Upgrading your wheelset is the biggest and best performance upgrade you can make to your bike. How do you choose a wheelset that is right for you, and the way you ride?
Cyclists tend to be inveterate upgraders. It is rare that when the obsession for cycling takes hold of someone that they will leave well enough alone on their ride. This can be the addition of cycle bling, or the installation of some upgraded components like a handlebar or a seat post. By far, the single biggest upgrade a cyclist can make to their bike is the wheelset. In the old days, upgrading your wheelset meant seeing a master wheel builder, choosing your components, and waiting for the build. Today, most wheelsets come ready built from the manufacturer, and equipped to various price and performance points.
The primary concern for most wheelset upgrades is weight. With wheels being the largest rotating mass on the bike, reducing weight here, especially in the rim area, shows a marked difference in the way the rim area, shows a marked difference in the way the bike accelerates and handles. Bear in mind that lighter is not necessarily better. A downhill rider will need a heavier, more rugged wheelset to handle the abuse and punishment of downhilling, versus an XC rider who will want snappy acceleration and razor sharp handling from his wheels.
Material is another consideration when upgrading wheels. Carbon wheels are very much in vogue, and the rise in demand has brought carbon wheelsets within the reach of the mid level rider and dedicated enthusiast. Carbon wheels, while being light and lovely, are also prone to shatter when abused. The ride from carbon wheels can also be stiff, compared with aluminium. Look at the kind of riding needs that you have, and then decide.
Another consideration for upgrading your wheelset will be the type of tyres you can install. An off-road rider may be considering making the move to tubeless, and there are tubeless ready rims on the market today. There are also tubeless wheelsets for road use, offering the road rider puncture resistance and a slighter smoother ride compared to clinchers.
Aerodynamics is another choice for wheelset upgraders, especially road riders. An aerodynamic, high profile carbon wheelset allows the rider to expend less energy at peloton speeds than a low profile wheel, although low profile wheels tend to offer superior climbing and acceleration. Again, look at the type of your riding, and where you spend the majority of your time, before making a choice.
Whatever your choice, a lighter, stiffer wheelset will make a huge difference to your bike’s performance.