Best road bike wheels reviewed: disc and rim wheelsets

Our complete guide to what to look for when buying your new road bike wheels, including the type of rim, the material, and the depth you should go for.

Best road bike wheels
(Image credit: chris catchpole)

A new set of road bike wheels is one upgrade you can guarantee will give your ride a new life. A set of new hoops can shed weight to help in the hills or improve aerodynamics so you can power along on the flat, vacuuming up KOMs without breaking a sweat.

There's a lot to think about when buying a new pair of wheels, so further down the page you'll find a detailed guide to help you make the right choice.

The best disc brake wheelsets

Hunt 50 Carbon Aero Disc

Hunt 50 Carbon Aero Disc wheels balance performance and price very well.

Best road bike wheels for value

Specifications
Weight: 1487g
Depth: 50mm
Width (internal): 21mm
Reasons to buy
+Very good rolling speed+Wide internal rim width+Good looking+Good value
Reasons to avoid
-Susceptible to cross-winds-Slow to accelerate

The Hunt's 50 carbon wheels are a set of great value upgrade wheels. They are a little chunky, but good looking 50mm rim profile and while there's no getting away from the brand logo written in large on the rim in white, it is a tasteful one.

As with all of Hunt’s wheel options, these are tubeless-ready and Hunt will even send them to taped and with valves and the wide, 21mm internal rim width sat our on test tubeless-ready Continental GP5000 tires nice and flush right up to the sides. 

In general, we found they leaked about 10psi a day, which, from experience of other tubeless wheelsets, suggest a good seal between the tire and the rim.

In their first week of testing the Hunts covered 750km of riding in Calpe, Spain where they suited the rolling roads very nicely. They're not the fastest set of wheels out the blocks, but in general they rolled along on the flat at 35kph / 21mph comfortably and any coasting was accompanied by the buzz of a very loud freehub. 

Occasionally on the long descents, their rims would catch the wind, which can knock descending confidence a little, but it's the same for any wheel depth once you get over the 40mm mark, or are running bladed spokes. 

Balancing performance and weight, tipping the scales at a mere 77g a piece heavier than the Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon tubeless disc below, at this price point is no mean feat, making us really impressed with the Hunt 50, and a pair of the best road bike wheels on the market. 

Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon tubeless disc

Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon tubeless disc perform superbly all-round. 

(Image credit: Future)

Best road bike wheels recommended all-round

Specifications
Weight: 1410g
Depth: 50mm
Width (internal): 25mm
Reasons to buy
+Smooth ride+Low overall weight+Handle well in most conditions and terrain+Impact strength especially when sprinting/ high watts+Easy to set up+Excellent off road capabilities+Great price for performance wheels
Reasons to avoid
-Some noisy freehub clunk-Graphics can peel off after a time-Only works with 28mm+ tyres which are hookless compatible

Zipp's current focus is on making wheels designed to be run with wide, tubeless tyres and at lower pressures. These are hookless rims with a 25mm internal width, so need to be run with rubber over 28mm and below 72psi. 

The hookless set up does mean you are slightly limited by tyre brand, but you've got to try it before you judge it, as ,on test, we found the ride quality absolutely excellent and one of the best road bike wheels you can currently buy.

The lower tyre pressure requirement does deliver a softer ride feel, not to be confused with a slower one. The smoother ride delivers an almost blood like connection with your bike, coupled with the broader rim profile, allows for an impressively balanced and confidence inspiring on bike capabilities. In fact, on test, we were able to hit 85kmh and they didn't once so much give a tiny flutter, event in some gusty wind conditions. 

A low rolling weight and 66point engagement hub teaming, also means these pick up  are capable of showing a clean pair of heals in any sprint. 

Popping a set of Tangente Course G40 tyres gravel tyres on the rim and the wheels really came in to their own. Capable of taking up to 50mm tyres, and over a 400km, three day adventure, they only lost around 2psi. 

Fulcrum Racing Zero Carbon DB Wheelset

Lightweight climbing

Specifications
Weight: 1450g
Depth: 30mm
Width (internal): 19mm
Spoke count: 21 front and rear
Reasons to buy
+Light for climbing+Hold speed well on the flat
Reasons to avoid
-None!

Proving to be every bit as good as their rim brake siblings (see rim brake wheelsets below), the Racing Zero Carbon DB have also picked up a Cycling Weekly Editor's Choice award.

The 30mm deep carbon rim disc brake boasts the brand's own two-way fit technology, which means they can be used with either clincher or tubeless tires

The lightweight wheels are remarkably fast, stiff and responsive, and combined with their depth makes them ideal for climbing, descending and going full gas on the flat. Without a doubt a set of Racing Zero Carbon DC will have a marked effect to any bike you ride them with.

cero

(Image credit: Cero)

Specifications
Weight: 1420g
Depth: 30mm
Width: 22mm
Reasons to buy
+Low price for a good set of wheels+Lightweight option+Simple Tubeless Setup+Long term durability
Reasons to avoid
-Stiffness of alloy rim can translate to harsh ride at high tyre pressures

I managed to rack up around 2000km+ on these wheels, which was more than enough time to lead me to the conclusion that this is a very well rounded, reliable and versatile wheelset. 

These rims can effortlessly morph between road, gravel and any terrain in-between. These should be top of the wish list for anyone looking for a wheelset for their gravel bike, a pair of training wheels for their race machine, or simply someone who doesn't have the cash to go down the carbon route. 

Taking into account price point, performance, weight and durability, Cero has done it again, undercutting the big name brands with a no nonsense wheelset, built in the UK, made for any terrain you throw at them.

Roval CLX 64 disc wheelset

Best for matching your Specialized bike (and versatility)

Specifications
Weight: 1580g
Depth: 50mm
Width (internal): 20.7mm
Reasons to buy
+Very fast+Light weight+Fast to accelerate+Tubeless ready+Versatile despite their depth
Reasons to avoid
-Twitchy handling

We rated the Roval CLX 50 Disc wheelset when we first saw them a couple of years ago, and we are happy to report the Roval CLX 64 disc wheels are equally as impressive.

On straight-line speed alone the wheels would have won plaudits, but the fact that even at 64mm deep they were capable of climbing just as well gave them space in Cycling Weekly Editor's Choice.

Deeper than the CLX50 obviously makes them slightly heavier, but at 1580g they are still exceptionally light.

Stiff and responsive meant that these are a dream to climb on, and absolute rocket in a straight line, just be aware of their depth making them slightly twitchy compared to the shallower 50mm version.

Enve: best road bike wheels

Best for attracting admiring glances

Specifications
Weight: 1568g
Depth: 54/63
Width (internal): 19mm
Reasons to buy
+Feel fast and are fast+Tubeless ready+New hubs promise improved durability+Cheaper than their predecessor
Reasons to avoid
-Don't come taped-Expensive

Enve has an enviable record for its premium carbon wheelsets. A pioneer of deep-section carbon rims, the brand has been a feature of the pro circuit for years, its wheels currently being ridden by NTT Pro Cycling .

Enve's SES 5.6 have received an updated hubset that offer better durability. The front rim is 54mm deep whilst the rear is 63mm which is more aerodynamic and the wheels are available for tubular tires or clinchers/tubeless-ready. We tested the latter and found them to be particularly tubeless friendly, setting up with no hassle at all.

Rim brake road bike wheels

The best rim brake road bike wheels

Hunt 50 Carbon Wide Aero wheelset

Specifications
Weight: 1537g
Depth: 50mm
Width (internal): 19mm
Reasons to buy
+Tubeless ready+Wide width+Hold their pace superbly+Reasonable price
Reasons to avoid
-Slow to accelerate

At a sniff under £800 / $1000, this performance wheels is particularly important at what is probably the most competitive price point on the market. They're not the fastest to accelerate because they're 50mm deep, but once the Hunt 50 Carbon Wide Aero wheels are up to speed they're unstoppable and on our tests, these instantly increased our average ride speed.

As ever with Hunt wheels, they're tubeless-ready and have a very wide rim width because of it. Whichever tires you put on it will sit far wider than their stated widths

Black Inc Black Thirty wheelset

(Image credit: Studio)

Specifications
Weight: 1390g
Width: 30mm
Depth: 17mm
Reasons to buy
+Light+Stiff+Compliant
Reasons to avoid
-None

Black Inc has designed its ‘Black Thirty’ to be a climbing wheel, and at a claimed weight of 1390g (1230g if you go tubular), it is certainly a lightweight option. It’s undeniable that it’s on the climbs where the wheels really shine, giving the rider a real sense of advantage.

Their racing credentials really shined through in the local crit races too, with no flexing through corners and they even rolled our tester to victory on one occasion.

The use of a 17mm internal rim and 26.5mm outer, maxing out at 27mm at the widest part certainly matches up with current thinking which determines this to be the most wind-cheating approach when paired with a compatible tire. A wider rim also allows you to run thicker, bump-sucking-up and better-handling rubber without an aerodynamic fall out – I teamed these with Pirelli PZero 25mm’s.

In particular, they benefit from a trickling down of the brand's NSW technology, which is why they have the slightly strange Sawtooth rim design that gives the wheels an aerodynamic boost. They also benefit from the Zipp's Showstopper braking technology which is definitely best in class.

Edco Four-8 wheelset

(Image credit: Edco)

Specifications
Weight: 1548g
Depth: 48mm
Width: 21mm
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable for the depth+Good handling+Quality finishing
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing stand out

Edco's Four-8 wheels are a fast and versatile set of performance carbon wheels, with the wide oval rim profile providing a comfortable ride on rougher roads. 

The complete package is good, there's really nothing to criticise these over, they're a solid investment they they don't sit head and shoulders above the competitors in terms of weight and price.

scribe wheels

(Image credit: Future)

Scribe 3850

Specifications
Weight: 1451g
Depth: 38/50
Width (internal): 19mm
Reasons to buy
+Sturdy (crash tested!)+Lightweight for the rim depth+Longevity+Plenty of customisation
Reasons to avoid
-Lack compliance -Noisy hub

Scribe has put a lot of thought into creating a wheel set that promises longevity and durability, with plenty of nods to consumer satisfaction - such as customisable bearing options and extra spokes and nipples supplied as standard. The rims themselves proved to be durable - though their bombproof quality comes at the loss of some compliance. You won't find any flex here, though, so if stiff is on your shopping list then these value for money hoops could be the perfect upgrade for you. 

How to choose the best road bike wheels

Choosing the right road bike wheels for you

The thing is, if you want a wheel that is light and aerodynamic, while also being stiff to cope with the power you put out when sprinting, and hardy enough to stay straight and true when faced with rough roads, you’re going to notice a sizeable dent in your bank account. So before buying, it's important to know exactly what you want from your wheelset.

best road bike wheels

If you know you live somewhere with rough roads, or mixed terrain then you'll probably put a great emphasis on durability and strength, and having a set of wheels that will stand the test of time. Typically, "bombproof" wheels are shallow, with a box design and an aluminum rim. That doesn't mean they're slow though, and we've been very impressed with box aluminum rims from the likes of Hunt, Mavic and DT Swiss. Similarly, though, that's not to suggest carbon isn't strong, and many pros run carbon wheels at the toughest cobbled classics, but it can offer a harsh ride on rough ground — the pros also aren't paying for or maintaining those wheels.

If you've just bought yourself a new aero bike, then you'll probably want a wheelset with an aerodynamic edge. These are wheels that have extra material extending down from the rim, which helps the rim cut through the wind. They can give a real advantage if you're racing, or if you want to improve your average speed on your rides. It's worth bearing in mind, though, that to get the most aerodynamic benefits you need to be consistently traveling above 32kph. Of course, if you want a deep section wheel with a carbon build you're going to be spending a fair whack. You can get cheaper, aluminum builds but these tend to be a bit heavier.

The lightest wheels are reserved for those who do a lot of climbing or live somewhere very hilly. The weight reduction is possible because of carbon fiber builds, and other neat features like lightweight spokes, carbon fiber hubs and the general removing of any excess material – hence why they tend to have a shallower rim. As you might expect, you'll need deep pockets to buy these lightweight hoops.

These categories are a general guide to the types of wheels, but fortunately for us cyclists most wheels are spread across the three types, and in general it is possible to get a very good set of do-it-all wheels.

Different types of road bike wheels

Clincher road bike wheels

best road bike wheels

Your bike probably came complete with clincher wheels and this is for good reason. Clinchers are the most common type of bike wheel currently available and are defined by the type of tire they use.

Clinchers utilize an open cross-section tire with a bead that holds it in place on inside of the rim and utilizes and innertube. This offers a great deal of convenience as it is easy to repair when you get punctures.

Carbon clincher wheels are significantly heavier than their equivalent tubulars because the rim needs to be stronger to cope with the demands of braking pressure and force from the rim. Some deep section wheels feature a carbon fairing placed over an aluminum rim. These are heavier, but are cheaper than a complete carbon rim, owing to lower manufacturing and development costs.

Advantages of clincher wheels

  • Easy to repair punctures, just by carrying spare inner tubes
  • Easy to change tires, can be done in minutes
  • Clincher tires are typically cheaper than tubulars

Disadvantages of clincher wheels

  • Typically heavier than a tubular rim
  • Higher rotational weight than a tubular
  • Braking surface encounters higher stress, having to withstand outward pressure of the bead and inward pressure of heat from the brakes

Tubeless road bike wheels

Tubeless wheels have become very popular over the last few years, with more and more brands fitting the standard on their bikes. Instead of having an inner tube inside a tire, the tire itself creates an airtight seal against the rim, so all you have to do is inject some sealant and pump some air into the tire.

A consequence of making the rim airtight can be that it is slightly heavier, but this is somewhat offset by the lack of an inner tube. The sealant is designed to seal holes and punctures as they happen. It is still possible to get a flat on a tubeless wheel, at which point an inner tube can be placed inside, but the risk is considerably less, making them ideal for those wanting to avoid punctures. Plus, the general consensus is that these are faster than other types of wheel and tire combinations.

Advantages

  • Much lower risk of flat tires
  • Low rolling resistance

Disadvantages

  • Fiddly to set up
  • More weight at the rim

Hookless tubeless road bike wheels

The latest type of rim dispenses with the hooks that were originally designed to stop the tyre from blowing off. With a hookless rim and compatible tubeless tyre there's no need for the hooks any more. Once the tyre moves out of the tyre bed cavity that characterises a a tubeless rim and up onto the bead 'shelf', it's not going anywhere.

Mountain bikes have been using hookless rims for years now, but recently the big wheel manufacturers including Roval, Zipp, Enve, Corima and Cadex have started to make hookless rims for the road.

Not all tubeless-ready tyres are compatible with all hookless rims yet – that's the only obvious drawback – but according Zipp that will soon be a non-issue.

Advantages

  • No hooks means cleaner transition between the rim and the tyre – more aero
  • Wider internal rim with no hooks means stabler tyre with no 'lightbulbing'
  • Straight rim walls can be made more accurately with tighter tolerances creating a better tyre interface and a lower risk of the tire blowing off of the rim
  • Better carbon compaction thanks to simpler manufacturing means a stronger rim
  • Better resin distribution thanks to simpler manufacturing means the rim can be molded with less resin – lighter rim
  • Less manufacturing waste means a reduction of the costs and a lower price for the end user

Disadvantages

  • Not all tubeless tyres are compatible with tubeless rims so tyre choice is limited

Tubular road bike wheels

best road bike wheels

Prior to the invention of clincher tires, tubular wheels were the only option available. Today they’re a rare sight away from racing (where teams have support) as they are an enclosed tire, with an inner tube sealed or sewn inside, making them very inconvenient if you have to change a tire.

Tubular wheels are usually lighter than the clincher alternative. This is because the rim does not need to be as strong in order to hold the bead of the tire. Instead, the tubular tire is glued or taped onto the rim.

Bonding of the tire to the rim is crucial, in order to avoid rolling the tire off the rim while cornering. Gluing is the most traditional way and considered the most reliable, but it typically takes a couple of days to set, whereas tape is much quicker.

If you are racing, riding a sportive or Gran Fondo, or training on a tubular tire (tub for short) and you get a puncture there are a couple of options. Sealant, such as Vittoria Pit Stop can be injected into the tire to seal the hole, but this may not work if the hole is too big.

Alternatively, a spare tub can be placed on the rim, but this will not be bonded as strongly. If you are racing, or riding with a support vehicle, tubulars can be a joy to ride, but for training rides and everyday use, even professionals use clinchers.

Advantages of tubular wheels

  • Lighter wheels
  • Lighter rim is better for acceleration
  • Tubular tires roll very nicely

Disadvantages of tubular wheels

  • Less easy to fit than clinchers
  • Repairing a puncture not as straight forward as a clincher

The anatomy of a road bike wheel

Rims

best road bike wheels

The rims are usually the first thing you notice on a pair of wheels. Deeper section wheels are more aerodynamic, but are heavier than their shallow rim counterparts. In addition, crosswinds can catch the deeper section like a sail, which can make keeping the bike in a straight line a handful. A lower profile is much easier to control and is often lighter in weight – meaning it will accelerate faster.

Braking surface

Having a carbon or aluminum wheel is going to directly impact the braking surface of the rim. It is easier to manufacture a perfectly flat braking surface with aluminum, resulting in more consistent braking. In addition, aluminum can be machined to feature grooves and patterns to improve the efficiency of the braking.

Carbon braking is consistently improving as technology moves forward, but still pales in comparison to aluminum, especially in the wet. Carbon braking surfaces can also suffer from heat build, especially if you drag your brakes for a long time and can lead to de-lamination of the rim.

Hubs

best road bike wheels

Hubs are at the center of the wheel and contain the axle and bearings. Higher quality hubs are better made, often with superior bearings that roll with less friction. Cartridge bearings are the usual standard on anything except the cheapest wheels because they are simple to replace. The smoothest bearings are ceramic ones, although they come with a price tag to match.

In freewheel bicycles (i.e. anything that is not a fixie), the rear hub has a freehub body which is what holds the cassette. This means you can freewheel without turning the pedals.

Whether a wheelset is Shimano or Campagnolo compatible depends upon the freehub body, as the cassettes from the two manufacturers are a slightly different design in the way they slot onto the freehub. This isn’t a problem as different freehub bodies can be purchased and changed on the wheel.

SRAM's new 12-speed AXS groupsets utilize and XDR driver, a technology borrowed from its Eagle MTB groupsets to allow for the 10t cog. Shimano have also introduced a Micro-spinle freehub for its 12-speed MTB groupsets, and we expect to see it migrate across with the release of its next round of road groupsets.

10, 11 or 12-speed?

best road bike wheels

Most new wheels now feature a freehub body designed for 11-speed cassettes. But don’t worry if you’re still running 10-speed, as you can use a 10-speed cassette on an 11-speed freehub by using a spacer. These spacers are often included with the wheels, but if you are unsure, check with your local bike shop.

Campagnolo became the first cycling groupset maker to create a 12-speed groupset. The good news is that the cassette fits on the same body as the 11-speed cluster, meaning you should be able to keep using your old wheels. SRAM also now offer a 12-speed road groupset, eTap AXS, but you'll need an XDR driver.

Spokes and Nipples

best road bike wheels

No-nonsense hub with J-bend spokes

Spokes provide support from the hub to the rim and distribute the pressure around the bike wheel, working in both tension and compression. Pay attention to the spoke count, as the more there are the stronger but heavier the wheel. Meanwhile, fewer spokes often make the wheel more aerodynamic. The shape of the spokes also matters – with flat/aero/bladed spokes becoming increasingly standard overall price points.

Nipples help hold the spoke in place on the rim and are typically made of brass (although aluminum can save weight). When a wheel is trued the spoke tension is adjusted via the nipple.