Wheels are often the first place people look when it comes to making an upgrade because they can have a dramatic affect on the way your bike rides. Lighter wheels are easier to accelerate, more aerodynamic wheels make it easier to hold high speeds and tubeless-ready wheels should reduce your chances of suffering a puncture.
But all these benefits come at a cost and the more of them that are built into a wheelset, the more that wheelset is likely to cost. So if you’re pockets aren’t as deep as the Mariana Trench, you’ll probably want to prioritise certain benefits over others depending on the type of riding you tend to do.
You may just want a decent ‘jack of all trades’ wheel that can make a decent hash of any type of riding you want to do aboard your road bike
If you’re riding sees you heading into the hills a lot, then weight is going to be high on your list. The less a set of wheels weighs, the less effort it’s going to take you to propel them up the climbs, meaning faster ascents and more summits.
On the other hand, if you prefer riding time trials then speed and efficiency trumps weight so you’ll be looking for wheels with the best possible aerodynamic performance. That, generally speaking, means greater rim depths, fewer spokes, carefully shaped cross-sections and possibly even hidden nipples.
For riders that like to lark about off-road — at cyclocross races or gravel-grinding events for the more fashionable, on-trend types — wheels that can handle wide tyres, harsh treatment and a lot of grit, mud and water are going to be the ideal. This by no means rules out ‘traditional’ clincher-tyre wheels with a track for rim brakes, but tubeless-ready wheels that rely on disc brakes are carving out a widening niche for themselves for this sort of riding.
Or, you may just want a decent ‘jack of all trades’ wheel that can make a decent hash of any type of riding you want to do aboard your road bike. And the good news is there are plenty of these to choose from. Bottom line is, as long as it’s round, fits your tyres and matches your braking system, you can ride any wheel; it’s just that some are a little more tailored towards a particular purpose.
Stan’s NoTubes Avion Disc Pro
5.0 out of 5 star rating
The Stan’s NoTubes Avion Disc Pro may be the company’s first aero carbon road offering but its performance and design rival offerings from companies with far more experience
Mountain-bike wheel specialists Stan’s NoTubes finally launched into the tubeless, carbon aero road wheel market with the new Avion range. Just as you’d expect, they’re a breeze to set up, lightweight and — relatively speaking — decent value.
Internal width on the tubeless-compatible full-carbon rims is a healthy 22mm — wider than just about any other road rim on the market. And, despite their versatile 41mm rim depth and fat 28m-wide section width, the weight for the pair is just 1,477g/3.2lb (631g front, 846g rear) including rim tape and tubeless valve stems.
What’s most noticeable on the road however is the way the wider rim profile and shallower bead hooks plump up whatever tyres are mounted. For example, a set of 28mm-wide Specialized S-Works Turbo Road Tubeless tyres balloon out to a whopping 30.5mm even at just 60psi to offer superb traction, heaps of comfort and sufficient air volume for hours of riding — all with no tangible hit in rolling resistance or weight.
More importantly for most riders’ real-world needs is the fact that the wheels are stable enough in strong crosswinds to be used as an all-around aero wheelset. But perhaps where the Avion Disc Pros are most impressive is at the cash register. They’re hardly cheap but still a relative bargain when judged against the competition.
Reasonably wide internal width creates a bigger tyre profile
Low weight and a great ride quality
The RR 21 Dicut is a premium low-profile clincher. Blunt-profiled alloy rims are laced with DT’s alloy nipples and straight-pull spokes (20 front, 24 rear) to a version of its Grand Tour-proven 240s hub. The rear rim is offset for a more even tension between the right and left sides.
The wheels are supplied with tubeless tape and valves, but are also happy with clincher tyres and inner tubes. The 21mm-deep RR 21s weigh 802g/1.7lb for the rear and 645g/1.4lb for the front, plus 106g/0.2lb for the skewers. External width is a middling 21.6mm, but narrow hooks make for a reasonably wide 18.1mm internal measurement — a 25mm Continental GP4000S II tyre measures an impressive 27.5mm when mounted.
The RR 21s’ low weight makes them lively and responsive when you start to crank it up. Coasting is rewarding as DT’s signature star ratchet freehub purrs expensively. Ride quality is on a par with box-section alloy rims and the extra tyre volume afforded by their internal width lets you drop the psi a tad for extra comfort.
The 404 NSW, with its 58mm deep rim, is an all-purpose wheel, capable of climbing as well as keeping up on the fastest and flattest courses.
As well as reworking its signature dimpled surface to enable the 404 NSW wheels to better handle crosswinds, Zipp has also given them the new, lighter ‘Cognition’ hubs. The rear wheel also gets Zipp’s ‘Axial Clutch’ mechanism, which disengages the freewheel ratchet completely when you’re coasting, in order to reduce friction and hold speed longer.
The wide rims — 27.8mm maximum external width — also provide the ideal profile to shape wide tyres for increased suppleness and traction. We found that they worked best with 25mm rubber, though with 28s you will get the ultimate in cushioning. At 1,550g/3.4lb the NSWs are also 140g/0.3lb lighter than the Firecrest 404s.
Light yet stiff enough to resist flexing even under sprinting or out-of-the-saddle-climbing
Quick and easy to accelerate
Outstanding braking in the wet or dry
The new Mavic Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL C carbon clincher wheelset is light (1,390g/3lb) and laterally stiff (40Nm), with a moderately wide rim (17mm internal) and excellent braking, thanks to a laser-machined brake track, as well as quick engagement (9°), thanks to a 40-tooth dual-ratchet system in the new hub.
The end result is a set of performance wheels that deliver easy acceleration, confidence in a variety of corners and powerful, predicable and squeal-free braking.
Mavic claims its Ksyrium Pro Carbon brake performance is not only on par with Zipp’s Firecrest wheels but also that the wheels’ wet-weather stopping distance is nearly identical to that in the dry — and measurably better than that of its competitors.
In terms of acceleration, the wheels are downright eager to wind up. Mavic product manager Maxime Brunand said the challenge is to tension wheels tight enough to stand up to sprinting forces but not so tight that the wheel becomes uncompromising to vertical blows from holes and such.
Carbon rims with assured braking thanks to the addition of discs
Zipp’s 202 Firecrest CCL Disc wheelset is based upon the same rims as the non-disc 202s. So although the spoke count for both wheels has risen to 24 to handle the greater forces discs generate, they retain the brake track that callipers/cantilevers rely on.
On the road, the 202’s stability and responsiveness is undimmed despite the addition of the discs, so they still turn crisply and accelerate energetically. They suit 25mm or larger tyres, and on rolling terrain their low rotational mass (1,546g/3.4lb without rotors, QRs or rim tape) makes them rapid ascenders, while their stability inspires descending and cornering confidence.
Knowing you have consistently reliable brakes beneath you removes any potential carbon braking concerns — and keeps your rims looking immaculate — but we couldn’t help wondering how much faster they could be without the braking track. Although the 202s are not a cheap option, their versatility and reliability make them well equipped for everyday use on or occasionally off road.
Vittoria Qurano 46 wheels impressed us with their eagerness
Price: £1,199 / US$1,999 / AU$3,250
Great braking for carbon rims
Ingenious freehub that allows tool-free removal
Fast and plush ride feel
Vittoria’s new tubular wheels contain graphene, a transparent, super-electrical conductor that cools rapidly, is 150 times stronger than steel but 20 percent more elastic and only a single atom thick. Vittoria claims the graphene makes the Quranos stronger and laterally stiffer, with greater impact resistance, but also lighter and with improved heat dissipation.
The 42mm-deep front rim and 46mm-deep rear rim are 23mm wide externally and spin on Vittoria-designed hubs. The rear has an 82mm driveside flange and the clever SwitchIT freehub, which can be removed without tools while keeping the cassette in place.
Weighing just 1,344g/2.9lb, plus another 122g for the skewers, and with 25mm tubulars fitted, the Quranos feel plush and deliver easy surges of acceleration that make for rapid attacks and sprints.
The shallower front rim helps keep the steering light and though they don’t lead the class for crosswind performance, they’re well above average, and braking is excellent.
Stiff and snappy enough to keep heavier riders happy
Lightweight package that includes Mavic’s own tyres
Built with all in-house components including Mavic’s low-maintenance hubs and wide Zicral alloy spokes (18 front, 20 rear), these wheels feature a wider rim than previous Ksyriums.
The Pros weigh 864g/1.9lb for the 26mm-deep rear and 654g/1.4lb for the 24mm-deep front, plus 124g for the skewers. The 25mm Yksion tyres average 213g each, and measure just over their nominal width on rims that are 21.8mm externally.
These are slightly firm riding — likely in part because of the large cross-section alloy spokes — but are very stiff and with a snappy feel. Heavier, more powerful riders will love them as they offer an outstanding stiffness-to-weight ratio; lighter riders may prefer softer-riding options. For blasting up climbs in style though, these are very fine wheels.
Include improved versions of Mavic GripLink and PowerLink tyres
Wider rim to accommodate wider tyres
The Elite is the closest descendent of 1999’s original Ksyrium but has undergone a number of refinements in the years since the wheelset made its debut. For the 2016 Ksyrium Elite wheels get all-new rims.
The rims are now wider to better accommodate the beefier 25-28mm tyres that are currently on-trend, but they’ve also been treated to Mavic’s latest inter-spoke-milling process (ISM 4D). Mavic uses ISM 4D to shave unnecessary material away from specific areas of the rim to make them lighter without compromising their strength.
The rims are made from Mavic’s own Maxtal alloy and are 25mm tall. Ours weighed in at 1594g/3.5lb, plus another 126g/0.2lb for the quick-release skewers. The new Elites provide an excellent balance of strength and speed. They’re not the lightest wheels in their class any more, but still feel taut and lively.
The Elites also come with Mavic’s 25mm Griplink front and Powerlink rear clincher tyres. Previous versions were slated for lacking grip, but these are a real improvement.
Mavic has entered the full-carbon game with the Ksyrium Pro SL T
Price: £1,575 / US$ N/A / AU$ N/A
Featherweight carbon wheels
Better bed for broader tyres, thanks to wider rim
Instant drive and rapid, responsive handling
Billed as the lightest Ksyrium wheelset, the Pro Carbon SL is available in clincher and tubular versions, and for rim or disc brakes. Our tubular set came with skewers and SwissStop yellow brake pads, and weighed 1,228g/2.7lb. Add 110g/0.2lb for the skewers and they’re still astonishingly light.
The carbon tubular rim is just 25mm tall for agility, though its 23mm width is 3mm up on the previous generation and can accommodate 25-32mm tyres.
The wheels’ reactivity and acceleration are excellent, and maintaining speed feels very efficient. Something so feathery makes everything seem easier, and helped us zip up our local climbs in a higher gear than usual, throwing in a few unusually sharp accelerations.
Carbon rims that work with almost all disc brake and axle standards
Offset rim design for added durability
Understated good looks
The Discus C35 Team Stealth wheelset marries smart-looking, 32mm-deep carbon rims to cartridge-bearing, disc-brake hubs that accept Centerlock rotors for maximum convenience, as well as all mainstream axle standards.
The build quality of our set was excellent and the offset rim design makes for a more even spoke tension split — a boon for durability. Internal spoke nipples won’t find favour with your mechanic if the wheels ever need truing, but they contribute to a clean and attractive design. We also appreciated the rubber valve hole inserts, which prevent rattling, a common issue with carbon wheels.
There’s nothing shouty about these on the road — they don’t whoosh like a lot of deep-section wheels and the logos have none of the billboard aesthetics of some carbon offerings. They do what a good wheelset is meant to: disappear underneath you and do a damned fine job of getting you where you’re going.
Available in disc/rim brake and tubular/clincher configurations
Wide rims improve ride feel and contact-patch grip
Along with its deep carbon rims and disc wheels, Zipp also has the 30 Course, an alloy wheel that’s available in rim/disc brake and clincher/tubular configurations. The tubular disc-brake wheelset on test weighed 1,615g/3.5lb with the QR skewers adding just 88g/0.1lb to that figure.
At 26mm deep the 30 Course rims are shallower than Zipp’s 202 Firecrest rim, but they still borrow some of that model’s low-drag and aerodynamically stable design. They’re laced with 24 Sapim CX Ray spokes to Zipp’s newest and most advanced disc hubs.
With their wide and deep tubular rim bed and small central channel, the 30 Course rims are tremendously supportive for both 33mm cyclocross tubulars and 25mm-plus road rubber.
These go-anywhere wheels aren’t sluggish and that wide profile improves ride comfort, tyre volume, contact-patch area and ultimately grip. You’re certainly not aware of being held back as the additional stability pays you back in confidence whether on or off road.
Wide front rim for better steering and impact resistance
Clincher rims that are tubeless-ready
Great hubs and fine, fast handling
The CC38’s are Curve’s all-rounder 38mm-deep carbon clinchers. They’re also tubeless ready, though you’ll have to source your own valves before you ditch the inner tubes.
With a snub-nose rim profile, the mid-depth CC38’s are nearly unaffected by side winds and while they lack the snap of a set of climbing wheels, the 1,527g/3.3lb (without skewers or rim tape) CC38s spin up quickly and hold speed well.
Keeping everything rolling are a set of DT Swiss 240 hubs, which are pretty hard to fault. They’re über smooth, weight competitive, reliable and the tool-free maintenance makes them pretty much the whole package.
Predictable handling under braking and in the wind
A little aero advantage with only minimal weight penalty
With just 16 front and 20 rear Sapim CX-Speed bladed spokes, the overall mass of the Rolf Ares4 ES is kept down to a minimum. Our test set weighed 1,562g/3.4lb, although with QR skewers add another 110g/0.2lb.
Rolf’s Delta rim profile is a broad 24.5mm at the brake track, bulging to 27mm at its widest, and 17mm internally. The 42mm deep rim is a good compromise between versatility and weight, and offers a little aero advantage without adding too much extra weight.
They’re able to handle predictably at all wind angles and sustain speed very well. Braking is also reassuringly reliable without any grabbing or squealing, even in the wet. The three-pawl hub on the rear gives the Ares4 ES great pickup, and the wide rims and flange spacing keep them feeling stable and surefooted when you’re sprinting.
With 20 front and 24 rear straight-pull spokes, Hunt’s Race Season Aero Wide wheels are conventional looking, and the black hubs and rims are understated.
The Hunts are tubeless-ready, but beware if you decide not to go that route because they’re a tight fit for clinchers so you need be careful not to pinch your tubes during installation.
The Hunts are wide at 24mm across, with a 31mm deep rounded-vee rim section. The front weighs 669g/1.4lb and the rear 844g/1.8lb. The wheels are stiff enough, comfortable enough (even without taking advantage of their tubeless ability) and lively. For the spec, they are also damned good value for money.
As long as you aren’t craving some carbon-style whooshing noises or the slack-jawed envy of your brand-obsessed club mates, the Hunts make a very smart upgrade from an entry-level wheelset.
The Chasseral wheelset is one aimed squarely at those of a climbing bent. These full carbon clinchers are built using a version of DT’s RC28 rim and a variant of the company’s 180 star-ratchet hubs with ceramic bearings. The Mon Chasserals are very much a premium offering, with no shortcuts on the spec or build quality.
The headline for these wheels is the remarkably low weight: 699g/1.5lb for the rear and 572g/1.2lb for the front, making an impressive total of just 1,271g/2.8lb, including rim tape. Like all of DT’s latest offerings these are tubeless-ready.
The 22mm wide rims are broader than traditional ones and with a blunt 28mm deep cross-section they’re utterly unperturbed by side-winds.
They offer similar comfort levels to a good alloy wheelset but where they differ is in lateral stiffness, which combined with their exceptionally low weight, makes them fantastic performers on the climbs. Their unbending nature is an asset heading downhill too, as the Mon Chasserals are supremely accurate.
Easton’s tubeless EA90 SLX is a great all-around road wheelset that’s capable of handling aggressive dirt-road riding and cyclocross racing under riders of up to 84kg/185lb.
With an internal rim width of 18mm (22.5mm externally), the EA90s offer a wide stance. Perhaps more importantly, the rims seem to strike that nice balance of ease of installation and a solid, confident tubeless seal. There’s no need for rim tape if running them with tubes, because the rim bed is completely sealed.
On the road — or wherever else you take them — the EA90s feel swift, lively and dependable. The 23mm Generation 5 rim design makes the most of the grip available, and the 25mm height is oblivious to wind and extremely nimble. Responsiveness is electric — you can feel the light weight when climbing or accelerating, but they are plenty stiff when you’re out of the saddle or cornering.