CARBON BIKE WHEELS: ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
If there’s one discipline where the smallest detail matters, it’s the world of cycling. Weight, material, wheel type, aerodynamics: everything is taken into consideration and can make an important difference in terms of overall performance. For now, let’s take a look only at material. Most specialists agree that carbon is an outstanding material for bike components. Indeed, carbon wheels can greatly improve your cycling performance. In this blog, we’ll discuss various types of carbon rim construction while taking the time to explain the advantages and disadvantages of each.
100% carbon rim: In the past, this all-carbon construction existed
only for tubular wheels. Thanks to a series of breakthroughs, carbon clincher wheels can now readily accept conventional high-pressure tires. The companyBontrager even integrated Tubeless Ready technology (“tubeless” or TLR) on this type of construction with the Aeolus D3 TLR models.
Aluminum and fused carbon rim: In this case, carbon also contributes to the wheel’s performance. The spoke attaches directly to the carbon, but the wheel is fixed to the aluminum part, which can then be made thinner and lighter since the carbon contributes to its strength. This construction is offered on low and high profiles; in fact, Shimano offers this construction in all of its high-end models with clincher tires.
Aluminum rim with added carbon for aerodynamics: This type of wheel can be recognized by its spokes that pass through the carbon part via an opening before attaching to the aluminum. The wheel owes its strength entirely to the aluminum part, while the carbon simply helps to improve its aerodynamics. The carbon is thus very thin and adds very little weight to the wheel. This construction is only offered with high profile rims (50 mm on average). A number of companies offer affordable models using this construction, including Mavic and Bontrager.
Excellent weight-to-stiffness ratio: Aluminum wheels can also be very light, but as their weight is continually reduced, stiffness and strength may be compromised. Carbon wheels therefore remain very strong and offer good performance even for more heavy-set cyclists. As is the case for Bontrager Aeolus TLR wheels, the rim is made of 100% carbon and has no weight limit.
Strength: Despite popular belief, carbon is highly resistant. Quality wheels have the ability to absorb significant impacts. Aluminum will deform under a light impact, while carbon will remain intact. Additionally, for some failures, carbon can be repaired by a specialist, unlike aluminum, which will have to be replaced.
Comfort: Just like for the bike frame, the carbon fibre used in the manufacture of rims has the ability to absorb vibrations in the road. Even for high-profile rims (35 mm and up), the rim offers much more comfort than those made of aluminum.
Several choices of profiles (rim height): Whether you’re looking for an aerodynamic wheel to allow you to maintain your speed or the lightest wheel possible to help you climb gradients, manufacturers offer several choices of profiles for a given model. This is the case of Shimano Dura Ace wheels, which are offered in 24 mm, 35 mm, 50 mm and 75 mm.
Aerodynamics: Carbon can be moulded into the desired shape. The manufacturer Zipp has pioneered the use of wider and rounder rims to improve aerodynamics in headwinds and even crosswinds. Furthermore, Zipp modified the outer surface by texturing it like a golf ball! The most serious companies are investing heavily in research and development in order to push the limits of aerodynamics ever further.
Higher cost: Manufacturers’ R&D teams are mainly working on designing carbon wheels, which ultimately increases the costs of these wheels. Furthermore, carbon remains a more costly material than aluminum. However, several companies are offering aluminum AND carbon wheels, as is the case for models Shimano Dura Ace and RS81. The braking surfaces are aluminum, but the profiles are created using carbon which is then bound to the aluminum. Result: a comfortable, stiff and more economical wheel.
Many imitations and poor quality construction: Since costs are higher, several relatively unknown (or generic) manufacturers are offering cheaper all-carbon wheels. But not so fast! Although these wheels may resemble more renowned brands, in reality they can be mere knock-offs. Wheels are every bit as important as the frame. Don’t skimp on the quality of these components, as not only does performance depend on it, but so does your safety. Opt for well-known brands that will be able to stand behind the quality and warranty of your wheels.
Slightly less responsive braking: Just a few years ago, this drawback was associated with the majority of wheels. Since then, manufacturers have greatly improved braking, while brake pads have also changed. Pay particular attention to carbon brake surfaces, as they require a specific brake pad recommended by the manufacturer. If you use a different brake pad, you could damage the rim and void the warranty. For owners of bikes with disc brakes, it should be noted that most companies offer versions specifically adapted to this kind of brake.
In summary, buying carbon wheels is a sound decision and a worthwhile investment. You will enjoy the numerous advantages of this type of wheel, notably its durability, for years to come. To take a test drive and experience the difference yourself, we invite you to stop by and see us at the shop. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact us for more information or visit our online store.