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Home » Cycling » Bicycle Wheels…  For Speed, they’re just as Important as the Bike. Maybe More.

Bicycle Wheels…  For Speed, they’re just as Important as the Bike. Maybe More.

August 2016
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I’m sure, if you’re really into cycling and don’t have a last name like, say Trump (heh, trigger warning), you’ve looked at wheels and been dumbfounded by how much they can go for.  A good used car’s worth of cash in many cases.

Then you wonder, if you’re like me, what all of the hub-bub is about.  You’ve heard sayings like, “it’s not the bike, it’s the engine” and that seems to make sense, so you roll with that.  There’s a fair chance you’ve even said it yourself…

And that’s because you’ve never ridden on a great pair of wheels, or possibly a great bike.  Had you, you’d have sung a different tune – more to the tune of, “Yes, they (it) make(s) a difference but that difference is nominal”.

Simply put, the difference between a $250 set of wheels and a $500 set is decent  You throw a $2500 set on a bike and you’ll know it.

There’s a trick to the equation though.  It’s not like you’ll instantly be a mile and a half an hour faster.  The difference is more subtle than that – and therein lies the rub.

I took my rain bike the other day and installed the wheels from my good better bike because I was going to ride a century with my friends and I knew it was going to be fairly fast (5h:10m).  The wheels from my Venge are about a pound lighter and I can feel that they simply spin better.  On the other hand, I can still manage 19-1/2 mph with the old wheels…

I simply have to work harder to do it.

It’s the difference between finishing that century utterly smashed and in need of a nap or finishing the ride with a smile on my face and enough left in the tank to really enjoy the ride.  That’s the difference between good wheels and not-so-good.  Are they faster?  Yes, but only in that you won’t have to work as hard to go fast.

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Now, there’s one other aspect to wheels that must be discussed:  The aero wheel.  Here’s how the aero wheels work, technically.  Carbon aero wheels typically run anywhere from $800 to $3,500.  For the most part, one will get what one pays for but there are definitely deals to be had – especially on last year’s equipment.  That said, aero wheels don’t quite work the way most people think they would – you actually have to go fast to get a benefit from them.  Say, for instance, you’re normally riding around at 15-16 mph.  Getting a new set of $3,000 aero wheels won’t magically get you up to 20 mph.  In fact, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t notice much of a difference at all.  On the other hand, if you already ride at 20-23 mph, what you’ll find is that it’s just a little easier to hold your speed when the pace really cranks up.  So you won’t be faster, technically, but you will.  Make sense?

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Now, there’s a down-side to high quality and aero wheels:  If you train on slow, crappy wheels you’ll be stronger for it in the long run.  😉

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1 Comment

  1. Got my first set this year aero carbon wheels this year. Normally only ride them on race day, but if I am lazy I will them on and ride them around to train on. I get about 1.5 mph faster, but in saying that I also have better tires on the aero wheels than the my normal training wheels. Mine are deeper than most (running 81mm on front and back) and let me tell you how sore and tired my upper body is on a day there is a ton of cross wind.

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