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I have a mid-range gravel bike, and I am interested in upgrading the wheels. I was thinking of getting deep-ish carbon wheels (~40mm or so) so that I would also have an upgrade path if I want to build a road/aero bike later on. I would be upgrading from somewhat heavy aluminum wheels.

With my gravel bike, I am currently doing a mix of road riding and off-road, mostly in forests and in fields.

Would this be a dumb idea? I.e. are carbon wheels robust enough for off-road applications?

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    Note that it isn't the material itself which makes it suitable or not for gravel riding, but the way in which said material is used. Heavy-duty carbon MTB rims are terrifically strong.
    – MaplePanda
    Jul 2 at 23:37
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    Stone in the rim wall, crack... Rim gone. That has been my experience. Jul 3 at 6:25
  • Is there something wrong with your existing wheels other than their perceived weight? There's nothing stopping you owning two sets of wheels, a nice light carbon fibre set for fast riding and the stouter aluminium ones for when the ride may get more technical.
    – Criggie
    Jul 3 at 8:03

2 Answers 2

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Carbon wheels are strong enough for gravel and mountain bike riding now, after advances in construction techniques and materials. It’s true that carbon wheels used to be regarded as too delicate. For sure, I just listened to a podcast (Marginal Gains) where they recapped the history of carbon wheels at Paris Roubaix. There was one year in the late 2000s when Zipp lost a lot of carbon wheels to breakages. This was very much influenced by the narrow tires and high pressures (relative to today) that people were running. Then, one year, Fabian Cancellara won on Zipp 303s, and subsequently everyone adopted them.

If you want a wheelset to potentially pull double duty on road and off road, then you might want to look for something with 23-25mm internal width. Gravel wheels are, I believe, settling on a 25mm width. Some but not all road wheels are going this route. For example, Campagnolo’s Bora WTOs have a 19mm width, and Shimano’s Dura Ace 9270s have a 21mm width. These are better for 25-28mm road tires. Zipp and Enve use 25mm in their latest road wheels, and those are probably best for 28-32mm road tires, as well as being able to accept gravel tires.

I believe that the aerodynamic gains of carbon wheels are muted by gravel tires. For one, the big tire changes the overall shape of the leading and trailing edge of the wheel away from a teardrop shape. Also, tread adds turbulence, which equals drag. This doesn’t mean the gains are zero, it just means that it’s less clearly worth it to buy a carbon wheelset for a gravel bike. There are carbon wheels designed for gravel racing, but they’re much wider, e.g. 3T’s design.

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Carbon gravel are everywhere now,you can upgrade a carbon wheel, 3T Dicut 4540 Elitewheels G45 1300g

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