One of the most popular upgrades, better wheels (and tyres) can dramatically improve your bike’s ride.
Stock wheels are often heavy and of mediocre quality — upgrading can reduce weight and improve reliability.
If you want to go faster, choose wheels with deep-section rims; aerodynamics is far more important than weight.
You’ve a choice of clinchers, tubulars or tubeless, with matching tyres; each system has pros and cons.
Wheels benefit from the human touch; the best handbuilt wheels are still superior to wheels built entirely by machine.
Upgrading the wheels is one of the first changes many people make to their bikes. Why are wheels so important and how do you choose a better set of hoops?
It's one of the bike industry's guilty secrets: the wheels on even quite pricey road bikes are often a bit ordinary. That means upgrading your wheels can make a big difference to the feel and performance of your bike.
There are several reasons why you might want better wheels. If you're doing a lot of commuting on bad roads (the potholed streets of just about any UK major city for example) you might want a set of beefy wheels for weekday riding, and to switch to something lighter or more aerodynamic for the weekend.
Or you might have decided to keep the run-of-the-mill wheels your bike came with for training and to fit better-performance wheels for sunny days and important events.
The basics of wheel construction haven't changed in decades because, quite simply, they work extraordinarily well. A bike wheel can carry hundreds of times its own weight; pretty remarkable structural efficiency.
Your basic tension-spoked wheel consists of a hub that houses bearings so the whole thing can turn easily, a rim for the tyre to sit on and steel spokes under tension that hold it all together.
The tension in the spokes is the vital factor. When you load a wheel, the tension goes down in the spokes between the hub and the ground. As long as it never hits zero, the wheel can support you and your bike.
Nevertheless, wheels have evolved in the last couple of decades, and now usually have fewer spokes and deeper rims, both changes that improve aerodynamics. The spokes themselves may be flattened to better cut through the air too.
Perhaps the biggest change is the use of carbon fiber for rims. That's made possible deep, highly aerodynamic rims with minimal weight penalty. Carbon wheels are still more expensive than wheels with aluminium rims, but prices have been steadily decreasing for the last few years.
Tubulars, clinchers and tubeless
In terms of how tyres mount, there are three types of wheel rim. Rims for tubular tyres — which have the inner tube sewn into the carcass — have a shallow dip where the tyre is glued on. These are the lightest rims, and tubular fans say their soft floaty ride is unparalleled. However, for the vast majority of people the faff of gluing, and the difficulty of fixing a punctured tubular makes them too much hassle.
Clincher or wire-on rims have raised sidewalls with a hook where the tyre bead engages, and the tyre has a separate inner tube. In other words, this is the standard bike rim and tyre we all know and love. Fixing a flat is a simple matter of changing the tube and swapping tyres just requires tyre levers and a pump.
Tubeless tyres are a special case of clinchers. Tyre and rim are manufactured to precise tolerances to enable an airtight seal. The rim has no holes and the tyre is coated internally with rubber so there's no need for an inner tube. Some manufacturers forego the rubber coating and base their tubeless systems around use of sealant. That has the advantage of making them more resistant to penetration punctures, in addition to their natural resistance to pinch punctures.
Weight vs Aerodynamics
If performance is your aim, there's strong evidence that you should put more priority on aerodynamics than weight. Way back in 2001 bike engineer Kraig Willett analysed the forces on wheels and concluded:
"When evaluating wheel performance, wheel aerodynamics are the most important, distantly followed by wheel mass. Wheel inertia effects in all cases are so small that they are arguably insignificant."
That goes against the long-standing conventional wisdom that wheel weight is vitally important to performance because wheels have to be spun up to speed as well as moved along the road.
But you don't do much accelerating when you ride a bike, and even when you do the speed changes involved are relatively gradual. That means you spend most of your time, and therefore effort, simply shoving the air out of the way, and you should choose wheels accordingly.
Pro teams have drawn similar conclusions, which is why you now see far more deep-section wheels in the peloton than you did even ten years ago. Aero wheels are free speed in a breakaway or sprint.
The big disadvantage of deep-section wheels is the effect of crosswinds, which can blow you off track. Some wheels are less affected than others. Zipp's Firecrest shape is widely considered to be among the least problematic thanks to its bulged sidewalls, and most wheelmakers now offer something similar.
Just as tyres have become a bit wider in recent years, with the previously ubiquitous 23mm size giving away to 25, 26 and even 28mm tyres, so rims have spread out too. All other things being equal, a wider rim makes for a stiffer, stronger wheel and also makes the tyre effectively a bit fatter.
Wider rims are also claimed to be more aerodynamic because air flows more smoothly between tyre and rim if they are about the same size. Wheel maker Mavic has taken this to its logical conclusion with its CX01 Blades, plastic fairings that fill the groove between its Yksion CXR tyre and Cosmic CXR wheel. The UCI won't let pros use them, but that doesn't affect triathletes and UK time trial riders.
Can we build it?
Wheelbuilding (CC BY-NC-ND Cory Grunkemeyer:Flickr)
If you want your wheels to be durable, then how they were built is just as important as the components that went into them. For wheels to be durable, the tension needs to be high and even. If it's not high then spokes can come loose as you ride because the tension can drop to zero under load. If the tension is not even then the wheel is unlikely to stay round and true, even if it's that way out of the box.
A step in the wheel-building process called 'stress-relieving' also improves wheel longevity by preventing fatigue failure at the spoke heads. If your relatively new wheels start breaking spokes it's a good bet they weren't stress-relieved properly when they were built.
Most wheels these days are built by machines. It's possible to set up wheel building machines to get all of these things right, or very nearly right, but sometimes factories take short-cuts, especially when the objective is to build inexpensive wheels. The less time each wheel spends in the machine, the more wheels the factory can build.
Spokes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Jon Bowen:Flickr)
That's why cheap machine-built wheels have a poor reputation, but if a wheel builder doesn't know what he or she is doing, humans can build poor wheels too. The most efficient way of mass-producing high-quality wheels seems to be to let machines quickly do the spadework and then finish them by hand, as Joe Graney found when Santa Cruz decided to build its own wheels.
Alternatively, you can get top-quality wheels that have been built by hand from start to finish, either off-the-peg or custom built. Barnoldswick parts-meisters Hope have been making well-regarded wheels for years, including road wheels, while Hunt Bike Wheels is a new entrant in the field. You'll find wheels built by several others in the selection below.
If you want something truly special, a wheelbuilder who really knows their stuff can help you choose exactly the right combination of hubs, rims and spokes for your needs. The doyen of this approach in the UK is probably Liverpool's Pete Matthews whose resume includes building wheels for Tour de France King of the Mountains Robert Millar, legendary rouleur Sean Yates and comedian Alexei Sayle. Many good bike shops have a similar if less storied figure lurking in the workshop, quietly crafting wheels that last until the rim sidewalls wear out.
Names to look for
The major wheel brands nevertheless produce good wheels, by and large. Riders report thousands of happy miles on wheels by Mavic, Bontrager, Shimano, Reynolds, Zipp, DT Swiss and many others. Here are some of our favourite wheels from the last couple of years.
The best road bike wheels
The 30 Carbon Aero Disc wheelset from UK brand Hunt is unbelievably light, which really benefits climbing and acceleration, especially because achieving that weight hasn't meant any loss in lateral stiffness. These are seriously good wheels at a very good price.
With 30mm-deep rims, these wheels are versatile for all kinds of road riding – racing, sportives, audax or just getting out with mates on a group ride.
At just 1,347g they feel light and responsive whatever the terrain, but it's most notable when you are in the hills. Attack a climb out of the saddle and they'll make the whole bike surge forward as if it weighs nothing, also helped by the instant engagement of the multi-point pawls in as little as 7.5 degrees.
It's the same when it comes to sprinting or hard acceleration: the response is like a switch has been flicked bunging another 100 watts into your legs for free.
All of this is a waste of time if you can't get that power out because of flex, but there are no such issues here. Even full-on sprinting efforts don't see the rims budge a millimetre from side to side.
In developing the Aero Wide 38 wheels, Scribe has shown that while the disc brake continues to grow in popularity there is still plenty to be done for those of us who prefer rim brakes to stop our bikes. Weighing just 1,401g without sacrificing stiffness, these wheels are fast, hugely versatile and they come in at an impressive price.
Taking them out of the box, the first thing you notice is the weight – or lack of it – which can often give a little bit of trepidation before fitting them to the bike.
I'm not your typical whippet-thin racer and I can put out a lot of power in quick bursts for short, sharp hills or sprinting for lights, that kind of thing, and if a wheel designer has focused on weight rather than lateral stiffness, I'm going to notice it.
When riding the Aera AR55 wheels I could get them touching the brake pads even when they were backed off by millimetres, but thankfully hitting the same climbs on the Scribes hasn't seen a single issue even with pads sitting a millimetre away from the rim.
Acceleration is epic, and when you are riding in unfamiliar places and don't know what is around the corner, finding yourself at the foot of a hill isn't an issue as just a quick dig on the pedals or climb out of the saddle will see the wheels maintain pace much easier than a heavier set.
Back in 2015 Stu rated the Mason Resolution featuring the first 17mm-internal-width incarnation of the collaboratively designed Mason x Hunt 4 Season Disc wheelset. He found that 'stiffness is high, you can really notice that when sprinting or climbing out of the saddle yet they don't feel harsh in any conditions'. The second incarnation is also a cracking buy.
At launch in 2015, the Mason X Hunt 4 Season wheels were £349. The 2019 update brings the width out to 19mm, allowing wider tyres and the multiple benefits thereof, for a price of £329. That's about a £55 reduction allowing for 2015-2019 inflation – not bad for a product that's only improved technically.
On the road over three months – be it gravelly, rocky or tarmac – the Mason X Hunt 4 Season Discs didn't disappoint. They felt solid, with no discernible flex likely to create tyre rub if you're pushing the limits of your frame clearance. Talk of 'stiffness' or 'comfort' is pretty much moot with large, soft tyres – so let's just say that the 4 Seasons felt great, steering was sharp under cornering/braking, and the 4-pawl 10-degree engagement freehub felt snappy when accelerating hard. The ratchets are on the loud side, so if you're after stealth maybe look elsewhere. The freehub body is coated with a special treatment that Hunt says provides 'excellent durability against cassette sprocket damage'. Removing my cassette after a fair bit of riding, I couldn't see any sign of wear at all – so it's obviously working.
The Hunt 35 Carbon Gravel Disc X-Wide are the UK brand's flagship gravel wheelset. The step up to 23mm internal rim width sets them up for the new breed of mega-wide-clearance allroad bikes – and the adaptable hubs mean your investment now is almost guaranteed to fit any future bike purchase.
Out of the box the X-Wides look quite the business – jet black with subtle white branding. With an outside width of 30mm and depth of 35mm (hence the name) they look huge – but at only 1.5kg for the set, there's clearly carbon witchcraft going on inside.
The main reason for getting the X-Wides is the super-wide 23mm rim bed, backed up by a few square acres of carbon chunkiness to keep things in one piece. There's a great deal of comfort to be had from the rim profile when you're bombing about taking drop bars where no sane person would consider sensible or even possible. Everything about the X-Wides murmurs 'Find Your Limits', and it didn't take me long to trust that they were more than up to the job.
Setting up my now-40mm Steilacooms for about 32psi, no byway or gravelly road was beyond them. I sought out increasingly-lumpy mountain bike trails and footpaths (perfectly legit up here in the Bonnie Republic), the only limits to hand being my own skills and willingness to risk considerable personal pain should things go awry.
The pre- and post-gravel commutes on tarmac amply demonstrated the X-Wides' ability to hold a decent turn of speed, even in a nippy crosswind. Obviously the asymmetric profile is going to favour wind from one direction over another, but I couldn't work out which, even battling along a snaking road over a North Yorkshire moor. No doubt the aero butted spokes help out here, keeping things swishing along.
Pacenti's Brevet Wheelset offers a classic look with modern features and performance that exceeded our expectations. The weight is good, but this is a wheelset all about comfort and style, both of which Pacenti has got spot on.
Ever since carbon wheelsets rudely made an appearance in Paris-Roubaix, my love of a classic box-section rim has grown ever stronger. These days, Enves are more common on the club run than a classic, handbuilt wheelset and that saddens me. I've owned many shallow section wheels, the best of which were Ambrosio's Excellence rims laced with plain gauge spokes to blissfully silent Ultegra 6800 hubs.
Pacenti markets these wheels as classic style matched with modern features, intending them to be used for a retro bike build that you can take to L'Eroica. What I see is a stylish set of wheels for getting the miles in.
The classic style is the main feature for me, and wow do these look stunning. The polished box-section alloy rims are just 15mm tall and have 28 spoke holes holding silver Sapim D-Light J-bend spokes. These attach in a two-cross lacing pattern to the high-flange hubs.
Swiss Side's Hadron Ultimate 485s take the fight to the bigger players in the industry with a compelling blend of aerodynamics, exemplary build quality and a competitive price. The trademark "whoosh" sound is no more, however. Today's range of Hadron wheels might look similar to those we tested previously, but in fact no components have been carried across – they are completely different.
Swiss Side offers two flavours of its Hadron aero wheelset – the Ultimate and the Classic. What's changed since we tested the Hadron 485s in 2016 is that both ranges now use full-carbon rims. In fact, Swiss Side is quite open about the fact that the current-gen Hadron Ultimate and Hadron Classic use exactly the same rims (in a range of depths and with rim- and disc-brake options). You might look at the pictures and assume that these are effectively the same wheels as the last lot of Hadron Ultimates we tested, but stay with me here – you couldn't be more wrong.
There is an immediate and quite obvious difference when you first start riding. All of the first-generation Swiss Side Hadron wheels made a rather noticeable whooshing sound, like a toned-down version of a disc wheel. This was because of the way the rim was constructed – the deep section was non-structural and so thin that you could flex it between finger and thumb, and this would amplify the vibrations from the road to make a noise. I quite liked it, actually, and I lost count of how many times someone commented on what a good noise they made.
The new Hadron rim is made as a one piece with the deep section thicker than previously, adding a claimed 20 per cent more lateral stiffness to the wheels. This is a welcome move – I found the old full-carbon Hadron Ultimates were less laterally stiff than I would have liked – and the new wheels are better in this respect, allowing me to set the brake pads closer to the rim. A side-effect of this change is that the resonant sound is gone. Rim weight has also increased slightly as a consequence, by approximately 30g per set. We weighed these 48.5mm-deep Hadron Ultimates at 1,529g including rim tape and valves but excluding skewers, exactly matching Swiss Side's claimed weight.
The combination of Swiss Side's aerodynamics expertise and DT Swiss's production quality yields good results here, and for less than the almost identical wheelset that DT Swiss sells. They are very easy to live with and stable on windier days, so if you're still using rim brakes you could do a lot worse than these. And if you're already on disc brakes, well, you're in luck too.
Think carbon fibre wheels and it's highly likely Enve is one of the first brand names that springs to mind. The US company knows carbon wheels and has put all its expertise into its first dedicated gravel design, these G23 wheels. They provide phenomenal performance, low weight and impressive durability, but you'll max out your credit card to purchase them.
Enve has built its reputation on carbon fibre wheels since it first launched in 2007 (when it was called Edge Composites) and with the new G Series, it's bringing this experience to the growing gravel and adventure bike market. It is offering the G27 (650B) and G23 (700C) using a rim profile optimised for wide tyres and a unique hookless profile intended to minimise pinch flats.
Despite the obvious vibration-damping qualities of a low pressure 40mm tyre, the Enve rims appeared to provide a bit more 'give' when barrelling along boulder and gravel-strewn paths and gulleys compared with many other wheels I've tested.
They just seem to help take the edge off the hits, whether it's riding along washboard surfaces, hard gravel tracks or taking on bigger impacts from rocks or roots.
It is possible to make a carbon fibre rim too stiff, but Enve gets it right with these. Build a really stiff rim and it'll give a harsh ride feel that can result in less control and more fatigue. The ride quality on offer here is exceptionally good, the rim helping to dissipate energy to generate a smoother ride with more control and less fatigue.
As a company, Trek/Bontrager hasn't embraced the gravel movement as keenly as some of its rivals, but these new Aeolus Pro 3V TLR Disc Wheels aim to address that. They are light and very tough wide-profile carbon rims ideal for big volume gravel tyres, and they are reasonably priced with a good warranty and no weight limit.
Bontrager has considerable experience in the carbon fibre wheel market. We were impressed with the Aeolus XXX 4s and the Aeolus Pro 3s when we tested them last year, and it's the latter that forms the basis for the new Aeolus Pro 3Vs. The V stands for volume; these wheels are designed for big volume tyres.
How are they designed for wider tyres? Internal width is the key; these measure 25mm internally, up from 19.5mm on the road carbon wheels. We're seeing the internal width of most road and gravel wheels increasing over traditional measurements to better suit wider tyres that are fashionable these days. A wider rim provides a better foundation for a wider tyre, providing more stability than a wide tyre on a narrow rim.
One of the reasons you might want to buy carbon wheels for your gravel bike is the durability and strength they offer. These are mightily strong wheels and have stood up to some punishing riding, including on rock-strewn tracks better suited to mountain bikes. Hearing the rim clatter against the rocks does make you wince but the wheels have stood up to it all just fine, with no punctures or damaged rims. I've dented aluminium rims on these same trails but the Bontragers coped with it all just fine.
The wheels display the sort of stiffness you'd expect from a carbon wheel, but assessing stiffness through a low-pressure 40mm tyre is tricky. There is more stiffness detectable when coming from aluminium wheels, though, a generally snappier ride experience especially noticeable when riding singletrack trails with lots of sudden turns.
The high-quality carbon fibre Aeolus Pro 3V wheels are perfectly suited to wide road and gravel tyres, with top-notch performance and durability, backed up by a two-year no-cost replacement or repair warranty.
The Pacenti Forza-C 30mm Disc Clincher wheels are a new design from the ground up and they are absolutely lovely. You can feel the quality of the build as soon as you start riding, and their stiffness is impressive considering their very svelte 1,378g weight. Pacenti hasn't even stung you on the price either.
Pacenti builds these wheels by hand in the UK and it shows – not necessarily the UK bit, but definitely the handbuilt part. The wheels feel tight and stiff, but the spoke tension allows enough comfort through to take out any harshness.
The latest Parcours Grimpeur Disc wheels are light enough to excel on the tarmac while being so tough that you can smash them over rocks and tree roots with little concern for their wellbeing. They won't break the bank either.
We've been seeing some brilliant, lightweight carbon fibre disc wheels coming through the office lately, and these Grimpeur Discs are some of the best.
Prime's BlackEdition 50 Carbon wheels vastly outperform their price-tag, with stable rims, great braking, smooth hubs and easy tubeless setup. The rims are designed to work best with wider tyres. The 19mm internal width allows the tyre to be nice and fat and our tester was very happy running these at around 55psi, especially with 28mm tyres. The 27.5mm external width, in theory, creates a wind-cheating profile. Until we get a wind tunnel, all we can say is that these didn't hold us back. On the flat, they hold speed easily and glide over poor surfaces.
The Lark Light Road wheels from UK brand JRA (Just Riding Along) certainly live up to their name, weighing just 1,460g for the set. They're very responsive and JRA hasn't sacrificed durability to save the grams either. It's the perfect package for the rider who wants a classically styled, lightweight set of wheels for racing or training.
Losing 250g from a wheelset always seems to make much more of a difference to how the weight of the bike feels compared with dropping the same amount elsewhere, so swapping to the Larks from a set of winter rims made impressive differences to acceleration and climbing.
The JRA Light Road hubs run very, very smoothly on their stainless bearings and the pick-up on the freewheel is fast and precise, which all adds to effortless rolling whether on the flat or rolling terrain.
Pacenti has delivered an excellent product with its Forza Rim Brake wheelset, marrying an impressive weight with a solid, do-it-all road rim for racing or training – all for a very reasonable price, even against the biggest brands in the marketplace.
While it might feel like every wheel brand is pushing its latest disc brake offerings, it can be easy to think that rim brake wheelsets are being left behind, but thanks to brands like Pacenti there are still some quality offerings out there – like the Forza.
The build quality of the Prime Ventous Carbon Disc Road wheelset is excellent, they look great, perform really well and are pretty good value too. tester Sean Lacey rode them from Land's End to John o'Groats and found them smooth and quiet (including the freehub). They picked up well and gained speed noticeably quicker that the Ultegra wheels he'd been running; the ride was much better.
The wheels were stiff and did have a little give under pressure but weren't fazed at all by fast decents or hard climbs. They continued on at pace whatever the gradient, the acceleration when cracking on at the base giving a welcome extra bit of speed to carry up.
Vision's TriMax 30 KB tubeless-ready wheels are built to last, look great and stay that way thanks to a clever surface treatment. Weight-weenies might find them a shade heavy, but that's far less important than durability and reliability.
These are probably the most unobtrusive wheels I've ever tested – and that's a very good thing. For a start, they're straight and true, and the spoke tension is decent, which will help them stay that way. They're laterally stiff enough that I couldn't get them to rub on the brakes, even though I run the blocks close to the rim so they come on at a touch. They're unaffected by sidewinds because they're only 30mm deep, enough to give them a slight aero advantage over old-school square rims, but not enough to affect handling when it's windy. Even the freewheel noise is relatively quiet. Very easy wheels to live with.
Just Riding Along's (JRA) Gecko Carbon Wheelset is a very impressive set of hoops designed to take on the constant knocks and vibrations the roughest gravel tracks can throw at them, while still being so light that they won't hamper your performance on the road. With a claimed sub-1,400g weight and all the strength you could need, it's also pretty amazing that they come in at well under a grand.
Bontrager's Aeolus XXX 4 TLR clincher wheels are stiff, lightweight and steady in use and offer good braking in both wet and dry conditions. This is a great all-round aero wheelset that's suitable for a wide variety of conditions and it's light considering the rim depth, ours coming in at 1,420g for the pair.
The first thing I noticed about these wheels is their stiffness. With the brake pads set up stupidly close to the rims I could get some rub when throwing the bike around in a massive gear, but I got virtually none in normal use, not even when sprinting or leaning hard into a tight corner. No worries at all there.
The next thing to mention is their stability. Some aero rims can get knocked about by sidewinds, even when the yaw angle is quite shallow. Fluctuations in the speed and/or direction of the wind can have a large effect on the steering, making your bike's front end feel like a handful, upsetting your confidence and ultimately affecting your speed. The Aeolus XXX 4 TLRs have behaved well on super-windy rides.
For 2018 Mavic's highly dependable all-rounder, the Ksyrium Elite, has become tubeless, using the French company's UST system like much of the range. The wheels have maintained their lightweight, durable persona from previous models and are still great to ride whether you are racing or tackling the club run, with a little bit of future proofing. A welcome addition is that the Yksion Pro UST tyres are now among the best tubeless tyres you can buy, and Mavic's Road UST system makes for smooth and simple fitting of tyres with just a standard track pump.
These Fast Forward F4R FCC Tubeless Ready wheels are seriously good for their relatively sensible price tag. They're stable in strong winds, quick to spin up to speed and also quick to stop. What's more, you get great hubs and high-end pads. It's a great package.
The Fulcrum Racing Speed 40C Carbon wheels are the company's high performance offering. They offer buttery smooth ceramic bearings, stable rims and brilliant braking. The only thing not to love is the price.
Using disc brakes? You want the disc brake version for £1,610.
The new DT Swiss PRC 1400 Spline clincher wheels come with deep section 65mm rims for aerodynamic efficiency. They're well made and come with excellent internals, plus you can run them tubeless.
You are getting some seriously good wheels for your money here. Granted, these don't offer quite the aero performance of DT Swiss's ARC 1100 Dicut wheels but the PRCs feature excellent components, they're stiff, braking is good and, for their depth, they feel pretty stable in most conditions. This is a reliable high-performance wheelset that puts in a great performance in a variety of conditions.
If you're looking at a dynamo system for your road bike then the SONdelux hub dynamo is pretty much the best out there for low resistance and weight, and it's renowned for great build quality which is matched by the rest of the components on these excellent Hunt wheels. Considering how much the dynamo costs on its own, the price is excellent too. They might be a bit much for the odd night ride, but if you rack up the miles after dark they're an investment worth considering.
AlexRims knows a thing or two about making rims (the clue's in the name), so it's not a surprise that it's moving into the wheelset market. And if these CXD4s are anything to go by, you should definitely look at them as an option if you're upgrading your bike or speccing a new build.
On the road the wheels feel nice and stiff, with no obvious flex either from sprint efforts or heavy cornering. The bearings run smoothly, and whipping the cassette off showed that there's not very much notching on the alloy freehub body. The 1,580g all-in weight is pretty good for a disc wheelset at this price. Shimano's RX31s are 380g heavier for the same kind of money, and similar-weight wheelsets from the likes of Cero, Kinesis and Hunt come in at least £50 more expensive.
Going wide and deep, Hunt has created a set of fast, durable and light wheels in the 3650 Carbon Wide Aeros. With a specification of high-end parts and great build quality, Hunt isn't trying to reinvent the wheel but it is certainly refining it to a level of performance unheard of on sub-£1,000 wheelsets.
The name 3650 comes from how deep they are: 36mm at the front and 50mm at the rear. It's quite a common combination for many riders as it is so adaptable to various weather conditions and the topography of your chosen route.
The front gives you a slight aero advantage over a more standard box rim shape without getting battered around by crosswinds, and it also keeps the weight down for climbing.
The PR 1400 Dicut OXiC wheels feature a ceramic coated rim surface that provides reassuring braking performance in a range of conditions, making them ideal for year-round cycling in the UK.
The application of a hardwearing ceramic coating on the rim is nothing new: Mavic used to produce a highly regarded ceramic back in the day. DT Swiss, though, reckons its new OXiC treatment is able to deform with the rim, which means the coating can't become detached from the aluminium, a problem that plagued Mavic ceramic rims. DT is confident the ceramic coating won't wear our over the normal lifespan of the rim, and it won't fade in the sun.
I've been running the C24s with 25mm Continental Grand Prix 4000 tyres (Shimano advises that you use tyres ranging from 23mm to 28mm with these wheels) and they've been very quick, accelerating fast, and the ride quality is hard to fault.
The C24s, which have just been given a graphics/aesthetics update to match Shimano's new R9100 components, have the shallowest rim heights of any wheels in the Dura-Ace range: the front is 21mm and the rear is 24mm. They're not particularly wide either: 15mm internal, 20.8mm external, whereas the new C40 and C60 clinchers are both 17mm internal and 24mm external, following the trend towards more width.
I've been thrashing the Hunt 30Carbon Gravel Disc wheels around the roads and bridleways of the south west, as well as using them for a touring trip to Cuba where they endured all kinds of surfaces, pot-holes and being lashed to roof-racks with string. And I like them, a lot.
As the name suggests, the 30Carbon Gravel Disc wheels are aimed at the fast-growing new gravel/all-road/adventure bike category. Gravel bikes are aimed at riders who want to go quickly on the road, with the freedom to take a turn off the tarmac and explore further into the wild than you could on a traditional road bike. They're typically built tougher than a road bike, and consequently heavier. If you're looking for an upgrade to your gravel bike, wheels may be on your list, and with a weight of less than 1,500g, these are likely to be quite a bit lighter than most stock wheels.
The BORG22T wheelset features 22mm-deep aluminium tubular rims and triple butted Sapim Force spokes laced onto Miche Syntium DX hubs. It's not a flashy package, but it bats well above its price tag – it's tough, fast and will suit riders looking for a brilliant cyclo-cross wheelset.
Sometimes a product will genuinely surprise you. Take a look at the spec list of the BORG22T wheels and you'd be forgiven for not expecting much, and certainly not at this price. But I put them on my bike and was surprised to find they're excellent. I wouldn't expect to find a tubular disc wheelset below the £1,000 mark; finding such a great set of wheels for £380 has made me question why I'd spend more.
Since Roval parent Specialized introduced the Roval Rapide CLX 40 wheels two years ago, they've been busy and the CLX 50 wheels are the CLX 40s' spiritual replacement. They're a marked improvement, too, with better aerodynamic performance and an impressively low weight for the disc brake version here.
The aim for the new Roval CLX 50 was to marry the aero performance of the deeper section CLX 64 with the lightness of the shallower CLX 32. At 1,415g with a 50mm-deep rim and disc brake hubs, they would appear to have achieved that objective.
This is a very attractive weight in a hugely competitive wheel market. They're not much heavier than the £4.8k Lightweight Meilenstein C Disc wheels, for example, and only a smidgen heavier than the so-called lightweight, shallow, rim-braked FFWD F3R carbon clinchers. You can have aero and low weight it would seem. And a Zipp 404 Firecrest Disc wheelset? That's a comparatively portly 1,715g.
Halo seems very proud of its new Evaura Universal 6D 700C wheelset, and quite rightly. These are well-made wheels that can be adapted for a variety of cycles and purposes. The ride quality is excellent, the weight modest and – despite the dishing needed to make it disc-brake compatible – it proved impossible to provoke them into twisting or flexing.
The idea behind this wheelset is to make it as adaptable as possible to the new rash of wheel and braking standards that is spreading across the industry. While most conventional road frames take a 130mm rear axle, disc brake-equipped bikes are commonly adopting the 135mm found on mountain bikes. (Mountain bike rear axles are themselves now getting longer, but that's another story...)
Fast Forward F3R Full Carbon Clincher wheels are a lightweight option that provide excellent acceleration and a high level of stiffness, although the lack of aero credentials might put off some who aren't pure climbers.
Fast Forward bills the Full Carbon Clincher as a wheelset that's particularly suited to climbing. The carbon rims are 30mm deep and 22.4mm wide with quite a rounded profile and a blunt inner edge – far more U-shaped than V-shaped.
The Knight 65 Carbon Fibre clinchers offer very good stiffness, but their real skill is in cutting through the air at high speeds and feeling stable with it.
These wheels – Knight's own rims laced to DT Swiss 240 hubs – have a whole lot going for them. Okay, at 65mm deep they're never going to be particularly light, our pair coming in at 1,680g (including rim strips and skewers), but that's not unusual. For comparison, Zipp's 404s are a claimed 1,505g (you also need to factor in the weight of the rim strips and skewers) and Bontrager's 70mm-deep Aeolus 7s are a claimed 1,610g.
It's when you fire the Knight 65s up to speed that things get impressive. As tester Mat Brett put it: "I have a few routes that I ride regularly as personal time trials for reviewing bikes and kit – rolling rather than hilly – and I've used these wheels to help achieve consistently fast times over several weeks and in a wide variety of conditions. I measure power every ride and my view is that these wheels are offering impressive speeds for the wattage I'm putting out. It's unscientific and highly anecdotal, so take it or leave it, but this is my experience."
They might be a lot of money but these DT Swiss RRC 65 Dicut clincher wheels are fast and stable, and they offer a good braking performance too.
These wheels are at their best when slicing along at high speed. They maintain pace beautifully with an appreciably lower resistance than shallow section rims. The RRC 65s also accelerate well, especially considering their 65mm rim depth. Weighing 745g (front) and 885g (rear) – excluding skewers; combined weight is 1,630g (DT's official total weight is 45g lower) – they spin up to speed with little fuss. For comparison, Zipp's 58mm deep 404 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers have claimed weights of 725g and 895g (1,620g total).
Some people might consider 65mm a little deep for general road use but we rode with these wheels on both a road bike and more occasionally on a TT bike for six weeks and they were superb. We really rate these wheels highly, and not just for racing against the clock.
Vision's Team 35s are competent and durable entry-level race wheels, with the added bonus of being very comfortable for a set of semi-deep-section alloy clinchers. The black anodised finish gives them a cool stealth look too.
The Team 35s are a revamped version of Vision's long-standing T35 model, and with a recommended retail price of £229.95 they sit right at that level of a first serious performance upgrade for a lot of bikes.
At first glance they seem a bit porky at 1,820g, especially considering the quoted weight is some 100g less than that, but the good thing is they never feel sluggish out on the road. You notice it a little if things get really steep or you ask for some rapid acceleration from a standing start, so if you're searching for a climber's set of wheels, look elsewhere.
Otherwise, the Team 35s are hard to knock. Considering the depth of the alloy rim, you'd expect them to feel harsh, but they don't.
"Hur hur hur your wheels are called Hard... oh no, wait, it's Hadron." To Swiss ears, the name may well conjure up the crowning peak of European scientific endeavour, but it's perilously close to something that provided regular amusement to the Sunday morning crew back at home. That's as may be, but the Swiss Side Hadron 625s are stonkingly good wheels, offering arguably the best performance in this price bracket on the market today.
They use a hybrid aluminium-carbon rim to give aluminium-rim brake performance and class-leading aerodynamic performance, at a price way below the big players like Zipp and Enve. And by god they sound good.
The least expensive wheels we've ever given four and a half stars, the Superstar Pace 28s demonstrate that custom handbuilt wheels can be competitive on weight and reliability with any factory wheels. They have wide rims in the modern style and are built on reliable Icon hubs. They're comparable to substantially more expensive wheels from other manufacturers; light enough to race on while still managing to be as tough as old boots, and look how shiny they are.
Hunt's entry-level road clinchers look like an excellent choice. They succeed the now-discontinued 4Season Dura Road wheels which we liked a lot, and like those wheels, these look to be a good first upgrade over heavy stock wheels, or as a good quality winter or all-round option, they're right on the money.
The 4Season Aero V2 wheels have the same hubs. We had no issues with the 4-pawl freehub, nor with the sealed EZO bearings. Everything ran smoothly in spite of being subjected to some biblical conditions. The supplied skewers are an external cam, with a nylon insert instead of the brass one you get on the more expensive Hunt wheels, but they do the job without any fuss.
The 1,540g weight of these wide, tubeless-ready wheels is impressive for an aluminium wheelset even if that is about 65g over the claimed weight. With the Bortolas Pro-Lite haven't sacrificed strength or durability to achieve it, it's more of a by-product of well chosen, proven components.
On the road, they're smooth and comfortable, but light enough to reward a little out of the saddle dig on a steep section while climbing.
Overall the Bortolas are perfect all rounder wheels that only really lose out in terms of aerodynamics due to that shallow rim.
Road disc and gravel wheels are getting better, lighter and cheaper, and right at the forefront of that trend are the Pro-Lite Revo A21s. At 1,650g, with a Centerlock option, thru-axle compatibility and a wide track rim, they're a bargain, and pretty future-proof too.
Pro-Lite builds all its wheels by hand and the Revos arrived nice and true, with even spoke tension. The spokes are bladed and triple butted, and Pro-Lite uses a brass washer at the spoke head to better distribute the forces there.
The Revos use a 21mm deep rim (hence the name), which is 23.8mm wide externally and 19mm internally. That makes it ideal for 28-32mm tyres, although 25mm rubber and bigger chamber tyres will be fine too.
We've been hugely impressed with these wheels. With 25mm slicks at high pressures they're fast on the road, and they've proven extremely tough when riding with knobbly tyres at low pressures off-road. They're a decent weight, the hubs are easily interchangeable to different axle standards, and the company's Bead Socket Technology (BST) means getting a tubeless tyre inflated is a cinch.
The Grail rims are wide: 24mm on the outside, 21mm on the inside. The rims are also quite deep, 24.5mm, making them the company's deepest – and therefore more aero – rim to date. They're constructed from aluminium and weigh a claimed 460g apiece. The BST rim profile features a shallow seating area so the tyre bead locates right up against the side of the rim. Getting a Schwalbe One tubeless tyre to inflate was ridiculously easy – a slosh of sealant inside and a track pump to inflate the tyre.
If you want a disc- and tubeless-ready wheelset with a wide rim profile to make the most of the growing number of wide tubeless tyres, the Stan's NoTubes ZTR Grail Team wheels combine a competitive price, decent weight and impressive performance. Add in the easy tubeless compatibility and axle versatility, and they're seriously worth considering.
Traditional looks meets modern width in these wheels from Swiss-based Edco, which have 22mm wide rims and are ready for Tubeless tyres like those offered by Hutchinson, Bontrager or Schwalbe.
There are a lot of clever touches to these wheels like the MultiSys freewheel body, designed to accept both Shimano/SRAM and Campagnolo cassettes so you don't need new wheels if you ever change gearing allegiance.
These wheels ride well, are a sensible 1,571g and come with a whopping eight-year guarantee.
Hadron wheels (named after that big circular tunnel near Geneva, of course) are available in rim depths of 48.5mm, 62.5mm and 80mm (front)/85mm (rear). All share the same fundamental construction, with aluminium rims and carbon fairings. Swiss Side says it's done an enormous amount of work to perfect the aerodynamic design of these rims, focusing on aerodynamic drag and also minimising the sensitivity to side-winds.
They've performed well in a wide variety of riding. We won't pretend that we can accurately determine the difference compared with other quality aero wheels of a similar depth, but they certainly feel like they're in the same ball-park, holding speed really well and making a rather satisfying hum in the process.
The Fulcrum Racing Quattro Carbon DB wheels could well redefine the modern bicycle wheel. They're bang on trend for a broad range of today's disc brake-equipped bikes and promise the trinity of light, fast and strong.
First, they're the right material: carbon fibre, with a 3k core and unidirectional surface. And while Fulcrum doesn't tout them as tubeless ready, they are, with only the valve hole in the bed of the 40mm-deep aero section rims.
The broad carbon rims are laced with 18 spokes in the front and 21 in the rear – a number low enough to keep the weight down, but high enough to make the wheels feel bombproof.
Paradoxically, they ride like function-specific race-day wheels, all revved up and raring to rip up the road, and so, naturally, you expect them to be fragile and delicate, with a need to be guarded from harm and children's sticky fingers. In reality, they're street tough and ready for couple of pints and a scrap.
Roval is Specialized's in-house wheel brand and these Rapide CLX 40 wheels provide very good performance for the money, rivalling more established names in the carbon aero wheel market like Zipp and Enve.
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Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.