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I'm looking at upgrading the wheelset on my entry-level, rim brake road bike. I don't want to break my bank, so I'm looking into budget aluminium rim brake wheelsets.

What features should I prioritize? I am looking wheelsets that cost in the €240-400 range. Some examples are the DT Swiss P 1800 and the Fulcrum Racing 4. Currently, tubeless compatibility is not essential.

Thanks for your help.

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    shopping questions are typically off-topic. If you want to focus on specific performance characteristics, someone might discuss which features to look for, but most likely no particular make and model
    – njzk2
    Jun 7, 2023 at 17:22
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    How much do you weigh? Some of those wheels you've listed have spoke counts that IMO are too low for larger/stronger cyclists and probably won't last too long. 20-spoke rear wheels and 100 kg cyclists who can sprint at 1500+ W are not a good mix. Jun 7, 2023 at 19:55
  • What's the probability that a random person who asks for advice about entry level wheelsets can sprint at 1500+W?
    – ojs
    Jun 7, 2023 at 20:43
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    Seeing as the OP has not acted on the request to rephrase the questions, I've taken a crack at it. You can revert the edit if you feel it does not cover your intent, but bear in mind that the original question is definitely off topic here. Please do read the site's FAQ, as we aren't a typical discussion site.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jun 7, 2023 at 21:02
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    Never mind the exact wattage. The larger point is that Andrew is skeptical that those wheels are suitable for heavier riders. This may be true, or it may not be applicable to the OP.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jun 8, 2023 at 1:51

3 Answers 3

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The wheelsets the initial question identified are all lower-cost aluminum wheels in the 30mm deep range. Moreover, the wheels originally listed are often OEM spec, and people often look to upgrade these. Thus, you might also want to scope out eBay.

I am not sure what the stock wheels on your bike are, but the aluminum wheels described may not provide a big upgrade. You would get a much bigger bang for your buck upgrading your tires, e.g. to the Continental Grand Prix 5000 or another tire in its class. Bicycle Rolling Resistance tests tires for rolling resistance. Be aware that the very fastest tires on this list are time trial tires, and you definitely don't want to ride those.

Then, consider optimizing your tire pressure. Silca provides a tire pressure calculator. Ideally, you want to input the actual width of the tire. The width as mounted on the bike usually is different from the nominal width, e.g. a tire that says it's a 25mm tire will often be 26mm or above when mounted to a modern rim. You can get a pair of calipers (cheap digital ones are readily available), or you can bend a paper clip, conform the ends to the tire's width, then use a ruler on that. Running too high a pressure results in higher rolling resistance, and many riders even today run too high pressure. Other pressure calculators are available. This, obviously, is free.

Apart from that, latex tubes provide significantly better rolling resistance, and are another extremely cost effective upgrade. However, they do require inflation before every ride, and thus require much more attention to detail than normal (albeit you do need to reinflate your tires every few rides anyway, especially if you are optimizing your pressure with a calculator). TPU tubes are considerably more expensive than latex, but they still have lower rolling resistance than standard tubes, and they don't leak air as fast (I think they're on par with butyl in this regard). Or there's ultralight butyl tubes, but these might puncture more easily.

There are other relatively low-cost marginal gains available that I would suggest over upgrading to another aluminum wheelset. Silca produced one such listing recently.

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    I currently ride on Mavic ksyrium equipe, but they are quite old model (2013), so the weight is around 1700g which is more or less on the same level as the ones I'm looking at. Also I already ride on Conti GP 5000 (28mm), but I opted for butyl tubes, because I was thrown off latex due to need of regular attention and TPU were to expensive at the time I was replacing my inner tubes.
    – korxz
    Jun 8, 2023 at 6:42
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Personally, I would consider a rim-brake road bike as an "evolutionary dead-end", so the recommendation would be to not "upgrade" (by upgrade I mean replacing a working component by a better one): the gain will only be marginal, and the money is better kept for a newer bike with modern standards (tru-axles, (hydraulic) disc brakes, wider tires,...) — or other uses. If the wheels are broken, then it's another story, but going to the second-hand market seems more sound to me if the intention is to minimize the cost.

That being said, you mentioned Mavic Ksyrium Equipe and in another question a 10-year old bike equipped with Ultegra, so I would highlight that an 10y old bike equipped in Ultegra is not truly comparable to an current entry-level bike, even if specs are similar in surface (10y is not such a gap). Entry-level bikes are built with lower tolerances. In the case of an older mid-range bike, the best recommendation is to maintain it to keep it running as long as possible: the standards used for the bike have moved to lower product ranges, and it's hard to find new compatible products from similar ranges, and it will only be harder with time.

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    Thanks for your suggestions. It's correct I was thinking of upgrading my bike, my first thought were I want it to be 2x11 and have a some better wheels. But the quote for upgrading groupset was around 500-600eurs and I would rather save it for the future bike. About rim brakes, I don't mind them as much as some people do and because there is a little to no market for 10y old road bike I'm looking in what options to I have to refreshing my current bike along the way of saving up for a new one.
    – korxz
    Jun 8, 2023 at 12:49
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    If you plan on buying a new bike, then the best is to keep the money then, mostly because what you have is good. The reasoning would have been different with a true entry-level one. And I agree, good rim brakes are good, even better than most disc mechanical (if coupled with good components), and make most sense off-road. For road, I would not replace a bike for that reason alone, but if ordering a new one now, I'd take disc.
    – Rеnаud
    Jun 8, 2023 at 20:10
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I'm looking at upgrading the wheelset on my entry-level, rim brake road bike. I don't want to break my bank, so I'm looking into budget aluminium rim brake wheelsets.

If you want good budget wheels, I would actually suggest that you buy the parts (spokes, nipples, rims, hubs) and build the wheels yourself! You obviously need a truing stand too, shopping around you may find a cheap truing stand. My experience is that even with a cheap stand you can build very good quality wheels. It's the skill of the wheelbuilder that creates good wheels, not the price of the truing stand.

What features should I prioritize?

For nipples, prefer brass as the material. I use spherical contact surface nipples (DT Swiss Pro Head), they have a better interface at the rim than conical contact surface nipples.

For spokes, my heavy advice would be DT Swiss Alpine III spokes. They are triple butted. Other manufacturers may have similar triple butted options (prefer brand name manufacturers using high quality stainless steel). The hub end is 2.34mm, meaning that it will barely fit the typical holes on hubs. This means the fit will be very good, you can put a huge amount of tension on the spokes yet it still doesn't deform the hub flange much. The middle is 1.8mm, better than 2.0mm since spokes are least likely to fail in the middle and making the middle section thinner means the spoke will become more elastic, meaning the load is shared over a larger number of spokes. The nipple end is 2.0mm, meaning one of the most likely failure sections is stronger than the middle.

For rims, my checklist would be this:

  • Prefer aluminum as the material (but you already said that, right?) since aluminum brakes the best in rain
  • Obviously you need to select rims that are intended for rim brakes, some disc brake only rims don't have brake tracks
  • If you want black rims, use powder coated ones not anodized ones, powder coated ones are less likely to fail due to fatigue
  • Prefer double walled rims
  • Prefer rims having double eyelets, they are stronger and very unlikely to crack around spoke holes which non double eyelet rims often do should you ride them for too long
  • Pick a width that allows the kinds of tyres you want to use, for me that would be 19mm inner width since they can fit 28mm tires as well as 40mm studded winter tires
  • Prefer rims drilled for Presta valves since the Schrader valve hole is so large it would create a weak section at the rim
  • Pick the amount of spoke holes that's suitable for your use case, for me it's always 36 for 700c wheels and 32 for 26" wheels
  • Prefer hole-type wear indicators since groove-type wear indicators may create a weak stress concentration at the sidewalls
  • Hook-type rims allow the widest selection of high-pressure tires so stick to that
  • Moderate weight rims are the best, too lightweight fails easily and too heavyweight just slows you down

For hubs, my checklist would be this:

  • Prefer aluminum as the shell material
  • Select the axle type (thru-axle, QR) and O.L.D. that your bike uses
  • Cup and cone bearings are easier to service than cartridge bearings
  • For cup and cone rear hubs, select ones that have the right bearing near the axle end, which in practice used to mean Shimano (but it may be the case the Shimano patent has already expired)
  • I would heavily advise selecting hubs that allow mounting brake discs, since even though you currently don't have disc brakes, this means the wheels will later be usable in disc brake bikes too (select between centerlock and 6-bolt, I would prefer centerlock) -- easier to sell the wheels in the future if they are compatible with disc brakes too
  • Forged hubs are stronger than CNC machined, only high-volume manufacturers do forging, low-volume ones do CNC machining
  • Sprocket attachment at the rear should be compatible with Shimano freehub cassette system, threaded attachments are poor. You may want to select one that's compatible with road 11-speed too, it doesn't limit compatibility with road 8-10 speed and MTB 8-11 speed since you can always use a spacer to fit those cassettes
  • Steel axles are stronger than aluminum axles
  • Polished hubs have longer fatigue life than anodized hubs
  • You may want to limit yourself to rear hubs that have freehubs that don't sound like a machine gun, Shimano is always a good choice since their freehubs are very silent
  • Hub dynamo is always a good choice since it allows you battery-free lights that are unlikely to be stolen should you park your bike locked

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