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Your Guide to Buying Wheels for a Racing Bike

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Your Guide to Buying Wheels for a Racing Bike

Upgrading one or both wheels on a racing bike is the most effective and efficient way to upgrade the bike for speed, comfort and aerodynamic advantage. Racing bikes are extremely lightweight and are built for competitive road cycling. As such, racing wheels prioritise aerodynamics over comfort and lightness over durability, which can make them both expensive and unsuitable for everyday commuting. Offering value for money on purchases, online auction sites like eBay are a good place to search for racing wheels.

Rules and Guidelines

Racing bikes are governed by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), which offers a set of guidelines for the dimensions and masses of each element of the bike. If the intention is to race competitively, it is vital to bear these rules in mind when searching for racing wheels online.

The UCI rules specify that a racing bicycle’s dimensions should not exceed the following measurements:

Maximum length of bicycle

185cm

Maximum width

50 cm

Maximum internal distance between the front fork ends

10.5cm

Maximum internal distance between the rear stays

13.5cm

The UCI also states that the wheels must be of equal diameter, between 55cm and 70 cm, with a minimum of 12 spokes. The spokes may be round, flattened or oval, as long as no dimension of their sections exceeds 10mm. All measurements and specifications of an item listed on eBay will be detailed in the product description.

Structure of the Racing Bike Wheel

Over the last few years, wheels on racing bikes have changed a great deal due to advances in materials technology and engineering. Racing wheels can weight anything from 630g for a front wheel and around 900g for a rear wheel.

The wheels greatly affect the performance of a racing bike. Most road racing bicycles use 700C bicycle wheels with 20–25 mm wide tyres. In general, the lighter the wheel the faster it is, but a wheel’s performance also depends on where it is carrying the weight, with the mass of the rim and tyre having a greater bearing on speed and performance than weight carried near the centre of the wheel. A very light front wheel is desirable because it allows the rider to place the wheel exactly where it is needed and to change direction fast.

The Rim

Rim Shape

The rims of bicycle wheels are often shaped for aerodynamic efficiency. Seen in cross-section the rim usually has a triangular shape that forms a teardrop shape when paired with the tyre. However, while this shape reduces drag better than any other, a triangular rim is heavier than other profiles, so especially during hill climbs the aerodynamic benefits are negated by wheel’s weight. This means that a box-section rim is often used in racing bikes.

Rim width

Wider rims do not necessarily slow a wheel and a bike down. In fact, wider rims have improved aerodynamics and strength, as well as keeping a better grip on slightly wider tyres. Wider rims, of about 21mm, offer greater stability, comfort and durability.

Rim depth

Rims should not be too deep since is will add weight and make them harder to control in high crosswinds. Many racing wheels have a rim depth of about 25 – 29mm.

Rim Material

The most common material for a wheel rim is aluminum alloy. Due to their lightness, moulded carbon fibre rims are a popular choice for pro-level racers and enthusiasts. Many high performance racing rims are made from carbon fibre but feature an aluminium braking surface. Because of the material’s lightness, carbon fibre rims can be deeper than aluminium without incurring weight penalties.

The Spokes

Because a racing bike wheel is made to cut through the air as easily as possible, even its spokes are aerodynamic. Most wheels feature spokes that have circular profiles but high performance wheels often have flat or oval spokes, sometimes called ‘bladed’ to reduce drag. Spokes can also be ‘butted’, which means that they taper towards the rim or are thinner in the middle and widen at the hub and rim, rather than being all one thickness. The advantage of a butted spoke is that it provides smoother ride.

Today’s high tech wheels often have fewer than 20 spokes, and some have as few as 12. Spoke patterns also vary, from minimal to artistically complex, offering different levels of comfort and functionality. For high-end wheelsets, the spokes can be shaped to have a bladed cross-section, further reducing wind resistance. However, despite common wisdom, wide, bladed aero spokes are not essential for speed. Butted, slim, round spokes being just as efficient, while also soaking up more vibration.

It is generally better to reduce the number of spokes in the wheel. However, take into account the rider’s weight: a low spoke count may be inappropriate for riders over 85kg.

The Tyres

To reduce air resistance and rolling resistance on the road, racing tyres are narrow and have a thin, smooth tread. They are inflated to a high pressure, typically around 8 bar (820kPa/120psi), while track racing tires can be inflated up to 14 bar. While many racing bike tyres use the traditional clincher tyre set-up, with its separate inner tube, an increasing number are now using tubular tyres that are sewn around the tube and glued to the rim.  These tyres provide a weight advantage because they lack the wire bead of clinchers, but their greatest advantage is their ability to match with the lightweight box-section rim mentioned earlier. Both types are available for purchase on eBay, where you can browse a range of styles.

Tubeless tyres, in which there is no inner tube at all, further reduce wheel weight as well as virtually eliminating the possibility of pinch flats.

Racing bicycles for non-competitive use

As well as winning the top international bike races for their professional teams, racing bicycles with a casual and recreational purpose are also available on eBay. These bikes are sometimes called ‘sportif’ bicycles or ‘dropped-bar fitness bikes’. Still featuring a lot in common with the competitive racing bicycle, these bikes have a slightly more relaxed geometry that makes them more comfortable to ride over long distances. While these bikes will be enhanced by high performance and high tech wheels, it is recommended that such wheels are not used for everyday commuting and leisure riding due to their fragility and expense.

Training Wheels

Sourcing racing wheels on online auction sites can save money, but racing bike wheels are still relatively expensive due to the precision engineering that gives them their performance capabilities. Older racing bike wheels,, which are often available on sites like eBay, can make a good second set of training wheels since they are more sturdily built. In the 1990s, racing wheels were generally made of aluminium, which while light is also easy to have fixed should the rim be knocked out of shape. Carbon fibre wheels are far more fragile and often have to be discarded after they are damaged. Older wheels also feature many more spokes, with a standard wheel bearing 32 spokes. This gives a rim added support and durability.

How to Buy Wheels for a Racing Bike on eBay

Once you have ascertained the purpose of the racing bike in mind, and the budget available, search for the wheels by typing ‘racing bike wheels&’. You can further specify your search by specifying the component sub-type, condition, brand and material through the categories in the left sidebar.

You can also select between viewing all items for sale, items that are on auction, or items available to buy immediately through the 'view all', 'auctions only' and 'buy it now' tabs.

Some buyers have a good idea of the type of wheels they want to buy, for example, ‘700C front racing bike wheel’. Using the search feature will help you find exactly what you want.

When searching through listings, carefully review all the data. Make sure the item matches what you had in mind. Look over the photographs a couple times. Feel free to Ask the& Seller a question if you want additional details, and visit the Buying Tips page for more information.

Remember to consider the

  • feedback rating
  • sales history
  • positive score
  • comments from previous sales

When considering potential sellers. You should also check if there is a warranty available on the product, and read any relevant terms and conditions.

Once you are ready to buy, either place a Bid,, Buy it& Now, or put down your Best& Offer. Buying with PayPal& will ensure the transaction will go smoothly. eBay users are protected by the Buyer Protection& Program.

Conclusion

Wheels are paramount in both the performance and safety of a racing bike, and whether you are replacing old wheels, upgrading or substituting a set for training purposes, you should consider the function of the bike as a whole and all its integrated parts before deciding on a particular type of wheel. Luckily there are hundreds of varieties to browse on eBay and you will have no shortage of options.

 
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