Wheels are the most significant upgrade that you can make to your bicycle. From rolling smoother, to cheating the wind with aerodynamics, to being able to last through the toughest commuting conditions, wheels have a big impact on your ride quality. We have several pairs of demo wheels that you are welcome to try out to help decide which set is best for your riding.
Here are the three main components of the wheel and how each of them impact the ride quality:
Lighter rims will spin up faster and take less effort to keep moving. This is a large factor when climbing hills slowly, and why most “climbing rims” are very thin and lightweight. Countering this are aerodynamic rims which are heavier due to their increased mass but will require less effort to keep moving once they’re at speed.
It’s also important to consider braking performance. The new Mavic Exalith alloy surface is the highest performance braking surface we know of, especially in wet conditions. Regular alloy comes next, then carbon fiber.
Mountain rims have a completely different set of design principles, at least until disc brakes become more prevalent on the road side. Even then, mountain wheels will need to handle roots and rocks that one couldn’t imagine a road wheel rolling over. As such, durability becomes a bigger factor and is what separates trail/XC rims from Downhill and All-Mountain designs. Stiffer rims are noticeably better in corners and berms at speed, and will track the line with far more precision, especially over rougher terrain.
For off road use, carbon fiber provides the same weight advantages as it does on road (resulting in quicker spin-up) but most manufacturers also use the material to dramatically stiffen and reinforce the rim which makes them as durable and sometimes more durable than their alloy counterparts.
Stiffer spokes will make a wheel feel more quick and responsive, especially in the corners. Softer spokes result in a softer ride that may be desired for long distance endurance riding or for commuting.
Generally speaking, the more spokes a wheel has, the more durable it will be.
Aerodynamic bladed spokes are also available to help cut through the wind, and these tend to also add stiffness as a byproduct of their flatter shape.
A better quality hub rolls easier, lasts longer, and is usually lighter as well. Weight is not as important in the hub as it is in the rim (where the rotational mass lies), but hubs that roll smoother are a joy to ride and will let you attain higher speeds when travelling all-out down a hill.
We regularly build custom wheels for our customers from a specific match of rims, spokes, and hubs. This is the preferred option when looking for a wheel with ultimate durability, ultra-light weight, or for a specific aesthetic look, and is comparable in cost to an equivalent prebuilt wheel while meeting your exact needs. Please call or visit our mechanics for more details on this service.
Campagnolo, and its wheel-only subsidiary Fulcrum make some of the world’s best wheels. Given Campagnolo’s decades of design experience in world-class hubs, it’s not surprising to see every wheelset in their lineup feature reliable, smooth hubs that are completely field serviceable in the rare event that we need to work on them. Our favorite wheels from these brands are the Zonda/Racing 3 (for plush comfort that comes from their steel spokes) and Eurus/Racing 1 (for the balance of aerodynamics and race performance).
Most riders know DT Swiss for the components they supply to wheel builders, but few are aware that they also have a range of prebuilt wheels as well. From the luxurious ride of the Mon Chasseral to the ultra-lightweight RR Carbon wheel range, DT Swiss has a nice selection of higher-end wheels.
Enve is a small company based in Utah that is focused only on carbon fiber rims and components. They don’t try to make hubs or spokes, just amazing carbon components for both road and mountain use. If you’re looking for an “ultimate class” wheel, look no further. We used to carry a “lightweight” brand of wheels out of Germany, but every time a customer compared our ENVE demo wheels to the exotic German equivalents they chose the ENVE. Needless to say we no longer carry that German brand.
Steve Hed has been making performance wheels for over a quarter century now. His company, Hed Aerodynamics has three core lines: (1) the Ardennes for training and all-round riding, (2) the Jet for deep dish carbon clinchers, and (3) the Stinger for lightweight carbon tubulars.
It’s rare to see an industry leader try so hard to keep their lead, but Mavic has continued to surprise us with their innovations year after year. Even though the Ksyrium has been the enthusiast/performance standard since we opened in 2007, they haven’t sat still and are constantly improving every part of these excellent wheels at every opportunity. The entry-level Aksium is our favorite replacement wheel, and now includes the integrated Mavic Tire system for its low price. The aerodynamic Cosmic range blows us away every time we ride one, and now with some very strong 29er offerings in the cards their mountain line up is among our favorites as well.
Shimano’s wheels are hand made in Japan, and close inspection shows the meticulous detail that you’d expect from such craftsmanship. Although Shimano’s Pro Tour sponsorship might lead you to believe these are high-performance wheels we tend to recommend them more as a luxury/touring option.
The first name in aerodynamic performance is Zipp. We recommend Zipp to anyone who wants to get every single last Watt of aerodynamic performance from their wheels.