Choosing wheels for road bikes: what is the ideal profile?
What is the ideal profile? How do I choose road bike wheels? Does anything change with or without disc brakes?
These are some of the issues that often come up in conversations with our cycling buddies. The doubts, above all, are often related to carbon wheels.
Therefore, and to try to help you, we have decided to make this post in which we indicate the strengths and weaknesses of the wheels with different profiles and trying to find out if the “ideal profile” really exists.
1. Aluminium wheels
This issue is strictly related to carbon wheels because, in our opinion, in the case of aluminium the choice is practically compulsory: rims that do not exceed 30/35 mm in profile.
Why? Firstly, because the weight of the wheel would become really excessive, and secondly because it is now almost impossible to find high profile aluminium wheels on the market.
2. Has anything changed with the disc?
Maybe and maybe not. In the sense that doubts about the choice of profile height have existed since before the arrival of the disc brake. Obviously, with the spread of bicycles with disc brakes, the aspects to be taken into account are more and more numerous and complex.
We will try to summarise them in two points
- The weight
Bikes with disc brakes weigh more than bikes with traditional brakes. For this reason, trying to save a few grams by choosing a lower profile is legitimate.
- Balancing lightness/rigidity
That’s a little more technical. To make room for the disc, the wheel has been structurally checked. The hub flanges are closer together and this makes the wheel more susceptible to lateral bending. In addition, the wheel is designed with greater robustness, a necessary feature to withstand the asymmetric twisting of the braking.
Knowing this, you can understand how difficult it is to find the right relationship between lightness, strength and lateral rigidity, a relationship that can only be achieved by a very subtle balance between the hub, the spokes (size and number) and the profile of the rim. This is why it is difficult to find lighter disc brake wheels than traditional brake wheels.
3. Profile less than 30 mm
It is the perfect choice for those who want a versatile and lightweight wheel that can be used anywhere and in all weather conditions, especially on windy days.
Their best qualities are lightness, agility, manoeuvrability: they are very good at low speeds, especially on climbs.
On the other hand, they don’t make aerodynamics their strong point and, if you’re interested in the aesthetic part, we have to admit that they’re not that attractive.
It is arguably the best option for those who love long climbs (and therefore face long descents) and want an “easy” wheel to ride.
4. Profile between 30 and 45 mm
We could say it’s the universal wheel. They actually weigh very little more than low profile wheels, have superior torsional rigidity and are much more aerodynamic.
They are more beautiful to look at and, with a little experience, they handle well even in windy conditions.
5. Profile of 50 mm and more
From an aesthetic point of view, they are unrivalled and, in fact, the most desirable.
However, from a technical point of view, there are some considerations to be made.
Their weight is higher, handling them on the descent is more complicated, and with side gusts of wind they can make pedalling very difficult. However, we have to be honest and admit that the new generations of this type of wheel are much more manageable. From an aerodynamic point of view, they are obviously the best and offer superlative performance in terms of torsional rigidity.
This would be the right choice for those who enjoy riding fast on relatively flat terrain or on the track.
6. Conclusions: is there an ideal profile?
Each profile has its advantages and disadvantages and each person has his or her own. So, it’s very difficult to draw a conclusion.
However, if we want to take as a reference an “average” user who wants to buy a single pair of wheels to use all year round and on all routes, then obviously our advice is to choose a pair of carbon wheels with a profile between 30 and 40 mm.
Beautiful to look at, lightweight, rigid enough and aerodynamic enough: in short, the right ratio to go fast and have fun.
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