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I'm looking to get a new front wheel at the moment for what is (supposed to be) an inexpensive commuter bike. My question is what's so good about a £100 wheel vs a £25 wheel?

The cheapest option my usual port of call had available was over £100. I appreciate that these guys only stock good quality stuff but I just don't have that kind of money to invest right now.

I then found this on Amazon at a fraction of the cost. I have no doubt that it's a worse quality wheel but what practical difference does that actually make? Is it just the weight? Are there safety concerns?

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1  
You should note that those wheels are two different sizes (26" and 27".) That has nothing to do with quality, but it wouldn't be much of a bargain if the wheel didn't fit. –  WTHarper Jun 9 '13 at 15:36
    
The cheaper wheel has a solid axle and is a typical vintage road wheel size. The more expensive wheels are 26" mountain bike wheels and have hollow axles with skewers and the hubs are made for mounting disc brake. –  Ritch Melton Jun 9 '13 at 15:49
    
I'm after 27" wheels for my old school road bike. The wheels I found on Wiggle were purely to demonstrate that even the cheapest option there was expensive! Thanks for the clarification of why that may be. –  Matt Potts Jun 9 '13 at 17:06

3 Answers 3

The difference in price could be made up of a number of factors:

  1. Brand name
  2. Materials (bearing / axle quality and rim material in particular)
  3. Complexity (double butted spokes to save weight, rim construction)
  4. Hand made (cheaper wheels are machine made automatically)

Wheels vary greatly because there are so many different styles of riding.

Cheap wheels are mass produced from softer materials with heavy spokes and axles and relatively soft bearings. They should be straight but they usually aren't very strong so they buckle out of shape when you hit obstacles (pot holes).

Expensive wheels are produced by hand using tougher materials that have been specially machined for the purpose, weight is trimmed from all components, bearings are hardened and usually sealed against dirt and water. This produces strong wheels which are much better able to deal with abuse. The weight savings go a long way to making you ride faster and turn easier because every time you accelerate you have to give the wheels rotational motion and inertia. The less they (and tyres) weight, the easier that motion is to generate and the less the inertia is (inertia tends to keep the wheel straight on course when you try to turn it).

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The Amazon wheel you linked is a solid axle, which means it has bolts (instead of a quick-release), so you'll need to carry a wrench that fits it. If you have a flat and are not carrying a wrench, you'll be walking or finding some other means of transport.

Cheap wheels are, to a certain extent, false economy. You'll find they may not stay true for long, because of careless assembly. Spokes can break more frequently. If you're in a position to handle such problems, then no worries. But if you're not able to fix a broken spoke, your savings can quickly evaporate. My local bike shop charges U$D 30.00 each to fix a broken spoke on a rear wheel.

While some bicycle wheels can be quite expensive, you want to strike a balance between total crap wheels that achieve false economy, and too-expensive wheels (which may not be optimal for commuting use anyway).

You linked two different sizes of wheels, so I don't know what kind you really need.

I recently shelled out a few hundred U$D for some new wheels. They were machine made and needed retensioning, which cost another U$D 100 at my LBS, but they are real true now and very, very strong. Had I bought the hubs, spokes, and rims separately, I would have paid even more. I anticipate many thousands of miles of life from them. If you drop decent money on a set of wheels and get 20,000 km from them, I'd say you're better off than if you drop a small amount of money on a wheelset that gets built into a decent one, one broken spoke at a time.

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There is an opinion, that in bikes there are three properties that you can choose only two of them it's strength, price and weight, and if you go to extreme you will be able to choose only one. That means the cheapest wheel will be weak (low quality bearings and axles) and heavy, as much as the lightest carbon wheel will be expensive and also weak. It's up to you to decide what suits you best, but IMO these 50 bucks worth it.

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Surely it means a cheap wheel will be either light (but weak) or strong (but heavy) –  Useless Jun 11 '13 at 17:08

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