 disc brake wheel set £1,000 TEST WINNER

Giant SLR 1 Disc Full Carbon 42 disc brake wheel set

Giant SLR 1 Disc Full Carbon 42 disc brake wheel set

Score: 9/10

Buy now: Giant SLR 1 Disc Full Carbon 42 disc brake front wheel (£417.99) and rear wheel £472.49 at Rutland Cycles

Giant is now producing wheels that are as good as any currently on the market, with the Sunweb pro team riding the top-level ones as proof. What’s more, as one of the earliest champions of disc brakes, it’s a pretty safe bet that a set of disc-specific Giant wheels will be more than fit for purpose.

Since Giant is able to bring to bear its commanding position as the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, it’s not surprising that its own-brand wheels are characterised by a high level of technology paired with a competitively low price.

The SLR 0 wheels are at the top of Giant’s range, with the SLR 1 considerably cheaper but still offering very good performance.

The SLR 1 Disc Full Carbon 42s we tested have a deep-section carbon tubeless-ready rim that has a depth of 42mm. There are 21 aero spokes at the front and 24 in the rear, Giant using Sapim CX-Sprints, like Zipp in this test and many big other big OEM wheel manufacturers.

Giant uses hubs from DT, though it doesn’t specify what model, with sealed cartridge bearings. They come with tool-free removable end caps that are thru-axle or QR compatible. We set them up for a Pinnacle Dolomite 4 that had a QR rear and thru-axle front and it was a cinch. The Shimano Centre-Lock rotors were their usual breeze to fit.

Giant normally sets them up with its tubeless Gavia tyres but we wanted to run clinchers – and it did take a bit of wrestling and a lot of air to get a set of Conti Grandsport 28s on. Giant told us fitting clinchers using the tubeless method of installation with a tyre solution or soap solution around the bead helps, but pointed out that they’re designed for optimum performance with a tubeless system.

The Pinnacle looked immediately more appealing once its Alex rims and unbranded hubs had been replaced with the Giants, and it didn’t stop there. When we originally reviewed the Pinnacle, we criticised it for lacking crispness. With the Giant wheels in, not only was it a little bit lighter but the responsiveness we had been missing was restored – and the SLRs also supplied some much needed aerodynamics.

In fact, it was hard to find fault with the SLRs. It’s nice to be certain of the provenance of these wheels – something not always possible with companies that buy in rims and rebrand them – although we liked that the Giant branding is discreet, clearly mindful of those who don’t like to mix and match brands, and you can de-sticker them if you wish.

This is a good a wheelset as you’ll find at this price, but follow Giant’s advice if you want to run them with clinchers.


Choosing the right road bike wheels for you

The thing is, if you want a wheel that is light and aerodynamic while also being stiff to cope with the power you put out when sprinting and hardy enough to stay straight and true when faced with rough roads, you’re going to notice a sizeable dent in your bank account. So before buying, it’s important to know exactly what you want from your wheelset.

If you know you live somewhere with terrible roads, or choppy terrain then you’ll probably put a great emphasis on robustness, and having a set of wheels that will stand the test of time. Typically, “bombproof” wheels are shallow, with a box design and an aluminium rim. That doesn’t mean they’re slow though, and we’ve been very impressed with box aluminium rims from the likes of Hunt, Mavic and DT Swiss. Similarly, though, that’s not to suggest carbon isn’t strong, and many pros run carbon wheels at the toughest cobbled classics, but it can offer a harsh ride on rough ground.

If you’ve just bought yourself a snazzy new aero bike, then you’ll probably want a wheelset with an aerodynamic edge. These are wheels that have extra material extending down from the rim, which helps the rim cut through the wind. They can give a real advantage if you’re racing, or if you want to improve your average speed on your rides. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that to get the most aerodynamic benefits you need to be consistently travelling above 32kph. Of course, if you want a deep section wheel with a carbon build you’re going to be spending a fair whack. You can get cheaper, aluminium builds but these tend to be a bit heavier.


Watch: How much faster are aero wheels?


The lightest wheels are reserved for those who do a lot of climbing, or live somewhere very hilly. The weight reduction is possible because of carbon fibre builds, and other neat features like lightweight spokes, carbon fibre hubs and the general removing of any excess material – and for that reason they tend to have a shallower rim. As you might expect, you’ll need deep pockets to buy these lightweight hoops.

These categories are a general guide to the types of wheels, but fortunately for us cyclists most wheels are spread across the three types, and in general it is possible to get a very good set of do-it-all wheels.

Different types of road bike wheels

Clincher road bike wheels

Your bike probably came complete with clincher wheels and this is for good reason. Clinchers are the most common type of bike wheel currently available and are defined by the type of tyre they use.

Clinchers utilise an open cross section tyre with a bead that holds it in place on the rim profile and an inner tube is placed inside the rim. This offers a great deal of convenience as it is easy to repair when you get punctures.

Carbon clincher wheels are significantly heavier than their equivalent tubulars because the rim needs to be stronger to cope with the demands of braking pressure and force from the rim. Some deep section wheels feature a carbon fairing placed over an aluminium rim. These are heavier, but are cheaper than a completely carbon rim, owing to lower manufacturing and development costs.

Advantages of clincher wheels

  • Easy to repair punctures, just by carrying spare inner tubes
  • Easy to change tyres, can be done in minutes
  • Clincher tyres are typically cheaper than tubulars

Disadvantages of clincher wheels

  • Typically heavier than a tubular rim
  • Higher rotational weight than a tubular
  • Braking surface encounters higher stress, having to withstand outward pressure of the bead and inward pressure of heat from the brakes

Tubeless road bike wheels


Watch: How to set up tubeless road wheels


Tubeless wheels have become very popular over the last few years, with more and more brands fitting the standard on their bikes. Instead of having an inner tube inside a tyre, the tyre itself creates an airtight seal against the rim, so all you have to do is inject some sealant and pump some air into the tyre.

A consequence of making the rim airtight can be that it is slightly heavier, but this is somewhat offset by the lack of inner tube. The sealant is designed to seal holes and punctures as they happen. It is still possible to get a flat on a tubeless wheel, at which point an inner tube can be placed inside, but the risk is considerably less, making them ideal for those wanting to avoid punctures. Plus, the general consensus is that these are faster than other types of wheel and tyre combinations.

Advantages

  • Much lower risk of flat tyres
  • Low rolling resistance

Disadvantages

  • Fiddly to set up
  • More weight at the rim

Tubular road bike wheels

Continental Pro Ltd tubular tyre 25mm Dimension Data

Prior to the invention of clincher tyres, tubular wheels were the only option available. Today they’re a rare sight away from racing (where teams have support) as they are an enclosed tyre, with an inner tube sealed or sewn inside, making them very inconvenient if you have to change a tyre.

Tubular wheels are usually lighter than the clincher alternative. This is because the rim does not need to be as strong in order to hold the bead of the tyre. Instead, the tubular tyre is glued or taped onto the rim.

Bonding of the tyre to the rim is crucial, in order to avoid rolling the tyre off the rim while cornering. Gluing is most traditional way and considered the most reliable, but it typically takes a couple of days to set, whereas tape is much quicker.

If you are racing, riding a sportive, or training on a tubular tyre (tub for short) and you get a puncture there are a couple of options. Sealant, such as Vittoria Pit Stop can be injected into the tyre to seal the hole, but this may not work if the hole is too big.

Alternatively a spare tub can be placed on the rim, but this will not be bonded as strongly. If you are racing, or riding with a support vehicle, tubulars can be a joy to ride, but for training rides and everyday use, even professionals use clinchers. In summary:-

Advantages of tubular wheels

  • Lighter wheels
  • Lighter rim is better for acceleration
  • Tubular tyres roll very nicely

Disadvantages of tubular wheels

  • Less easy to fit than clinchers
  • Repairing a puncture not as straight forward as a clincher

The anatomy of a road bike wheel

Rims

The rims are usually the first thing you notice on a pair of wheels. Deeper section wheels are more aerodynamic, but are heavier than their shallow rim counterparts. In addition, crosswinds can catch the deeper section like a sail, which can make keeping the bike in a straight line a handful. A lower profile is much easier to control and is often lighter in weight – meaning it will accelerate faster.

Braking surface

Having a carbon or aluminium wheel is going to directly impact the braking surface of the rim. It is easier to manufacture a perfectly flat braking surface with aluminium, resulting in more consistent braking. In addition, aluminium can be machined to feature grooves and patterns to improve the efficiency of the braking.

Carbon braking is consistently improving as technology moves forward, but compared to aluminium it is often not as good in the wet. Carbon braking surfaces can also suffer heat build, especially if you drag your brakes for a long time. This can lead to de-lamination of the rim.

Hubs

Hubs are at the centre of the wheel and contain the axle and bearings. Higher quality hubs are better made, often with superior bearings that roll with less friction. Cartridge bearings are the usual standard on anything except the cheapest wheels because they are simple to replace. The smoothest bearings are ceramic ones, although they come with a price tag to match.

In freewheel bicycles (i.e. anything that is not a fixie), the rear hub is a freehub. This means you can freewheel without turning the pedals. The cassette is fitted onto the freehub body.

Whether a wheelset is Shimano or Campagnolo compatible depends upon the freehub body, as the cassettes from the two manufacturers are a slightly different design in the way they slot onto the freehub. This isn’t a problem as different freehub bodies can be purchased and changed on the wheel. Note Shimano and SRAM are compatible with each other. In addition, Edco now make a freehub body that is compatible with Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo cassettes.

10, 11 or 12-speed?

All new wheels now feature a freehub body designed for 11-speed cassettes. But don’t worry if you’re still running 10-speed, as you can use a 10-speed cassette on an 11-speed freehub by using a spacer. These spacers are often included with the wheels, but if you are unsure, check with your local bike shop.

Campagnolo has become the first cycling groupset maker to create a 12-speed groupset. The good news is that the cassette fits on the same body as the 11-speed Campagnolo ones, meaning you should be able to keep using your old wheels.

Spokes and Nipples

Zipp 302 hub

No-nonsense hub with J-bend spokes

Spokes provide support from the hub to the rim and distribute the pressure around the bike wheel, working in both tension and compression. Pay attention to the spoke count, as the more there are the stronger but heavier the wheel. Meanwhile, fewer spokes often make the wheel more aerodynamic. The shape of the spokes also matters – with flat/aero/bladed spokes becoming increasingly standard over all price points.

Nipples help hold the spoke in place on the rim and are typically made of brass (although aluminium can save weight). When a wheel is trued the spoke tension is adjusted via the nipple.

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