A new set of wheels can do a lot for your bike and biking experience. Photo courtesy of Art's Cyclery
Editor's Note: This article is courtesy of the team at Art's Cyclery. The original post can be found here.
'Tis the season, right?! As much as the holidays are a time to give your loved ones the gifts that they've been eyeing all year long, it's an undeniable fact that the holidays are also a perfect time to treat yourself to those big upgrades that you've put off all year long. You're probably pretty sick of that wheel wobble right about now? There's only so many things you can do to "fix" a wheel once it's been banged around all year long.
Why are wheels the single biggest and best upgrade? Here's the short: A nicer wheelset usually offers significant weight savings, better aerodynamics, stiffness, and smoother spinning bearings. Lighter weight allows for faster acceleration and is easier to maintain speed on. More aerodynamic rim profiles offer more stability at speed and in crosswinds, and also make for less drag, saving you watts in the long run.
As most of you have figured out, a wheel upgrade typically means going from aluminum to carbon. Though this isn't always the case, it is generally accepted that carbon wheels are better than aluminum. This is because carbon is more vertically compliant (read "more forgiving than aluminum"), but when it comes to torsional stiffness (read "climbing, out-of-the-saddle sprint efforts, etc…") carbon delivers big on power transfer and stiffness, ensuring you get the most out of your efforts. Higher end wheelsets also sport higher quality bearings, which will significantly reduce wheel drag and generally offer a smoother feel. With all that in mind, here are three great wheelsets that would benefit anybody still riding "stock" wheels on their road bike.
Zipp 303 NSW Carbon Clinchers
Zipp wheels are often considered the "cream of the crop," and the 303 set is certainly a winner in the "Best Overall" category of carbon road wheels. First and foremost, they are made in Indianapolis, which is a really good thing for us all. Zipp's 303s are the all-rounder for the everyday enthusiasts out there. Most find the 202s to be a bit shallow and more of a climber's wheelset, whereas the 404s are getting into "deep" territory and a bit much for many to handle. That puts the 303s in the pole position for perfectly balancing aerodynamics, weight, and overall usability, especially since they're clinchers and not tubulars. As good as tubulars feel, these won't leave you high and dry when your SAG vehicle (aka "your significant other") isn't around.
Zipp's 303 wheels sport the new silicon carbide Showstopper brake track that essentially negates all previous complaints about carbon clinchers in wet or inclement weather. Zipp's Cognition hubset uses magnets rather than steel springs in the freehub, allowing the mechanism to disengage during coasting, eliminating friction and saving precious watts that can be used for exiting a corner faster. And with its 36 points of engagement, no part of your pedal stroke is wasted.
Reynolds Assault Carbon Tubeless Wheelset
Reynolds wins for "Best Value" in the carbon wheel category, and wins a lot of bonus points for being tubeless ready right out of the box. Coming it at only 1554 grams taped and ready to roll and currently $1400, the dollar-to-gram ratio ($.90/gram) here is exceptional, especially when compared to something like ENVE's 2.2 wheels that weigh 1465 grams and cost $2900 ($1.98/gram).
Reynolds implemented what they call their "CTg braking system," which utilizes a detailed lay up of specific carbon/resin layers for optimal heat dissipation and better braking in all conditions. At 41mm deep, featuring advanced aerodynamic design and the proprietary Swirl Lip Generator, modern width rims, and race-ready weight, the Assaults are capable of pulling double and triple duty.
Mavic Pro Allroad 30 Disc Wheels
Mavic's aluminum Pro Allroad Wheels win the "Most Versatile" award, or the best all-around solution for just about anybody running a disc brake road bike. Whether you're seeking out deep gravel rides, or just enjoy the comfort and security of better braking with discs, the Allroads are a wheelset you can depend on.
These wheels won't break the bank ($1250), especially considering that they come as a total package (taped, tubed, and with tires already installed). If gravel riding is your jam, these wheels can easily be converted tubeless, should you prefer to avoid pinch flats.
The standard criticism that "Mavic wheels are too narrow" can finally be dismissed. They have finally made a wheelset for the modern marketplace, sporting a 20mm internal rim width that perfectly suits 30mm tires. Centerlock rotors, Mavic's tried-and-true aluminum components, and a reasonable 1684 gram count put this wheelset on the top of the "Do It All" or "Year Round" wheelset list.