Carbon Hoops for Everyday Riding?
Insight by Kurt Schindler
Not so long ago I showed up for a ride with some friends and was asked very seriously something like “I can’t believe you are riding your race wheels on a training ride.” I think it was my last chance to ride my TT bike before an upcoming race, but nonetheless the question of riding deep dish carbon wheels everyday stuck in my mind. I’d already noted that a few of the guys in my local group were riding 45mm and 58mm carbon wheels on a daily basis.
So, just what are the pros and cons when it comes to riding carbon wheels on a daily basis?
First things first, unless your best friend is an executive at Mad Fiber, Zipp, Enve, Mavic, or HED, a set of the latest and greatest carbon wheels will probably set you back a whole lot more than a sweet pair of Velocity, D.T Swiss, or Easton aluminum rims. If you do a bit of shopping, the price for a super nice pair of big name aluminum wheels will set you back $1000-$1200. This year’s carbon wheels from one of the big names in carbon is more like $2500-$2700 and up. That said, I have seen high quality carbon wheel sets on closeout from reputable on-line retailers in the $1000 price range? For that price you will truly have to shop, but there are deals out there. However, the $1000 carbon wheel set is likely two model years old and that aren’t the hottest selling carbon wheels on the market, or they are a small brand of Asian made knock-off’s. Just do your homework and make sure you are confident in what you are buying. Cannon Cyclery has access to tons of wheel brands including Cognation, SRAM, DT Swiss, Fulcrum, and Zipp and also has a wheel rental program so you can try before you buy!
Next up, tubular or clincher? Unless you want to carry a spare tubular and are adept at changing them on the fly, for a daily carbon wheel set I say go clincher. Don’t get me wrong, tubulars are awesome. They are lightweight, give great road feel, and are a lot less resistant to pinch flats as the tube is integrated into the tire design. Pro Cyclists ride them (remember, they also have a team car) and because of pinch flat resistance cylcocross guys swear by them. However, despite their great attributes, for most people tubulars are not practical for everyday road use. Check the Clincher vs. Tubular post for a more detailed discussion.
Okay, so you’ve decided you want to afford carbon wheels for your road bike and you’ve started eyeing all the great carbon clinchers on the market. What about wheel depth and shape? I once read that wheels needed to be at least 34mm deep to have a worthwhile aero benefit. Let’s say that you want wheels somewhere in the 30mm plus range, with a shape that the manufacturer has developed to cheat the proverbial wind. If the wheels will double as race day wheels, go to 40 mm. You’ll get a little extra aero benefit at a minimal weight penalty. There’s one last thing to keep in mind when it comes to wheel depth. In general, if you are going relatively slow (say 10-12 MPH) aerodynamics are not much of a factor. It’s when you speed up that aerodynamics truly come into play. Steve Hed (and I’m sure others) himself is attributed with saying that, only over 14 MPH do you start to reap any benefits from deep dish wheels. So, in other words, if you’re your average speeds tend to be lower, expensive carbon wheels don’t make a whole lot of sense. To back that up, according to an article on livestrong.com, “ Aero wheels give you an advantage only until you hit an incline with a 4 percent grade; at that point lightweight wheels become more efficient than aero wheels.”
What about safety? I’ve never heard anyone say how much better a carbon wheel brakes in adverse weather than aluminum rims. However, along with carbon wheel brake surface improvements, carbon wheel brake pad technology is definitely advancing. The gap may be narrowing, but aluminum wheels still have the advantage when it comes to stopping in the wet. Also, on an extremely blustery day deep dish wheels (just like wide aero tubing) can cause you to get blown all over the road. As many readers already know, being down on your aero bars in a race on a wide tube TT/tri frame and super-deep dish wheels with strong wind gusts hitting you from the side is a very scary experience. If you decide to go carbon for daily use, avoid rides in the rain (most of us do anyway) and don’t get anything over 40 mm or so if you ride year-round, including on windy days. If you do get caught in the rain, just use extra caution as you braking ability will be reduced even further than if you were on an aluminum rim in the wet.
As far as strength and durability are concerned, carbon wheels are absolutely safe and strong. Carbon wheel sets, just like aluminum, will have rider weight limitations. The spoke count is generally the limiting factor here. Just be aware of the weight rating of the wheel set before you buy. Carbon will forgiveness when it comes to bumps, but impacts that will put a flat spot in an aluminum rim could do serious, irreparable damage to a carbon rim. The carbon rim can take a pretty hard blow and go undamaged, but know that if it is damaged you are quite likely looking at rim replacement.
Wow factor. This one is easy, hands down deep dish wheels just look cool.
Bottom line, if carbon wheels are in your budget, unless it’s raining or you tend to ruin a lot of rims hitting potholes, there’s no reason why a good set of light carbon clinchers can’t be ridden on a daily basis.
About the Author
Kurt Schindler is a long time cyclist with a diverse background cycling in the local Atlanta area. With an eclectic collection of rides, Kurt has been in love with cycling since his teen age years and has a true passion for two wheeled joy. You will most likely see him in the shop on Saturdays, working on the rapidly growing consignment equipment program.