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I'm doing research for a future purchase of new wheels (for everyday riding) for a 2012 Cannondale CAAD10 Ultegra. I want to spend ~$1000 (give or take $200 or so). In my price range I've found: Boyd Cycling, Williams Cycling, November Bicycles, and Soul Wheels (a bit over price range). They all offer similar wheelsets for a similar price. Are there any other reputable brands I should be looking at as well? I'm specifically looking at carbon clinchers.

I live in Sacramento, CA (very flat city), am 6ft tall, 130lbs.

Two questions:

  1. Now that I've identified some different brands, how do I choose between the brands?
  2. How do I choose rim depth (38mm vs 50mm vs 58mm seem to be the commonly-used ones)?
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I agree with everything stated above... I was looking at 88mm depth wheel myself, but the longest valve stems I can find are 80mm... would you have to get an extension or something for this? I've read good reviews from 'China' buyers. Romney got rich by investing in companies like that. You can save a lot by buying from China, but do you really want to support a better China or better US - totally your call. I personally am looking at bike manufacturers even closer to home. I like to see the people that do the labor and learn a bit about what goes into these things first hand. –  user8119 Sep 12 '13 at 16:59
    
Maybe this will help,I went with the Chinese 88 mm wheels and have put many miles on them without have any adverse effect from crosswind!I'm a solo and group rider and I love these things.but you do have to use valve extenders, I'm using a standard presta valve length tube with a 71mm extender. –  william wright Oct 25 at 15:14

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The full answer depends on where you are riding, how you are riding, and the conditions you are riding in. Windy, winding, hilly courses that you tackle on a road bike with some friends would have me leaning towards a less deep set of wheels. A flat calm straight triathlon course on a tri-bike I'd want more depth.

With the wheels you are looking at, and the price range you are looking at, you aren't going to be getting into the newer shaped wheels (like the Zipp Firecrest and other similarly shaped wheels) that work especially well in cross winds...which means the depth will come into play if you are in a windy situation.

My bottom line would be go with shallower wheels unless you have hard reason to go deep. The slight aero benefit of the deeper wheels will be outweighed by the greater versatility of the shallower ones. With the exception of the latest tech in wheels (Firecrest shape) my #1 criteria is hubs...a great hub on a so-so rim is much better than a so-so hub on a great rim...keep that in mind when making final decision.

If possible, ride on a set of the wheels. Find a friend that has a set identical or similar to the ones you are thinking about and take them on a typical ride (not just a ten minute test).

Also: I've been recommending folks to consider semi-carbon (carbon with alloy braking surface). These are a bit heavier, but not much and you won't have to change brake pads moving back and forth.

Have fun, be safe.

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As for what wheel to choose, well that's such a complex combination of factors, hard to provide a simple answer. I outlined some of the considerations when weighing up choices in my blog post I linked to in an earlier comment on this thread:

They involve a range of factors, including, inter alia (and not in any particular order):

  • strength
  • durability
  • aerodynamics (in low and higher yaw conditions)
  • wheel mass
  • ability to stay round and true
  • lateral stiffness
  • cost
  • repair-ability and service cost
  • warranty support
  • suitability for the purpose/race/riding situation
  • braking demands (and issues with brake pad choice, long downhill braking scenarios and wet weather)
  • handling characteristics (cornering, cross winds)
  • available tyre choices (and level of difficulty in changing tyres/tubes)
  • bearing and freehub quality etc
  • rules of competition
  • suitability for the bike (e.g. will it fit?)
  • sex appeal / bling factor and so on.....

Then one needs to weigh up those factors and apply their own personal judgement as to which factors matter most and fits within their budget. That will of course be different for everyone. It's no wonder wheel manufacturers have a field day with all the various possible points of difference available when marketing their wares.

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These 38/50/60/88 numbers are the 'depth' of the wheel's aerodynamic rim, in millimeters. Let's take 38 for example. This means that from where the tire meets the wheel, the rim extends an additional 38 millimeters towards the hub. When you see 88, that means the rim extends 88 millimeters from the tire.

Why does that matter? One of the biggest benefits of carbon wheels is the aerodynamics. They play a major role in how fast, and how efficiently a cyclist can ride. Think back to when you were on a ride with your buddies, and drafted behind another rider. It's much easier to keep up with them, because of the better aerodynamics when you are drafting.

Your spinning wheels are the biggest source of slow aerodynamic turbulence. To improve this, we build wheels with aerodynamic advantage as a top priority. The way we do this is to increase the 'depth' of the rim. The deeper the rim, the more aerodynamic the wheel will be and the more efficiently and faster you'll be able to cut through the wind. An 88mm deep rim is more aerodynamic than a 38mm rim, and will be faster in situations where aerodynamics are very important, like long fast solo riding and triathlons.

Why would anyone choose 38mm rims, if 88mm rims are more aerodynamic? The more a wheel becomes aerodynamic for going forward, the more it can be negatively affected by cross-winds, or winds coming from the side. Let's imagine you are riding with an 88mm deep front and rear rim. You will be able to go very fast because of the aerodynamics of deep wheels, but if a gust of wind comes from the side, that wind will push sideways against the large rims and push the whole bike sideways. This isn't such a big deal if you're riding alone, such as in a triathlon, but if you are riding in a group of cyclists, this sideways push could cause an impact with other riders, or at the very least it would require extra concentration from you.

What's the solution? A wheel with a 'shallower' rim depth, like a 38mm, will be less affected by crosswinds, but will also have less aerodynamic advantage.

If that wasn't enough, you must also consider weight. A 38mm deep wheel will be lighter than an 88mm deep one, because less carbon is used. A lighter wheel will accelerate faster and will be much easier to ride up hills. This means that if you are sprinting and hill climbing a lot, a shallower rim, like a 38 will be best.

Why do I see some riders with different front and rear wheels? Due to the fact that the front wheel can turn for steering, its more susceptible to cross-wind interference. The rear wheel is fixed in a straight line with the bike, so if a cross-wind hits it, the impact on the bike won't be as much. This means that you can use a deeper rim on your rear wheel without impacting handling as much as that same rim would affect the front wheel. Wheelsets such as the 38-50 to take advantage of this fact. This wheelset uses a 38mm front rim, and a 50mm rear rim. This way you can get more aerodynamic advantage without sacrificing as much stability in windy conditions.

How do I choose? This is the most difficult choice for riders looking to purchase new carbon wheels. You must think about the situations you ride in. If you ride mostly hills you will want to choose a 38mm wheelset, if you are an all around rider choose a 50mm wheelset, if you are an all around rider looking for more aerodynamic advantage choose a 60mm wheelset, and if you are a solo rider, or a triathlete choose an 88mm wheelset.

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1  
All sounds pretty good, although people vastly overestimate the impact of wheel weight on acceleration. The difference in power demand to accelerate wheels with such weight differences are measured in milliwatts, if not microwatts, it's so tiny a difference. Indeed aero is far more important in acceleration performance than wheel weight. See this link for an explanation: alex-cycle.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/the-sum-of-parts.html As for climbing, well even then aero still matters and it's not until the gradient is steep that absolute weight outranks better aero properties of a wheel. –  Alex Simmons Oct 28 at 0:29

Personally, I ride with a HED Jet 4 on the front and a Jet 5 on the rear. I ride in the Northern California Hills so climbing is a major consideration. I was initially cautious about going so deep because I feared that I would suffer in long sustained climbs. My times climbing were not adversely affected. In fact, I achieved some personal bests in climbing probably due to the stiffness and unique lacing. I don't know. However, in descending and on the flats the difference is huge. I should mention that before I had a set of Jet 4's and cracked the rear rim after 3 years. I replaced it with a Jet 5 and was faster. Previously I had owned a pair of Bontrager XXX Race lites (an all carbon wheel set). I loved these and rode them until I crash....After the crash I got the HED wheels and the deeper profile increased my speed and I set a lot of new personal records. I was surprised that about my speed increase especially moving from a 1200 gram wheel set to ~ 1650 grams. So, I concur with the previous commenter about having a slightly deeper rim in the back. 2) Deeper profile wheels make a significant difference. 3) Go as deep and light as your budget will allow!

Other comments: Cross winds are not a significant factor unless they hit you flush at 90 degrees, which happens very rarely. The other benefit of deeper profile is that once up to speed, they hold that speed with less work which means that you save a lot of energy on long distance rides.

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Different brands pose different price. China have best price carbon wheels of different depth, you can find many suppliers from the alibaba.com

88mm depth wheels may shinny when you put your own design on the rims wall~~~

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I'm having trouble understanding your answer, which doesn't really seem to address the question about how to pick a brand or depth of carbon wheels... –  freiheit Sep 23 '12 at 2:21

I live in Dubai, also a very flat city. My experience says if your average ride is flat and fast, go deep, unless the area is extremely windy.

My family is from the Bay Area originally, and I've lived in Napa and Sacramento. For Sacramento, and in your budget area, I'd look at something like he Altair 80 Carbon Clincher from Profile Design.

They are good, if a bit heavy, full carbon aero wheels. They come in a 52mm deep and an 80mm deep, in both tubular and clincher varieties.

They are fast, aero, and strong. They cut price by not cutting too much weight, so there are better options if you want to raise your budget, but not in that price range.

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