A Beginners Guide to Understanding Road Bike Wheelsets

A Beginners Guide to Understanding Road Bike Wheelsets Feature Image

What are Road Bike Wheels?

Road bike wheels are an essential component of a road bike that can greatly impact the overall performance and ride quality. Made up of a rim, spokes, and a hub, these wheels come in various sizes and materials to cater to different riding styles and preferences. Understanding the different aspects of road bike wheels, such as rim depth, tyre width, and wheel material, can help cyclists make informed decisions when choosing the right wheelset for their needs.

In this article, we will explore the key features of road bike wheels and how they can affect factors such as comfort, aerodynamics, and responsiveness on different road surfaces. Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a beginner exploring the world of road biking, understanding road bike wheels is crucial for achieving the optimal ride experience.

Wheel types explained

When it comes to understanding road bike wheelsets, it is important to consider various factors such as tyre width, rim depth, materials used, and braking system. Different wheel types offer specific advantages and are designed to cater to different riding styles and terrains. Whether you’re looking for a smoother ride on rough roads, improved aerodynamic performance, or lightweight wheels for speed, understanding the different types of road bike wheels will help you make an informed decision when it comes to purchasing the right pair for your bike. By understanding the different types of road bike wheels and considering your riding style and terrain, you can choose the wheelset that best suits your needs and preferences. Consult your local bike shop or do some research to explore the various wheel manufacturers and options available in the market today.

Road Bike Wheelsets

  1. Clincher Wheels: Clincher wheels are the most common type of road bike wheels. They feature a tyre with a bead that hooks onto the rim, held in place by tyre pressure. They are versatile and offer ease of use as they can be easily replaced or repaired. With the availability of wider tyres, clincher wheels provide a more comfortable ride, better traction, and improved stability, especially on rough roads.
  2. Tubular Wheels: Tubular wheels feature tyres that are stitched around the inner tube and then glued onto the rim. They offer a smoother ride quality due to the ability to run lower tyre pressures, making them great for racing. Tubular wheels are known for their lightweight construction, responsive handling, and improved puncture resistance. However, they require more maintenance and are more challenging to repair.
  3. Carbon Wheels: Carbon road bike wheels have gained popularity among cyclists due to their lightweight construction and aerodynamic advantages. They are stiffer, providing better power transfer and responsiveness. Carbon wheels often feature deeper rims, which offer increased aerodynamic performance by reducing drag. However, they tend to be more expensive than aluminum wheels and require careful handling to avoid damage.
  4. Tubeless Wheels: Tubeless wheels have become increasingly popular in recent years. They eliminate the need for inner tubes by utilizing an airtight seal between the tyre and rim. Tubeless wheels offer improved puncture resistance and allow for lower tyre pressures, enhancing comfort and traction. They also reduce the risk of pinch flats. However, they may require sealant and are typically heavier than clincher or tubular wheels.

Mid section wheels

Mid section wheels, also known as mid-depth wheels, offer a perfect balance between lightweight design and aerodynamic advantages. These wheels are a popular choice among road cyclists for their versatility and all-round performance.

One of the key characteristics of mid section wheels is their lightweight rim construction. This makes them ideal for climbing, allowing riders to tackle steep ascents more efficiently. The reduced weight translates to less energy expenditure, enabling cyclists to conserve energy on challenging climbs.

Additionally, mid section wheels provide considerable aerodynamic gains compared to shallower rims. The depth of these wheels optimises aerodynamic performance, reducing drag and improving overall speed. This makes them suitable for flat roads and time trials, where speed is of utmost importance.

The all-round use of mid section wheels makes them a versatile choice for road cyclists. They strike a balance between climbing capabilities and speed, allowing riders to excel in various terrains and riding conditions. Whether you’re tackling hilly routes or competing in flat races, mid section wheels offer the best of both worlds.

Road wheel braking surfaces

When it comes to road bike wheels, there are two main types of braking surfaces available: aluminium and carbon. Each type has its advantages and suitability for different situations.

Aluminium braking surfaces are the most common choice for road bike wheels. They offer smoother and more consistent braking, providing riders with a reliable stopping power. Aluminium rims also tend to be less affected by heat buildup during braking, ensuring consistent performance even on long descents. These braking surfaces are well-suited for riders who prioritise smooth and reliable braking.

Carbon braking surfaces, on the other hand, are typically found on higher-end road bike wheels. While they may not offer the same level of smoothness as aluminium, they can still provide excellent braking performance when paired with the right brake pads. Carbon rims are known for their lightweight construction, making them ideal for cyclists looking to shed some grams. However, it’s important to note that not all carbon rims are compatible with rim brakes, so be sure to check the specifications before making a purchase.

It’s worth mentioning that it is quite rare to find road bike rims that have both a brake track for rim brakes and disc-compatible hubs. Typically, manufacturers design wheels specifically for either rim brake or disc brake use. So, if you’re looking to switch between the two braking systems, it’s crucial to ensure compatibility between your wheelset and the type of brakes you plan to use.


When it comes to road bike wheelsets, the choice of tyres is a crucial factor that can greatly affect the ride quality and overall performance of your bike. One key consideration is the width of the tyres. Wider tyres offer a more comfortable ride by providing increased traction, grip, and stability. They also have the advantage of being able to run at lower tyre pressures, which can further enhance comfort on rough roads.

Additionally, wider tyres can potentially improve aerodynamic performance as they create a smoother transition between the tyre and the rim. However, it’s important to ensure that your wheelset can accommodate the wider tyres you desire. Whether you prefer clincher tyres, tubular tyres, or tubeless setups, the choice of tyre can greatly impact your riding experience.

Overall, selecting the right tyres that align with your riding style and the conditions you encounter will contribute to a smoother and more enjoyable ride.

Wider Tyres for Comfort and Grip

Wider tyres for road bike wheels offer several benefits, including improved comfort and grip. By increasing the tyre width, riders can enjoy a more cushioned and forgiving ride. The larger air volume in the tyres helps to absorb shocks from uneven road surfaces, resulting in a smoother cycling experience.

In addition to comfort, wider tyres also provide increased grip on the road. The larger contact patch created by wider tyres allows for greater traction, especially during cornering. This improved grip is particularly advantageous in wet conditions, where maintaining control and stability can be challenging.

One of the key advantages of wider tyres is the ability to run lower tyre pressures. Lower tyre pressures enhance the tyre’s ability to conform to the road surface, providing an even smoother ride. This is especially beneficial when encountering rough roads or gravel surfaces, as the lower pressures help to absorb and dampen vibrations.

To fully optimise the benefits of wider tyres, it is important to match the tyre width to the rim width. This pairing ensures optimal performance, maintaining the shape and integrity of the tyre for improved cornering and overall handling.

Common Tyre Sizes and Pressures

Road bikes typically come equipped with tyres of various sizes, each offering different benefits and performance characteristics. Here are some common tyre sizes used in road biking:

  • 700c: This is the most common wheel size for road bikes. The recommended tyre pressures for 700c tyres range from 80-130 PSI (pounds per square inch), depending on factors such as rider weight, road conditions, and personal preference.
  • 650b: Also known as 27.5 inches, this size is becoming more popular in road cycling, especially for gravel bikes and endurance-oriented road bikes. Recommended tyre pressures for 650b tyres usually range from 60-100 PSI.
  • 26-inch: Although less common in modern road bikes, some older models still use this wheel size. Recommended tyre pressures for 26-inch tyres typically range from 30-50 PSI.

When it comes to tyre types, road bikes primarily use clincher tyres, which feature a bead that hooks onto the rim of the wheel. Clincher tyres are easy to install, repair, and replace. They also allow for tubeless setups, where a liquid sealant is used to prevent punctures.

Another option is tubular tyres. These tyres are glued or taped directly onto special tubular rims. They are known for their low rolling resistance and supple ride quality, but are less convenient to repair or replace.

Finally, tubeless tyres have gained popularity in recent years. These tyres do not require an inner tube, which helps prevent pinch flats and allows for lower tyre pressures. Tubeless tyres also provide improved grip and a smoother ride.

Ultimately, the choice of tyre size and type should be based on personal preference, riding style, and the specific demands of your road biking activities. Consult with your local bike shop or a knowledgeable professional to determine the best tyre options for your road bike.


Rims play a crucial role in the performance and ride quality of road bike wheelsets. They not only support the tyres but also contribute to the overall strength, weight, and aerodynamic performance of the bike. When it comes to choosing the right rim for your road bike, there are several factors to consider, such as rim depth, material, and brake compatibility.

Deeper rims offer better aerodynamic gains but can be more difficult to handle in windy conditions. Carbon rims are known for their lightweight and stiffness, while aluminum rims provide a good balance between weight and affordability. Additionally, rim brake wheels are designed to work with traditional rim brakes, while disc brake wheels are specifically designed for bikes equipped with disc brakes.

Ultimately, the choice of rim will depend on your riding style, terrain preferences, and budget. Consulting with experts at bike shops or researching different wheel manufacturers can help you find the perfect rim for your road bike.

Deep Section Rims for Aerodynamic Efficiency

Deep section rims are a popular choice among road cyclists looking to optimise their aerodynamic performance. These rims are characterised by their deeper profile, often ranging from 40mm to 80mm in depth. The main advantage of deep section rims is their ability to reduce wind resistance during straight-line riding.

The deeper profile of these rims helps to streamline airflow around the wheel, allowing cyclists to maintain higher speeds with less effort. This can be particularly advantageous on flat terrain or during long descents, where aerodynamic efficiency can make a noticeable difference in overall speed and performance.

However, deep section rims do come with some trade-offs. Due to their increased depth, these rims can be more susceptible to buffeting in crosswinds. This can make the bike less stable and potentially affect control, especially for lighter riders or in gusty conditions.

Common rim depths for road bike wheelsets range from 40mm to 80mm, with variations in between. Similarly, common rim widths can range from 19mm to 28mm or even wider, depending on the desired tyre width and ride characteristics.

When considering deep section rims, it’s important to consider your riding style and the conditions you typically encounter. While these rims can provide a significant aerodynamic advantage, their impact on overall ride quality and stability should also be taken into account.

Common Rim Depths and Widths

Common rim depths for road bike wheelsets range from 40mm to 80mm, with variations in between. Carbon rims, specifically, typically have deeper profiles to enhance aerodynamics. For example, you can find carbon rims with depths ranging from 50mm to 80mm. Some popular options include the Zipp 404 (58mm), ENVE SES 4.5 (48mm), and Reynolds Assault SLG (41mm).

Deeper rims improve aerodynamics by generating more side force. This helps to counteract the force of drag and allows cyclists to maintain higher speeds with less effort. The deeper profile helps streamline airflow around the wheel, reducing turbulence and increasing overall efficiency. However, it’s important to note that these rims can be more susceptible to crosswinds, potentially affecting control and stability, especially for lighter riders or in gusty conditions.

Finding the balance between rim depth and width is crucial for optimal performance. While deeper rims offer aerodynamic advantages, wider rims can also improve overall performance. Wider rims provide a better tyre profile, allowing for wider tyres to be used. This offers benefits such as improved aerodynamics, lower rolling resistance, and increased comfort. Common rim widths can range from 19mm to 28mm or wider, depending on the desired tyre width and ride characteristics.

Bead Seat Diameter (BSD) vs. ETRTO Size Designation

When it comes to road bike wheelsets, understanding the Bead Seat Diameter (BSD) and ETRTO size Designation is important for selecting the right tyre and rim size.

The Bead Seat Diameter refers to the diameter of the rim where the tyre bead seats. It is the key measurement for determining compatibility between the tyre and the rim. BSD is measured in millimeters and is specific to each rim size.

The ETRTO size Designation, on the other hand, is a standardised system developed by the European tyre and Rim Technical Organisation (ETRTO). It provides a universal code for tyre and rim combinations, ensuring compatibility across different manufacturers and models. The ETRTO code consists of a three-digit number that represents the tyre width in millimeters, followed by a hyphen and a two-digit number indicating the BSD.

The ISO 5775 standard adopted the ETRTO system, making it globally recognised and widely used in the bicycle industry. This standardisation simplifies the process of selecting the right tyre and rim size, as cyclists can easily match the ETRTO size Designation on the tyre with the corresponding BSD on the rim.

Choosing the Right Rim for your Weight and Riding Style

Choosing the right rim for your weight and riding style is crucial for optimizing your road bike performance. Here are some factors to consider:

  1. Rim Height: The height of the rim plays a significant role in aerodynamics. Generally, a higher rim provides better aerodynamic performance, reducing drag and improving speed. However, taller rims tend to be heavier and more wind-sensitive, which can affect stability in crosswinds.
  2. Weight: Consider your body weight and how it interacts with the rim. Heavier riders typically require sturdier rims with higher spoke counts to handle the increased load. Lighter riders can opt for lighter rims with fewer spokes for improved responsiveness and acceleration.
  3. Riding Style: Your riding style is another important consideration. If you prefer climbing, lighter rims with lower profiles are suitable as they reduce overall weight and enhance maneuverability. For sprinting and flat terrain, deeper rims offer better aerodynamics and stability at higher speeds.

To determine the most suitable type of carbon wheelset, ask yourself:

  • Am I a climber or a sprinter?
  • How often do I ride in windy conditions?
  • What is my body weight?
  • How important is overall weight reduction vs. aerodynamic gains?

Finding the right rim involves striking a balance between rim height, weight, and aerodynamics. By considering your weight and riding style, you can make an informed decision that enhances your cycling performance.


Hubs are one of the key components of road bike wheelsets. They play a crucial role in connecting the wheel rim to the bike frame or fork, while also assisting in the smooth rotation of the wheels. Understanding the different parts and functions of hubs is essential for cyclists looking to optimise their riding experience.

The hubs consist of several important elements, including the axle, bearings, spokes, and the freehub in the case of the rear hub. The axle is the central component that passes through the hub and connects it to the bike frame or fork. It provides stability and allows the wheel to rotate freely. The axle is typically made from steel or aluminum, with the rear axle being slightly wider to accommodate the cassette.

Bearings are crucial for reducing friction and ensuring smooth rotation of the hubs. They are usually sealed cartridge bearings or loose ball bearings. Cartridge bearings are more common in modern road bike wheelsets as they require less maintenance and provide better protection against the elements.

Spokes connect the hub to the wheel rim, providing support and transmitting forces during riding. They are tensioned to evenly distribute the weight and stress on the wheel. The number of spokes can vary, with higher spoke counts providing increased strength and durability.

The rear hub also includes a freehub, which allows for the attachment of the cassette or sprockets. The freehub mechanism enables the rider to coast while pedaling and engage the drivetrain when pedaling forward.


Spokes play a crucial role in the overall performance of road bike wheels. There are several types of spokes commonly used in wheelsets, including butted spokes, bladed spokes, and straight pull spokes.

Butted spokes are designed to have varying thickness along their length. This means that the spokes are thicker at the hub and thinner towards the rim. This design helps to reduce weight while maintaining strength. By having less material in the middle, butted spokes are able to absorb more shock from the road, resulting in a smoother and more comfortable ride.

Bladed spokes, on the other hand, have a flat, aerodynamic shape. This design reduces air resistance, making them ideal for riders seeking an aerodynamic advantage. Bladed spokes are typically lighter than traditional spokes, but they may sacrifice some strength in the process. Riders who prioritise aerodynamic performance may opt for bladed spokes.

Straight pull spokes are named for their straight shape, as opposed to the traditional J-bend seen in other spokes. This design eliminates the bend in the spoke, improving strength and reducing the chance of spoke fatigue or failure. Additionally, straight pull spokes often utilise a larger diameter, further enhancing strength.

When considering spokes, it’s important to consider the trade-offs between strength, weight, and aerodynamic performance. Butted spokes offer a good balance between all three factors, making them a popular choice for many riders. Bladed spokes prioritise aerodynamic gains but may sacrifice strength. Straight pull spokes are heavier but provide enhanced strength.


Brakes are a crucial component of any road bike wheelset, as they are responsible for bringing you to a safe and controlled stop. When it comes to road bike brakes, there are two main types to choose from: rim brakes and disc brakes. Rim brakes work by clamping onto the rim of the wheel, while disc brakes use a rotor and caliper system mounted to the hub.

Each type has its own advantages and considerations. Rim brakes are lighter and easier to maintain, and they are compatible with traditional wheelsets. Disc brakes, on the other hand, offer improved stopping power and performance, particularly in wet or muddy conditions.

They also allow for wider tyre clearance and can provide a more consistent braking experience. Ultimately, the choice between rim brakes and disc brakes will depend on your personal riding preferences and the type of road and weather conditions you typically encounter.

Rim Brake Wheelsets vs Disc Brake Wheelsets Brake Pads: Metal or Resin?

When it comes to road bike wheelsets, one important consideration is whether to go with rim brake or disc brake systems. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and understanding these differences can help you make an informed decision.

Rim brake wheelsets use calipers to squeeze brake pads against the rims, creating friction that slows down the bike. Disc brake wheelsets, on the other hand, feature rotors mounted on the hubs, with brake calipers that clamp onto the rotors to stop the bike.

One key consideration when choosing between these two systems is the type of brake pads to use. Metal brake pads are made from a metallic compound and are known for their durability and excellent heat dissipation. They offer consistent performance, especially in wet conditions. Resin brake pads, on the other hand, are made from organic compounds and provide excellent modulation and brake feel. They tend to be quieter and generate less heat, but they can wear out faster than metal brake pads.

The choice between metal and resin brake pads will depend on your personal preference and riding style. If you prioritise longevity and consistent performance, metal brake pads may be the better option. However, if you value modulation and a quieter ride, resin brake pads may suit you better.

It’s important to note that the choice of brake system can have implications for wheel design, aerodynamics, braking performance, and weight. Rim brake wheelsets typically have shallower rims to save weight and improve aerodynamics, while disc brake wheelsets can have deeper and wider rims for enhanced stability and better tyre support.


Understanding road bike wheelsets can often be a daunting task, especially with so many options and considerations to take into account. From choosing between rim brake and disc brake systems to understanding the different types of brake pads and how they impact performance, there is a lot to learn. In this article, we will address some frequently asked questions about road bike wheelsets to help you make informed decisions and ensure that you find the perfect wheelset for your riding needs.

What are different types of road bike wheels?

There are several different types of road bike wheels available, each with its own set of characteristics and advantages. Two of the most common types are tubular wheels and clincher wheels.

Tubular wheels consist of a tyre that is stitched around an inner tube. These wheels are typically lighter and provide a smoother ride due to the lack of an inner tube. However, they can be more difficult to mount and repair in case of a puncture.

On the other hand, clincher wheels are the most common type of road bike wheels. They feature a tyre with a separate inner tube, which makes it easier to replace in case of a flat tyre. Clincher wheels are also more affordable and can accommodate wider tyres for increased comfort.

In addition to tubular and clincher wheels, there are also other types available such as carbon wheels, alloy wheels, and disc brake wheels. Carbon wheels are known for their lightweight and aerodynamic performance, making them a popular choice among professional cyclists. Alloy wheels, on the other hand, offer a more affordable option with good durability and performance. Disc brake wheels, as the name suggests, are designed to work with disc brakes, providing better stopping power and control.

Another option to consider is tubeless wheels, which remove the need for an inner tube. These wheels can be run at lower tyre pressures for a smoother ride and reduced risk of punctures.

What do the numbers on bicycle rims mean?

The numbers on bicycle rims provide important information about the size and compatibility of the rim. These numbers are typically engraved or printed on the sidewall of the rim and serve as a reference for fitting the appropriate tyres.

One of the key numbers on the rim is the bead seat diameter (BSD), which specifies the diameter of the rim where the tyre sits. The BSD is crucial in determining the compatibility of the rim with different tyre sizes. Manufacturers use the ETRTO size designation, which consists of two numbers separated by a hyphen, to indicate the recommended tyre width and rim diameter. For example, a common ETRTO size for road bike rims is 622-17, where 622 is the BSD and 17 denotes the recommended rim width.

The rim width and diameter also play a vital role in determining the performance and suitability of the wheelset. Road bike wheels typically have a narrower width compared to mountain bike wheels, with rim widths ranging from around 17mm to 25mm. The diameter of road bike rims is commonly 700c, while smaller wheel sizes like 650c are used in certain applications.

In recent years, there has been a trend towards wider rims in the cycling industry. Wider rims offer several benefits, including improved stability, better cornering traction, and increased tyre volume for a smoother ride. These rims also allow for the use of wider tyres, which can provide added comfort and better grip on rough roads.

What is the difference between 700C and 622?

700C and 622 are two numbers commonly used to describe road bike wheels. The history behind these numbers relates to the ISO diameter of road bike wheels. ISO, or International Organisation for Standardisation, sets guidelines for tyre and rim sizing.

622 is the ISO diameter for road bike wheels, and it refers specifically to the bead seat diameter (BSD) of the rim where the tyre sits. This number is crucial in determining the compatibility of the rim with different tyre sizes. Manufacturers use the ETRTO (European tyre and Rim Technical Organisation) size designation, such as 622-17, to indicate the recommended tyre width and rim diameter. In this example, 622 is the BSD and 17 denotes the recommended rim width.

On the other hand, 700C is a historical term commonly used to describe road bike wheels. The “C” stands for “clincher”, which refers to the type of tyre used with the wheel. The outer diameter of a 700C wheel is approximately 622mm, which corresponds to the 622 BSD.

While 700C wheels are more commonly used on road bikes, 650b wheels have become popular in gravel bikes and smaller-sised frames. These smaller 650b wheels have a BSD of 584mm, resulting in a slightly smaller overall diameter compared to 700C wheels.

The tyre width and profile can also affect the overall diameter of the wheel. Wider tyres can increase the overall diameter and change the handling characteristics of the bike. It’s important to consider these factors when choosing the right wheel size for your riding needs.


In conclusion, our test results have revealed some key findings regarding different road bike wheelsets. Among the various options tested, the Roval Rapide CL II wheels emerged as the fastest performers. These wheels demonstrated exceptional speed and efficiency, allowing riders to gain a competitive edge in racing and high-performance cycling. Following closely behind were the HED Vanquish RC6 wheels, which also offered impressive speed and performance.

It is interesting to note that the price of the wheelset did not necessarily correlate with its speed. While some high-priced wheelsets performed exceptionally well, other more affordable options also showcased impressive results. This indicates that riders have the opportunity to find fast and reliable wheelsets at various price points, making it possible to enhance their performance without breaking the bank.

In conclusion, the Roval Rapide CL II wheels, followed by the HED Vanquish RC6 and Hunt Limitless UD Carbon Spoke wheels, were the standout performers in terms of speed. However, riders should consider their specific needs and budget when selecting a wheelset, as there are quality options available at different price points. Ultimately, finding the right wheelset can greatly enhance a rider’s performance and enjoyment on the road.

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