Bike wheels are an essential part of a bicycle, and there’s a good chance you rarely think about them unless something goes wrong. Without wheels, your bike is non-functional and not worth much.
We have put together a comprehensive guide on bike wheels and selected some of our favorite wheels for road and mountain bikes.
We also give you all the information you need to know about a bike wheel, so you’ll know what you need and want for your bike.
In a hurry? The test winner after 13 hours of research:
Mavic Rim 29er MTB
Why is it better?
Last Updated: January 5, 2019
By Max Shumpert: This article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information regarding bike wheels available for those who are interested in changing your bike wheel. The best 5 available have changed, and information has been added to assist individuals in finding the best bike wheels currently available on the market. The FAQ has also been updated.
Mavic Rim 29er Mountain Bike Wheels
Mavic / Shimano Road Bike Wheel Set Mavic CXP22 700c
ICAN 50mm Carbon Road Bike Wheelset 700C
Vuelta Zerolite MTB Pro 26" Wheelset
Vuelta ZeroLite Road Comp Wheel Set, 700c
Best Road Bike Wheels
Whether you like the “slow and steady” method when riding your road bike or you only ride for speed, road bike wheels are different from other types of bike wheels.
Not only is it beneficial if they are lightweight but they should be able to handle well in windy conditions.
Although many road bike enthusiasts will agree that the ride is worth every cent, road bike wheels can be expensive. Here are a few of the best road bike wheels under 500 dollars.
1. VUELTA ZEROLITE ROAD COMP 10SP WHEELSET
The Vuelta ZeroLite Road Comp wheels have shallow-section rims that measure out to 20mm, the wheel size is 700c, and the tire is a clincher style.
The rims are made of 6061 alloy and have CNC sides, which makes for better braking.
Both front and back wheels have 24 spokes each and crossover twice for extra strength and security.
The spoke nipples are brass for durability.
These Vuelta wheels are compatible with Shimano/SRAM 8/9/10-speed drivetrains, and the hub has sealed loose ball bearings.
We love the Vuelta Zerolite Road Comp Wheelset because it’s handbuilt which is the closest you can get to having your bike wheel custom built. It’s a basic yet sophisticated looking wheel and the
2. MAVIC / SHIMANO ROAD BIKE WHEEL SET MAVIC CXP22 700C RIMS
This unique wheel set could easily become every road cyclists dream. The Mavic CXP 22 clincher rim is aerodynamic and is lightweight, thanks to the 6106 aluminum alloy.
Not only is the rim lightweight but it’s also durable and versatile for all types of road bike cyclists.
The 32 front and rear spokes make it one of the best road bike wheels for heavy riders.
We love this wheelset because the front and back hubs are Shimano hubs and have all the high-quality features we love about a Shimano bike wheel. The Mavic/Shimano set is a great starting point for any road bike rider of any riding level.
Best Carbon Road Bike Wheels
Carbon wheels are popular among road bike cyclists because they are aerodynamic, lightweight, and some say they offer a better ride overall.
Carbon wheels can be expensive, but we’ve selected a set of the some of the best road bike wheels under 1000 dollars.
1. ICAN 50MM CARBON ROAD BIKE WHEELSET
The ICAN Carbon Road Bike Wheelset is one of the lightest around, and each carbon rim is made up of 69 folded layers of aerospace grade carbon fiber (remember what we said about “aero”?).
It’s no surprise that the ICAN Carbon wheel is one of the best rated road bike wheels.
Although these wheels are designed for competitive road racers, they are suitable for anyone who wants to experience a fast ride on a lightweight but durable and strong wheel.
To ensure being one of the lightest wheels available, the hubs on the lightweight carbon wheel are made of alloy. We love this carbon wheel because it performs well, holds up even better, and looks way more expensive than it is; which means more riders can enjoy the wheel.
Best Mountain Bike Wheels
Whether you’re riding downhill or going cross country, the wheels on your mountain bike should be durable, stable, and keep you confident while riding over any kind of terrain.
Here are a few of our favorites and some of the best mountain bike wheels under 500 dollars.
1. VUELTA ZEROLITE MTB PRO MOUNTAIN BIKE WHEELS
It may come as no surprise that we selected this wheelset as one of our favorites as it’s the mountain bike version of the Vuelta Road Comp Wheelset we reviewed earlier.
These 26” alloy wheels are lightweight and have 24 spokes in both the front and back wheels.
With many of the same features in other Vuelta wheels, we trust that this handmade mountain bike wheel will keep you comfortable and confident when riding the trails and rocky terrain.
2. MAVIC RIM 29ER MOUNTAIN BIKE WHEELS WITH DISC BRAKE SHIMANO HUBS
With 32 spokes in front and back and a 6061 alloy clincher rim, this wheel is lightweight and durable for mountain bikers.
Similar to the road bike version of this “dynamic duo,” it’s suitable for mountain bike cyclists of any level, and it offers a lot of versatility when riding on various terrain.
What Is A Bike Wheel?
Just like other modes of transportation that rely on wheels, most cyclists probably don’t think much about the wheels of their bicycles until they have a flat or are in an accident that damages the rim or spokes.
If someone asked you, “what is a bike wheel?” how would you answer?
Wheels are just wheels, right? A bicycle wheel not only makes your bike functional but it allows you to go where you need to go. Without a wheel, you just have an expensive bike frame.
Today’s wheel’s help cyclists to travel with speed, efficiency, and safety.
Anatomy Of A Bike Wheel
Knowing the parts of a bike wheel can come in handy if you need to replace or repair your wheel.
Even if you never have to replace your bike wheels, understanding the anatomy of your bike wheel can be beneficial.
The tire on a bicycle is similar to one in a vehicle. It’s made of a firm rubber, is mounted on the rim of the wheel, and has specialized treads designed for riding styles (such as mountain or road biking). Most bicycle tires are not tubeless and are unable to hold air without a bike inner tube.
Bicycle tires, if in good condition, will ride over various debris but similar to other rubber tires, they can become damaged and need to be replaced. A bicycle tire goes flat when the inner tube is punctured.
The inner tube, which is an integral part of the tire, is best described as a “soft and flexible rubber donut.” While inner tubes are designed to expand when inflated, it’s crucial to use the right size inner tube with your bike tire. The wrong size can cause problems when riding.
The rim is the outside part of the wheel and may be made from a variety of materials such as steel, aluminum, or carbon. The spokes of the wheel attach to the rim, and your tire sits on the rim.
Like other parts of your bicycle, it’s essential that all of the parts of your tire fit with one another. Although rims may vary, based on the bicycle and a budget, a rim should be durable, rust-resistant, and you should feel confident about the reliability and safety of your rim.
The size of your rim may differ from a shallow to “deep dish” rim. The type of rim typically depends on the type of riding or the riders personal preference.
Your bike wheels spokes are the metal wires that connect the hub to the wheel rim (we’ll discuss the “hub,” next).
Similar to bike rims, bicycle spokes are made from a variety of materials like steel, aluminum, carbon, or titanium.
Spokes support and add strength to your rim. Spokes also transfer your leg power from the hub to the wheel and supports your weight on the wheel. If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many spokes, it’s to help keep even distribution on the rim.
A traditional spoke has the same thickness from one end to the other. Some spokes are thicker near the hub (often referred to as single butted spokes). Spokes that are thinner at the center are usually called double butted spokes. These are light and are aerodynamic.
A spoke that is thickest at the hub and thinner at the nipple (we’ll explain a spoke nipple), and thinnest in the middle are often referred to as triple butted spokes.
When you see spokes on a bicycle wheel, you might notice that they cross one another at the hub. This helps with strength and while you make see no crossing on the front wheel, spoke crossing is a must on rear wheels.
Traditional wheels have 36 spokes while some wheels will have no more than 20. While a wheel with fewer spokes typically means that it will be lighter, you might get shorted on durability and a weaker wheel.
True to its name, the hub on your bicycle wheel is the center of the wheel. A hub has an axle, bearings, flanges; the metal flanges are where the spokes are attached. The hub of a bicycle wheel attaches to the fork or frame of the bike.
While hubs serve the same purpose, higher quality hubs are typically lightweight and have better bearings.
A spoke nipple is the part which connects the spoke to the rim and controls the spoke tension. Spoke nipples are usually made from aluminum or brass.
Bike Wheel Types and Sizes
When you purchase a bicycle, it’s most likely outfitted for a specific style of riding such as mountain biking or commuting.
Maybe you love every aspect of your bike but feel like your wheels are a little lacking. Maybe you just want to understand the wheels on your bike a bit better.
Road Bike Wheels
If you’re not familiar with road bikes, you may also think of them as “10-speeds.” Road bikes have lightweight frames, wheels and other components. They are popular among cyclists who want to go for long rides with a group or for those who are interested in competitive cycling.
Road bikes are designed to operate best on even stretches of paved road, not trails or areas with various terrains. Road wheels determine how well the bike accelerates, the aerodynamics, and the weight of the bike.
Unless you’re having your road bike custom-built, there’s a strong chance you don’t get to choose the wheels that come with your bike. You can always change them out and upgrade as you get more into road biking.
When you’re looking at road bike wheels you may come across “section type;” this refers to the size of the wheel’s rim depth. The depth of your wheel rims is closely connected to aerodynamics and as a general rule, the deeper the rim, the better the aerodynamics. Road bike rims are broken down into three sections.
A shallow rim is usually less than 25mm in depth. A shallow section is common for climbing because shallow-rimmed wheels weigh the least. Low weight is important when climbing but it can also be beneficial for commuting or even when riding in winter.
Shallow sections are the least aerodynamic and typically have the least amount of spokes.
Mid-depth rims typically measure between 25 and 40 mm. As with “mid-sized” components and features, mid-section wheels are suited for both casual and competitive cyclists.
Mid-depth rims are well-balanced between weight, ride quality, and overall performance (particularly when riding in the wind).
If you have a variety of riding preferences, such as commuting one day and logging in long miles the next, mid-depth wheels may be a great starting point.
A deep-section rim measures more than 40mm. Wheels with deep-section rims are designed for speed and perform well when riding against the wind (but not as well with crosswinds).
If you’re a hardcore road cyclist, you’re probably a good candidate for a deep-section wheel, but if you use your road bike for more than just riding fast, you may not want a deep-section rim.
Your road bike wheel can be one of three types of tires. Each tire has a specific rim, and we give an in-depth explanation of each type of tire.
A tubular wheel is a tire with an inner tube but what makes them different from standard bike wheels is that they are stitched into a casing and then glued to the wheel rim.
Since tubular wheels are a little pricey and can be difficult to repair and replace, they are almost exclusive with racing, as they may not be ideal for everyday road riding.
If you like tubular wheels but don’t race, you can still have them on your bike but just be aware of some of the potential challenges related to a repair.
Although many road bike tires are equipped with an inner tube, it’s not uncommon to see a road bike with tubeless wheels.
Many road riders like a tubeless tire because there’s a chance of fewer flats and some say that it makes a better ride, overall. While there are benefits to tubeless wheels, it’s essential for the tire’s bead (the edge of the tire) to have an airtight connection with the rim.
If you opt for a tubeless wheel when riding a road bike, it’s always a good idea to carry an inner tube in your bike repair kit just in case.
Standard tires that use inner tubes are also known as clincher wheels. Clincher wheels are the most common tires on road bikes. If a tubeless or tubular wheel is on a road bike it is likely to be noted where a clincher probably will not be noted.
If you’re just starting out with road biking or even if you’ve been an avid biker for a while, a clincher wheel is perfectly suitable for riding on the road.
Changing a flat can be a bit tricky at first (and you’ll undoubtedly get one), but with practice, a flat on a clincher wheel can be a relatively easy and quick fix.
Mountain Bike Wheels
Just like road bike wheels, mountain bike wheels aren’t all the same, and they are definitely a different type of wheel than a road bike.
While you may enjoy both road and mountain biking, you’re not likely to ride one bike for the same type of riding as each bike is designed for specific the specific riding style.
If you were to take your road bike down a semi-steep rocky terrain, you wouldn’t get very far before wiping out and getting a flat tire. Mountain biking wheels need to be able to withstand riding on all kinds of terrain.
Most mountain bike wheels have rims that range between 19 and 24mm. With more mountain bike wheels being manufactured and custom built, it’s not uncommon to find a wheel rim outside of the common range.
Mountain bike rims typically fall within the shallow or mid-section category. Most mountain bikes might like to go for a larger rim (something closer to a deep section) for the best support when riding. It’s important to remember that the deeper the rim, the heavier the rim.
If the weight of the wheel isn’t your greatest concern, you have several rim sizes to choose from, and you may even want to check out something like a fat tire wheel.
Although we mentioned earlier that tubular tires are pretty exclusive to road biking, it’s not completely unheard of to use a tubular tire on a mountain bike. The most common types of tires for mountain biking are either tubeless or clincher.
Many mountain bike enthusiasts urge riders to go for a tubeless tire because it’s durable and less likely to get a flat. Another plus of a tubeless tire is that a rider can have lower pressure in the tire and the ride is more comfortable and has better traction.
Tire types, just like wheels, all come down to rider preference.
In some ways, BMX riding is a little like road and mountain biking as you can race on a BMX bike and it’s intended for off-road use. Although BMX wheels vary a bit, depending on the size and age of the rider, there’s not as much variation as with mountain or road bike wheels.
In the BMX world, 32 mm rims are considered the “all-rounder” size. Smaller riders or BMX races may want narrower 30mm rims while stunt riders might want a wider rim (like 36mm).
While there’s a little bit of a range in rim size, you’re not likely to see a lot of variance from one BMX bike to the next
Although we haven’t gone in-depth about spokes on mountain or road bikes, it may be of interest to point out that a BMX rim can have between 36 and 48 spokes (the standard for other bikes is 36 or less, as mentioned earlier).
Unless your BMX wheels are custom built, they are likely to be clincher or tubeless tires. Again, depending on the style of riding you plan to do on your BMX bike, there may be one type of tire that’s more suitable than another.
When To Replace Your Wheels
Ideally, it would be great to replace your wheels before you run into any major problems while riding. Like all types of wheels, bike wheels need to be replaced due to natural wear and tear. Sometimes damage will require unplanned or earlier than expected replacement.
When it comes to mileage, there’s no solid answer about when to replace your bicycle wheels. Bike wheels that have logged on just a few thousand miles may need replacing before another set of wheels that have logged in three times the mileage.
Factors that determine whether or not you will need to replace your wheels soon than later include:
The best way to know when you need to replace your bike wheels is to keep a close eye on the rim. Some bike rims have a hole or groove that begins to disappear when the rim wears down; this is known as a replacement indicator.
Signs of Wear and Tear
If your bike rim doesn’t have a replacement indicator, you can be on the lookout for other signs such as excessive wear or even indentations on the rim’s surface. If you’ve put in a lot of miles or years on your rims but don’t see much damage, it never hurts to get a “check-up.”
Head to a trusted bike mechanic in your area and have him or her take a look at your bike rims. He or she should be able to easily determine if and when you should replace your wheels. Ask for some pointers on what to look for (such as wearing patterns on the rim).
While wear and tear on the rim are one of the most common indicators for replacing your bike wheel, don’t forget to keep an eye on your spokes. Missing or loose spokes may be a sign that you need a new bike wheel.
Getting an Upgrade
If you’ve been thinking about replacing your bike wheels with a wheel upgrade, there’s no need to wait for your wheels to wear out. A wheel upgrade can greatly improve your riding experience, so why wait to get more out of your next bike ride?
Some bike enthusiasts, when getting closer to replacing their bike wheels, consider having their bike wheels custom made. While you can’t find any other wheel to fit your needs and wants quite like a custom wheel, the high cost isn’t for every rider.
Choosing Your Bike Wheels Carefully
Bike wheels are a pretty important investment (that’s one of the reasons why we created this comprehensive guide), so being impulsive about your bike wheels isn’t recommended.
If you choose the first bike wheels you see or like or even fit within your budget, you might not be picking the best set of wheels for you and your bike.
When you choose your bike wheels, think about the type of riding you’ll be doing. Even if you’re a mountain biker, not all bikers ride the same. Are you more aggressive or do you like to take your time? Do you have specific goals when riding? Choose a wheel that will fit all those needs.
Don’t forget to consider the components of a bike wheel, such as the number of spokes and the rim width. These are important when considering the amount of stability and support you want when riding.
If you’re not sure about a bike wheel (even after reading this guide), ask a fellow bike enthusiast what type of wheels they prefer or talk with a friendly bike shop employee. Do some test rides and additional research if needed. It’s better to take your time than rush into buying a wheel.
What To Look For When Choosing a Bike Wheel
While taking your time is essential when choosing a bike wheel, here are a few things to consider when selecting a new wheel for your bike.
When picking out a wheel for your bike you need to think about the type of bike you have, the type of wheel you want, and the type of tire.
For example, if you have a road bike, do you want a wheel with a shallow-section rim or a deep-section rim? Do you do a lot of racing and would benefit from a tubular tire or do you like the versatility of a clincher wheel? All of these “types” are crucial when making your decision.
Brake Type and Wheel Compatibility
When some cyclists start shopping around for new bike wheels, they might overlook the brake type and wheel compatibility.
If your bike has rim brakes, you need to look for a bike wheel that has a flat rim sidewall that will alight with the surface of the brake shoes.
A bicycle with disc brakes need to be replaced with a wheel that is disc-compatible and also works with certain disc brake components like the rotor.
Getting the right wheel dimensions are important when replacing or upgrading your bike wheels. As nice and convenient it would be to have wheels and tires that come in a universal size, road, mountain, and BMX bikes all have different wheel dimensions.
Not sure of your tire dimensions? They should be clearly marked on the sidewall of your tire. Don’t forget to consider the rim dimensions.
The dimensions of your wheel will determine the type of riding you want to (and can do) on your bike.
Whether you are a road cyclist or prefer to hit the trails on your mountain bike, you can benefit from lightweight wheels. Before you automatically opt for a lightweight bike wheel, it’s important to know what you can do on a lighter wheel.
For mountain bikers, a lightweight wheel is good for all-mountain or cross country riding but not recommended for downhill riding.
The same goes for road biking. A lightweight wheel is best suited for racing and climbing but not great for commuting and touring.
If you’re into road bike racing, aerodynamics is something you may want to consider when choosing a bike wheel. The ability to minimize wind resistance to do wonders for your speed and a more aerodynamic wheel can be beneficial to all types of road cyclists.
How can you tell if a wheel is aerodynamic? Aerodynamic wheels often have a deeper rim section, and “aero” often pops up on the packaging or in the specs.
Bike Wheel Maintenance
We already stressed the importance of keeping a close eye on your bike wheels for any signs of damage. Although wheels are meant to handle all types of riding, occasional maintenance is recommended for extending the life of your bike wheel.
Wheel truing and keeping up with repairs are the most important parts of wheel maintenance. Wheel truing is the process of reshaping the wheel to make it perfectly round.
If you take your wheel to a bike mechanic, he or she will remove any bends and tighten up your spokes. If you ride your bike often, you’ll need to have your wheels tuned up more often.
Even if you think you know how to repair a wheel, it’s always best to bring it to a professional to ensure that the damage is fixed correctly. A proper repair can keep you safe and can extend the life of your wheel.
Choose The Right Wheel For Your Biking Experience
Before now, you probably didn’t think twice about the wheels on your bike. Now you know that there’s a lot more to wheels than a tire and spokes.
Without wheels, you wouldn’t be going anywhere on your bike, but even the wrong wheels won’t get you very far.
Choose your bike wheels carefully and always select a wheel that will make your biking experience positive, comfortable and safe.
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