Should I really buy those carbon wheels?

I confess that I know very little about wheels so when my friend and fellow bike rider Tegan Cox offered to write a guest blog post I coudn’t refuse. Over to you Tegan……..

Roval wheelsWheels. Bikes come with them so why do they need any further consideration? I know when I started riding a bike I didn’t have an opinion on what went on beneath me. Then I started in triathlon and the bike bling in transition was clear indication that wheels are not just for turning and keeping your face off the ground.

Most entry-level bikes come with solid but somewhat heavy wheels that are not necessarily performance orientated. You might look at going for a more expensive, lighter wheel if you want to find some speed and time advantages, make going up hill easier.

For triathlon and time trialling you might look for a deeper rimmed wheel for improved aerodynamics, which may (or may not in my case) deliver speed advantages and improved efficiency.

Or you might just want something that looks and sounds awesome.

Training V Racing

I own multiple sets of wheels. Training ones and racing ones. For training wheels I wanted something still quite light, nice to ride and handle well but are a bit more robust to deal with the pot holes and poor quality roads. Training wheels are generally aluminium and need not cost a bomb.

Recently I have ridden Zipp 101’s as training wheels but have also had the lighter weight Dura Ace wheel. I personally prefer how the Zipps handle and the general feel on the road but the Dura Ace are a nice (and less expensive) wheel that are virtually maintenance free.

I also have a set of older Roval wheels that are aluminium with a DT Swiss hub that are super nice to ride, particularly over longer distance. They have a significant advantage over the Zipp 101 in that they are very, very quiet.

My main criticism of the Zipp 101’s combined with a SRAM Red cassette is that on rough roads it sounds as though you are leaving a trail of componentry behind you.

A consideration for many in choosing training wheels is the weight of the rider. Many wheel manufacturers talk up the robustness of the wheel as a selling point. While this is really important for many of the big blokes, for many women it may not be so important. Many are a bit lighter and not as hard on their equipment. So don’t be afraid to try something considered a bit more high maintenance, as you don’t need it to be as bomb proof.

Race wheels are the ones that live in the spare room, in their wheel bag to be pulled out and admired once a month. They generally have a deeper rim for improved aerodynamics and are lighter.  They often also come with a hefty price tag.

Being a lighter weight rider I don’t buy into deeper being better. For lighter riders – which many women are deep rims can mean compromised handling in windy conditions. To put it politely. In reality it means that you have a big sail and not much weight behind you to hold your position on the road. It can be quite hairy to be skating across the road when you turn into a change of wind direction. I am happy to trade off a bit of speed for a steadier feel.

When considering new wheels have a think about what sort of riding you like to do. If it’s hills then a deep wheel won’t be of benefit to you but something light will. If its triathlon or time trial then you will get more gains with something big and impressive, but a try a few out to see how you like the handling. For road or criterium racing you might like to try something in the middle.

A good option is a company like Hire Speed Wheels.  where you can try a few different brands, rim depths and construction methods to see which ones you like. Race wheels in particular can be a big investment so you want to make sure you love them.

 The review Dura Ace v Zipp v Roval

This isn’t going to be a review based on sound methodology. I have ridden each of these wheel sets at different points in my riding career where my skills varied (a lot), conditions and time riding them varied. So it isn’t apples for apples.

My first race wheels were Dura Ace C50’s. They were an anniversary present from my husband. So it just goes to show that diamonds are not the only form of nicely arranged carbon. These wheels had a short-lived career with me. I found them a bit too stiff, awful in the slightest breeze. Clinchers with an aluminium breaking surface was practical as changing between wheels was easy*.

Everyone else who has had these wheels has just loved them. They are bomb proof, reliable and last for ever. I think what made them so durable is what made them a less comfortable ride for a lighter ride. However in the interest of disclosure I have not tried the current C50’s and it could be a whole new world of comfort – the point being that even if something reviews brilliantly it doesn’t always suit everyone, particularly women. My C50’s found a loving home with a friend who just adores them.

The head to head comparison I wanted to make was between Roval and Zipp Carbon Clinchers.

Specialized were kind enough to lend me a set of Roval Rapide CLX40’s. These are comparable to a Zipp 303 in depth. About 40mm deep. There is lots of technical specifications about these wheels which I won’t bore you with but these are lightweight, stiff and fast. Accelerate beautifully and there was no hesitation in braking. When I have discussed carbon clincher wheels with ladies in the past they are sometimes concerned that they don’t stop as well as aluminium wheels. As a guy stepped out in front of the bunch I can confirm that these things stop quickly.

Personally I found the 40mm rims not quite as nice for every day riding when the breeze picked up along the beach, but I am comparing them against the lower profile 202s. If you like the handling you wouldn’t be at all unhappy about getting around on these day in day out. Also would make a fabulous all round race wheel.

On the most important note the Roval wheels look awesome. The decals are inlaid into the finish of the wheel and don’t mark up easily. Zipp decals are a bit precious and I smoshed up the decals on my 101’s in the first week. Not a great start for something I felt was quite expensive.

Roval has included a few really nice little details. They come with wheel bags, this shouldn’t be a bonus but for reasons that I can only speculate, Zipp wheels don’t.  The Roval skewers are round so fits straight into a wind trainer. Which is handy if you’re like me and put off getting on the wind trainer due to sheer time and effort involved in changing skewers. Roval have kindly removed that barrier for us.

The Zipps I was comparing against are the 202 Firecrest carbon clincher. These are my wheels purchased by yours truly rooly, with actual money so no sponsorship or conflict of interest to disclose.  I wanted a light, everyday girl about town sort of wheel. I also ride a set of  Zipp 404 tubulars# which are Ah-mazing and I would ride them every day if I could. Alas I don’t have a team car to follow me from the front door everyday so the clinchers presented a more practical option. The 202’s are a bit lower profile at just over 30mm which explains why they handle a bit better in some conditions. I love these wheels. I think everyone should own a pair just so they too can experience the feelings of warmth and desire that is love at first sight. I can’t really explain why. I am sure there is a bunch of technical stuff but all I go by is the feel.  In my experience Zipp wheels are a little high maintenance. Expensive to buy and expensive to repair which could easily swing a buying decision towards the better priced but equally specced Rovals.

These wheels can’t be directly compared against the RovalCLX40’s in terms of handling but for my size and weight I prefer the lower profile of the Zipps.

I hate to be a fence sitter and my leaning is towards the 202’s – mostly because I already own them and have had a chance to ride in all conditions but I would recommend the CLX40’s without hesitation, but maybe not to someone who weighs 50kgs.

Are they worth the cost?

Probably not when compared to aluminium wheels. After all they meet the brief of being wheels. The benefit of riding really nice wheels is intangiable and difficult to quantify. It’s a feel thing. From a racing perspective lighter weight wheels that spin up faster and cut through the air are going to deliver you time savings.  The Roval wheels are the Louis Vuitton equivalent. Great design, durable, well regarded but practical for everyday use. The Zipps are more like Chanel lambskin. Beautiful and a pleasure to own. Can be used every day but you need to be a bit more careful and don’t get outraged when repairs are expensive. It’s the cost of ownership.

Having said that, for the cost of a set of Zipp 202’s you can buy a Chanel handbag, so Roval deliver much better bang for buck.

I have one set of brake pads for aluminium wheels and one for carbon wheels. The brake pads used on aluminium wheels pick up splinters of metal and can really scratch up your stunning carbon wheels. It probably does something to the integrity of the carbon as well, I have no idea but it doesn’t look good to damage your wheels. Some people use sandpaper to lightly file back the brake pad but I find it pretty straight forward to swap them over.

# Clinchers are the tyres most bikes come with. They have an inner tube that you can change when you get a flat. Tubulars are tyres that you glue on. They don’t have an inner tube so changing flats isn’t easy or sometimes even possible. Wheels are either tubular or clincher, you can’t put a clincher tyre on a tubular wheel, they are not interchangeable. Tubulars are faster but higher maintenance and not recommended for everyday riding. Unless you are wealthy, married wealthy or have someone waiting to pick you up when you get a flat.


  1. Thanks for your wheel talk! I have been racing for 2 years now and really want some race wheels, but tough to decide and justify the purchase. I like the reviews and talk about the roval rapide 4s, but zipp really is just still they best, ey? I have also heard great things about 303s. However, I tested some of the new ENVE deep clinchers, and I had so little control in a big cross wind. Do you find your control is compromised on big descents with a deeper race wheel? I live in a flat area (we have rollers but no real mountains) so everybody tells me 202s are pointless… am I going to be able to control the rovals at 25mph +? I weigh about 58kg…

  2. Hi Louise,

    I have heard really good things about the enve wheels but have yet to try them myself. For race wheels I agree that the 202s are not a great investment when for the price you can get something deeper that performs better. It’s always a balance of all things when the conditions get windy. You can always race on your training wheels or only run a deeper rim on the back. I always travel for races with the spare set for neutral spares and a low profile front wheel. At the NSW Grand Prix in Wollongong last year the conditions were cyclonic and plenty of pro girls were putting on the training wheels!

    I don’t notice any issues on descending on my 404s but the good thing about hills and valleys, sometimes it keeps you out of the breeze! I don’t think you would have any concerns with the rovals and like most of the new breed of wheels, the faster you get the more stable they are.

    If you are looking at the rovals for every day riding you might want to consider something lower profile as an option on the front. Or it may not be an issue if you are like me and choose the rollers on those sort of days. You will get used to them, I don’t believe they would handle in an anyways dangerous manner but its all about confidence in riding and racing.

    Happy shopping, let us know what you decide and how you find the .

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