How to choose the right wheels for your road cycling

Your wheels are probably the element of your bike, apart from the frame, that has the biggest say in how it rides. When you consider that the wheels in most cases make up a bigger percentage of a bike’s overall weight than the frame, it’s not surprising.

So, one of the most obvious and effective ways of transforming how your bike rides making it feel lighter, livelier and more responsive is to upgrade the wheels. Unfortunately, it’s not always one of the cheapest ways, so the first thing to consider is whether your bike is worth the outlay. Assuming it is, there are plenty of options open to you.

Materials

When it comes to upgrading your wheels, you want a pair that won't break in the first pothole, aren't going to break the bank but also aren't going to slow you down. Meeting all three of these criteria is tough and how they are made and what they are made from plays a big part in how a set of wheels performs.

All our wheels use rims made from aluminium, which strikes a good balance between strength, durability and weight.

Rim types

The traditional ‘box section’ rim, which is square or rectangular in profile, is strong but also can be made lightweight because compared to the deeper aerodynamic type it uses less material. So although a wheel such as the Triban 100 might not cut through the air as efficiently as one with a deeper rim, it is strong with its double-walled aluminium rim and lighter than it would otherwise be.

The deeper rim of a wheel like the Mavic Cosmic Elite supplies a little bit of extra speed for the same power through the pedals. The 30mm deep rim has a teardrop wing shape, helping the airflow leave it more cleanly – literally what you need if you want your bike riding to really take off – while the B’Twin 700 Aero https://www.decathlon.co.uk/aero-20-24-road-bike-wheel-front-id_8334627.html has a rim profile of 25mm, enough to make a difference and keep you ahead of the pack.

Spokes

Spokes have a crucial role to play in the performance, strength, weight and aerodynamics of your wheels. In basic terms, the more spokes a wheel has, the stronger and more rigid it will be – but the heavier it will be too. For everyday training and riding you might choose a wheel such as the Triban 520 with 28 or 32 round-section spokes in two or three-cross patterns; for performance fewer spokes, flat/bladed and radially laced. While for race-day performance a wheel like the B’Twin 700 Aero front has 20 flat spokes – more aerodynamic than round ones – laced radially rather than crossed for superior wind-cheating.

Look out for

If you’re thinking of getting into road racing or time trialling, you’ll be thinking about saving watts to get the best speed out of your available power – which means a deeper rim. But the dependable box-section rim is great for everything else.

Disc or rim brakes?

Disc-brake and rim-brake wheels are not interchangeable: the type of wheel you choose will depend on the braking system already in place on your bike, and that’s a conversation for another buyer’s guide. What we can say here is that we offer wheels for both types. The Mavic Aksium comes in both rim-brake and disc brake versions, for example.

Wheel size

Our road bike wheels come in two sizes. As with braking type, you’ve got to stick with the size your frame was designed for. 700c is the standard rim size. You’ll also see it also expressed as ‘ETRTO 622’, which refers to the diameter measured between the bottoms of the rim walls of 622mm.

The other, smaller size for road bike wheels is 650c, which are 571mm in diameter and sometimes ‘ETRTO 571’.

Tubeless or clincher?

Clincher rims use inner tubes and tyres whose beads are held in place by a hook shape built into the rim walls. This is the standard type of rim and the one most road cyclists, whether experienced or beginner, are most familiar with. But in the last few years, tubeless tyre technology has been imported from mountain biking and now we’re seeing ‘tubeless ready’ rims and tyres that can be set up without inner tubes using sealant and a separate valve.

It’s still possible to use both tubeless-ready rims and tyres with inner tubes so there are no compatibility issues that way round, but you can’t run standard clincher rims with tubeless tyres.

Look out for

As is often pointed out, cycling is the last type of tyred transport that has yet to go fully tubeless, so it might be worth taking the plunge, getting a tubeless-ready rim such as the Triban Road Wheel 700 Disc and familiarising yourself with the tech, while still being able to use a standard inner tube if you prefer. In a nutshell, the advantages of tubeless tyres are that they can be run at lower pressures without pinch-flatting – useful if you like to head off the tarmac onto the gravel – and you should have fewer punctures to repair if the sealant is doing its job. Tubeless tyres also have lower rolling resistance than clinchers.

Rim width

The current trend is for wider rims that can take wider tyres that roll faster, but if your frame is an older rim-brake type (roughly pre 2016) with close clearances you won’t need wide-tyre capability and will be best off sticking to 25mm tyres, which can be used with all common road rim widths and all but the most aggressive old-school fag-paper-clearance racing frames.

What hub?

If your bike has eight gears or less, you’ll need a rear wheel with a hub that’s threaded for a screw-on freewheel – a cluster of sprockets grouped together in a ‘block’. Nine gears or more and you need a hub with a carrier onto which you slide the individual sprockets and spacers of a cassette – also known as a freehub.

Fixed-gear and single-speed bikes use a narrower hub (for rear dropouts spaced at 120mm compared to the standard road spacing of 130mm). The B’Twin 700 Fixie rear wheel is one of these, and it has a ‘flip-flop’ hub so that you can run a fixed sprocket on one side and a single-speed freewheel on the other (or even two different sized sprockets).

Bearings are either the loose cup-and-cone type, as used by the Triban 100 or the cartridge type of the Triban 520. The more expensive wheels use cartridge bearings, which have the balls enclosed in bearing races. The advantage of the loose type is that they can be greased and adjusted more easily, whereas cartridge bearings have to be replaced as a unit when they wear out.

Have a browse, check out the range and treat yourself to a new set of wheels – like we said, there’s no better upgrade if you want to dramatically improve your riding experience.