When you talk to a friend who’s a cyclist or a triathlete, you quickly realize every single one of them are already thinking of their next bike/component upgrade. Truth is, when you buy a high-end frame, you want a matching high-end wheelset. And when that coffee shop conversation turns to upgrades, a lot of riders think of wheels. It is also fairly common to see professional athletes using different sets of wheels for training and racing. So the question is: should you own two sets of wheelsets – one for training, one for racing?
First we need to look at what’s out there. We can clearly put wheelsets in two main ‘categories’: those built with alloy rims, and the ones built with carbon rims. Usually the first are used for training and the latter ones for racing.
According to the current hype, the value of a carbon wheelset lies on its weight and aerodynamics. Weight is important on any moving object due to, well, physics, and training with a heavier wheelset may benefit your performance when you switch to a lighter set on race day. The weight savings on a carbon wheelset is well known and readily demonstrated. You carry less weight, you move faster and you save power, it’s that simple. Even the carbon wheelsets that feature a deeper rim are now bellow 1500g for the set, meaning the savings can go up to 500gr per set, and that’s a lot of weight.
Aerodynamics is also a big factor on how a wheel performs and how it “cuts” through the wind. Carbon can be molded and companies such as Vision have developed rim wind-cutting profiles to reduce drag. All this was obviously tested and improved in wind tunnels. While aerodynamics is always important on race day to save you power, if you train with a less efficient wheelset, you will likely feel more of the benefits when switching to carbon wheels. Carbon wheelsets also have an impressive stiffness to weight ratio, the same way carbon framesets are very stiff and have taken over the market.
The easy conclusion is that carbon wheelsets offer an enormous value when performance is the primary consideration due to its low weight, superior aerodynamics and stiffness to weight, easily outperforming alloy wheelsets.
Image courtesy of TalbotCox
Going back to the initial question: why not always use the carbon wheelset?
There are a few drawbacks of carbon wheelsets. First, obviously, the price. Alloy wheelsets are fairly less expensive so if you are using your bike on your daily commute, you may not need a light or aerodynamic wheel and just go with a cheap wheelset. Then the fact that most carbon rims have a high profile which, in case of a flat, require your inner MacGyver to come out and use a valve extension if you don’t have a high-valve tube to replace with. The taller rims of carbon wheelsets offer aerodynamic advantage in favorable conditions, but they will rob a rider of their confidence and handling on crosswinds which may be a factor for the less experienced riders. Then you have the price of servicing carbon vs allow wheelsets – usually the carbon wheelset is a more tricky wheel to service and may require more expensive parts to repair in case of damage. If you are putting a lot of miles on them, you will likely have some parts eventually needing a doctor visit or a tune-up, even on the most expensive, high-end wheelsets.
Vision Metron 40 Carbon (L) and Vision Team 25 Alloy (R)
Check out our full range of Vision Wheels HERE