Safe Rides are Made of This: Finding the Ideal Bicycle Wheel

There’s nothing more frustrating than having your bicycle riding experience ruined by worn down wheels. Not only is it extremely frustrating, but it’s also very unsafe. That being said, every cyclist should understand the importance of having quality, in-shape wheels on their bike, in order to cruise effortlessly both on, and off the road. If you’re new to the entire bicycle wheel buying process, and if you’re just now replacing your stock wheels, then there are several things that you need to know, in order to make the right purchase in terms of quality, compatibility and value.

Wheel Composition

Every bicycle wheel is composed of several different parts that make it whole, namely: a hub, rim, nipples, spokes and tyres.

  • The hub is the part that sits at the axis of the wheel, around which the wheel rotates.
  • The axle that attaches the wheel to the bicycle is a part of the hub as well.
  • The rim is what holds the tyre, and provides a braking surface to bicycles that feature rim brakes.
  • The spokes are the thin “spikes” that connect the rim and the hub, and the amount of spokes a wheel can have varies.
  • The nipples are the nuts into which spokes are threaded, which you can straighten by adjusting the spoke tension that goes through them.
  • Lastly, the tyres are what comes in contact with the riding surface. There are three popular types of tyres, and depending on your needs your choice will vary.

Tyre Types

Tyres can be either tubeless, clincher or tubular. Depending on the type of tyre you want, the type of the rim will vary as well.

  • Clinchers are the “standard” type of tyres (especially for road bikes), and they hold the air in separate inner tubes. Oftentimes, if a tyre is not labeled as either tubular or tubeless, the seller has clinchers in mind.
  • Tubeless tyres are the ideal choice for mountain bikes, but many road cyclists use them as well. Tubeless tyres have a similar structure to clincher tyres, except they don’t have an inner tube. The rims use for tubeless tyres, when compared to clincher tyres are completely backwards.
  • Tubular tyres are a more uncommon choice, simply because it takes a lot of effort to get them assembled. They feature tubes like clinchers, but the tubes are stitches into an enclosed casing that’s glued to the rim. These tyres are popular among professional racers, due to the fact that they’re extremely well-built.

Characteristics to Look For

In order to buy the ideal bicycle wheel, you’ll have to consider which characteristics matter to you. Of course, the more expensive the wheel, the more features it will have, but that’s not always the case. Some of the most important characteristics of bicycle wheels include: durability, aerodynamics, friction, lightness, affordability, ease of maintenance and repair.

Rim Materials

Most bicycle wheels are typically made of either carbon fibre or aluminium. Aluminium is the more affordable option, but it’s inferior to carbon fibre in almost every aspect. However, the casual rider won’t notice much of a difference, so if you’re on a limited budget, you’re better off with aluminium wheels. Carbon fibre is significantly more durable, yet more lightweight, which is what makes them appealing to professional riders.

Wheel Diameter

The most common wheel diameters are 29inch, 27.5inch and 26inch. Depending on the type of riding you most frequently do, your choice will vary. 26Inch wheels used to be the norm, due to their light weight, snappy acceleration and stiffness. Later on, 29inches gained popularity, especially among off-road riders, simply because they held their speed better and could roll over trail obstacles much easier. 27.5inch wheels are the ideal compromise, and they offer the best of both worlds.

Rim Width

The width of the rim is something you’ll need to consider as well. Usually, lightweight and narrow rims are used for off-road riding, XC and marathon riding, while wider and tougher rims are for more gravity-oriented adventures. Nowadays, 23mm rims are considered the standard for trail and XC riding, and they’re typically matched with tyres that aren’t wider than 2.1inches. More extreme riders, however, usually go for 28mm rims, simply because they can house 2.4inch tyres. Meanwhile, FR and DH riders who heavily abuse the wheels may even need rims that are 36-40mm wide, which can house 2.7inch tyres.

Which Wheels are Right For You?

Bicycle wheels can differ in many ways, from construction (materials, spoke patterns), size (rim width and wheel diameter) and intended use (performance, all-weather training, off- or on-road). You’ll have to choose between traditional and more advanced, sophisticated wheels that feature aerodynamic wonders. You’ll also have to consider your budget, and the type of riding you enjoy, in order to get the most out of the wheels you end up buying. Leisure and sportive riders, for instance, can settle well with aluminium “all-rounders”, which offer a balance of aerodynamic performance, durability, and light weight. Simply put, it’s all up to you. As long as you’re well-educated on the subject, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding quality wheels at an affordable price.

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