A quality set of aero race wheels can make an instant impact on your ride. Jamie Wilkins tests 10 sets to get you beating your previous bike split PB.
Get the right set and you can look to save 2-3% in drag, which equates to 50 seconds over a 40km Olympic-distance bike leg, close to four minutes over an 180km Ironman ride.
But what should you look for to find the right set of deep-section (a 50-80mm rim depth) wheels for triathlon racing? As a general rule, the deeper the wheel, the lower the drag, so the temptation is always to go as deep as possible. Decent aerodynamic changes – blunter nosed rim profiles, bulged centre sections, wider overall width – claim to have made the handling of deep-section wheels safer, too. But is that really true? And does a heavier weight compromise acceleration and climbing more than the aero gains are worth?
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Why are deep-section aero wheels faster?
There was a time when only top rims had advanced aero and braking features that made them worth paying for. Now, even the cheapest wheels on test here are claiming performance parity. But are they really as fast and durable as the more expensive ones? Are fat rims always smoother and friendlier than thin ones? And are some wheels noticeably faster than others on the road?
Read on for our expert reviews of 10 pairs of 45-83mm wheels, from £800 to over three grand, to find out.
The deeper of the two Visions on test is a clean-feeling headwind splitter with reasonable weatherproof handling. The new hubs improve stiffness but braking is sketchy for the first few hours. The latest Vision SL round-nosed rim profiles are bang on trend. Despite only 16 front spokes and 21 rear, the fully hand-laced build on the new stiffer hubs is particularly tight and you’re still in charge when the wind is boisterous. Even at 81mm deep, the new profiling means they’re not too much of a handful, and they felt equally at home tucked on the tri bike or carving corners on the aero road frame. The tight build also helps haul the 1,910g weight into action swiftly. They’re a firm ride, though, so don’t choose them if you’re after forgiveness from an already stiff set-up. The user- friendliness is good, with externally adjustable and hard-wearing spoke nipples, and secure steel spindle skewers. visiontechusa.com
Verdict: reasonable handling, build and price, but the braking is initially sketchy 75%
Buy from www.chainreactioncycles.com
Roval have gone full fat and all-out with high-spec features on their smooth gliding aero all-rounders. The 20mm internal rim width really fattens out the tyres but might cause clearance issues on some frames. The tubeless valves are installed as standard, but the individual spoke hole plugs and rim-well design need a patient set-up. The fatter tyre and rim profile doesn’t feel as quick and clean as skinnier wheels into straight headwinds, but it’s more efficient in crosswinds and the CeramicSpeed bearings add to the easy glide effect.
They handle more like a sub-50mm rim than a 64mm, so you can throw them around on gusty days without worry. Braking with the included pads is excellent, too. Yet the flexy build inevitably means a bouncy response to full gas pedal strokes rather than a speed surge. The low 1,590g weight means adding extra pace is never an issue, even on climbs.
Verdict: bearings and profile create a comfortable glide, and there's excellent braking 82%
Buy from www.evanscycles.com
Vittoria have recently gone graphene crazy, sprinkling the allegedly-magical composite micro dust into everything from tyres to wheels. What it actually does is harder to tell on the road and, while these wheels are smooth, they’re slow in the way they handle: they just don’t feel quick in any given situation.
A low spoke count and mid-depth rims mean a comfortable glide over rougher surfaces and the 16 spoke radial front wheel kills pothole impacts effectively. The squared-off nose also makes them feel segmented in the way they turn and they stand up more in corners than more rounded wheels. Weight is adequate at 1,650g but the slow freehub pick-up means an occasional clunky lag when you’re coming out of corners. Braking is average and harder stopping provokes severe squealing at first. The external nipples make truing easy, but the cassette fit is irritatingly tight.
Verdict: adequate braking and weight, but lacking in speed, acceleration and handling 69%
Buy from www.tredz.co.uk