One of the most confusing areas for a cyclist without much experience is which wheel set to choose, of course when you buy a bike you receive 2 wheels, but which wheels are the right wheels for you and more importantly, does it matter! I guess we can break the issue down into 2 main areas, Training wheels and race wheels.
For some, training wheels need to be as light and strong as possible so not to be left at the rear of the pack on the early morning assault and there is also the necessity to have a visual appearance at the coffee shop so your bike attracts some attention. There is a play off between light and strong with wheels, a very light wheel will have less spokes, thinner wall thickness and won’t suit a heavier rider or a very strong rider. Your ride location is also a factor, if your average weekly sessions include many hill or mountain climbs your wheels will fatigue much faster than if you only ride on the flat due to the torque load placed through the wheel with the increase in power/watts applied.
To have someone say to you that the wheels you are about to buy are super light but super-strong is play on words. Common sense tells you that if a low profile aluminium rim weighs basically the same as 5 other brands and 4 of the brands have 20 spokes in the rear but brand x has 28 spokes, you don’t really need to contact a NASA scientist to evaluate which is the strongest but yet every garage seems to have a back wheel that keeps breaking and the 95 kg rider can’t fathom why his ultra lightweight wheel with 20 rear spokes keeps breaking every 2 months.
The ideal equilibrium with training wheels is to clearly evaluate the use of the wheel, size and strength of the rider and typical terrain where they will be used and of course the type of hub will help with weight and speed. Don’t get trapped as we all have done into buying a wheel set that looks fast and furious and has pink and yellow stickers as you may be disappointed and be not popular at home when you tell the wife in 4 months that they didn’t quiet work out!!!
This one can get a little messy, what format are you racing, an Ironman, 70.3, criterium, track, 150 k undulating road race, with high speed 10k descents, time trial? This is truly a specialist field and many different wheel sets are available for all purpose events and conditions, but as with the previous comments on weight and strength this applies here as well, a 95 kg rider on a ultra light weight set of shallow wall carbon wheels with 20 spoke count may well be a little nervous racing down a descent at 70 kph with a few pot holes on the road surface as similarly with a 48kg female racing an ironman or time trial event with a rear disc and a 60mm deep carbon rim on the front and there are predicted cross winds of intensity during the race, this should give rise to concern also. The Hawaiian Ironman banned rear disc wheels many years ago due to the fact that the re-occurrence of riders being blown off the road was becoming a safety issue.
Carbon is a super strong product in one direction however if carbon is tested in other directions the material can be very weak. There are so many combinations of wheels and wheel sets on the market, aluminum, carbon, 3 spoke, 4 spoke, clinchers, tubulars, deep v back/shallow front, rear disc etc, be careful to truly evaluate your race type and conditions, your weight, strength and how the wheels will be transported, there is no use owning a set of ultra light carbon wheels with minimum spoke count and put them in a cardboard box to travel from Sydney to Mexico to arrive and find that they have been stood on by someone at the luggage loading area.
As with training wheels don’t let your emotions take you away from the facts, sure disc wheels look and sound great at 55k per hour but are they right for you. Generally speaking a high performance race wheel will not give an advantage unless moving at high speed and each wheel is different and the manufacturers wind tunnel testing will claim they are bigger and better than the competitor, the bottom line for race wheels, if you can’t consistently travel at high speed for the race you may be wasting your money and better advised spending your hard earned pay on more fitness & strength, after all the human motor pushes the wheels!
Ride safe !