Racing Triathlons? Wheel choice is so important!
If the goal is to make every minute count in a triathlon, then wheel choice is an important consideration. Choosing a race wheel can feel a bit overwhelming. There are many brands, different rim depths, the choice between clincher or tubular and different sizes of wheels. For the purpose of this blog, I will focus on choosing a type of wheel, based on the rider, and whether to choose a clincher or tubular.
First let’s talk about the rear wheel. The fastest wheel hands down, is the disc wheel. Unless you’re going straight up hill for an entire race, the disc wheel will always win. However, if you’re not comfortable or experienced with riding in the wind then this wheel might prove a challenge. Because of the disc wheel's increased surface area, bike handling is negatively effected in wind, especially for lighter or less experienced athletes. This can cause an athlete to burn up too much energy fighting the wind, which, in turn, can completely negate any potential time savings that were accrued due to the disc wheel! That energy is needed for the run! So, if a disc wheel is not an option, your best bet is going with the deepest rim you can find and are comfortable riding. The front wheel is going to be the most difficult to handle in the wind, so especially focus on your comfort with the depth of the rim up front. A lot of athletes will run a smaller rim up front and deeper rim in the rear for this reason.
Now on to clinchers or tubulars. Which to choose? Tubulars are going to be lighter than clinchers, but not as aerodynamic as wide rim clinchers. Studies have proven that the time savings due to the clincher's aerodynamics are greater then any time savings due to the lightness of the tubular. Therefore, I always recommend clinchers due to their aerodynamics advantages.
In summary, choose a disc wheel for the rear wheel and the largest rim you feel comfortable with for the front clincher, ideally. If you don’t feel comfortable riding this, then choose the next deepest rim you feel comfortable riding. Keep it simple.
--David MacMillian, Superfly Triathlon Coach