How to Choose Bike Wheels

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How to Choose Bike Wheels

For anyone thinking about spending any money upgrading their bike, a set of wheels is the place to start for maximum return on investment. Lighter and more aerodynamic wheels can have a significant effect on speed and performance. In some cases, a bike that feels a bit like hard work can be transformed into one that feels stiff and fast.

The range of options can seem daunting but this guide makes it easy to narrow down the choices. Begin by matching expectations in terms of performance gain with riding style, body weight and budget. Super light wheels with deep rims made from carbon, very few spokes and minimalist hubs, can deliver fast acceleration, climbing performance and aerodynamics for maximum speed, but will be costly. Equally a wheel like this would not suit the daily commute. There is plenty of choice available to achieve the right balance of practicality and performance.

Road Bike Wheels

If the aim is to upgrade existing wheels, the first step is identification, followed by selection of wheels with a similar specification:

  • Identify the existing brand of components.
  • Identify the rim size.
  • Count the number of cogs on the rear wheel. Road wheels can have anywhere from 6 to 10 cogs. If more than eight they will be hub/cassette style wheels.  

On the other hand your goal could be an easier ride from some lighter, better-designed wheels than those you have used before. Or, it could be a second set of "event" wheels to give an advantage on certain types of courses, or race wheels to replace heavier, slower training wheels on the big day.  Or simply wheels that will act as magic carpet on the ride to work.

Options and Tips on Deciding

Here are some of the common features of today's road wheels with some guidelines to help you work out what's best for your bike.

Wheel Types

There are all-round models of wheels made to deliver excellent ride quality and durability that are the solution for upgrading an old pair. There are also models designed to give some free speed according to how they are used, for example:

  • climbing wheels built lighter for easier ascending
  • aero wheels practically invisible to the wind
  • all-round wheels that combine lightness, aerodynamics and a compliant ride.

Tube or Tubeless

Another choice is whether to buy dedicated ‘tubeless’ wheels or standard models.

Tube

Tubeless

Comfort

Lightest

Control

No inner tube to puncture

Traction

Good off road

Tubeless means that the rim is designed and built to provide an airtight seal for use with tubeless tyres. Their advantages are allowing running lower pressures for a smoother ride and more traction and control. Getting the dedicated wheels for tubeless means easier tyre fitting and no need for the special conversion kit or rim strips.

Road racers might want to consider ‘tubular’ wheels, which are the lightest available and most unusual. They require special tyres called ‘tubulars’ or "sew-ups" (because the tyre is actually sewn together around the tube). These tyres have truly round profiles and they are installed by gluing them to the rim.

Rims

Shape

The shape of the rim affects how the wheel rides.

  • The stiffer the rim the more the rider feels the road and trail.
  • The more triangulated and deep (tall) a rim is, the more rigid the ride.

Stiffness is good for racing because more of the rider’s power is transferred to the road. Width makes a difference too.

Feature

Width

Benefits

Wide

23mm

Comfort / durability

Narrow

19mm

Light / aerodynamic

  • Wider rims (about 23mm) tend to offer a more comfortable ride and more durability since they spread the tyre sides allowing more air and flotation.
  • Meanwhile, narrower (usually 19mm) means more aero advantages and lighter weight.

Rim Material

Steel wheels are seldom used on quality bicycles these days due to their weight and even more important, how slick they become when it rains, which compromises braking power. Instead, most wheels today feature light and durable aluminium rims. And, at the high end are carbon rims. Carbon can save weight and match full-carbon bicycles. Note that carbon rims with carbon braking surfaces require carbon-compatible brake pads.

Spoke Count

This is the number of spokes used in the wheels. Modern wheel sets typically use the minimum number required to suit the wheel design, more for heavier uses, fewer when the wheels are not pushed so hard. In general bigger riders who ride a lot should use more spokes and lighter cyclists on smoother surfaces can get by with fewer.

This table makes it easier to reckon the number of spokes by relating one’s weight to usage and surfaces encountered.  

Light Riders (under 130 lbs)

 

Gravel and Rough Roads

Moderate Roads

Smooth Roads

Loaded Touring

32 or more

32 or more

32

Touring / Sport Riding

32 or more

24 to 32

20 to 28

Club Riding / Centuries

24 to 32

20 to 28

any

Club Racing / Racing

20 to 28

Any

any

Average Weight Riders (130 to 190 lbs)

 

Gravel and Rough Roads

Moderate Roads

Smooth Roads

Loaded Touring

36 or more

32 or more

32

Touring / Sport riding

32

32

28 to 32

Club Riding / Centuries

28 to 32

24 to 32

20 to 28

Club Racing / Racing

24 to 28

20 to 28

any

Heavy Riders (190 lbs +)

 

Gravel and Rough Roads

Moderate Roads

Smooth Roads

Loaded Touring

More than 36

36 or more

36

Touring / Sport riding

36

32 to 36

32 to 36

Club Riding / Centuries

32

32

32

Club Racing / Racing

32

24 to 32

24 to 32

Hubs

Wheels spin on the hubs, which are the component at the centre of the wheel where the spokes originate.

They have bearings and axles inside them. On the drivetrain side they either have threads for cogs or a ‘freehub’, on which the cluster of gears (called the "cassette") is mounted.

Cassettes are sold separately. 

Quality hubs are built to last, easy to service and super smooth. As the choice moves up in wheel quality and price, the hubs get lighter with better alloys, or carbon. Your choice is also more advanced, with superior bearings, axle parts and seals. Since the cassette drives the wheels, the freehub often improves too.

Mountain Bike Wheels

A new set wheels of is one of the best upgrades you can treat your bike to. There's a wide variety of different wheel sets available and it is important to consider what is expected from the wheels to narrow down the options.

Weight

If weight saving is the aim then a lighter set of wheels can transform the performance of your bike; less rotational weight will improve acceleration and climbing, so is often the choice of the cross-country racers.
It is always worth bearing in mind what sort of riding you do alongside your weight. A skinny racer might suit a refined set of wheels; but for a weekend trail rider, carrying a little bit more around the middle, or a rider regularly pushing their technical limits, more durable wheels will be appropriate.

Tyres

If you intend to use tubeless tyres then check that the rims are suitable, and whether or not the tubeless valves are included.

Brakes

Select your wheels according to the brake system on your bike.

'Disc specific' rims do not have a braking surface so cannot be used with other styles of brakes such as V-brakes or cantilevers. For disc brakes the hub will need to offer compatibility either directly or via an adaptor with the disc rotors, for example a centre lock mount or 6-bolt mounting.

Fit

It is important to buy the right wheels for a bike, both in terms of diameter – 26in, 27.5in (650b) or 29in – and axle compatibility. Gone are the days when all mountain bikes had 9mm quick-release skewers front and rear. At the front, 15mm and 20mm through-axles are now common, along with 135 x 12mm or 142 x 12mm setups out back.

Reliability

This means top quality bearings; either replaceable cartridge or serviceable cup-and-cone style, hidden behind the best seals possible.

High-mileage or powerful riders also need to prioritise freehub quality and durability, and easily replaceable spokes are probably a shrewd idea.

Weight saving

If the current wheel set has been fine then it is just a case of finding something similarly tough and durable that offers extra advantages.

The obvious performance boost comes from reducing weight. That is because saving weight in the rims gives a far more noticeable bonus in acceleration and agility than anywhere else on a bike. 

Ease of operation

The speed with which the freehub engages and reacts also makes a big difference for racers or anyone who needs to get back on the power as soon as possible between corners, jumps and the like.

How to Buy Bike Wheels on eBay

Now that you've worked out which bike wheels you want, find them quickly on eBay. While you shop, don't forget Tyres & Wheels, Handlebars & Stems, Headsets, Drive, Brake Components and Saddles & Seatposts. To start shopping, go to the Sports and Leisure category. Click the Sporting Goods portal and click Cycling.

Categories

The Categories list on the left side of each page will help you narrow down your listings by item type. You'll find links for Bikes, Bike Parts, Clothing, Footwear & Helmets, Cycling Accessories, Trophies and Other Cycling.  As you refine your search you'll be able to narrow down your choice by subcategory.

Product Finder

Use the Bike Parts Finder to quickly narrow down item listings by brand, model and condition (new or used).

Keyword search

Search eBay listing titles for specific words. For example, if you want to find new bike wheels, type the keywords "bike wheels new" (without quotation marks) into the Search box. Click "Search title and description" to expand your results. Visit eBay's Search Tips page for more tips on searching with keywords.

If you can't find exactly what you want, try browsing eBay Stores or tell the eBay Community what you’re looking for by creating a post on Want It Now, or save a search on My eBay and eBay will email you when a matching item becomes available.

Buy Bike Wheels with Confidence

Make sure that you know exactly what you’re buying and understand how eBay and PayPal protect you.

Know your item

  • Read the details in the item listing carefully.
  • Remember to add delivery costs to your final price. If you’re buying a high value item, check that the seller will insure it until it is delivered to you.
  • If you want more information, click the “Ask seller a question” button on the seller’s profile or the “Ask a question” link at the bottom of the item listing page.
  • Always complete your transaction on eBay (with a bid, Buy it Now or Best Offer) otherwise you will not be covered by eBay Buyer Protection.
  • Never pay for your eBay item using an instant cash wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram. These are not safe ways of paying someone you do not know.

Know your seller

Research your seller so that you feel safe and positive about every transaction.

  • What is the seller’s Feedback rating? 
  • How many transactions have they completed?
  • How many positive responses do they have?
  • What do buyers say in their Feedback? 
  • Are they positive about the seller?

Most top eBay sellers operate like retail shops and have a returns policy.

  • Do they offer a money-back guarantee? 
  • What are their terms and conditions?

Buyer protection

In the very unlikely event that you do not receive your item or it is not as described, eBay Buyer Protection your purchase price plus original delivery cost.

Conclusion

Price comes first, but some of the cheapest wheels perform superbly. If spending more, make sure the investment delivers noticeable benefits. The more scrutiny given to the wide choice available on eBay, the more questions addressed to sellers, the more likely it is that the elusive balance between quality and value is achieved. A more expensive set of wheels can offer even better value in the long run. 

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