You probably already know that high-performance road bikes tend to be significantly lighter than other types of cycles. This is because speed and efficiency are of high importance to road riders. One of the best, if not the best, ways to cut down weight is to purchase a lightweight wheelset. But exactly how much should road bike wheels weigh? The answer is not so straightforward and this article will provide you with a comprehensive answer.
A pair of wheels should weigh at least less than 1400 grams and have shallow sections for cycling up a mountain/gradient. Some ultra-light climbing wheels weigh around 800-1000 grams. Racing wheels have a deeper section and hence, are heavier at around 1300-1800 grams. Wheels with an intermediate weight and midsection rims are good for all-around performance.
Factors affecting the weight of bike wheels
Before you decide what weight range suits your type of riding, you should learn about all the factors that affect the overall weight of the wheels. You can customize these aspects of a wheel to achieve the perfect combination of properties that you desire.
- Material: Nearly all road bike wheels are made of aluminum or carbon fiber. Carbon wheels are lighter and also stiffer, than aluminum wheels. But they are also significantly more expensive.
- Rim Depth: Deep section wheels are highly aerodynamic but have more material and are consequently heavier. The shallower the section, the lighter the wheel will be. Although, deeper rims have worse control in the presence of crosswinds.
- Spoke Count: An increasing number of spokes will mean more weight. However, the strength of the wheel will also increase. A good solution is to use bladed/aero spokes that are more streamlined than circular spokes.
- Tire Type: Road bike wheels can fit one of three types of tires – clinchers, tubular, or tubeless. Tubular tires are the lightest, followed by tubeless and then by clinchers. However, each type has its pros and cons.
- Brake Type: Disc brakes add some weight and increase drag. But they also have better stopping power and allow the rims to be free of wear. Besides, a rim brake wheel will have an additional braking surface which increases the weight. Moreover, carbon rim brake wheels are not too reliable in wet conditions.
Different Weights for Different Purposes
It would be impossible to suggest an ideal weight for road bike wheels without knowing what sort of riding you are doing the most. This is because low weight is not everything for road biking. In fact, aerodynamics will usually play a greater role in improving speed and performance than weight. And the reality is that you can’t get the best of both in one wheel. Moreover, there are other things to consider as well, such as durability and strength.
Pedaling uphill is when you will have the most need for lightweight wheels. A heavy wheel also has a high rotational mass which works to slow you down more than static mass. So, the less rotational mass there is, the easier it is to keep the wheels rolling. Hence, you will need shallow section wheels and a relatively low number of spokes. Getting carbon rims will help to reduce weight even further.
For cycling on a gradient, you normally do not have to worry about being very streamlined. Moreover, thinner rims provide a more comfortable ride as they are more compliant. Any wheelset weighing less than 1400g can be considered to be adequate for long uphill ascents. Some climbing wheels can even weigh less than 1000g.
Time Trials and Triathlons
In a fast-paced race, the goal is to sprint from point A to point B as fast as possible. Here is where you will need the most aerodynamic efficiency. Hence, you will see time trialists and triathletes using deep section wheels or sometimes even disc wheels. A wheel can be classified as a ‘deep section’ when the rim depth is more than 50 mm. This design allows them to cut through the air far easier than a shallow section wheel.
The downside is that weight is added due to the extra material, and crosswinds can hamper controllability. The good news is that deep section wheels are almost always made of carbon. Such wheels typically weigh between 1300 and 1800g depending on the rim depth.
Flat Roads or Long Descents
If neither pro racing nor climbing is your thing, then you need wheels that are in between. Riding your road bike on flats or during long descents requires a good combination of low weight and aerodynamics. For this, the best option is to go with mid section wheels. These are not too heavy while being able to sweep through air fairly easily. Another advantage is that they are not as harsh as deep section wheels. In other words, they are the best all-rounders.
We recommend getting carbon wheels if you are using disc brakes and if your budget allows it. Otherwise, there are top-notch aluminum wheels available as well. Rim widths of around 30-40 mm are considered midsection. The weight range for midsection wheels is around 1200-1700g.
➥ If you happen to ascend and descend along steep hills, then, we recommend you have a look at some of the top road bike wheels for climbing up and down
Now, you might not want to use your expensive wheelset for regular/daily use. The obvious reason would be to avoid wearing them out too quickly or damaging them. Instead, you should keep a second pair of wheels that are ‘bombproof’, so to speak. These are not necessarily the best performing but they are strong and highly durable. Sometimes called training wheels, these have shallow metal rims, plenty of non-aero spokes, and are overall quite robust.
Buying this type of wheelset is a good investment as they are pretty cheap and you will be lengthening the lifetime of your high-performance wheels. You can expect training wheels to weigh between 1500 and 2000g or even more.
➥ If you’re contemplating upgrading your road bike wheels, we recommend, you have a look, whether it is worth upgrading your road bike wheelset
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Should I buy wide rims or narrow rims for a road bike?
Ans.: Over the last few years, more and more riders have shifted to wider tires. This is because a few extra millimeters of width reduces rolling resistance, improves handling, and provides a more comfortable ride. All of this with a minimal increase in drag. To accommodate wider tires, you should use wider rims as well. Furthermore, having a closely matching rim and tire widths forms a more streamlined profile compared to a narrow rim and wide tire combo. Previously, road bike rim widths were less than 14 mm, but now 15, 17, or even 20 mm wide rims are common.
Q2. What rim depth is best for riding comfort?
Ans.: We know that deep section wheels are good for speed and low drag, while shallow section wheels are lightweight and great for climbing. But you might not realize that shallow rims also offer a more comfortable ride. Bumps and vibrations are better absorbed by a low rim depth. This makes them an ideal choice for a high quality ride over slightly rougher terrain. Beginners might also find shallow section wheels more appealing for this reason.
Q3. Are light wheels better than a light frame?
Ans.: Lighter components in a road bike are almost always more expensive. If you had to choose between reducing weight in the frame or the wheels, the latter would be the wiser option. First of all, a new frame essentially means a new bike which is going to be costlier than a new pair of wheels. Secondly, a lighter frame only reduces static mass. Whereas, lighter wheels reduce not only the static mass but also the rotational mass. Decreasing static mass creates an even greater reduction of rotational mass. Plus, the wheels are the largest rotating body on a bike. Therefore, investing in lightweight wheels is more cost effective.
➥ When it comes to the cost of these bike wheels, if you’re someone who’s on a tight budget, in that case, we recommend you have a look at some of the top budget road bike wheels under $500 and other affordable road bike wheels under $1000
You should now have a good idea about how much a road bike wheel should weigh. Wheels should be lightest for climbing purposes, while racing wheels focus more on reducing air resistance. For regular road biking over flat roads, a good mixture of the two properties is the best option. Ultimately, it comes down to your personal requirements and preferences.