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BIKE WHEEL GUIDE

How important are your wheels?

Wheels play a crucial role in a bike's performance, impacting speed, handling, and overall ride quality. The weight of the wheels is particularly important, as lighter wheels can enhance acceleration and climbing efficiency, while heavier wheels may offer better stability and durability.

Bike Wheel Characteristics

Lighter

Lighter wheels are particularly beneficial for climbing, as they reduce your overall bike weight and require less energy to move. A reduction of 200 grams compared to your current wheels can noticeably enhance performance.

Additionally, the distribution of weight on the wheel impacts its performance. Wheels with more weight concentrated at the rim are harder to accelerate, while those with less rim weight and more hub weight feel more responsive.

Wider

In the past, skinnier wheels and tires were thought to be more aerodynamic. However, recent air-turbulence studies show that wider tires don't necessarily increase wind resistance. In fact, wider tires offer a more comfortable and forgiving ride while encountering less rolling resistance, leading to a trend toward wider tires.

Most wheels can accommodate a range of tire widths. However, if you opt for wider tires, consider wider wheels for a better fit. Ensure that significantly wider tires have enough clearance within your bike frame.

AERO

Minimizing wind resistance can yield significant benefits even at speeds as low as 20mph. Therefore, upgrading to more aerodynamic wheels is beneficial for all types of road riding, from leisurely cruises to criteriums and century rides.

You don't need to invest thousands in full disc wheels. Features like a deeper rim profile, where the sidewall of the rim is taller, and bladed spokes can significantly improve aerodynamics. Look for "aero" in the wheel name or product features. Keep in mind, however, that any aerodynamic wheel can be more challenging to handle in crosswinds.

Stronger

For certain types of riding, strength is more important than low weight. Road wheels for commuters and touring cyclists must withstand heavy loads and high mileage.

Downhill mountain biking demands robust wheels capable of handling aggressive riding and big jumps. Fortunately, lift access simplifies the transportation of these heavier wheels to the top. All-mountain riding, where riders must climb before descending, requires wheels that balance both lightness and strength.

There is no universal standard for wheel strength, so it's crucial to pay attention to clues in wheel names, material properties, and construction details. Wheels with a higher spoke count are generally stronger. Additionally, the strength increases with spokes that cross multiple times.

APPLIED TO YOUR DISCIPLINE

ROAD

CLIMBINGRACING /SPEEDCOMMUTING
LIGHTXX
STRONG

X
AERODYNAMIC
X
MOUNTAIN

ALL-MOUNTAINDOWNHILLCROSS-COUNTRY
LIGHTX
X
STRONGXX


Bike Wheel Compatibility

Tire Dimensions

To find the appropriate tire size for your new wheels, check the sidewall of your current tire.

For road bike tires, you’ll see a size format like 700x23. The first number (700) indicates the approximate outer diameter of the tire in millimeters, while the second number (23) represents the tire width in millimeters.

For mountain bike tires, you’ll encounter a size format such as 29x2.4, where 29" is the approximate outer diameter and 2.4" is the width. Common mountain bike tire sizes also include 27.5" and 26", among others.

As long as the tire diameter (700, 29, etc.) matches your wheel size, most tire widths will be compatible. However, be cautious with extreme combinations, such as very wide tires on very narrow rims, as they may not fit. Some wheels will specify a range of compatible tire widths.

Tire Type

If you have a traditional clincher tire, which is the most common type, ensure that the tube's valve type (either Schrader or Presta) matches the hole in your wheel's rim. If they don't match, you'll need a new tube.

For tubeless tires, you'll need tubeless-compatible wheels and tire sealant. Tubeless tires are popular among mountain bikers and are increasingly used by road cyclists. They allow for lower tire pressures, providing a smoother ride and better traction without the risk of pinch flats.

Tubular tires, preferred by some elite cyclists, are another option. These tires must be glued to rims specifically designed for tubular use.

Brake type

Are your brakes rim brakes or disc brakes? If you have rim brakes, you’ll need wheels with a flat rim sidewall to match the brake shoes. For disc brakes, your new wheels must be disc-compatible, including the specific type of rotor, which is the perforated ring around the wheel hub. Most rotors attach with a 6-bolt mount, though some Shimano wheels use a centerlock mount.

Axle Attachment

Does your wheel attach to the frame with a quick-release skewer or a thru axle? It’s important to ensure your new wheel is compatible.

A quick-release skewer passes through an axle that fits into the dropouts (slotted frame ends) on each side of the wheel. The wheel is secured by flipping the skewer's lever, which tightly clamps the wheel in place.

With a thru axle, the axle must slide through two frame holes, one of which is threaded, to attach the wheel to the bike. Note that some bikes may use a skewer on one wheel and a thru axle on the other.

Axle Dimensions

Axle diameter: If you have a thru axle, it's essential to know the axle diameter. Common sizes are 12mm (for road front and mountain rear), 15mm (for road front and mountain front), and 20mm (for mountain front). Quick-release skewers, typically 9mm, do not require consideration of diameter.

Axle length: Regardless of whether you have quick-release skewers or thru axles, you need to know the internal distance within the frame where the wheel mounts. Typical lengths include 100 or 110mm (front) and 130, 135, or 142mm (rear). Some wheels come with adapters to fit various axle lengths.

Rear Hub Type

This determines how your rear wheel connects with the cogs in your bike's drivetrain, and there are two main hub types:

Freehub: Common on most bikes, a freehub features a spline that fits precisely into the center of your rear cassette. The cassette usually has a lock ring to secure it to the freehub, so your new wheel's freehub must be compatible with your cassette.

Threaded hub: Primarily found on older 5-, 6-, or 7-speed bikes, this hub type works with a freewheel cluster, a set of rear cogs that attaches via simple threads. This style of hub will accept any type of threaded freewheel cluster.

WHAT TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN SHOPPING FOR BIKE WHEELS

Better Materials

Ultralight and ultrastrong carbon-fiber rims can significantly enhance performance, although they come with a higher price tag compared to most alloy rims. Carbon fiber allows for a wider range of shapes, offering superior strength and stiffness. This enables wheel designers to create lighter, stronger, and more aerodynamic wheels that weigh the same or less than alloy counterparts. However, it's important to note that carbon wheels with rim brakes can become slicker in wet conditions and can heat up more on long downhill rides compared to alloy rim-brake wheels.

Better Bearings

Bearings typically don't affect performance significantly until they begin to wear out, at which point your wheels may turn less efficiently. Upgrading to higher-quality, more expensive wheels usually means getting better, more durable bearings.

Better Hubs

You can experience improved pedaling efficiency and increased durability with a wheel that offers faster hub engagement. This means the crank travels a shorter distance before the drivetrain engages, making your bike more responsive.