Upgrading the wheels is one of the first changes many people make to their bikes. Why are road bike wheels so important and how do you choose a better set of hoops?
One of the most popular upgrades, better wheels (and tyres) can dramatically improve your bike’s ride.
Stock road and gravel bike 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.
Hunt says its 48 Limitless Aero Disc wheels are the fastest disc brake-compatible road wheels up to and including 50mm deep, thanks to its patented Limitless technology. Going wide is the key apparently, and going by the way they perform out in the real world, Hunt could really be on to something. These wheels are quick!
And that, after all, is what riding on the road is all about; if you ain't got speed, you got nothing. Their combination of speed, sensible weight and out-and-out performance (a rare 10/10 in that category), gets them our recommendation for best overall road bike wheels.
Hunt and many others say that having a rim that's wider than the tyre creates the most effective aerofoil shape when considering the tyre and wheel together.
After countless wind tunnel tests and interpretation of the results, Hunt settled on an external width of 34.5mm when using a 28mm tubeless tyre (Schwalbe Pro One) and a depth of 48mm. Keeping the internal rim width at just 22.5mm, though, means that you don't lose compatibility with thinner 25mm tyres, or even 23s.
Tester Stu writes: "Compared with a lot of 40mm to 50mm-deep wheels I've used, the Hunts make the bike feel like it doesn't need as much power to maintain a given speed, especially when that speed is around 20-25mph.
"They roll very nicely, and the rounded profile of the rim doesn't get battered around by crosswinds or when being passed by large vehicles at speed. The only time I got a bit of a twitch was when passing an exposed gateway on a blustery day."
The Scribe Carbon Wide++ 700 Disc Wheel set is a super-fast setup that's incredibly light, responsive and quick to engage. The performance matches or beats wheels at twice the price, and as an overall package it's hard to fault. They're the cheapest of the tiny handful of gravel wheels we've awarded the rare and coveted five-star rating, and that earns them our recommendation as the best overall gravel bike wheels you can buy.
At 1,360g (including rim tape and tubeless valves), these wheels are very light, and all the tyres we tried fitted easily and blew up tubeless without any sweat. The 25mm internal width means that tyres inflate broader and squarer, giving plenty of support and allowing pressures to be dropped lower for better grip.
The ride quality is a good balance between comfort and performance, with stiffness that surpasses the majority of other wheels and certainly the majority of alloy wheels. Hit the hills and these light wheels sail up, with the stiffness helping you get the power down. On rough tracks the little bit of flex and comfort is also impressive, holding the line well but giving just enough to track well – instead of pinball – through the rocks.
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 Scribe Race-D wheelset proves that aluminium still has a place in cycling components; weighing in at just 1479g, it could easily be mistaken for a much more expensive wheelset. The wheels feature a 'modern' 19mm internal width and are tubeless-ready out the box, which happens to include tubeless valves, spare spokes and all the adaptors you could ever need. Overall, it's a very impressive package from Scribe and a great set of wheels for upgrading heavy stock wheels or for year-round training.
Out on the road the Scribes feel stiff and spin up nicely, and after accidentally finding myself plummeting into several caverns – sorry, potholes – it's nice to see them still spinning true, and that stiffness or durability hasn't been sacrificed in the name of weight saving.
There are a lot of aluminium disc brake wheels out there that perform well, and the Scribe race-Ds are certainly among them; what really sets these apart is how good value they are. For example, Stu recently tested the Halo Devaura Disc RD2 wheelset, which is by no means a bad set of hoops but despite costing nearly £200 more than the Scribes, they weigh in at 1,733g; that's 254g difference. Finding a lighter set of aluminium wheels with a 105kg rider limit and bite guard and that I'd actually trust, without getting a set custom built, seems very difficult at this price point.
If you ride a lot on gravel tracks and trails you want a wheelset that can take plenty of abuse, and these Hunt 4 Season Gravel Disc X-Wide wheels fit that bill brilliantly. They're solid, dependable and lovely wheels to ride, and with their wide rim bed they work perfectly with wider gravel tyres.
The 4 Seasons have a very solid feel to them, which also gives a sense of comfort. The rim depth is only 19mm, so you don't get any of the harshness sometimes found on deeper section alloy or even carbon rims.
I've got some steep descents on my local gravel tracks where 50mph is achievable, and while they are reasonably hard packed there are some cruel rocks to catch you out as the aggregate blurs past beneath you.
Sometimes the bunny hops aren't quite high enough and I whacked a large stone that was about 8in in diameter at speed. The sound was deafening, and I really thought I'd totalled the rear wheel.
There was dust and a mark on the tyre and a bit of a scratch to the finish of the wheel where the impact had taken place, but everything was still spinning as true as it was when I took them out of the box. I was very impressed.
The BORG31 Disc wheelset is handbuilt to deal with multiple disciplines of riding and covering 'huge mileage without the need for servicing'. The weight weenies may scoff, but these wheels offer good overall performance, excellent stiffness and will take an absolute battering without flinching, which gets them our recommendation as the best wheels you can use for navigating the cratered city streets between home and work.
On the flat, the 31mm-deep alloy rim gives a small amount of an aerodynamic gain over a basic box section rim, but by far the biggest positive is just how stiff they are. The moment you stamp on the pedals, they just go. They feel tight, like nothing is being wasted at all, and that helps them feel lighter than their 1,720g weight might suggest.
The BORG31s are a quality set of wheels, there is no doubt about it. While they might not look massively exciting, the combination of quality components and the skill of a wheelbuilder who obviously knows what they are doing means these are an absolute joy to ride. Okay, they aren't the lightest or fastest, but they aren't designed to be. If you want a set of wheels you can bung on your road bike, wet or dry, or stick on your CX or gravel bike without caring about the abuse you are about to give them, this is the wheelset for you.
The Princeton CarbonWorks Wake 6560 wheelset looks quirky, but it delivers on performance, handling... well, pretty much everything really. It just comes down to whether you can justify the price.
If you can, then these are best money-no-object wheels you can buy today.
Tester Stu writes: “The Wakes are surprisingly easy to live with in all kinds of conditions, making them suitable for more than just time trials or triathlons. Their weight of 1,540g is impressive for such a deep wheelset, which means that they climb well, so you're getting a boost on the way up and the aero advantage on the way down.”
“The Wakes are an impressive set of wheels. Deep-section rims that behave themselves, allowing anyone to exploit them not just racers, and you don't have to stay away from the climbs either. It is a big outlay, but they will make your riding very enjoyable and will just absorb the miles without issue”
Scribe has delivered a double whammy with its Race wheelset. Not only are they light enough to compete with similar depth carbon fibre wheels, they'll cost you at least half the price. And to achieve the numbers on the scale, Scribe hasn't sacrificed on strength or stiffness either.
If you're searching for lightweight wheels as a general upgrade for riding or even racing, carbon fibre rims are typically the go-to option. But the Scribe Race wheels show that you can have pretty much all of the performance and stiffness of carbon in alloy guise without the price tag.
For your £360 you're getting a set of wheels that weigh just 1,492g (without rim tape), and under hard acceleration or sprinting up short, sharp climbs the Scribes don't flex at all, so brake rub isn't an issue. Scribe has achieved this performance by using a hardened, heat-treated alloy for the rim design.
The Ksyrium Elite, Mavic's highly dependable all-rounder, became tubeless in 2018 with the French company's UST system, like much of the range. The wheels are lightweight and durable and are still great to ride whether you are racing or tackling the club run, with a little bit of future proofing.
At 1,532g without tyres the Ksyrium Elite UST wheelset is light enough to be exciting on the climbs or under acceleration, and their stiffness certainly backs that up; you won't get any flex or brake rub here.
You get Yksion Pro UST tyres as part of the package, and they offer loads of grip. Mavic claims that its road UST tubeless system is different from other tubeless systems in that the wheel and tyre are designed together and there's tight control over production variances. Inflation was smooth and simple with the Yksions sitting snuggly against the rim with just the use of a standard track pump, and there were no leaks of sealant anywhere.
If you want a set of wheels to tackle a bit of everything, then the Ksyrium Elites are hard to fault. While you can get cheaper, this is a solid package that'll give you real peace of mind.
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 (we weighed them at 1,570g), but that's far less important than durability and reliability.
They arrived straight and true, and the spoke tension was decent, helping them stay that way. They're laterally stiff enough that we couldn't get them to rub on the brakes, even with the pads positioned close to the rim. 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.
Out on the road, the TriMax 30s spin up easily and roll well, and the lateral stiffness of the wide rims – the internal width is 19mm – helps them stay on line in corners. It also bigs up your tyres. Our 25mm tyres ended up more like 27mm across, so we could run a little less pressure for more grip and better cushioning.
Braking is smooth and very powerful thanks to the machined sidewalls and oxide coating which increases friction with the brake pads. This is especially noticeable in the wet.
These are great wheels on a number of fronts: looks, build quality, stiffness, braking, durability and general practicality. They're perhaps overkill if you're a 60kg racing snake, but for those who aren't exactly svelte, the extra beef is very welcome.
These 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.
We rode these wheels for several months in everything from glorious sunshine to freezing rain and everything in between, and they were excellent regardless of the weather.
Braking performance using the supplied brake blocks is very good in dry conditions and is similar to any good aluminium rim. The rims really start to make a case for themselves in rain, mud and grit-coated surfaces, the OXiC coating becoming a benefit with powerful, predictable, and consistent braking.
The other big benefit of a ceramic coating is a rim that is much more durable. Ceramic-coated rims should last for years.
The rims are laced with straight-pull DT aero comp spokes to DT's own hubs with star ratchet internals. They weigh just 1,500g – a little over the claimed 1,472g. Measuring 18mm internally and 22mm externally, they're not as wide as the widest rims currently available, but wider than traditional rims.
DT supplies the sealant and valves you need for running the wheels tubeless, and we found the setup easy.
The hubs feature very wide flanges, intended to increase wheel stiffness, and spin on 240 internals. They are well proven and popular in many aftermarket hubs. The 36-tooth ratchet system in the rear hubs provides very swift engagement when you stamp on the pedals.
These wheels are stiff and responsive, with no give or flex when putting the power down in a sprint or steep climb. The low weight puts many carbon wheels to shame and while they are pricey for an aluminium wheelset, they are a snip compared with most carbon wheels of comparable weight and performance.
For year-round racing, training and just riding, these are excellent wheels with highly impressive braking in all conditions. The appearance, build quality and attention to detail is first class, as is the durability.
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 Vision SC 40 wheelset is for those who want carbon primacy without the gigantic price tag. They meet this goal comprehensively, with only a few compromises to help them meet a sub-£1,000 price. They're stiff, stable and – in this rim-brake form – offer reliable, if unspectacular, braking in the rain.
With bike brands and wheelset manufacturers seemingly all trying to build things that do everything – climb, cut wind, evade wind, handle power, produce a smooth ride – it was only a matter of time before such products became available at more affordable prices.
I'm not suggesting £970 is 'cheap' in a world of excellent alloy wheels, but certainly it's a stark improvement on five or six years ago when carbon specs like this cost upwards of £1,500. If you want a full carbon rim and a renowned name to go with it, it's about as good as it gets right now.
The CXD4 is an excellent mid-level alloy disc wheelset that's available in 6-bolt or Centerlock configurations. Weighing in at a very reasonable 1,580g, it's a chunk lighter than stock wheels you'll find on most bikes under about £2,000.
The rim is a tubeless-ready 23mm alloy extrusion, sleeve-jointed for extra strength. The rim shape is asymmetric to better balance the spoke forces, with the same rim being used front and rear. At the front the spoke holes are offset away from the disc side, and at the rear they're offset towards it, as the freehub moves the hub flange in more than the disc does.
Both front and rear are built up with 24 round stainless steel spokes in a two-cross pattern. The hubs have an alloy body and axle and sealed cartridge bearings.
We had these wheels set up with 30mm Schwalbe G-One Speed tyres for the duration of testing. Getting them to seal wasn't a problem and we had no issues with the tyres losing air more than normal.
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 Gravel Wide++ is an alloy wheelset from Scribe with a generous 25mm internal rim well suited to wider gravel tyres. They're not the lightest out there, but they offer good all round performance, instant engagement and are cheaper than most comparable wheelsets.
The rims are tubeless ready with the tape pre-installed, which is good. Tubeless valves are also included as standard. Tyre installation proved painless.
Weight is 1,815g with tape and valves. That's reasonable for this type of wheel, and at no point do they feel heavy or slow. With some alloy wheels and especially lighter ones, flex can be an issue under hard accelerations or in rocky terrain, but the Wide++ feel stable and secure, climbing and descending rough tracks well.
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.
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.
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.
Prime's BlackEdition 50 Carbon Wheelset represents the brand's first push to compete with high-end performance wheels. They vastly outperform their price tag, with stable rims, great braking, smooth hubs and easy tubeless setup.
If you're not familiar with Prime, its a brand sold exclusively through Wiggle and CRC. Wiggle is using its buying power to produce a very capable race wheelset at a much better price than many well-known brands.
In the box, you get tubeless valves, carbon brake pads, QR skewers, spare spokes, nipples and a 10-speed spacer. They don't come with sealant, but that's something I'd get when selecting tyres.
The 50mm deep rim brake option on test can be run using both clincher and tubeless tyres. They arrived with Hutchinson's Fusion 25mm tubeless tyres fitted, but I also tested them with Vittoria's 25mm Corsa G Tubeless and 28mm Goodyear Eagle tubeless tyres. All were easy to mount up with a standard track pump.
The BORG50C carbon clincher aero wheels are a sharply priced tubeless-ready option for going fast. Handling well in crosswinds and with an industry-leading lifetime warranty, for the money these are a serious contender for Best Starter Bling Hoops Deal Going.
When the wheels arrived at road.cc they were already shod with IRC's Formula Pro RBCC Tubeless tyres, valves and sealant – that's £910 all-inclusive. The full combo weighed in at 2,520g. Borg sells the BORG50C for £800 naked, which is a very good price for the rounded weight/performance/warranty package.
Malcolm Borg builds his wheels in Suffolk with great attention to detail. Borg promises to replace anything that's failed – rim, spoke or hub – due to a manufacturing defect for the entire life of the wheelset. If you crash them, Borg will repair for the cost of parts only – the labour's free.
Borg has gone for nice Miche Primato Syntesi hubs, with a micro-adjustment ring to take up any play. The rim measures 26.1mm at the aero bulge, and with the 25mm IRC Formula Pro tubeless measuring 23.9mm, there's a definite aero profile going on front to back.
We found it difficult to get some tubeless tyres onto the rim and you need to have a good compressor setup to hand.
The usual concern around 50mm rims is buffeting, but these wheels never got out of hand even when we rode them in strong (20mph+) sidewinds during the review period. My rim-braked test frame is a Velocity Selene, a fairly agile responder and therefore commensurately susceptible to external influences.
All in all, for £800 plus tyres of your choice, tubeless-ready and with a best-of-breed warranty and repair service, the BORG50C wheelset is a cracking choice and should be a serious contender for your cash.
The 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.
With a 40mm-deep U-shaped carbon rim they weigh in at just 1,406g with the tubeless rim tape fitted, which ties in well with Parcours' claimed weight of 1,390g bare.
Fitted to the Flanders Forte cyclo-cross frameset that we had in for testing, the wheels offered snappy acceleration, and their low weight helped the whole bike feel flickable at the front and rear for hopping over potholes, rocks and other obstacles.
Obviously, being fitted to a cyclo-cross bike they spent most of their time off-road and they took the knocks and bumps from the gravel tracks and tree roots of the local singletrack without issue.
Parcours has gone for a build of 24 Sapim CX-Ray spokes front and rear in a two-cross lacing pattern which certainly feels stiff and gave no issues with trueness even after a fairish amount of abuse. Hard acceleration and heavy braking did little to upset them either, from a stress point of view.
The Just Riding Along Mahi Mahi 40 carbon disc wheels aim to be a do-it-all choice. They're very light and stiff, with a 40mm rim depth to help make them fast as well. You would expect this to come at a cost, and while the £850 rrp certainly doesn't make them cheap, they're more affordable than most of the competition, and offer extra customisation as well.
All Mahi Mahi road bike wheels are handbuilt to order. The options include three different rim depths – 30mm, 40mm and 50mm – and hubs that can cater for all axle widths, cassette types and disc mounts imaginable. Sapim CX-Ray spokes are used as standard, but there is the option of brass or aluminium nipples, a choice of 11 colours and also many different decal options, with no extra lead time. The lead time is currently five days for all in-stock components, which is impressive for a full custom, handbuilt wheelset.
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.
The 30 Carbon Gravel wheels use a disc brake-only rim design. They're built from unidirectional T24/30 carbon and are 30mm deep and notably lighter than most wide aluminium rims at a claimed 370g. Using carbon helps, obviously, but Hunt has also saved weight thanks to the absence of a brake track and bead hooks.
At 26.6mm externally, and 21.3mm internally, these are wide rims, as befits their intended use, and Hunt says they're suitable for use with tyres from 25mm to 50mm, making them an option for a really broad range of riding.
A healthy 24-spokes at the front and 28 spokes at the rear, laced 2-cross, makes for a really strong, stiff build. Hunt gives a rider weight limit of 115kg for these wheels, and they've shrugged off everything we threw at them, including bridleways, towpath commuting, and touring with panniers on some pretty appalling roads.
The 30 Carbon Gravel wheels are supplied taped and with tubeless valves included. Unlike the majority of road tubeless rims, there are no pronounced bead hooks, just small ridges to keep the tyre beads locked in position. Getting the tyre over the bead hooks is normally the fiddly part of inflating a tubeless tyre, but it's easy here with no bead hooks to get in the way. Using just a track pump, they were sealed within three pump strokes, and needed only a few more strokes to get them fully seated.
The hubs are based on those used in Hunt's 4season disc wheelset with uprated shielding and sealing on the EZO bearings to cope with off-road grot and the occasional jetwash.
It's really hard to find fault with these wheels. Light, wide, rugged and dependable, with genuinely easy tubeless setup, they're exactly what you want from a gravel wheelset. Carbon rims and disc brakes is a great combination, too. If you're in the market for a posh set of wheels for your gravel bike, these are a great option. Hunt has set a benchmark with these superb wheels.
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.
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.
The Just Riding Along (JRA) Gecko Carbon wheelset is very impressive, designed to take on the constant knocks and vibrations the roughest gravel tracks can throw at them, while being so light (1,400g) that they won't hamper your performance on the road. It's also pretty amazing that they come in at well under a grand.
The Geckos are solid. We couldn't detect any feeling of flex on steep, short, sharp climbs, whether on the road or when scrabbling about on loose, large gravel.
The wheels took some big knocks during testing, and while sometimes the noise could be pretty scary, on inspection they had come away completely unscathed, remaining as true as they were out of the box.
The Geckos are built to order and the spoke tension is even throughout. They are comfortable as well, even 25mm tyres pumped up hard never giving a harsh ride.
The full carbon rims have an external width of 27mm and 21mm internal, meaning that tyres tend to size up a little bigger than their sidewall suggests.
JRA has specced Bitex hubs on the Geckos and they are a lovely piece of kit, spinning smoothly and freely.
Overall, the Geckos are excellent wheels for gravel use without being too overbuilt to stop them offering a great performance on the road.
The Hunt 4050 Carbon Aero Disc is a great all-round performance wheelset. They deliver a bit of an aerodynamic boost, they're very low weight and durability seems very good, all for what is a very good price. Their width also makes them compatible with a wide range of tyres.
The 4050 wheelset is based around a 40mm-deep front wheel and a 50mm rear. If your main goal is speed then going deeper gives you better aerodynamics, but the downside can be added weight and twitchy handling in blustery winds. This wheelset provides more of a balance across a load of disciplines. When tyres are fitted, even the 40mm front does enough to cheat the air, but riding past a farm gateway won't see the handlebar snatched out of your hands on windy days.
The weight of just 1,472g (including the tubeless tape that they come fitted with straight out of the box) means they are very sprightly when it comes to climbing and acceleration too. Scrubbing too many grams can cause issues, especially if you are a larger or stronger rider. I've ridden plenty of sub-1,500g wheelsets that flex a noticeable amount when I get out of the saddle and really go for it, but the Hunts aren't one of them. Hammering up climbs or away from the lights these give away nothing whatsoever. They offer a comfortable and smooth ride too.
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.
The Scribe Aero Wide 50-D carbon disc wheels are all about speed according to the manufacturer, and they don't disappoint. Matching a wind-cheating 50mm-deep rim to smooth-running hubs, an instantaneous freehub engagement and plenty of stiffness makes for a set of wheels that delivers for those who want to put the hammer down. The impressive weight and a sensible price finalise the deal.
A wheel weight of 1,449g (1,438g claimed) is impressive full stop, but when you consider that's including a wide and deep carbon fibre rim, plus the extra spokes needed for a disc build, it is truly awesome and something you really notice when fitting them to your bike.
I've got another test bike that's wearing a set of Campagnolo Bora 50 Disc wheels, which are pretty old school: a narrow rim and that V-shaped profile I mentioned earlier. Fast yes, but much more twitchy in a crosswind compared to these Scribes.
The Scribes do offer quite a firm ride, although I wouldn't say they are overly harsh, and if my focus was more on speed anyway then I'd be willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort.
The Scribe Aero Wide+ 50-D Carbon Disc wheelset offers pretty much everything you could require from a fast road wheelset: impressive aerodynamics, low weight, lots of stiffness and plenty of durability, all while coming in way under the £1,000 mark.
Scribe's Wide 50-D wheelset is still available, but if you want to go even Wider then this Wide+ option increases the internal rim width by 2mm to 21mm, and the external by 4mm up to 30mm.
Overall, the Aero Wide+ 50-D wheelset brings a noticeable difference to aerodynamics over many narrower carbon fibre wheels, and, more importantly, at the speeds you are likely to find yourself riding in the real world. The fact that this has been achieved while keeping the weight and price down but the stiffness up, is great news.
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.
Edco has veered off-road with its latest wheelset, the Gravel. It's an excellent choice if you want a lightweight wheelset that'll take a heap of abuse, and it achieves that while still coming in at a relatively budget price point.
The catchily named Gravel wheelset uses a 34mm deep carbon fibre rim which is 31mm wide externally and 25mm internally, which makes it ideal for using with the fat gravel tyres that are entering the market.
Edco has gone for a hookless rim, which means it basically does away with the bead hook that the tyre would normally locate beneath to stop it blowing off the rim under pressure. Tubeless-specific tyres have a stiffer bead, which means they don't require the bead hook of the rim, relying instead on the tight interface between tyre and wheel to remain in place. Obviously, tyre and wheel tolerances aren't always compatible, but I've ridden plenty of hookless rims both on and off the road and never had any issues.
Tubeless makes a lot of sense on a gravel bike where the need to run lower pressures for comfort and traction means that impact punctures would be commonplace if using clinchers and tubes.
I found fitting tyres – 32mm Michelin Power Roads and 40mm Zipp Tangente Course G40s – to the Edcos really easily.
Out on the gravel tracks these wheels absolutely fly, and a lot of that is down to the fact that they weigh just 1,533g (including the pre-installed tubeless tape).
Getting your head around using a carbon rim on rough terrain is hard enough, even more so when it's a wheelset as svelte as this.
Some sections of my favourite gravel routes have been overlaid recently with large aggregate (they're military tank routes) and the downhill sections can be brutal. While I haven't gone out of my way to break the Edcos, I certainly haven't been easy on them and to be honest some of the sounds haven't been pretty as they've whacked rocks and potholes, but they've resisted everything I've thrown them at.
Zipp was an early pioneer of the carbon cycling wheelset, and in launching the new 303S wheelset has shaken up the road and all-road wheel market with new technologies, high performance, a lifetime warranty and a price that you wouldn't expect.
It is quite refreshing to have a new wheelset released, and especially one from a major brand like Zipp, that doesn't just make claims about wind tunnel aerodynamic performance. The reality is that wind tunnel testing isn't the real world, and figures can be picked and chosen to suit the specific wheel. Instead, Zipp has tried a different approach – one that aims to replicate real riding, looking at all major areas that affect riding speed: wind resistance (aerodynamics), gravity, rolling resistance and vibrational losses. Zipp calls these four factors 'Total System Efficiency'.
The new 303S model wheelset uses some firsts for Zipp, including tubeless compatibility using straight-sided rim walls, also known as hookless. These might be a one-off, but are more likely a first step with more wheelsets within the Zipp range to follow with similar technology over the coming months.
Under hard accelerations and sprints there is no noticeable flex laterally – something that's easy to verify, given that there is barely a millimetre of frame clearance on the test bike used. Under the hardest accelerations or out-of-the-saddle hill efforts there was occasionally a tiny noise from the brake rotor, but as parts other than just the wheels themselves come into play, it's not possible to isolate it to just the wheelset.
Overall, the feeling is of a very responsive wheelset.
Another noticeable feature is how stable they feel in real-world, changeable winds. Throughout testing and in a range of weather conditions, even with sudden gusts and those unexpected sidewinds from a gateway, the 303S remained easy to control with no sudden movements, even in stronger gusts. I would be quite happy to use these wheels all year round, however windy the conditions, such is the stability and confidence in how they ride.
These Fast Forward F4R FCC Tubeless Ready wheels are seriously good for their 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.
This full carbon wheelset comes in at a very respectable 1,450g. The rims are 26mm wide externally, laced to the brilliant DT Swiss 350 hubs with DT Aerolite spokes.
Those hubs are pretty bombproof. While these wheels were used in mostly dry conditions, we've had these hubs on wheels that have seen some horrendous weather; they're solid and don't require much attention. While we're on reliability, we had zero spoke tension issues even after a few big hits in races.
At 45mm deep, these strike a great balance between speed, quick acceleration and handling. They don't pick up strong winds which is probably down to the blunt profile at the leading and trailing edges.
One of the attractions of this set of wheels is what you get for your money. They come in a well-padded double wheel bag with a zippered storage compartment containing brake pads and skewers. You also get a set of tubeless valves.
"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 road bike 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.
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 Knight 35 wheels are fast; they are also stiff, reliable and stable.
The 35s come with DT Swiss 240 hubs, which are brilliant. With cartridge bearings and easy servicing, they should last for ages.
Spokes are Sapim's CX Rays. One thing that slightly annoyed our reviewer was the use of internal nipples. Yes, it looks clean but should you ping these out of true thanks to a pothole, it's more of a hassle to get them straight again.
Although the wheelset isn't superlight – ours came in at 1,590g with rim tape and skewers installed – the weight is still pretty low, and translates to a nippy feel. It's very easy to get these wheels up to speed and then increase that speed, especially when climbing.
The 35s are the shallowest section wheels that Knight offers. The rim profile is somewhere between a 'V' shape and a 'U'. This gives the rim an external width of 25mm, sitting very nicely with wider tyres.
The brake track is engineered with a 3mm brake surface for improved heat dissipation in an attempt by Knight to combat brake fade and even blow-outs on long descents. The braking is smooth and consistent. While stopping still isn't as good as aluminium rims, there is room for improvement in the form of softer brake pads; those supplied are quite hard. That does mean they'll last quite a while, but we were quick to swap in a softer pad for better power.
Overall, the Knight 35s offer a very good package for a shallow carbon clincher.
The Giant SLR 0 42mm wheels are an ideal all-round go-faster set of hoops. The rims are wide, feel fast and handle well. The hubs are simple to service, quiet and robust. They performed excellently during testing in my mix of hilly races, flat criteriums and general riding with good braking and stability in crosswinds.
The 42mm-deep full-carbon rims are tubeless ready and the spokes are DT Aerolites – straight-pull with internal nipples. This gives a very clean build, although one that isn't so easy for maintenance. Not that it will matter, for a while at least, as the wheels were perfectly straight out of the box and remained that way.
The hubs are Giant branded, with DT Swiss 240 internals. This is a great balance between performance and reliability with easy maintenance.
We didn't find these wheels hard to handle in windy conditions. In fact, they felt very stable. The wheels also feel zippy when climbing thanks to the respectable weight: 629g front and 791g rear, giving a total of 1,420g. Weight isn't everything, though. We were also impressed with the lateral stiffness.
Overall, we were impressed with these Giant wheels because they're a great option if you want one wheelset for racing and general riding.
The DT Swiss PRC 1400 Spline clincher wheels have deep section 65mm rims for aerodynamic efficiency, they're well made and come with excellent internals.
The rim is a NACA shape with a fairly blunt profile, although the PRCs are in no way bulbous like Zipps, for example. The PRCs can be a little hard to handle on some gusty, blustery days, but this is rare – and not much different from any other wheels of a similar depth.
The PRC wheels use DT Swiss's well-respected 240 hubs. The freehub features a ratchet system (rather than standard pawls). Springs push two 36-tooth star ratchets together to engage when you pedal, all of the teeth engaging at the same time in just 10 degrees. This system works really well and durability is excellent.
The wheels feel stiff in use, so you can set your brake pads very close to the rim without danger of rubbing when you corner hard or ride out of the saddle.
Braking in dry conditions is good – progressive without any grabbing – and braking in the wet, although not exceptional, is sure and confident.
You get tubeless tape and tubeless valves as part of the package (along with RWS Steel quick releases and SwissStop Black Prince brake pads). Setting them up tubeless is easy enough.
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.
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.
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.
The Strade is the first wheelset from Parcours that has been designed fully in-house, and it's a very impressive one. They handle well in all conditions, the aero data seems to stack up, and they're bang on trend by being disc brake only, tubeless-ready and optimised for 28mm tyres. For their sub-£1,000 price tag, you really can't ask for more.
The Strade was the result of a year-long research and development project in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, involving CFD analysis and extensive wind tunnel testing. Parcours set out to offer an aero wheelset that would offer plenty of comfort as well as speed, and led by its analysis of real-world conditions and the impact of yaw angles on the ride, it arrived at a front and rear wheel that are different depths and rim profiles.
Out on the road, the aimed-for stability was evident straight away and I was really impressed with their performance in crosswinds. It seems like we've had a particularly blustery spring and summer this year, and I felt completely confident running the Strade wheels no matter what the weather was doing, not once sensing that handling was compromised.
I can't prove anything with regards to Parcours' aero claims through my own testing on the road, but I can confidently report that my average speeds went up compared with my training wheels. Of all the race wheels I've tried over the years, the Strades are probably the most balanced I've used to date; they offer plenty of free speed compared with bog standard wheels, plus enough comfort, strength and crosswind stability that would make me consider ditching training wheels altogether. I'd rather use these year-round for a faster commute!
The Prime Ventous Carbon Disc Road wheels boast excellent build quality and great looks. They perform really well and are pretty good value too.
Build quality is very good with the wheels using a full-carbon rim, Pillar Wing spokes and Token's own D1 hubs, backed with a two-year warranty.
With sealant added, they inflated onto the rim easily with a track pump and straight away showed the trend for wider rims, the internal width spreading the tyre out so that it was a nice curve flush with the external 27mm edge. Mounted on the bike they looked great, and spinning the wheels led to a long wait for them to stop on the quality sealed bearings.
Tester Sean used the Token Ventous wheels for the 1,000+ miles of the Land's End to John o'Groats Deloitte Ride Across Britain. The early couple of days were super-hilly, lots of out of the saddle grinding and fast descents on the other side. The wheels were stiff but did have a little give under pressure – he's 90kg – but weren't fazed at all and 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.
On the other side, the super-smooth bearings and stiff construction made for a very controlled descent, inspiring confidence (in part to the rubber) on the twistier sections.
Sean concluded that he would gladly ride them every day after the punishment they endured with ease. They look good, perform well and are great for the money, with the quality of the components and competitive weight justifying the cost against competitors in the sector.
These Carbon 30 Disc Dynamo wheels are excellent. The rim is 30mm deep, made from unidirectional T24/30 carbon fibre with the spoke holes reinforced with a 3K weave. It's a reasonably wide profile, with a 27mm external width and a 21mm internal profile.
The wheels came with tubeless rim tape fitted, and a hole for the valve. Fitting Schwalbe G-One Speeds was easy. Our review pair came tightly built and true, and they stayed that way during testing. With 28 spokes front and rear they're built for bikepacking and ultra-distance rather than fully loaded touring; Hunt recommends a 115kg limit for rider and luggage.
The SON Delux dynamo is specifically designed for road riding. It weighs just 395g and when turned off generates just 0.4W of drag, barely more than a standard front hub. The efficiency is rated at 65%, and the dynamo outputs 3W of power at 20km/h, so to power your lights or your USB charger you can expect to be putting less than 5W into the system. We used the dynamo with a Busch & Muller IQ-X front light and a Supernova E3 rear, getting easily enough power to light the way.
At the rear Hunt is using its 4Season Disc hub that has extra shielding for the EZO cartridge bearings inside. Both front and rear hubs use standard J-bend spokes which should be fairly easy to find a replacement for if you pop one out on tour. The wheels come with two spares of each length to take with you too, plus a spoke key, 6-bolt adaptors for the Centerlock disc mounts, tubeless rim tape (fitted) and tubeless valves.
Overall these wheels are excellent. They're light and well built, the front dynamo is as good as they come for road riding and the rear hub has been great too. They're sensibly built, come with spares, and are set up for the long haul.
Pacenti's Picco 46mm Disc Clincher wheelset doesn't just focus on weight or aerodynamics – it delivers on those, but without sacrificing stiffness and, above all else, durability. These are proper all-rounders, quick on the flat, no slouch on the hills, and should you find yourself off the beaten track they'll take plenty of abuse.
Tester Stu writes: "The 46mm-deep rounded profile rim has been optimised to work with 28mm road tyres, thanks to its 24mm internal width and the fact that it is 29.6mm at its widest external point – which is about a third of the way down the rim for better aerodynamics.
"Out on the road there are some noticeable aero benefits – for a wheel that isn't massively deep it still flies along once you are travelling along in the low to mid-20s mph, a real sweet spot that you can find on the best wheels and frames, where you just don't feel as though you need to put in much more effort than you were at 17-18mph.
"Being a touch shallower than some, the Piccos aren't affected by crosswinds or that turbulent air when you are being overtaking by an HGV or slipstreaming one."
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 Giant SLR 0 65mm Carbon wheels are superfast, handle well for their rim depth and are impressively light considering the amount of material in the rims. They're expensive at face value but are priced to undercut similar-spec wheels from the likes of Shimano, Roval and Enve.
With its 65mm rim depth, the SLR 0 65mm 'Wheelsystem' is designed, according to Giant, for when speed is all that matters. That might suggest that handling is not top of the agenda, but stability in crosswinds is good for this type of wheel.
The aero rim is backed up by top-quality Giant-shelled DT Swiss 240 hubs and DT Aerolite bladed spokes, making it a formidable package best suited to time trialling or fast road racing over flat or rolling terrain, although at a very reasonable 1,620g they will go up all but the very steepest hills pretty quickly.
When we say wheels are the best bang-for-buck upgrade you can get, it's because of the performance gains delivered by hoops such as this, the Swiss Side Hadron2 Ultimate 625 Disc Brake wheelset. These wheels are exceptionally fast, stiff and virtually unaffected by crosswinds.
Their new 62.5mm-deep rim is said to reduce aero drag by between 10% and 20% across the range (50mm and 80mm depths are also available), and steering moment is reduced by 26% to increase stability in varying wind angles.
Apart from the speed, that stability is the stand-out bonus of these wheels compared to many others. I spent years time-trialling on some very fast courses around southern England and in Wales on a range of deep-section wheelsets, and I've never known one as competent at dealing with crosswinds as this.
I only felt a nudge once through the handlebar when passing a gateway with a full-on sidewind, and I'd been so immune until then it was a proper 'what the hell was that?' moment.
The Campagnolo Bora WTO 60 Disc wheels are superfast, superb to ride and superbly expensive. Despite the rim depth, they handle very well and are well behaved in windy conditions. An exceptionally good race wheelset.
If you've got two grand to spend on fancy deep-section wheels then these are well worth considering. They're as fast as they look, have Campagnolo's excellent 2-way fit technology, keep the weight down and are predictable in the wind.
The majority of tester Liam's time on the WTO 60s has been spent on his Specialized Venge, an aero race bike. He writes: "These wheels are a perfect fit and while it's not all about the looks, they do also look brilliant.
"Thankfully, the performance is more than skin deep. The WTO 60s accelerate brilliantly and are perfectly happy to sit above 40kph. Racing is currently off, so the hardest that I've ridden them has been on some socially-distanced group rides and when chasing KOMs. The wheels have been excellent for this fast-paced riding and I'm confident that when racing starts again they'll be perfect for some flat circuits.
"Not all of my riding is done on the flat, and when I've taken the WTO 60s into the Mendip hills I've been impressed at how well such a deep wheel climbs, especially on the steeper stuff. They're quick to spin up should you feel the need to stamp on the pedals and are excellent on long drags."
'The new benchmark for gravel wheel design and performance.' Big claims from Corima regarding its G30.5 Carbon Gravel Wheelset, but arguably justifiable. While these wheels don't challenge the competitors massively on weight, they do offer very impressive stiffness while having a ride feel that doesn't shake your fillings out.
To get to my local gravel playground I have a couple of miles of road to cover first, with pretty much all of it uphill. It's flippin' steep in places too, which requires a bit of out of the saddle climbing. This showed straight away how impressively stiff the G30.5s are. If you are more of a performance graveller rather than an adventure tourer you are really going to appreciate just how well the Corimas deliver the power down to the road or trail.
After that first stretch of road heading for the gravel, as delighted as I was with the stiffness, I did have my concerns over what the comfort levels were going to be like when I hit the trails.
There was no harshness at all. You still know that you are aboard a stiff, carbon fibre wheelset, and the tyres are taking out the majority of the vibrations, but compared with a like-for-like setup the Corimas just take the edge off a little more.
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.
The least expensive wheels we've ever given four and a half stars, the Superstar Pave 28s demonstrate that custom handbuilt road bike 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.
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.
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 £1,750.
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 tester36Mat 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."
Roval's Alpinist CLX wheels are light, stiff and perfect for the climbers. The low rim height still offers good rolling speed on the flat and the profile of the rim mates well to 26mm tyres. The lack of tubeless compatibility will be an issue for some.
As you might suspect, this 33mm-deep carbon wheelset is light, tipping our scales at a scant 1,250g with the rim tape installed. I used the Alpinist CLX on my S-Works Venge and the Merida Reacto that I've been testing. Both times, the bikes were noticeably faster to accelerate, and the Merida in particular became a great climber.
Climbing is where the wheels really excel and I have been loving (possibly not the best word) smashing some of my local climbs. The wheels are stiff enough to transfer the power when you really want to kick on the steeper pitches, and I found them perfect for these high-powered efforts, with no discernible flex.
They don't do too badly on the flats either, though they're no match for deeper wheels when the speeds head north of 40kph. But riding those flat roads before you hit the hills isn't a slow experience. I was happy to sit at the 30kph mark and follow the wheels of mates when the pace lifted a little. The low depth also means hassle-free handling, and I never felt the wind pushing me around.
The Roval Rapide CLX sets out to be the fastest wheelset in the real world, and is so committed to weight and aero optimisation it forgoes tubeless compatibility. That will certainly divide opinion, but there's little doubt the result is a stupidly fast wheelset that balances the aero benefits of deep rims and the weight savings and improved handling of far shallower wheels.
Tester Jamie writes: "We measured these at a 10g over the claimed 1400g, but that's still extremely impressive. The lack of mass means the Rapides to accelerate quickly and climb with amazing ease – I've set plenty of climbing PRs during this test, despite my previous efforts being on tubular wheels designed specifically for climbing.
"While the lack of tubeless compatibility does seem a bit of a backwards step, the rest of the performance is a giant leap forwards.
"Never have I used wheels that feel quite so at home whether on a 30% incline or a group sprint. The stiffness is incredible, the DT Swiss parts mean spares are readily available, and they handle exceptionally. If you want to make your bike faster, these are the (quite expensive) answer."
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.
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 bike 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, road bike 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 road bike wheels are still more expensive than wheels with aluminium rims, but prices have been steadily decreasing for the last few years.
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. A tubeless system is basically a clincher tyre inflated onto a rim with no inner tube. Instead of an inner tube holding the air pressure, an airtight chamber is created with a tubeless-specific tyre, developed with a special (commonly carbon) bead, and a compatible rim.
Tyre and rim are manufactured to precise tolerances to enable an airtight seal. The rim has no holes or is sealed with an airtight rim strip 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.
Virtually all the wheels launched in the last few years are tubeless-compatible.
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 road bike 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.
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 road bike 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 road bike wheels are built by machines these days. 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.
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.
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, Hunt and many others.
The aim of road.cc buyer's guides is to give you the most, authoritative, objective and up-to-date buying advice. We continuously update and republish our guides, checking prices, availability and looking for the best deals.
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John 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 founder 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. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.