Want to go faster on the bike? Then some carbon wheels with deeper rims to slice through wind are one of the most proven investments you can make.
While your legs are the most important piece of the puzzle in the quest for speed, when we’re talking about time you can save using deep rims compared to standard training wheels over an hour, we’re often dealing in minutes rather than seconds. And, if you’re competing in Ironman, you can multiply that a few times over.
Modern carbon race wheels are relatively more affordable and better quality than ever, with numerous brands now offering imports designed to their own specifications. These are considerably cheaper than rims fully designed and built in Europe or the USA, and the quality is often close to wheels you’ll see from big names such as Enve, Mavic and Zipp.
With the shift towards disc brakes and wider tyres, many brands now offer rims that are wider internally with options to run standard clinchers with inner tubes, or tubeless tyres with sealant to bolster puncture protection.
There are three sets of rim brake wheels and three for disc brakes in this test, in varying rim depths. On windy days,
very deep wheels can make things difficult to control.
It’s a case of purchasing based on your preferred race distances and locations, and if you have even more budget then that could mean investing in different depth wheels for varying conditions.
This new full carbon wheelset was subjected to countless hours of R&D, starting with Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) analysis to design a disc brake, tubeless-ready wheel optimised for 28mm tyres and refined in the wind tunnel. Parcours claim it’s faster than their Passista wheelset even with 25mm tyres, and can save up to 19 watts compared to a baseline shallow wheelset.
The 49mm front/54mm rear depth was no problem in crosswinds, and they roll incredibly smoothly with a pleasant hum from the rear hub. Bladed spokes further improve aerodynamics and, although fairly light at 1,520g, they felt tough enough to take on battered British roads. We found the rim bed was stubborn with some tyres when it came to popping the bead off the edge of the rim, so try some tyre combinations to ensure you can replace rapidly should you puncture in a race.
Verdict: The long development period has produced great performing wheels at a decent price 91%
Buy from www.parcours.cc
Cardiff-based triathletes CES Sport are new to us here and their aim is to bring aero gains to the masses with their basement prices. And this is just about the most affordable deep dish set you’ll find without buying direct from the Far East. The 24 rear and 20 front aero spokes laced in a radial pattern provide a decent amount of strength, and crosswind battles are about what we’d expect from wheels with an 88mm depth, while feeling suitably fast on the flats with low winds. The basalt-infused brake track performed well in the wet without squealing or feeling too grabby, and the sounds produced by the freehub are just the right amount of intimidating. They don’t feel quite so alive as the more luxurious wheelsets out there and, at 1,825g a pair, aren’t the lightest even for deep rims, but at this price we can accept a couple of compromises.
Verdict: A little less refined than some of the competition, but a bargain deep-rim buy 79%
Buy from www.ces-sport.co.uk
These special edition disc brake wheels in a 50mm depth front and rear have graphene infused to bring the weight down further and increase strength, while a wide 21mm internal rim measurement means you can fit wider tyres for increased comfort. They weigh in at 1,450g – seriously impressive for disc brake wheels – although we noticed they didn’t feel quite so tough on rough road surfaces and in inclement weather compared to more robust pairs on test, despite the graphene infusion. And yet, for race day, they’ll make a fast addition to your road or tri bike with no weight penalty. They still cost much more than similar wheelsets from Parcours and Scribe with no discernibly better performance evident. Yet they’re still at the lower end of the price scale for what you get compared to Zipp et al, which is a largely reliable, swift wheelset with interesting tech innovations.
Verdict: Impressive performance combined with cutting-edge technology 84%
buy from www.badgercycles.co.uk
Vision’s USA-designed Metron carbon rims weigh in at 1,580g for the pair, not the lightest for a rim brake set of wheels but not the worst considering their 55mm depth. They’ll suit fans of a quieter hub as the sound is more discreet from the back when you’re freewheeling, with six sealed cartridge bearings inside the hubs that engage quickly and provide a fast and responsive ride. The micro-dot brake surface is predictable and reliable even in the wet on British winter roads, and in high winds we didn’t feel any noticeable instability. At more than double the cost of some of the wheelsets in this test, though, they lose marks for comparitive value as we didn’t gauge clear extra performance benefits on the roads (admittedly we haven’t tested in a wind tunnel), but the graphics look great, the rims roll well and come ready to set up tubeless if you prefer that option.
Verdict: Solid and stylish performers, but pricier than most of the competition on test here 77%
Buy from www.merlincycles.com
New UK brand Scribe offer you more than a nondescript imported wheelset with a badge on for your £870, with the 65mm rear coming with their exclusive Five4 hubs with 6.6 degrees of engagement for a responsive ride. The freehub is extremely screechy and won’t be for everyone, but if you want to announce your arrival when you pass a rival triathlete then these are the wheels to do that with. This is another wheelset that uses the Sapim CX-Ray aero spokes, with 21 at the front and 24 at the rear in a radial pattern, and, at 1,498g, the weight is impressively low. But they also feel tough and more than capable of taking on British roads year-round. A 19mm internal width will easily accommodate 28mm tyres, and they arrive taped up with tubeless-ready valves to make the 50/65s a truly modern and very affordable carbon race wheelset.
Verdict: Fast and stable wheels that come at a very affordable price; although Incredibly loud 85%
Buy from scribecycling.co.uk/
The 90mm rear and 60mm front version of Revolver’s 1,780g Kronostock 6/9 wheels are ideal for your tri-specific bike, with the price brought down lower for 2020 to make them a real bargain. Revolver’s new 321 hubs are specifically designed for the 2:1 spoke ratio (two spokes on the driveside for each one on the non-driveside), which they say results in less flex and equal tensioning. In combination with the aerodynamic spokes, we found the Kronostoks incredibly stable in crosswinds considering their depth, and they have a vibrant ride feel with a pleasant hum from the freehub when you’re off the pedals. The unusual skewers have very minimal levers and it took us a couple of tries to be confident we’d secured them properly, but this is a small gripe over what’s a watt-saving bargain of a wheelset.
Verdict: Outstanding value, stable in winds and hard to fault for triathlon race day 87%
Buy from www.revolverwheels.co.uk
Salzburg-based Airstreeem make handbuilt wheels for tri and road racing, and the Carbon Aero 50 SL is a truly modern disc brake wheelset in a 50mm depth. The latest version has a revised set of aluminium hubs, which Airstreeem say are lighter and stiffer, and, in combination with modifications to the rim, the weight is an impressive 1,460g a pair. You also have the option to fit ceramic bearings for an extra fee if you want added efficiency savings, and they’re tubeless-ready or you can run as standard clinchers with inner tubes.
On the road, the Aero 50s are fast, smooth and offer superior acceleration. Crosswind stability is excellent, and they also feel tough even though the weight is relatively low for wheels with a 50mm rim depth. Integrated spoke nipples make tinkering more difficult, but Airstreeem say this provides a more efficient power transfer (based off our test rides, we wouldn’t disagree). Overall, these aero wheels are showstoppers, available with numerous decal colourways to match your bike, and will make a speedy addition to any tri or road machine for a price that isn’t too steep for what you’re getting. There’s also a five-year warranty and crash- replacement promise.
Verdict: Fast-rolling, well-crafted rims that are ideal for tri racing 87%
Buy from www.airstreeem.com
Mavic’s top-end wheels aren’t cheap, but they’re trusted by countless pro triathletes to offer rims that are fast and stable with low rolling resistance. The Comete Pro Carbon SL UST Disc from the French brand are tubeless-ready, weigh 1,515g a pair and come supplied with Mavic’s own Yksion Pro UST tyres, tubeless sealant, rim tape and valves (you can also run them as clinchers with tubes).
The hubs are convertible to QR with the use of supplied adapters, useful if you want to swap them between disc and rim brake bikes. Before we hit the road we faced a problem that, after feedback from other athletes, we’re not alone in facing: the tyres are an absolute faff to fit. We soon gave up with Mavic’s own tyres and used some from another brand.
On the road, the wheels rolled reliably and smoothly as we’d expect from Mavic. The 45mm depth had no problems in crosswinds, and the sound from the hub lets cyclists know you’re coming without being too noisy. The fitting issues are the last thing you want to hear if you’re an athlete running tubeless who’s flatted and needs to add a tube in to complete the bike. For that reason, they miss out on the victory in this head-to-head. JS mavic.com
Verdict: Lovely and smooth wheels, but a considerable pain to mount tyres onto 76%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk