What are the differences between the various types of road bike wheels?

A new set of road wheels represents one of the best updates that can be offered to your bike. In fact, many road bikes are sold with mediocre wheels. This happens because in this way the producers manage to keep the sale price low. In reality, it is a pity that this happens. Some of the important properties of which many bikes are affected by the fact that the wheels simply are not up to par. So if you think your bicycle wheels need an update, what should you pay attention to? In this selection guide, we will explain the differences between various types of road bike wheels.

A road wheel may seem to be nothing but a circle, a pile of rays and a hub that keeps them together. In fact, to create the perfect road wheel, a lot of research is needed.

types of road bike wheels
Appropriate road wheels can really make a difference on your bike.

Wheels manufacturers invest their time trying to get the best possible performances from their wheels. This happens by changing the width of the circle, the height, and the weight and establishing whether it is Tubeless Ready or not.

Another important element is the choice of materials. Choose aluminum, carbon or maybe a combination of the two?

Finally, you will have to decide on which types of brakes you will use them. Disk brakes or remains faithful to traditional skate brakes?

What are the advantages of wider rims on road bikes?

First place we take a look at the width of the rim. The road wheels have been involved in a continuous transformation that sees increasingly wider rims. So what are the advantages of a wider rim?

We can summarize one: a wider rim means that you can use a wider tire and this involves several advantages.

A wider rim offer advantages in terms of aerodynamics.
A wider rim offers advantages in terms of aerodynamics.

The rolling resistance of a wider tire is lower than that of a smaller one. Aerodynamics has improved and the pneumatic is perfectly housed on wider aerodynamic rims. Another improvement to underline is the level of comfort. With a wider tire, you can pedal to a smaller pressure without having to sacrifice rolling resistance.

How large is the circle of a racing wheel?

Let’s see how much things have changed over time. In the past 13 mm was the reference standard which then became 15 mm. Today, however, 17 mm in internal width of the circle have become normal. 17 mm is considered ideal for the use of 25 mm tires.

A tire forms a more aerodynamic set on a wider circle.
A tire forms a more aerodynamic set on a wider circle.
Some brands offer even wider rims. Running wheels with an internal width of 19 or 21 mm are becoming increasingly normal. These wider rims are suitable for tires up to 28 mm and even 32 mm.
An interesting fact is that, within certain limits, a 28 mm tire is faster than a 25 mm one. This occurs as rolling resistance is lower. At higher speed, the 25 tire is faster since it is slightly smaller.

One negative side of the wider tires is that they are not always suitable for all bikes. Old bike models, for example, do not have the necessary space in the frame or brakes for a 25 or 28mm. tire.

What rim width tire size do I need?

The width of the rim and aerodynamics are closely connected. A higher rim is able to better drive the airflow along its surface thus reducing the clutch.
What rim width tire size do I need
What rim width tire size do I need
Based on the shape of the wheel, the height and the technologies used in the design, you can save a lot of time. Wheels with a higher circle, however, tend to be more sensitive. In addition, the extra material makes them a little heavier.
For versatile use, a circle with a height ranging from 33 to 45 mm would be ideal. This height provides a clear aerodynamic advantage over a smaller circle, the weight is not excessive as well as the level of sensitivity to the wind.

The highest circles are more aerodynamic

Do you want to have the best possible advantages in terms of aerodynamics? Then you have to resort to a higher profile wheel. The negative side is that this type of wheel suffers from a lateral sensitivity to the wind due to the highest design.
The dimples on the Zipp wheels reduce the impact of the wind on the wheels
The dimples on the Zipp wheels reduce the impact of the wind on the wheels

There are techniques that help reduce the impact of the wind on the wheels. For example, Zipp uses dimples/departure on the circle. These allow the air to flow around the circle by increasing its aerodynamic characteristics.

How important is the weight of a road bike wheel?

When it comes to wheels, weight is an important factor. Reading wheels accelerate clearly faster and have better management. The same happens even with rigid wheels. A well-balanced mix of rigidity and weight is the thing that matters most.


Small and light circle. Perfect for climbers.
Small and light circle. Perfect for climbers.


Some tubular wheels weigh only 1200 grams, which is extremely low weight. Clincher road bike wheels instead use a little more material in their construction as they have to keep the tire in position.
For clincher road bike wheels with a circle of medium-low height, a weight between 1400 and 1500 grams is truly something exceptional. For a circle with a high profile instead, the weight reaches 1600 grams.

Why opt for a tubeless road bike wheel?

Pedaling tubeless (i.e. using a tireless tire) is something that comes from mountain biking. One of the main advantages of the Tubeless tire is that you can continue even in the case of small drips.
The tubeless ribbon applied to the DT Swiss wheels
The tubeless ribbon applied to the DT Swiss wheels

Add a little latex to the tire and the small drips are sealed instantly. This happens because the latex contains small granules that penetrate the hole, in case of drilling. This technology works for dripping up to the size of about 3 mm.

The Paranipppli ribbon creates a hermetic closure.
The Paranipppli ribbon creates a hermetic closure.


In addition, the rolling resistance of a tubeless tire is lower since there is no inner tube and this helps to save weight.
However, not all wheels can be converted into tubeless. In any case, you will need an air sealing ribbon for the sealing of the internal channel. The circle bed requires an edge of a certain size so that the pneumatic can position itself correctly. Of course, we wrote a detailed article on how to convert your wheels into tubeless.

What is the difference between an aluminum racing wheel and a carbon wheel?

The wheels are produced mainly with two different materials. The aluminum wheels are simple enough to build, which is why we often find them at a lower price.
Carbon road bike wheel
Carbon Road Bike Wheel


Aluminum road bike wheel
Aluminum Road Bike Wheel


Making carbon wheels is much more complicated. That’s why these are much more expensive than aluminum wheels. The advantages of a carbon wheel compared to aluminum are the greatest rigidity and the lower weight.
Carbon also made wheels the production of wheels with a higher circle profile. Carbon is therefore a material that you will often find in the highest profile racing wheels.

What are the differences between the materials of the braking track in the road wheels?

The wheels are available with different types of braking tracks. Most of them have an aluminum braking track. This offers reliable braking performance in all conditions as well as representing one of the least expensive ways of building wheels.
The Special Frenant Plasma Electrolytic Oxidation (Peo) braking track of a country wheel.
The Special Frenant Plasma Electrolytic Oxidation (Peo) braking track of a country wheel.
Some producers have taken a step forward by developing a braking track with specific treatments. This includes treatments such as Mavic’s Exalith, the Electrolytic Oxidation (Peo) Plasma of Fulcrum and Campagnolo or the Oxic braking track of DT Swiss. These braking tracks offer advanced braking performances, something you will notice particularly in wet conditions.
The braking track of this Zipp wheel is clearly visible.
The braking track of this Zipp wheel is clearly visible.
Many high-end wheels are entirely produced in carbon. This allows manufacturers to create a homogeneous connection starting from the edge and throughout the circle by creating an aerodynamic set and at the same time keeping the weight low.
Despite the fact that the performance of carbon wheels has improved considerably over the past few years, it must be said that rain conditions do not offer the same braking performance as aluminum wheels.

Why choose to use disk brakes on your racing bike?

The introduction of disk brakes has changed the way of braking and is something that we are very favorable as basically, the edges of the circles should not be understood as a braking surface.
DT Swiss wheel with disc breaks
With disc brakes, you will no longer need a separate braking track.

It does not matter how well the manufacturers have developed a wheel, the braking performance level made possible by the disc brakes is practically unattainable by the classic skate brakes. The disc brakes also make the wheels much more lasting precisely because the braking track of the wheel is no longer worn.

This means that carbon racing wheels with disc brakes will have a longer duration. With these premises, choosing carbon wheels is much more interesting.

Which type of racing wheels is best suited to my needs?

The greatest difference between the various types of wheels depends on three different factors: height of the circle, weight and price.
Cortima wheel 32 mm high.
Cortima wheel 32 mm high.

Since keeping the weight of the wheels low requires complex technologies and expensive materials, lighter wheels will be more expensive than heavier wheels. The same occurs for the wheels with a higher circle and even more if these also have to have a light weight.

In summary: the lower the weight or the high circle, the more the price you will pay for a wheel set will be high. In reality, however, a wheel can fully satisfy only two of the three factors, at a precise moment. To understand which wheels do to your case with a certain budget, you need to establish the use you will make of them.
Mantel wheels. The highest version.
Mantel wheels. The highest version.


On flat roads, you will have more advantages using a higher aerodynamic wheel than a light wheel. A higher wheel with a slightly higher weight, in most cases, will be faster than a smaller and lighter wheel and with scarce aerodynamic properties.
If, on the other hand, you travel more than mountain or hilly land, a lower weight can be more advantageous as you will have to accelerate more often and walk more climbs, and both are facilitated with lighter wheels.
The same happens for the Criterium or the races. The agility of a lighter wheel and a simpler acceleration often exceeds the aerodynamic advantage of a wheel with the profile of the highest circle.
Probably the perfect combination could be a circle with an average profile between 33 and 45 mm. These wheels offer a remarkable aerodynamic advantage and at the same time an adequately low weight. In particular, if these wheels are produced in carbon.
Below you will find different types of wheels suitable for specific sectors.