Aero wheels: Five things to consider before going deep!

Deep section carbon wheels. Yeah, I’ve seen you checking out prices on Chain Reaction and drooling over pro bike checks on Cycling Tips. You know you want some. How fast and sexy they look! But are they actually worth it? Do they actually make a difference?

And should YOU buy a set?

If for some reason you don’t care about going fast or don’t care how awesome your bike looks, stop reading now. Go back to your copy of “shopping trolley weekly” and relax. For the rest of you, here’s the low down…

1) Bang on looks. There’s no denying it, a pair of full carbon deep section wheels on a totally dialled road bike just look SO DAMN HOT! But is looking badass a good enough reason to buy? Well that’s your call. I certainly think so! When I look at my bike I want it to make me go “Phwoar! I wanna ride the hell outta that!”

Yes. Pimped out looks definitely count.

2) Speed thrills! A quality set of deep section aero wheels (we’re talking 35mm or more) absolutely make a difference. It can be anywhere from seconds to minutes depending on your ability, riding terrain and ride length. It’s their ability to hold onto speed once you spin them up that makes the difference.

You still need to put power to the pedals, but keeping a set of 60’s humming along at 20mph is far easier. Pulling on the front of a group becomes marginally easier (okay, marginally faster) and they can make the difference between catching or failing when chasing back on if dropped! It’s nothing that can’t be overcome with a little more grunt, but every little helps! That’s assuming flat or fast rolling roads. The more climb, the less time aero wheels will save you. So…

3) What about climbing? If your regular rides take you up (and down) significant mountains, shallow wheels will win hands down. I’m not talking about little Surrey Hills lumps here, but half-hour or longer solid climbs.

Big day in the mountains? Go light and shallow!

You may not feel the difference when churning out constant wattage on an even gradient, but punch out of the saddle on steeper sections and the responsiveness of a quality shallow lightweight wheel is certainly noticeable. Add in the slight weight penalty and lack of instant acceleration of a deeper wheel and you’ve got a slower overall package.

That said, I’ve set some good PRs on climbs riding 60mm rims. My best time on a local Cat 3 climb (Grasstree Hill) included. The longer, steeper or more twisty the climb, the more time you lose on deeper rims. My best time up the seven-switch back Mount Nelson and the ten-mile grind of the Hors Catégorie (HC) rated Mount Wellington were both solidly set on shallow wheels!

For a ride where there might only be a couple of climbs spread over a metric century, the fistful of seconds you lose on those hills will easily be made up (and then some) over the flat and rolling portions of your ride.

4) Crazy crosswinds. A deep section wheel will catch more crosswind than a shallow wheel. It’s (not so) simple physics. With the advent of wind tunnel testing and modelling, modern designs cope much better. I have an old set of 50mm wheels that are downright scary in gusty conditions yet my newer 60mm full carbon jobs are far easier to handle.

The Planet X 52’s hammer, but are like barn doors in a crosswind!

Weight plays a part here too (and I’m talkin about body weight, you lard ass). Heavier riders will notice the “sketchy crosswind effect” far less than welterweight whippets.

I just Googled welterweight to check. It spat out “…a fighter in a class of boxers who weigh up to 147 pounds (67 kilograms).”

5) Get your wallet out, baby! Let’s rip the band-aid off quickly. Good wheels are expensive so be prepared to part with some coin. The price has come down over the past few years as technologies improve so if you shop around and you can find good quality wheels for a decent price nowadays. Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty anymore (but if you go down the no-name China copy route, don’t come crying to me when you lose your front teeth).

If you’re a brand junkie and absolutely must have ZIPP or LIGHTWEIGHT emblazoned across your wheels, you’re going to have to open that wallet wider. But hey, it’s only money, what else are you going to do with it?

TL;DR – Life is fast, buy the damn wheels already!

10 Comments Add yours

  1. buckyrides says:

    Nice post. But a few things to consider, Carbon Aero wheels feel great, theres no masking the sensation difference between alloy and carbon. Aero wheels really only make a difference over 23mph (theres a ton of studies on the internet), so, for most people who are not riding in big groups Aero wheels won’t be about saving watts, look at average ride speeds or section speeds. Also hubs make a difference, so buy a set of wheels with well designed high quality hubs. They will make the wheel more durable, spin better, serviceable and last longer. DT Swiss, Chris King, White Industries, Enve are a few hubs that come to mind. Keep up the good work. Ride on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes that feeling of rolling on carbon is not to be forgotten! So much smoother. My older deep sections are carbon faired with an alloy braking track, so I don’t get that benefit there.

      I’m still not convinced on the “only a benefit over 23mph” thing. I spend very little time riding above that speed (37+kph) and I certainly notice the benefits. 


  2. ericritter65 says:

    I agree, since having to replace my alloys (cracked rim forced me to look at a new wheel set), with a set of deep-ish carbon wheels, my average speed has ticked upward. I ride primarily rolling hills (averaging 60-65 feet in every mile) and at first I though the increased speed was mental – from the feel and newness of the wheels. After nearly a year, I know it’s more than that.
    Luckily for me I found a road junkie/CAT racer that had these wheels as his fourth set and the wife was demanding a “clean-up” of excessive cycling gear – is there such a thing? So for me I got 4 year old wheels with less than 200-miles on them for half the price!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. ericritter65 says:

        Seriously. I licked out big time, the eBay seller had a flat $50 shipping fee anywhere in the US, in the box he put 2 dollar bills in the box, because the shipping from Arizona to Georgia only cost $48!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great GCN video here on deep vs shallow rims. Not so much difference apparently when climbing but should make up time on the descent and flat.
    Incidentally Klem I went for the Hunt 36/50 wheels in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’ll be an AWESOME combo, Steve! Sometimes I wish my front was a little less deep, just so it handles stronger crosswinds better.


  4. bgddyjim says:

    Couldn’t agree more, brother… except for the Chinese carbon. Ican is fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ICAN is a trusted Chinese brand though so that’s fine (most carbon wheels are probably made in China anyway). It’s the super cheap knock-off obvious fakes with big brand stickers on them that are trouble!

      Liked by 1 person

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