Cycling Wheels: Important Characteristics to Consider

Updated on June 22, 2022

As the only point of contact between your bike and the road, the wheels play a crucial role in how enjoyable and efficient your rides are. But in order to know what makes some wheels better than the others, you need to have an understanding of which components bicycle wheels are made of, and how each of those components plays a role in the performance of the wheel.

Parts That Comprise Bike Wheels

  • Hubs – The hubs sit at the centre of the wheel, attached to an axis. The axle attaches the wheel to the bike and is part of the hub. The rear wheel features a freehub mechanism, allowing you to coast and power forward when you apply pressure on the pedals.
  • Spokes – The spokes are what attach the hubs to the rim. The number of spokes and the material they’re made of can play a huge role in how the wheels perform. 
  • Rims – The rim simply holds the tyre and provides a braking surface if your bike features rim brakes.
  • Nipples – The spokes thread into nuts known as nipples. You can straighten the wheels by adjusting spoke tension through the nipples.
  • Tyres – The tyres fit on the rims, and are what dampens vibrations and allow your bike to move forward. There are three basic types of bike tyres to choose from, which I’ll discuss now.

Types of Bike Tyres

The three types of bike tyres are tubeless, tubular and clincher tyres. Each of these tyres requires a different type of rim. That said, here are the characteristics of the tyre types.

Clincher Tyres

These tyres are the standard on most bikes. Clincher tyres hold the air in separate inner tubes. If you’re looking for new tyres, and they aren’t labelled as tubular or tubeless, they’re probably clincher tyres.

Tubular Tyres

Tubular tyres require effort to be assembled. Just like clincher tyres, they feature tubes, but they’re stitched into an enclosed casing that’s glued to the rim. Tubular tyres are generally used by professional road racers due to their unique structure providing optimum performance. However, they can be a hassle to repair or set up, which is why casuals avoid them.

Tubeless Tyres

These tyres are generally used by mountain bikers. However, there are also road bikers that use them. Unlike the other two types, these tyres don’t come with an inner tube. However, they still have an airtight clincher structure. When compared to clincher tyres, though, tubeless tyres are backward.

Characteristics to Consider When Looking for Cycling Wheels for Sale

Since clincher tyres are the most popular type of tyres by far, the characteristics listed below will mainly refer to the cycling wheels for sale you’ll find using clincher tyres. No matter what brand you’re interested in, the same rules apply.

  • Durability – Most clinchers last a really long time and can withstand use in any type of weather.
  • Aerodynamics — Most high-end clincher manufacturers pay close attention to the aerodynamics of the wheels when producing them. Better aerodynamics results in better rides against the weight of the air passing by you and your weight.
  • Lightness – Of course, you want your bike to be as light as possible, especially if you’re racing. Most clincher wheels are relatively light and agile.
  • Friction – Many brands use UB technology to mill the braking surface of the rim in order to provide better brake friction, allowing you to stop faster no matter the weather. If brake friction is important to you, make sure to look for this feature when shopping for bike wheels. 
  • Cost – Clincher wheels are relatively inexpensive compared to the other types. That is, unless you’re buying clinchers for specialised bikes which can cost up to $1000.

Other Important Technical Information

Rim Materials

The materials on bike rims are made using aluminium and carbon fibre. The reason these two materials are used is that they’re durable, yet lightweight. Most wheels on the lower range of the price spectrum are aluminium, whereas those on the higher end are generally made of carbon fibre. Carbon fibre rims are generally used by professional racers, and people who don’t mind spending extra on their bikes. 

Wheel Diameter

The standard rim size on road bikes is 700c, or you may see 23-622 or 25-622. What these numbers represent is the international standard for tyre sizes. The first numbers (23, 25) represent tyre width, whereas the second number (622) represents the bead seat diameter of the tyre. These tyres are made to fit 700c rims.

Spokes

The hub is attached to the rims with spokes. That being said, the spokes play a role in how strong the wheels are. Typically, more spokes equal stronger wheels. However, more spokes also equal heavier wheels, something that many road racers want to avoid. Most spokes are made using stainless steel for durability, but there are also aluminium and carbon fibre spokes. Expect to pay more for aluminium and carbon fibre. Furthermore, quality wheels should have adequate levels of tension. If the spokes are loose, they can snap or flex. This can cause them to break or crack the rims. On the flip side, tight spokes will negatively impact ride quality and crack the rims.

Bike Brakes

Rim brakes were the standard type of brakes until recently. However, disc brakes have become more popular recently, as they provide exceptional braking capabilities. In the case of rim brakes, the rim provides a braking surface for the brake pads. Both of these parts wear out over time. 

In the case of disc brakes, however, a hub with a mount for the rotor is present. These brakes require wheels with more spokes due to the amount of pressure the rotors apply to the wheels. Technological advancements have made brakes weigh less than ever before while providing superior stopping power. However, if you plan on going for disc brakes, make sure the fork and the frame are compatible with the brakes.

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