We all want fast wheels; it’s an established fact of racing bikes of any stripe that those standard 32-spoke box rims just won’t do. We won’t settle for anything less than carbon 20/24 spoke, toroidal shapes with brake tracks that require only those pads that came with your new go-fast hoops. The only problem is one of fortune: there are simply so many brands on the market that attempting to differentiate between them all is a functional impossibility. Do I want dimpled? Smooth? How many spokes? Should they be bladed? Do the hubs really matter? What shape should the rims be? Wide tires? Narrow? It’s enough to drive a cyclist to madness, but fear not. I’m about to make it relatively simple for you.
Within the big names, it simply does not matter which ones you buy. And that’s not a bad thing; it’s actually the best practical upshot of the advances of technology in modern cycling. What do I mean, ‘it doesn’t matter’? ‘Of course it matters!’ I hear you shout. And you’re right… but only at the small, though not insignificant, details. For going fast in a straight line, just about every major manufacturer will do you ample service.
Mavic’s data. Credit: (source link here)
Both shootouts include some serious names: Hed, Enve, Zipp, Mavic – and for the most part? The curves for all of them are not-so-shockingly similar. Out to +/- 10 degrees of yaw on either side, the Mavic test data shows virtually zero differentiation between themselves, Zipp Bontrager, or Hed.
Velo Data. Credit: (source link here)
Unsurprisingly, Velo’s data bears out Mavic’s. Bontrager, Hed, Enve and Rolf are all close enough to be described as virtually identical. So no matter which wheelset you choose, you’re not penalizing yourself in the drag department in any meaningful way over the competitors. I don’t know about you, but that certainly takes the load off of my mind when looking for new wheels.
In all of this, I want to be clear about the takeaway: I am not, repeat not, saying that all wheelsets are the same. Far from it – there are important points to be considered that do not show up in a wind tunnel. Braking performance, propensity towards deflection in the wheel, ease of maintenance, stability in a crosswind, durability, the list goes on. These are not trivial to the buyer and should be carefully considered prior to purchase. What we at AeroGeeks are saying is, however, that you should buy on those points and understand that whatever choice you make; you have just purchased, more or less, the same amount of speed as any of the other guys.
One last note: Some people go through many wheelsets, looking for that last extra gram of drag reduction. If you’re looking for those last 5g, we can’t help you. The cost to speed ratio is exorbitantly high and could probably be found other places for far cheaper (such as, say, your bike position).
The playing field is level, now. And it couldn’t be a better time to be in the market. Go find your wheels and start setting new personal records.