No. 1 upgrade for just about any bike? A set of shiny new wheels. Lighter, faster and stronger are all potential gains when you swap out your old hoops. And what better time to do so than around the holidays. So whether you’re buying for a significant other — or just sprucing up your own rig, here are 11 wheels to suit just about every type of cyclist.
Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Disc (Road, Gravel, Cyclocross)
Zipp has taken its highly regarded Firecrest technology and given it a road disc spin. These lightweight climbing friendly hoops cut some of the weight penalty sting out making the switch from cantilever to disc brakes on your roads bike, while maintaining the aerodynamic efficiency pioneered in the original 202s, along with solid impact resistance and durability. They’re geared toward riding tarmac or gravel, but we’ve even lined up at a couple cyclocross races with these 32mm deep hoops underneath us. The 88/188 hubset has a 6-bolt disc brake mounting flange, and the rear hub is built with Zipp’s virtual 3X lacing pattern using Sapim CX-Ray spokes. Total weight is 1530 grams for the set and they come with white or matte black lettering. Of course all this technology and performance doesn’t come cheap. MSRP is $1,272 for the front wheel, and $1,553 for the rear.
Kappius KR-RC and KR-RT Carbon Wheels (Disc Road)
Launched earlier this year at Interbike, Colorado’s Kappius Components is now offering road disc-compatible clincher and tubular wheels. These are great do-it-all hoops with 35mm rim depth and 25mm outer diameter/18mm inner diameter, which interfaces well with wider tires — road or cyclocross. Offset spoke beds create more even tension and strength, while the external nipples are easier to service. They also come with Kappius’ KH-1.5 hub with 240 points of engagement, and the they are tubeless compatible thanks in part to a shallow and wide center channel, and recessed bead channel that makes hand-pump inflation easier and reduces the chances of burping when running low pressure. Claimed weights are 1500 grams for clinchers, 1400 grams for tubulars. MSRP: $2,000
Rolf Prima Ares6 ES and Ares4 ES Carbon Clinchers (Road)
If you’re budget isn’t unlimited, but you’re still looking for a set of well made (and American made!) road wheels, check out Oregon-based wheel maker Rolf Prima’s Ares ES hoops. They use the same rims as the more pricey standard Ares line, but swap in alloy cassette bodies to bring price down by $550 to $1849 for the set. Features include paired spokes for better trueness at a lighter weight, and Rolf’s Delta Rim technology, where increased width and sidewall shaping are claimed to improve aerodynamics and stability. Rim depths range from 42mm to 60mm.
American Classic Argent Tubeless Disc (Road, Gravel, Cyclocross)
Whether you’re a purebred roadie, cyclocross fanatic, or like to ride a little tarmac and dirt, American Classic’s Argent Tubeless Disc will get you where you want to go. Built around a wide aerodynamic rim that’s 30mm deep, these American Classic hoops are a snap to set up tubeless without fear of burping, even when run at the lower pressures required for cyclocross racing. We tested a pair during the just completed Colorado CX campaign and regular ran them in the 28psi-30psi range without issue thanks in part to bead barbs on the rim that hook to the tire bead to secure them in place without burping. Weight is also impressive, with rims coming in at 390 grams, and a fully built wheelset weighing 1531 grams. Perhaps most impressive, though, is the price. In this day when wheelsets regularly push well beyond $2000, you can get a pair of these high performing hoops for $1500.
Shimano Ultegra 6800 Wheels (Road)
While not the fanciest wheels on the market by any stretch, Shimano’s Ultegra 6800s exude the qualities we’ve come to expect for the Japanese component making giant: they’re reliable and durable. Asymmetric rims are tubeless-ready, and Shimano’s quick release skewers are buttery smooth and Fort Knox secure. Hubs feature a cone adjustment system designed to diffuse quick release tension, reducing the load on the bearings to enable smoother spinning and increased durability. Claimed weight is 1640 grams for the set. Spoke counts are 20 straight pull in the rear, 16 up front. MSRP: $750
SRAM Roam 60 Wheels (XC, Trail, All Mountain MTB)
Billed as a one wheel solution for riders seeking lithe climbing performance and bombs-away durability, SRAM’s Roam 60 hoops will bring a holiday smile to almost any mountain biker. Carbon fiber is selectively woven into high stress points to increase rim strength without adding bulk. The hub shell takes straight pull spoke slots and stacks them two-by-two, which is designed to help distribute force evenly. The resulting wheel dish is wider, increasing lateral stiffness while retaining some frontal compliance. The SRAM Raom 60 wheels are available in 26, 27.5 or 29 inches, rim widths are 21mm inside, 28mm outside, and are UST compatible. Claimed weights are 1515 grams (26in), 1570 grams (27.5in), and 1650 grams (29in). MSRP: $2200
Specialized Roval Rapide CLX 40 Disc Tubular SCS (Disc Road and Cyclocross)
Our go-to tubular carbon race wheels this cyclocross season, Specialized’s Roval Rapide CLX 40 Disc Tubular SCS are designed specifically for disc-equipped road and CX bikes. The SCS rear hub width allows for a proper chainline on short chainstay race oriented bikes, while the wide external rim is stiff and aerodynamic, and provides plenty of surface area for gluing on tubular tires. Rim depth is 40mm, width is 23mm, and spoke counts are 24 front, 24 rear built around Specialized Roval hubs with CeramicSpeed bearings, a carbon/alloy shell, and DT Swiss 240 internals. And of course they’re light, coming in at a pack leading 1,290 grams. MSRP: $2200
Mavic Crossmax Enduro Wheel-Tire System (Enduro MTB)
If enduro racing is your game, it’s hard to exceed the performance of the Mavic Crossmax Enduro wheel-tire system, which melds a wide front tire with a narrower rear. The wider front rim and toothier tire (21mm rim, 2.4” tire) improves traction and control in gnarly terrain, while a slightly narrower rim and lower profile rear tire (19mm, 2.3”) help maintain momentum in the pedaly sections. Both Mavic wheels employ four-pawl hubs, and are super stiff and reasonably light. We also personally love the yellow, which jazzes up any bike, and the fact that they come with hardware to fit every axle standard. The only thing missing is a 29er option. These are 26 and 27.5 only. Claimed weight 1660 grams for 26-inch; 1710 grams for 27.5. MSRP: $1,000
Hed Ardennes+ Disc (Road, Gravel, Cyclocross)
Cycling lost one of its great technology pioneers with the recent death of Steve Hed. But his greatness lives on in products such as the Hed Ardennes+ Disc tubeless ready wheels. These lightweight alloy rims measure 25mm wide, which help improve cornering grip and rolling speed whether you’re zipping across pavement or rambling around a cyclocross circuit. The wider rim also increases the amount of air volume which in turn allows the tire to be run at lower pressure. We used these wheels are several cyclocross races this season, comfortably running pressures in the 28psi-30psi range. And unlike narrow rims, the wide platform supports the tire sidewall so that there is no tire flop. Compatible with 10 or 11-speed Shimano, SRAM and Campy components. They also get all of the details that you’d expect from a top flight wheel, such as Sapim bladed spokes, titanium skewers, and a grease port at the rear hub. MSRP: $1350
Bontrager Rhythm Elite TLR 29er (Trail and All Mountain MTB)
For the enduro racer who prefers big wheeled bikes, the Bontrager Rhythm Elite TLR 29er is a solid option. Features include a fast engaging hub design, reinforced spoke nodes, stacked lacing for increased stiffness, and tubeless compatibility. But it’s the oversized hub shell that really stands out. The Rapid Drive freehub uses a 54-tooth ratchet ring and three pawls which add up to 6.67 degrees of engagement, plenty quick when you’re trying to maintain momentum on variable terrain. Bontrager has also eliminated one bearing cartridge (from four to three) to save a little weight. The outer pair support the beefy alloy axle, while the middle one connects body and shell. It all adds up to a one seriously stiff, race-ready package. MSRP: $1000
American Classic Wide Lightning Tubeless Disc (XC MTB)
These cross-country race ready wheels measure 32mm across, meaning you can run a smaller, lighter tire, and still maintain traction and control because the wider rim spreads the tire so it’s not floating around. Bead barb hooks on the rim keep the tire bead secure, so you can run low pressure without fear of burping, and weights are competitive with a set of 27.5s weighing 1512 grams, and the 29ers coming in at 1569. Compatible with Shimano 10/11 or SRAM XD systems, all wheels are pre-taped with American Classic tubeless tape and come with tubeless valves installed. MSRP is a very reasonable $899.