Your stock road bike wheelset gets the job done, but may not be the greatest.
Depending on how much you paid, more money may have gone into the frame and drivetrain. But the wheels are a critical part of your cycling experience and performance and can be upgraded without blowing a hole in your wallet.
Rim materials? Hubs? Disc or rim-brakes?
There are many choices and you don’t want to get lost in the crowd.
Here are the 10 leading brands in the market today for road bike wheelsets.
Zipp, founded in 1988, is owned by SRAM. In 2010, they introduced the first carbon wheelset into professional Spring Classics racing. The brand makes versatile and energy-efficient wheelsets with wider rims and tubeless tires run at lower pressures.
Tubeless or classic clinchers, Zipp makes wheelsets made for your style of riding. Use their handy on-line tool to choose which wheelset matches your goals. They also have an easy-to-ready chart that breaks down each of their models by budget and discipline.
Zipp’s 303 Firecrest is for road endurance, cyclocross, and gravel riding. This carbon wheelset weighs 1,352g and is only available in tubeless disc.
For demanding disc riders on a budget, the 303S aims to please. Slightly heavier at 1,530g, it’s fastest with a 28mm tire but fits wider tires too.
Mention Enve and the ears of roadies perk up to listen. The name is synonymous with carbon quality, speed, performance, aerodynamics, but it comes at a price. Enve’s engineers constantly break carbon technology ground with their popular and award-winning products.
They make excellent wheelsets, components, and now even custom bicycles. The wait is currently a year for delivery, and you’ll pay a pretty penny, but you’ll have the last bike you ever need. I ride ENVE wheels and couldn’t be happier. Now if I could only find some more pennies.
ENVE’s SES 3.4 AR Disc (all-road) is tubeless-ready and available for rim brakes too. I have a pair (disc) and love their velvety ride and durability. I’ve never had an issue with them. The SES 4.5s are made for traditional rim brake riders who want world-class aerodynamics and prefer tubes in their somewhat skinny tires (25mm optimized).
HED is one of the oldest names in road wheelsets. The American company known for aerodynamic innovation introduced the first disc and aero-spoked wheels to racing in the 1980s. Their wheelsets continue to evolve, adapting to the demands of today’s road cyclists. HED was an early advocate of the wider rim movement.
If you’re already a rim-brake HED customer but are now on discs, you can trade-in older HED rim brake wheels for a new disc set and save up to 40%. Bravo to this customer-focused program that breathes new life into money and confidence already invested in the brand.
Gravel fans will love the reasonably priced performance Emporia GA carbon wheelset available in 700c or 650b with a choice of freehub body, QR, or 12/15 thru-axles. Roadies bet on the tubeless-ready Ardennes RA PRO that offers the same options in 700c. These wheels are disc only and a solid choice.
Hunt Bike Wheels
The UK-based Hunt Bike Wheels are ridden by the professional team, Qhubeka-Assos. Hunt employees are also riders that are passionate to use and make wheels for devoted cyclists like you. All their wheelsets are tubeless ready and designed with a purpose.
They believe your time and money must yield results every time you ride. Cyclists in wet climates appreciate their waterproof grease that gives long life to their precision bearings. Their rims are u-shaped for aerodynamics and wider for improved rolling resistance. Hunt offers rim and disc brake rims in carbon and alloy.
Looking for durable tubeless-ready alloy disc CX wheels?
Check out Hunt’s 34 Aero Wide wheelset. Choose QR or thru-axles and the valves, tape, spare spokes, and axle adaptors are included. The 52 Carbon Aerodynamicist pushes the boundaries of rim-brake aerodynamics and is fitted with Ceramic Speed low-friction bearings.
An iconic Swiss brand that rings quality in the ears of cyclists. DT comes from an abbreviated version of their original name, “Drahtwerke Biel”. Primarily known for hubs and spokes, they manufacture high-performance bicycle components in five different countries.
DT Swiss hubs engage all the teeth inside the hub shell with the axle thanks to their star ratcheting system, which creates a greater number of contact points, improving power transmission. The brand took their excellent reputation and translated it into making sophisticated performance carbon wheels.
PR1400 DICUTs are lightweight, wide, asymmetrical performance alloy road wheels (1429g) available in disc or rim brake that make a superb choice for light training wheels. Endurance riders on a budget find their joy in the no-frills alloy E1600 Spline (1619g) for long days in the saddle.
Campagnolo, an emblematic brand with deep roots in cycling history, was founded in 1933 by Tullio Campagnolo in Vicenza, Italy. They invented the quick-release and derailleurs, and make everything for bicycles, including performance alloy and carbon wheelsets for rim and disc brakes.
Campy wheels are versatile since their freehub body hasn’t changed, meaning 9,10,11, and 12-speed cassettes work perfectly. If you love their wheels but ride Shimano or SRAM, compatible hub bodies are sold as replacement parts. However, their disc and brake systems are not interchangeable and must be Campagnolo.
Still running tubulars and rim brakes? The carbon Bora Ultra 35 is the answer (available in clinchers too). Its wide aerodynamic 35mm profile is a favorite of Pro-Tour champions and it comes with a QR and special brake pads. The Shamal Ultra is an alloy wheel with a distinctive G3 spoke lacing pattern, carbon hub bodies, and a wide profile available in clincher and tubeless-ready.
Fulcrum is descended from Campagnolo who launched the brand to meet the needs of Shimano and SRAM drivetrains without defaming the Campy name or reputation (depending on how you look at it). Fulcrum has grown into a respected wheel manufacturer that makes alloy and carbon wheelsets for rim and disc brakes.
Fulcrum wheels are lightweight, reliable, made to perform in all conditions, and match every budget and discipline. Their wheelsets are tubeless compatible for improved rolling resistance, comfort, and performance, and Fulcrum high-end wheels come stock with ceramic bearings.
Whether carbon or aluminum is your thing, Fulcrum’s tubeless-ready Racing Zero wheels fulfill your wishes. Its max 30mm profile height is optimized for 25mm clincher tires. Both versions come with ceramic bearings in rim or disc-brake and are the gold standard of reliable performance road wheels.
Established in Osaka, Japan in 1921, Shimano created the first single-speed freewheel in 1951 and has always been the primary antagonist to Campagnolo. For many years, progressive riders rode Shimano, and traditionalists, Campagnolo. Today, labels have been set aside and both brands have a thriving following.
While Shimano has an excellent reputation for its high-end wheelsets like the Dura-Ace C60 and C40, I believe their mid to lower-end offerings don’t share the same honor for performance-seeking riders, but the price alone can tell you that.
Roval wheels were first made in France in the 1970s by Claude Lanhauer. He laid the groundwork for many of the principles used in bicycle wheel design today. The brand was purchased by Specialized in 2005 and comes stock on their S-Works bikes.
Call this division Roval and not Specialized as they hope to develop the brand into separate OEM (original equipment manufacturing) wheelsets for other labels. The Rapid CLX is an all-around carbon asymmetrical disc wheelset that delivers real speed. For the same price, take the fastest way to the top with the ultra-light Alpinist CLX.
French brand Mavic has existed since 1889 but made its first bicycle rim in 1934. The search for an aerodynamic performance inspired its first wheel in 1973. The brand has had a bumpy ride recently, being sold and resold and losing its decades-old place as the neutral support provider in the Tour de France (Shimano took their place).
Despite their past troubles, Mavic has new investors and solid notoriety for their Cosmic line of carbon wheels that come in 65, 40, and 32mm profiles. Their Ksyrium line is a popular OEM wheel and competitively priced for mid-range, low-profile wheels in carbon or alloy.