I’ve been through several wheelsets on my Venge since I bought it at the end of the 2013 season… counting… five different wheelsets:
Each was faster than the last culminating with the Ican 50’s in that last photo. They are spectacular. The 38’s are excellent as well and I now have them on my Trek. The Velocity wheels are my backup set and the original Axis 4.0 wheels are the backup to the backup and I use the rear wheel on the Trek when I ride the trainer (so I don’t mess up my good wheels).
So here’s where I shake out on wheels. The Rolf wheels that came on the Trek broke all the rules. They were heavy, but decently aerodynamic and bomb-proof. Above all else, they were fast. That said, the improvement in going from aluminum alloy wheels to carbon fiber is almost exactly as good as it feels going from an aluminum frame to a carbon fiber frame. The difference in going from a 25-mm rim to a 38 is a surprising jump in the ease with which I can hold high speeds. The improvement going from 38’s to 50’s isn’t as great. You’ll notice a diminishing return here. The 50’s aren’t that much better than the 38’s and the 38’s are vastly better in the wind.
Speaking of the wind, my 50’s have the proper profile to improve crosswind characteristics but they’re still a little twitchy in 15+-mph winds. The 38’s are stable and my alloy 25’s are the cat’s pajamas. That said, the benefits of the 38’s and even the 50’s are worth the upgrade. Ride characteristics are simply too important and improved on carbon wheels.
Having rolled on good and bad wheels, and everything from 23’s to 50’s, a fast hub is a really good thing. The lower-profile alloy rims require a lot more effort to keep them up to speed. Viewed against my 50’s, my old Vuelta/Velocity hybrid wheelset took a surprising amount of additional effort to keep my speed up (all of my wheelsets have bladed spokes, even the Velocity alloy wheels). While I did just fine for years without carbon fiber wheels, they’ve made high speeds a lot more enjoyable and attainable.
As I’ve said countless times on this page when writing about wheels, good wheels won’t make me faster. They make fast easier. If you’re thinking you can drop $3,000 on a sweet set of Enve wheels and that’ll take you from a 17-mph average to 20-mph, you’re going to be deeply disappointed (and out $3,000). On the other hand, if you can already hold 20 on those alloy wheels, you’ll be able to go all day on a $650 set of Ican FL 50’s. Same goes for their $419 38 mm standard wheelset.
After having put the miles in to be able to feel the difference, carbon fiber wheels are a luxury that make cycling more enjoyable… that’s all, though. There’s nothing I can’t do on a decent set of alloy wheels I can on deep dish cabon wheels.