Reviews of Products: Wheels
In addition to building Rider Matched Custom Wheels in-house to meet your needs, Fit Werx offers a wide range of quality wheel brands to help your bike roll better than ever. Keep reading to learn more about some of the wheel brands we carry and things to keep in mind when selecting a new pair of wheels. Fit Werx has access to most wheel brands, so just let us know if you don’t see the wheel manufacturer or specific product you’re looking for.
While some wheels work better for a wider range of riders than others, there are not any universal wheels that we recommend for everyone. Wheels, like frames, are not commodities; if you want the best results, you need to select your wheels based on your individual needs, desired ride characteristics and what other equipment you will be using with them.
There are two primary types of wheels – Event/Race Wheels and Multi-Performance Wheels. While there are wheels that can cross between these two types, the importance of each variable can vary immensely depending on your use. First, some description of the two types of wheels.
An Event Wheel might be a wheel you ride daily, but it could also be the wheel you bring out only on those “special occasions” or for a specific purpose or course. The thing that distinguishes an “Event Wheel” from a “Multi Purpose Wheel” is that an Event Wheel is designed to help your body and bike to perform at their fullest. These wheels not only tend to look fast, they are one of the most important pieces of equipment when it comes to actual speed. A well matched Event Wheel can add over 1 mph of speed (for a rider who averages 20 mph) compared to a basic Multi-Purpose wheel.
More Event Wheels are built using carbon fiber based rims each year, and our general discussion of Event Wheels is slanted towards carbon fiber rim equipped wheels. This being said, there are some light aluminum rim wheels, like the Mavic R-SYS, that could be considered Event Wheels for hill climbing and there are also some deep section wheels, like the HED Jet series, that are not necessarily leaders in the weight department, but compete quite well aerodynamically.
While most Multi-Purpose Wheels use clincher tires, many Event Wheels are available in clincher or tubular tire formats and some, like Reynolds phenomenal riding RZR, are available in tubular only. While there used to be significant ride quality differences, the gap between tubular and clincher tire technology has narrowed. In most cases, the biggest difference between the performance of the two rim types comes down to weight (a taped tubular can be as easy to change as a clincher). A more detailed discussion of some of the primary differences between tubular and clincher wheel designs can be found here.
Like most things designed around maximizing performance, Event Wheels can require a little more maintenance and care than Multi-Purpose Wheels. Event Wheels are built to maximize performance and each wheel model and brand has their own take on how to do that (read our manufacturer profiles for more information).
Multi-Purpose Wheels might be a high mileage wheel that a racer uses for training or they might be a rider’s only set of wheels. While there are wheels that definitely can cross between Multi-Purpose Wheels and Event Wheels, the use and expectations a rider has when using a wheel daily can be quite different from someone who is focusing purely on performance. For example, aerodynamics might be the number one consideration for an Event Wheel buyer, but it might be low on the list for some Multi-Purpose Wheel buyers. Conversely, having low service requirements and being very durable might be the marquis characteristics someone looks for in a Multi-Purpose Wheel, while a rider looking at an Event Wheel to maximize their speed might be okay with replacing or servicing bearings more frequently in exchange for the extra speed boost.
Event Wheels are generally in the $1000+ range, Multi-Purpose Wheels start as low as $200 a pair. With all this in mind, the following is a discussion of the variables to consider when looking at wheels with some information on what type of rider should prioritize each one:
Considering you expend the majority of your energy riding a bike overcoming wind resistance, aerodynamics is an important variable to consider on a bike. While aerodynamics should be a heavily weighted factor for many Event Wheel buyers and a factor for a number of Multi-Purpose buyers as well, it is important to remember that the deepest section rims or wheels with the most spoke surface area are frequently not the most versatile – which can be equally important. Some of the latest rim shapes have helped allow deeper rims to handle more predictably across a wide range of conditions; however, in general, deeper rims will usually catch more wind than shallower designs. Lighter riders and/or those who ride at a more moderate pace tend to be more affected by wind than heavier and/or faster riders.
If you are a triathlete or TT rider looking for an Event Wheel, aerodynamic benefit should rank high on your list and you will want to figure out what depth and rim and spoke shape makes the most sense for you individually. We’re happy to talk to you and help you find the best options for your needs in this department, so don’t hesitate to contact us.
On the other hand, if you are a recreational rider looking for a Multi-Purpose Wheel to leave on your bike and ride all the time, don’t discount the benefit of aerodynamics (riding faster and with less effort benefits everyone), but make sure the wheels your are considering offer you the right amount of versatility, lateral stiffness, comfort/compliance, etc. There are only a few riders who would find a 80mm deep section wheel the most versatile across a range of uses and conditions… Again, we’re happy to talk to you and help you find the best options for your individual needs, so don’t hesitate to contact us.
Almost every wheel brand makes aero wheels. Corima, ENVE, HED/Bontrager, and Zipp are common aero brand recommendations we make while brands like Mavic and Reynolds have come a long way in recent years and also offer options that can work great for many riders too. While these brands approach aerodynamics from varying perspectives, the bottom line is that these are some of the most experienced and proven aero wheel companies on the market and for good reason – at a given rim depth, if you are slower than the rider next to you it is not because one of you is riding a Corima and the other a Zipp… A discussion of the aero differences between these brands would take many pages; additional information on how a company approaches aerodynamics can be found in our manufacturer profile for the company.
“Versatility” refers to how many different riding conditions, rider types (weight, speed…), and terrain the wheel works well. Some wheels tend to be balanced and perform well for a wide range of riders while other wheel designs (often deeper designs) offer a more focused and specialty application. These specialty wheels often work ideally for a limited number of riders or course types, but have some limitations elsewhere. Disc wheels, for example, can be exceptionally fast under the right rider on the right course, but can be less than ideal for a lighter or not as fast rider in windy or hilly conditions and thus would not be as versatile.
Most wheels that would be recommended for Multi-Purpose use will offer great versatility. Generally speaking, the biggest things that can limit versatility are rim depth (which can affect handling) and weight (which affects acceleration). However, other important variables that are vastly affected by the individual using the wheel include compliance/comfort and lateral stiffness/responsiveness. Like most everything regarding wheels, it is how all of these variables relates to your individual situation that should determine what the best wheel options are for you.
When it comes to versatility, there are few aluminum rims that are deep enough to cause side wind issues, but some aluminum rim wheels can be heavy. With carbon, rims in the 30-60mm depth range (depending on rider and use) offer the most versatility. While there are exceptions, for many triathletes looking to own one pair of race wheels, a 50-60mm depth rim in the front and a 60-80mm deep wheel in the back is an excellent place to focus as these depths will offer a substantial aero benefit over a box style or shallower rim, most are light and laterally stiff and there are few conditions where they will not be one of the better wheels to be riding in terms of performance and handling.
Weight’s primary effect on a wheel relates to acceleration. Simply put, heavier wheels (especially those with more perimeter weight at the rim) take more energy to accelerate and thus will frequently not sprint or climb as well as lighter wheels. A heavier wheel that is aerodynamic can still be a very fast wheel in conditions where there may not be a lot of climbing or a need for much acceleration (triathlon on flatter to rolling courses, for example). You want to look at weight from both an absolute standpoint (i.e. – “1200g a pair”) while also taking into account where the weight is distributed. Wheels with less external rotational mass accelerate better than those with heavier rotational rim mass.
Wheel weight can also be related to whether a wheel uses tubular tires or clincher tires. Tubular rims do not require the same hooked rim design found in a clincher and the smooth and low profile surface allows for less material and reinforcement to be used in rim construction. While many carbon rim wheels are available in both tubular and clincher versions, the tubular versions are usually lighter by 150-250 grams.
Make sure you do not choose a wheel based purely on weight, a wheel needs to score well in all the categories that are important to performance, ride quality and durability to work as desired. For example, if a wheel is light, but not laterally stiff enough for you, that is not a good compromise when it comes to performance.
One of the lightest alloy wheels on the market is the Mavic R-Sys, coming in around 1300 grams, and we also often custom build wheels at Fit Werx to your individual specifications and needs and these can build up quite light as well. Contact us for recommendations and an estimate on a pair of custom built wheels. When it comes to carbon, full carbon wheels like the Reynolds RZR and Lightweight’s offerings weigh under 1000g a pair while offering aero benefits and being some of the most laterally responsive and lowest mechanical resistance on the market! Truly uncompromising.
Braking Power and Modulation:
Many wheels below $1500 will have aluminum rims while the majority of wheels over $1500 will have carbon rims/braking surfaces (an exception is Mavic’s CXR, which has a carbon rim, but with a thin aluminum Exalith brake track). Outside of special applications like Mavic’s Exalith treatment, which Mavic also uses on their nicest aluminum rim wheels, that is designed to enhance braking power and relatively minor differences between welded and machined rims and more basic pinned designs, the braking performance of most aluminum rims will be similar regardless of rim brand. However, unlike aluminum rims, carbon rims can have a wide range of braking performance depending on the construction of the braking track and the brake pads being used. When talking about braking performance, it is important that you use brake pads recommended by the rim manufacturer (i.e. SwissStop Yellow, Mavic Exalith, standard Shimano…) if you want them to work as well as they can.
If you are considering a carbon rim equipped wheel, consistency of modulation (how smooth and progressive the brake feels) and overall stopping power for your individual use are variables to consider. For example, a triathlete may not be overly concerned about brake modulation (as you may not be using your brakes that much) while a rider looking for a wheel to ride in the Alps or race criteriums would want to be concerned about modulation. While some carbon rims give up braking performance to an alloy rim, carbon rim braking technology by the most reputable brands has come a long way in recent years. Some of the latest carbon rim surfaces and brake pad combinations now exceed the performance of most aluminum rims, even in wet weather. We’re happy to talk to you about specific pad and rim combinations and which brands will perform best in this category for your type of riding and weather. Call or email.
Often related to compliance and comfort, lateral stiffness is the amount of deflection between the rim and the hub under load. Too much deflection and the wheel will not transfer your power to the road as efficiently as it could and too much stiffness and it might have a tendency to skip or jump under load. Heavier or more powerful riders need a stiffer wheel than a lighter or lower power rider as they will put more leverage on the wheel under pedal load and thus deflect it more. On the other hand, lighter riders should be wary of getting wheels that ride too stiff or harsh for them as discussed below…
When it comes to lateral stiffness, the depth and construction of the rims as well as the spoke configuration can matter a lot. There are brands (like Zipp) who offer some models that seem to be quite laterally stiff while other models lack the same “punch” in this regard. Other brands, like Corima, tend to offer wheels that are laterally stiff across their range of products as the reinforced foam core rim construction naturally lends itself to lateral stiffness. Carbon spoke wheels are often some of the absolute best when it comes to lateral stiffness; Corima, Mavic, Lightweight and Reynolds make carbon spoke wheels.
Frequently the least compliant wheels are some of the most responsive and laterally stiff. This being said, modern material technology is overcoming this and some of today’s finest wheels are both comfortable and stiff. A wheel’s compliance should be well matched to the frame the rider is using; the more compliant and comfortable the frame, generally the the stiffer the wheel can be without punishing the rider. Wheel feel varies markedly in this regard between manufacturers and designs. For example, some of the most popular bladder mold carbon rims can transmit more vibration while a foam molded rim construction from a brand like Corima may ride smoother and quieter while also enhancing lateral stiffness. It is important to note that tire selection and pressure are major variables when it comes to wheel compliance and comfort. Latex tubes, high quality tires with a high thread count and supple sidewalls, as well as tire width, can make a really big difference.
The bearing components (hardness and smoothness) in combination with the tolerances and alignment of the hubs matters when it comes to mechanical friction; mechanical friction matters when it comes to rolling speed and the amount of effort you have to put out to get and keep the bike rolling. The higher the grade of the bearing and the better the hub alignment and manufacturing tolerances, the smoother the wheel will roll.
Especially for Multi-Purpose wheel buyers, it is important to note that one way friction in a hub can be kept as low a possible is to minimize the seal or the amount of grease in the bearing. A wheel can be rated highly for bearing quality, but may not have as durable a bearing design as a hub that is sealed to a greater extent or uses a more durable grease. Hubs with minimal seals will often roll the best, but may also require more maintenance and bearing replacement to keep them that way.
The durability and serviceability category is one where the priorities of someone buying an Event Wheel and someone buying a Multi-Purpose Wheel can differ. Carbon rims are more durable than ever and often offer the same rim strength as an alloy rim. In the event of a failure/trauma, an alloy rim will tend to dent, while carbon rims tends to crack – regardless, the net result is similar with a rim that needs replacing. There are differences between brands when it comes to rim durability, hub service intervals and serviceability. Make sure you get a wheel/hub that works well for your use and tolerances in this regard.
When it comes to warranty, a good dealer and a strong and stable manufacturer can play a big role in your long-term satisfaction with your new wheels. While most wheel manufacturers offer a solid warranty and no-fault/crash replacement – a good dealer will have a close relationship with the manufacturer and can serve as your best ally and advocate in the case of an issue. In addition to accurate and individualized information, this is one big thing that we offer our clients who buy through us at Fit Werx. Choose where you buy as carefully as what you buy…
For most riders considering an event/race wheel, performance trumps finish quality and if a wheel offers a free mph of speed at the expense of a rough edge, that is fine. This being said, if you want the most refined and finished appearance, you will want to think about how the graphics are applied to the wheel and how they appear. When it comes to quality and durability of graphics, Enve, Corima and Lightweight are the most consistent brands we have seen year-to-year and model-to-model.
Wheel recommendations should be based on your individual situation. Your weight, riding style, speed, use, frame and other components, budget and preferences can all play a role in what wheels we would recommend for you. Stop-in, give us a call or email and we’ll help you find just the right wheel. We ship daily…
Associated Tech Articles on wheels:
- Race Wheel Considerations
- Dura Ace vs. Ultegra vs. Race Wheels. Which buys you the most speed?
- Tubular vs. Clincher Wheels
Happy searching and contact us with questions or if you want to order.