So you have your eyes on a new bike. You're ready to ride, you're ready to train...and you're curious about the best upgrades for the bike. Upgrading wheels from standard wheels (our bikes all come with Vision Team 30 wheels) is one of the best ways to speed up your bike performance instantly.
Why is this? A lot of it has to do with static weight versus rotating weight. Static weight includes all the things that stay "still" on your bike -- the frame, hydration, storage, etc.. Rotational weight is anything that you have to rotate to move forward -- like wheels. To save you the physics lesson (and shorten this blog quite considerably), the summary is that the energy used to move this rotational weight forward is greater than the energy used to move the same amount of static weight. Read a bit about the physics behind this from The University of Illinois.
In short, bike frame weight matters less when wheel weight is lessened. This is why upgraded wheels will be one of your best options when looking to up your game.
Which Wheelset is Best?
Unfortunately, it's not always a straightforward answer. What do the different depths mean? Do I need a disc to be competitive in triathlon? How much does weight matter?
First, let's break down some of the terminology:
Wheel Depth - Deep section wheels refers to how far the rim extends towards the center of the wheel (or length). For example, the Vision Metron 81 SL (below, left) is an 81mm depth while the Vision Team 30 wheels (below, right) have a 30mm depth.
Disc Wheel - A disc wheel is often the go-to rear wheel in triathlon (when allowed - IRONMAN Kona does not allow this wheel). This is a wheel that is a solid "fill" without the hole through the center of the wheel (pictured below). In the right wind conditions (or wind "yaw angle"), a disc will absolutely crush other wheels' performance.
Carbon Fiber - Carbon Fiber (or just "carbon") is a material that is incredibly strong and stiff but also incredibly light, which makes it an ideal material for bikes and wheels. Upgrading to carbon frames, wheels and components will lighten your ride and give an advantage over aluminum, steel and other materials.
Wheelset WIDTH - How often do you double check the width of your wheels' rims? For most road cyclists, probably never. Running 25s-28s (tire width) is fairly standard now, and road wheels will handle that perfectly fine. But the wider the outer rim, the larger you can inflate your tire (wider rim widths are typically seen on carbon wheels).
Note: wider inner rim width that you see on modern carbon rims increases the air volume of your tire, which allows you to decrease the pressure and increase ride comfort.
When this really comes into play is when you want to go off road and a wider tire will give you more surface area to work with and a more comfortable ride. When the new Rogue All Road bike gets sent to your doorstep, it'll arrive with Vision Team 30 wheels and 700x28 tires. However, we found that riding with Zipp 303s not only added an aero advantage and less weight, but most importantly, the wider rim increased air volume of our 35 mm tires which gave us the ride quality of a wider tire (closer to a 40mm feel) (pictured with tan wall Gravel King tires).
Why does depth matter?
In short, the deeper the wheel, the more aerodynamic it will be. This especially matters in time trial efforts where draft dynamics don't exist and it's the rider vs the wind/air.
But like we mentioned above, it's not as simple as just putting the deepest wheels on your bike and riding a disc at every race. Here are a few caveats:
- Adding more depth (and material) to the wheel also will add weight to the wheel, so opting for shallower or mid-depth wheels may be a better choice on hilly terrain.
- The deeper the wheel, the shorter the spokes are and the stiffer the ride is. A full disc will be the stiffest wheel and most unforgiving to ride on rougher terrain. Consider the road conditions when you're picking a wheel -- aerodynamics matters less when you're uncomfortable or working harder in bike handling.
- In intense crosswinds, deeper wheels will act as a sail. This can affect handling especially in the front, so riders may want to consider using a shallow wheel in the front, especially if they are a lighter-weight athlete.
- The deeper the wheel, the higher the cost. If you're on a budget, a disc wheel may not be the best bang for your buck. It will have marginal gains, but a much higher price tag.
- Deeper wheels like a disc wheel take more to spin them up to speed and make more of a difference above a certain mph. If you aren't able to hold these speeds or accelerate out of a corner efficiently, then it might actually hurt your performance rather than help.
And as always, tire choice is going to make a huge difference in ride feel and roll resistance. It's VERY worth the extra investment to choose a good tire -- a poor tire could negate most of the upgrades that you just got with the new wheels.