Road wheels explained
Wheels are your contact point with the ground. They support your body weight and are powered by your engine as you pedal. As a contact point, your wheels play a large part in determining your ride quality. That’s why it’s important you buy the correct set of road wheels to match your riding style.
Road wheel anatomy
Hubs: Hubs are the central component of the bike wheel structure. To put it simply, wheels rotate on hubs. The mechanism behind this is the wheel’s bearings and axle.
Bearings: Wheel bearings enable the hub to rotate on the wheel axle. Hubs either have cartridge bearings or cup and cone bearings. Cartridge bearings are now increasingly popular in hubs due to simple installation and require no maintenance. Cup and cone bearings are easy to service, but you must adjust very carefully to ensure adequate friction. For ultimate performance look out for ceramic bearings, these are the smoothest and roundest bearings available.
Spokes: Spokes provide support to the rim and distribute pressure evenly around the bike wheel structure. They are either round or aero/flat/bladed in profile. Aero/bladed/flat spokes are rapidly becoming a standard feature on wheels of all prices. They offer an aerodynamic advantage as well as retaining strength of a standard round spoke. The spokes are kept in tension on virtually all but the most expensive wheels with small nuts, called nipples.
Nipples: Nipples tension the spokes and are often made from brass due to the strength properties. Aluminium can also be used to save weight, this helps with losing rotating mass.
Bicycle Rims explained
The rims on your bike play a large part in determining your wheel durability, the overall rotating weight of the wheel and how the bike reacts under braking. Generally rims come in shallow section (less than 25mm in depth), mid section (40mm in depth or less) and deep section (anything deeper than 40mm)
Wheel types explained
These are common on entry level wheels as they are well priced and provide a good level of strength to weight ratio. They give the rider a nice comfortable experience.
Shallow section wheels are a great all-round wheel and suitable for all types of riding. There are many different offerings and can range from entry level to top of the range lightweight carbon fibre mountain climbing specific models.
These wheels are not as popular or easily noticeable as a deep section alternative. This is largely due to a common misunderstanding that a deeper wheel means faster and better. This is not necessarily the case. Your riding style and characteristics may lean towards one wheel type more than another. A mid section wheel may allow you to reap the benefits of a lightweight rim, combined with aerodynamic gains. Lots of riders highly recommend them for all-round use, light enough for climbing and fast enough for the flat roads.
These are the ultimate in speed for road riding. They cut through the wind with ease. The feeling you get when you are out of the saddle sprinting is an experience hard to put into words. They are suited to use on the flat in general as this is where aerodynamics plays a greater part. But due to great technological advancements in manufacturing, means they can be light enough even for riding in the mountains.
There are two types of braking surfaces available on wheels, aluminium braking surface or carbon braking surface. The smoothest and most consistent braking surface is generally aluminium, as it is easier to manufacture a perfectly flat braking surface with aluminium.
That isn't to say carbon isn't up to the job. Far from it, when using with the recommended brake pads, carbon braking is good and more than adequate.
Tubular, clincher or tubeless wheels?
This type of wheel is by far the most popular and offers maximum convenience that allows for instant riding upon installation of clincher tyres and tubes. A bead seat on the rim prevents the tyre from leaving the rim. The pressure inside the inner tube creates pushes the bead of the tyre into position giving you a safe to ride on wheel.
These are normally lighter than a clincher alternative, as the need for a bead seat on the inside of the rim is not required due to the way a tubular tyre is mounted to the rim. If using tubular tyres for sportives or whilst training it's recommended to carry a spare tubular tyre with you, these are more cumbersome than a spare innertube. Changing a tubular tyre is just as quick as changing an inner tube, so there is no time penalty.
Tubular wheels require more preparation depending on whether you choose glue or tubular tape as a mounting method for your tyres. YouTube has some great videos showing methods of installing tubular tyres.
These are becoming increasingly popular, most major wheel brands have a tubeless wheel option in their portfolio of products. They may be referred to as 2 way fit / two way fit. These wheels are usually slightly heavier than a clincher only version, as there is extra material required on the rim to provide an airtight seal for the special tubeless tyres used. The upside is you don't use inner tubes so lose some of the all important rotating mass. "Pinch" punctures are also less likely due to the construction.