Carbon road bike wheels, there are thousands of options available. Just looking through all the options can be a highly confusing task, and once you put a marketing spin on it, it just gets worse. That is why we’ve put together a carbon road bike wheels buyers guide. Once we’ve broken down the terminology used, you’ll find it easier to make an informed decision and buy the road bike wheels that best suit you.
Part 1 – How do you ride?
Part 2 – The Anatomy of carbon wheels
Part 3 – Wheel braking systems
Part 4 – Rim shapes
Part 5 – Tire types
Part 6 – What to use bike wheels for
Part 7 - The benefits of carbon wheels
How do you ride?
Before you begin to read the article, ask yourself a few questions first. By understanding how you ride, it will help the guide to point you in the direction of the best carbon wheelsets for you. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer to these questions.
Do you ride somewhere hilly/mountainous?
Is it windy where you live?
How would you describe your riding?
Do you plan on racing, and if so what type of racing?
Do you put a lot of miles in?
Where do you want to take your riding?
These questions and answers will all help to frame what style of carbon wheels suit you.
The Anatomy of a Carbon Wheel
Rims are a hoop that your spokes go into, and it holds your tire and in some cases a tube. Your rim will have a deep section in the middle, where the spokes enter and will be shallow at the edges, this will give your rim a U shape. Your rim will need to be stiff to help the power of your pedal stroke reach the tire and the road and not be deflected to the side.
At the heart of every set of wheels is a pair of hubs. The hub is connected to your wheel rim by spokes and is connected to your bike frame or fork by an axle that runs through its center. The axle will pass through some bearings as it goes through your hub, and on the rear hub, it’ll also pass through a freehub.
A freehub is where your cassette will sit. You’ll need to know whether your cassette will need a standard Shimano freehub, an SRAM XDR driver, or Campagnolo Ultra Drive. As well as needing to know this you’ll need to know the axle style for your road hub.
The bearings in your wheels and freehub are there to help lower friction between your hub’s shell, and it’s axle. There are 2 main types of bearing found in your hubs.
- Sealed, sometimes called cartridge.
- Unsealed, sometimes called cup and cone or loose.
You’ll tend to find unsealed bearings on cheaper hubs and sealed bearing on mid-level to high-end hubs. On our cost-effective and affordable hubs, we search out and used sealed bearing hubs. We want you to be able to benefit from the inherent qualities of sealed beings regardless of your budget.
On wheels such as our Fast and Light series, you’ll find high-quality Novatec 511/522 hub. These hubs are manufactured by one of the largest hub manufacturers in Taiwan, and you’ll find their hubs with many other brands names on them.
As well as standard sealed bearing hubs, we also offer some of the most advanced hubs available on the market. Many of our high-end wheels, especially our brand new Aero range, feature DT Swiss hubs. DT Swiss hubs are simple to service and offer almost instantaneous connection when you pedal thanks to their Star Ratchet system.
Standard bearings will be constructed from steel. Now you’ll also see ceramic bearings, which are constructed from ceramic silicon nitride (Si2N4). The main advantage of ceramic bearings is that they offer lower rolling resistance. The less friction you have in your hubs, the faster you’ll go.
Spokes, or to give them their full name, tension spokes, are the thin pieces of metal wire that hold your hubs to your rims. Spokes have 3 main tasks. If they don’t do 1 of them well, you will have a bad wheelset.
- Reinforce your wheel’s rim.
- Transfer your power from the hub to the rim and tire.
- Support your weight.
A spoke nipple will attach a spoke to your wheel rim. It is a threaded cylinder through which the spoke can be threaded. It can then be used to raise or lower tension in the spoke.
Wheel braking systems
Road bike wheels are designed to allow braking by one of the two main types of braking systems used for road bikes. You will find your bike either has rim brakes or that it comes fitted with disc brakes. Both systems have their pros and cons.
Rim brakes as the name may give away is brakes that use friction against your rim to slow you down. The pro to them is that they are very easy to set up and maintain. They will also be lighter than using disc brakes. The cons are that they will slowly eat through your rim, and will lose their stopping power in the wet.
Disc brakes are discs that are bolted to your hub and then slowed down by a caliper clamping them. The pros are that you’ll get great braking power, regardless of the weather, and that you’ll not find your rim getting eaten away. The cons are that they are heavier than rim brakes, and some people are slightly intimidated to work on the hydraulic version.
Which brings us to the fact that disc brakes come in 2 varieties. You get mechanical disc brakes, and you get hydraulic disc brakes. Mechanical disc brakes have the caliper controlled by a cable, and hydraulic disc brakes have their caliper controlled by oil pressure.
As well as 2 varieties of disc brake, there are also 2 ways that your rotor can attach to your hub. They are Center Lock and 6 bolt. A 6 bolt rotor attaches to your hub using 6 bolts. Center Lock rotors use a splined connection to attach to your hub.
Aluminum rims tend to be a standard box shape, but carbon fiber rims come in a multitude of designs and styles. They can though be generally split into 3 categories. Those are shallow, mid, and deep section rims. These descriptions describe how big the rim is, and they all excel in different areas.
Shallow section rim
Shallow rims are great if you want to climb as they are the lightest style you can get. They look the most like a traditional road bike wheel rim. You’ll find that they give you less of an aero advantage compared to other rim depths. A good carbon fiber rim will be much stiffer than an aluminum rim, and this should help to save you watts as you climb over mountains.
Mid section rim
Mid depth carbon rims are rims that are 30mm to 50mm deep. These rims will be light, but they will also bring you an aero advantage, provided the rim is designed correctly. These rims will suit a rider who wants to ride everything and do it fast. They will be light enough for climbing and fast enough on that flat to let you easily keep up with everyone. They will also be less susceptible to the wind than deep-section rims, and the deeper rim will also make your wheel stiffer.
Deep section rim
When wheels start to get above 55mm deep, they become deep section wheels. At this point, wheels start to become a little heavier and a lot stiffer. You’ll prefer to use them on a flatter course, such as a crit or time trial. You’ll also feel like you’ve added a motor to your bike when you first use a deep section rim. They will cut through the air, and you’ll find it easier to maintain high speeds. They will not be wheels you’ll want to take out on windy days.
Types of tire
The type of tire you’ll want to run will determine the style of wheel rim you’ll need. For road bikes, there are 3 styles of tire. You’ll find clincher, tubeless, or tubular tires. If you decide to favor one style of tire over the others, you’ll have to make sure you pick the correct carbon wheelset.
Clincher tires are the most common choice for bikes. It will be the style of tire fitted to the majority of complete bikes. Clincher tires are constructed with a bead that will clinch into the hook on your wheel rim. To get the tire to clinch, you will need to use a tube inside of it and fill it with air.
The pros of clincher tires are that they are easy to source, and they are very easy to fit. They will also be cheaper than the other style of tires. The main con is that they will be the heaviest form of tire.
Tubeless tires have been around for a while in the mountain bike world, and they are now starting to take over the road world. Tubeless tires are very similar to clincher tires, but as you might have guessed, they don’t need a tube. They create an airtight bond between rim and tire and as such need a special rim that has been tested to make sure it is airtight and can deal with the stresses of tubeless tires. Most people will also add a little sealant inside the tire so that if you puncture, it will almost always seal straight away.
The advantages of tubeless are that it is harder to get flats, and because of this, you can run lower pressures which allow you to be more comfortable on the bike. As well as comfort, lower pressure will also increase your grip, and you’ll find that they feel more supple than clinchers.
The con is that they are a bit harder to setup. Once you get past the setup and get sealant in, you’ll tend to have fewer problems than other systems.
A tubular tire, or a tub or sew on, is a 1 piece tire. As the tire is 1 piece, you need a special rim with no hook. The wheel rim will look like a smooth concave at the top. You then have to glue or tape your tubular tire to the rim.
Your big pro here is that a tubular tire and rim will be lighter than those used for the other 2 systems. The lightness makes them feel smoother as you accelerate or climb. You can also run lower or higher pressures with the 1 tire, so racers like the ability to fine-tune their pressures.
The main problem is that they are harder to set up; the glue can get very messy and get everywhere. The tires are also expensive, and you’ll generally have to send them away to get them fixed.
What to use bike wheels for
As we mentioned in the wheel section part, different wheels have different uses. You should pick the wheels that suit the majority of your riding unless you fancy treating yourself. We’ll have a look at the different areas and discuss what wheels work best for that area.
The main thing you want from a climbing wheelset is lightweight construction. If you have to drag yourself and heavy wheels up a mountain, the suffering can make you hate the whole climb. A nice set of lightweight wheels will help you accelerate quickly out of hairpins and feel more responsive as you climb.
As you want to favor lightweight, you’ll want to look for a set of shallow to mid section wheels. The more undulating the terrain, the more you’ll want to move to mid section wheels to gain an aero advantage. If you have a day with a lot of climbing, you want to look at shallow carbon wheels. A good set of carbon mid section carbon wheels will weigh less than aluminum box section wheels.
Our carbon wheels keep innovating, and we believe that we offer you the best value road bike wheels in the world. If you need a set of climbing wheels, check our shallow section models. If you want the best climbing wheels check out our shallow wheels with DT Swiss hubs. Our Aero 35 DT Swiss will be a great model if you want to take your climbing seriously.
If you want to go as fast as possible or dominate your local Strava sections, then you’ll want a set of aerodynamic wheels. These wheels will be mid to deep section rims. You’ll want to look for a more blunt profile to the wheel rim. The older V-shaped rims have been proven not to be as fast as blunt rims. Ideally, the rim will also be a little wider to allow the air to easily flow over your tire and then straight over your rim.
If you need aero wheels, our new Aero models for 2019 will bring you all the speed you need. They are available in both rim brake and disc brake models to make sure that you can get the exact wheels to fit your bike.
If you want to keep your aero wheels affordable, then our Fast and Light 55 is a great model to try.
If you don’t want to wear out your good wheels, you’ll want a set of training wheels. Training wheels will generally be cheaper than your good wheels. They will be wheels that you don’t mind running through the worst of winter weather, and ideally, they will be cheap to service.
If you want a great set of training wheels, then our Standard series with 38mm deep rims will be a great all-round set of wheels.
Adventure wheels will be between a shallow and mid section. You’ll not want to go too deep as you never know when you’ll have to fight against the wind. They will need to be tougher than your standard road wheels; generally, this will make them a little heavier. They should also have a wider internal width, and this will allow you to fit wider tires. Wider tires will bring you more traction and comfort when you’re off out on your adventures.
Our Aero 35 Disc wheelset is a great wheel for those of us who want to ride on road but also don’t mind occasionally venturing off the beaten track.
Why should I pick carbon road bike wheels?
- Performance. Being lighter and more technologically advanced than other wheel materials, you’ll find that carbon wheels bring you a performance advantage.
- Comfortable. Carbon wheelsets have a ride quality that you don’t get from other materials.
- Quality. Carbon fiber manufacturing is constantly evolving, and as such, you can be sure that carbon wheels are always high quality.
- Design. Carbon wheels allow engineers to fine-tune how they perform and feel, as such designs are constantly moving forward to make sure you always get the best performance.
- Lightweight. If you want lightweight wheels, no other material will allow us to design you a lighter wheelset.
- As we specialize in carbon manufacturing, we can work to make carbon wheels affordable.