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!