- What Makes a Quality Bicycle Wheel – The Components
- Wheel Building
- Selecting the Correct Rim Depth
- Aerodynamics vs. Weight
- What it all Means – How Does FLO Compare
- Open Mold Wheel
- Proprietary Design Wheel
- It is much cheaper than designing your own wheels. No engineering time.
- Since the product is already approved for production, you can sell the products almost immediately.
- Most of the time molds are not required, but if they are, the molds are cheaper. Buying a duplicate of an already engineered mold is much cheaper than buying a mold and the engineering time to get it right.
- Engineering and design work is very expensive.
- Proprietary molds are more expensive than open molds.
- The product testing/sampling phase can be long which postpones the date a company can start selling the product and making money.
There are many available depths to choose from when purchasing race wheels for your bicycle. They range in depth from approximately 20mm all the way up to a full disc wheel. Deciding what depth will best suit your needs is not an easy thing to do. We could discuss this topic to death, but I’m going to try and generalize things to keep them simple. These generalizations will be the perfect recipe for 99% of the people reading this guide.
The Four Depth Ranges
There seems to be an endless list of wheel depths for customers to purchase. In general, I think those depths can be divided into four groups that have their unique purpose or characteristics. Here are those groups:
20mm – 50mm Deep
Overview: Typically race wheels in this category have a greater emphasis on weight than aerodynamics. Watch the mountain stages the next time the Tour de France is on and you’ll notice that most riders are using very shallow wheels. Although historically these wheels have given aerodynamic performance, the newest shapes on the market are showing some very impressive drag numbers.
When to Select this Depth: If your races consist of primarily climbing and weight is more important than aerodynamics, select this wheel. It’s also a good front wheel choice for lighter athletes (male and female) who have a hard time handling a bike in strong cross winds. Chrissie Wellington used a 46mm front wheel to win many of her Ironman World Championships.
Overview: Wheels in this depth range often offer an excellent mix of being aerodynamic and light weight. They are commonly used by road cyclist and triathletes alike. The newest designs are more aerodynamic than their deeper ancestors.
When to Select this Depth: If you are a road cyclist competing in stage races, this wheel is perfect for just about everything you can throw at it. It’s great for crits, light enough for climbing and long stages, and still aerodynamic enough for TTs. Triathletes commonly use wheels in this depth range for front wheels. When selected as a front wheel, wheels in this depth range offer the perfect blend of aerodynamics and cross wind stability. The FLO 60 (our 60mm wheel) is by far our most popular front wheel.
70mm – 100mm Deep
Overview: For a while the craze was the deeper the better. I remember one wheel from the company Blackwell that was 200mm deep (image below). The newest rim shapes on the market are trending towards shorter and wider. Some companies have even discontinued their deepest wheels because they are inferior to the newer and wider shapes. That said, there are still some great offerings in this category that are very aerodynamic, and they make great rear wheels since they actually help stabilize you in strong winds (the complete opposite of a front wheel).
When to Select this Depth: Front wheels in this category are typically the best choice for cyclists averaging 24+ mph. You should also note that deeper front wheels are harder to handle in strong winds. If you are not a confident bike handler and/or you average more humane speeds, this probably isn’t the front wheel for you. As a rear wheel, many triathletes are using this depth. That is because, as I mentioned above, deeper rear wheels actually help stabilize you in a cross wind and are very aerodynamic. They are also easily covered by a wheel cover giving athletes plenty of versatility for different courses on race day. The rear FLO 90 is definitely one of our most popular-selling rear wheels.
Overview: A disc wheel is the fastest option you have available assuming your aren’t riding up the side of a mountain. They offer the greatest aerodynamic advantage and if you want to get from point A to point B in the shortest time possible, a disc wheel is for you. Athletes typically do not train on disc wheels because they don’t make the best training wheels. If you are looking to buy a wheel for both training and racing, I’d lean toward a rear wheel and a wheel cover. It will give you more versatility.
When to Select this Depth: If you need to get somewhere in a hurry and don’t need to train on it, get a disc.
Aerodynamics vs. Weight
In just about every situation apart from riding up the Alpe d’Huez, aerodynamics are much more important. Even on hills at slower speeds aerodynamics help. It’s why slower athletes actually save more time over the same distance (you can read about that here).
At FLO we are often asked about the weight vs. aero scenario and every time I like to refer people to this article below written by Tom Anhalt. Tom is a super smart guy and there is no need for me to explain it since he’s done such a great job. Do yourself a favor and read it. Be sure to take a look at the pie chart in the article to see how insignificant an additional 400g are during an acceleration.
An Extra Note on Weight: I think many people get caught up on weight because of the units used to measure it. In cycling we use grams and it’s very important to remember that grams are VERY small. Even though 100 grams sounds like a huge number (because the number 100 is big) it’s really not that much weight. I like to use the following example when discussing weight with people.
Think of your water bottles and what they might weigh.
- One empty water bottle = About 100g
- One full Water Bottle = About 800g
If you carry two water bottles you are adding about 1600g to your bike. Would you go for a ride without water? I know I wouldn’t. I’m not saying that weight is irrelevant. Clearly you don’t want to be riding around on a 40lb bike, but don’t get caught up in the finer details. Base your decision on component quality, build/ride quality or aerodynamics long before you let 200g (2 empty water bottles or 1/8th of your full water bottle weight) be the determining factor in which wheels you buy.
Most cycling wheels are made from similar components (see the components section in PART 1 of this guide) and most reputable manufacturers (in Asia and North America) have their production cost on roughly a level playing field even though there is a range. There are exceptions to this rule. Some wheels are built completely from carbon fiber, spokes, rims and hubs and these wheels come with high and sometimes astronomically high price tags. For the most part, price comes down to how the product is distributed. There are two models and one produces a much higher price than the other. They are as follows:
- Manufacturer; Owner; Distributor; Retail Store; Customer
- Manufacturer; Owner; Customer
All the best,