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Will upgrading the wheels on my road bike make a difference?

Mavic Cosmic Wheels Wheelset

The wheels on your bike are understandably pretty important. When you’re riding they’re constantly moving. Responding to changes in direction, weather conditions and all the forces you put through the bike. With the importance of aerodynamics to achieving fast speeds, can upgrading your wheelset really help you gain precious speed for no extra effort? As with many questions in cycling, the answer is it depends. For those looking for more help going uphill, then a lightweight wheelset could be the ideal choice. Whilst on the flat, some deep rimmed aero wheels will be the right choice to make.

What do I need to consider?

The riding that you do will really influence your equipment choices. For rides or races with more climbing or mixed terrain then a shallow rim profile with fewer spokes will suit. The decreased weight will allow the rider to accelerate quickly and not have precious extra grams to drag uphill either. Flat rides or races will be where aerodynamics are the main area to consider. A deeper rim profile is the obvious way to suss out an aero wheel. Sometimes these wheels also have more spokes or are laced in a different way to increase stiffness too.

Budget

There are quality wheelsets are most price points. From some high-end Dura-Ace C60 type wheels to a midpoint RS300 and even the budget RS100 wheels, there are certainly improvements that can be made. That’s particularly the case if you’re using the stock wheels that came with your bike. If you’re upgrading those, then you should be able to feel a very noticeable difference. There is often not massive differences between wheelset weights as the price increases. So you can get a decent bang for your buck in the mid-point area.

Aero benefits

Deeper rims can definitely result in reduced rider effort, particularly at higher speeds. There are all sorts of ‘watts saved’ numbers out there. However, you should be able to save at least 10 watts at 40kph, which equates to 30 seconds saved over an hour. In a time trial, that would probably see you finish a few places higher. Aerodynamic benefits begin to take effect from as low as 19-20kph, so most people will see increased speeds for the majority of their riding.

The penalty of deep rims is an increase in weight. However, on flat and rolling roads the watts saved more than makes up for any weight disadvantage. It only starts to become an issue on routes with major climbing involved. Crosswinds are also the bane of the deep rim, particularly for a front wheel. A gust of wind from the side can snap the front wheel’s direction unexpectedly. This is scary even for experienced riders and requires some good bike handling skills to keep upright.

Conclusion

Make sure you know whether it’s climbing or general riding that you want your wheels for. By buying the right wheelset, you should see tangible improvements and upgrading your wheelset is certainly worth doing.