Upgrading the stock, entry-level wheels your bike came with can provide huge performance gains on the road. Rotational weight and aerodynamic design of a wheelset can make a huge difference in your ability to accelerate, your overall climbing speed and the ability to hold high speeds on flats.
While it won’t come cheap, there are a ton of quality road wheelsets available at a wide range of prices that improves your overall experience and helps you be faster.
Below are six tested wheelsets that will provide a serious upgrade and are worth saving your hard-earned money for:
BUDGET BUYS: $1,000 AND BELOW
While $1,000 can be a lot of money to spend on a wheelset, most stock wheelsets on new road bikes cost between $200–$500 if you were to buy them at cost. For this reason, an upgrade from an entry-level wheelset generally costs you between $500–$1,000. The two options below aren’t as expensive as others on this list, but will still provide many performance upgrades over the entry-level stock wheels your bike was equipped with.
While these wheels might be entry-level price, they’ve been built with some of the same technology as other wheelsets in the mid- to high-end range. The cost difference comes down to these wheels being made of aluminum instead of carbon, which increases overall weight slightly to 1,725 grams for the set. As far as performance, the 35mm rim depth strikes a nice balance between being aerodynamic and stiff laterally, which improves overall stability at high speeds.
What we like best: On paper (or your computer screen), one wheelset often looks just as good as another. The Racing Quattro LG is one of the best buys on this list at just $400 — being comfortable enough for all-day riding and tough enough to stand up to everyday use. The handling of the Quattro is also excellent, making these wheels fun to ride and performing like a much more expensive option.
Who it’s for: Anyone who doesn’t have a ton of money to spend on a wheelset but wants an upgrade from their entry-level wheelset that can be used for daily training and the occasional weekend race.
Tubeless wheels offer a significant advantage over clinchers — being more resistant to punctures, lighter in weight and more comfortable on rough roads. Stans is known for its tubeless products, and the new Grail Comp is an excellent way to try out a solid tubeless wheelset without spending thousands of dollars. While the 1,800 gram weight may be offputting for some, these wheels are absolutely bomb proof and can be used for road, gravel or cyclocross due to the ability to handle tires ranging from 25mm–40mm. You will need a bike setup for disc brakes if you’re considering these wheels, as they aren’t designed to be used with rim brakes.
What we like best: Finding a solid tubeless wheelset with disc brake compatibility that can be used on a variety of terrains at only $650 can be hard. And while they are ideal for dirt and gravel rides, they don’t feel out of place on the road unless you encounter extreme gradients. The wide profile and solid design also make it one of the most durable wheelsets money can buy.
Who it’s for: Any cyclist who wants to try tubeless technology and is looking for a disc wheelset that performs equally on and off the road.
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If you’re getting serious about cycling and want to take your performance to the next level, a mid-range wheelset could be worth saving your hard-earned dough. Because of trickle-down technology, wheelsets in this price range aren’t often all that different from those in the slightly higher class. These two wheelsets below are suitable for training and racing and provide a serious upgrade from any entry-level stock wheel.
A lightweight carbon clincher (1,380 grams) built for all-around performance and climbing the steepest gradients, Mavic’s second generation Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL has several updates that make it an even better wheel. By molding the carbon layers into a single piece, they’ve created a stronger wheel that holds up to extreme heat created during heavy braking on long descents. A new brake track also drastically improves performance in wet weather, and though the 25mm depth doesn’t provide a ton of aerodynamic advantages, the overall stiffness helps these wheels accelerate like a dream.
What we like best: The new brake track is one of the best we’ve ever used on an all-carbon clincher, comparable to the reliability of aluminum brake tracks in rainy weather. The overall strength of the rim makes it suitable for training or racing, and the ability to accelerate on steep gradients makes it a true climbing wheelset. The wider internal rim width that can be used with 25mm tires or slightly larger also makes the occasional gravel or dirt ride possible without too much worry.
Who it’s for: Any cyclist who wants a high-quality carbon wheelset that’s strong enough to ride during training and fast enough for racing — and those who value climbing prowess over aerodynamics.
HED’s philosophy has always been to concentrate on aerodynamics rather than weight. However, the recently redesigned 54mm JET 5 Express is constructed with uni-directional carbon fiber, which keeps the overall strength of the wheel the same as previous models while reducing overall weight. HED has used these weight savings to create a wider, rounded wheel instead of more traditional V-shaped rims. The end product is a wheelset that’s faster and more stable than previous models and is still pretty strong, too.
What we like best: While it can feel sluggish on steep climbs, the HED JET 5 is a very fast wheel that accelerates nicely on flats and is easy to control in crosswinds. You won’t mistake this wheelset for the Reynold’s RZR 92, but for $3,000 less it’s an extremely suitable replacement option for anyone dealing with a reasonable budget.
Who it’s for: Cyclists or triathletes looking for an aerodynamic wheelset that is suitable for racing time trials, criteriums or triathlons.
These two options below are every bit as good as the wheelsets you’ll see in the professional peloton, and they can provide some serious time savings at your next big event.
ENVE SES 3.4
Climbing wheels aren’t usually all that aero, and vice versa. The newly redesigned SES 3.4 from ENVE is the rare exception, being light (1,392 grams) and responsive on uphill accelerations while maintaining an aerodynamic profile (38mm rim depth in front, 42mm in the rear) that will provide plenty of time-saving advantages on the solo breakaway. New updates also include a 21mm internal rim width designed to be used with a 25mm tire, tubeless compatibility and a molded-brake track texture that performs exceptionally well in dry and wet conditions. You can also choose between three different hubs for semi-customization, which can lower overall weight but may also increase the price depending on which option you choose.
What we like best: The SES 3.4 is a light, versatile wheel that’s wide, stiff and extremely stable in crosswinds. The updated brake track works extremely well in less than perfect conditions, and though the rim depth nods toward being an aero wheel, we were pleasantly surprised at just how well this wheel climbs. When used with 25mm tires, this wheelset is also comfortable enough for long days in the saddle and handles very well going downhill.
Who it’s for: Racing-minded cyclists looking for an exceptional all-around wheelset that can perform just as well on climbs as it can on the flats, and won’t be affected by windy or rainy conditions other aero wheelsets can be prone to.
REYNOLDS RZR 92
Reynolds claims the RZR 92 is the fastest wheel on the planet. While that can’t be confirmed or denied here, we do know it is one very fast wheelset — and it’s also one of the most expensive. According to its wind tunnel tests, the 92mm rim depth is actually faster than a full disc wheel while also coming in at just 1,492 grams for overall weight. This relatively low weight combined with extreme aerodynamics is accomplished by using carbon not only on the rim but also on the spokes and hubs. While this might seem like it would make for a pretty flimsy wheel, the RZR 92 is actually extremely durable and stiff — a fact you’ll notice once you begin to crank up the watts.
What we like best: While we wouldn’t want to use these on extended climbs, the RZR 92 is, without a doubt, one of the fastest straight-line wheels available that won’t slow you down on the occasional section of rolling hills. The 92mm-rim depth might be excessive for most road races, but when compared to most disc wheels they handle better and aren’t as affected in windy conditions.
Who it’s for: Cyclists who want the best of the best and are willing to pay extreme prices to get it. Triathletes, time trialists and sprinters won’t find a faster wheelset than the RZR 92.
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