A new set of road bike wheels is one upgrade you can guarantee will give your ride a lift. A set of new hoops can shed weight to help in the hills or improve aerodynamics so you can power along on the flat, hoovering up KOMs without breaking a sweat.
We’ll start this guide with our immediate product recommendations, split into four different groups: sub-£550 rim brake wheels, then £550-1000 rim brake wheels before the best £1000+rim brake wheels, followed by our pick of the best disc brake road bike wheels.
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.
With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
The best rim brake road bike wheels under £550
DT Swiss 1600 Spline 23 £474.98
Read more: DT Swiss 1600 Spline 23 review
A perfect set of upgrade wheels with a checklist of what you’d look for at this price tag. They’re tubeless ready as standard and have 18mm internal rim width which is a smidgen wider than a lot of the competition and sits tyres all the better because of it.
DT Swiss are well known for making excellent spokes and hubs, with competitor brands often speccing them on their own wheelsets. True to form, these wheels remained true and felt very stiff offering great performance benefits on our long training rides.
We put a lot of time into these wheels and our verdict was:
“Ultimately these are a great set of wheels for training, racing or just a general upgrade. You’ll be getting good quality hubs and spokes from the brand who supply much of the industry as well.”
Mavic Ksyrium Elite UST £539
Read more: Mavic Ksyrium ELite UST review
For any bike costing £2000 or below, a pair of the Mavic Ksyrium Elite UST wheels will be a huge step up in performance. The Ksyriums are now tubeless ready (hence the UST) at the point of purchase. That means a wider rim that better suits 25mm tyres, with no more mushrooming of the tyre on the rim.
The wheel comes with high quality QRM+ bearings, which are the same as those found in the more expensive Mavic Cosmic wheels. The wheels are also bombproof, having survived being clattered into potholes and up curbs.
These are, in our view, a set of the best upgrade wheelsets on the market.
Cero AR30 EVO wheels £499 10/10
Read more: Cero AR30 wheels review
You can tell that these Cero AR30 wheels are built with considerable thought, and that’s what makes them standout from the competition. You get class-leading Sapim CX Ray straight-pull spokes, an anti-bite guard on the hub to stop the cassette digging into the body and wide internal rim widths.
This means the tyre sits wide on the rim, and we found that 25mm tyres look more like 28s. This gives an aerodynamic advantage as well as bolstering comfort. They’re an impressively stiff, 30mm deep wheel which does a great job of keeping them from getting buffeted by the wind.
“All in all, the Cero AR30 EVO are a great set of wheels for under £500, and we have no doubt they’d bring any stock bike to life as a perfect upgrade option”
Hunt Race Season Aero Wide tubeless ready wheels £379 10/10
Read more: Hunt Race Season Aero Wide wheels review
Being tubeless ready, strong, light and stiff we honestly thought that the Hunt Race Season Aero Wide wheels were too good to be true – but thankfully we were wrong! Out the box, these wheels are ready to ride because Hunt provides them tubeless ready, and once set up the rims give a perfect seal.
This is because internally, the rims are 19mm wide and work well with both narrow 23mm tyres and wide 25s, and they blow any tyre up to wider than its stated width.
A reasonable weight of 1570g doesn’t make the rims a chore on the hills. This weight is coupled with an aerodynamic rim and a killer price tag, which makes these wheels a must have.
“All in all, these are a seriously impressive pair of wheels. For less than £400, the Hunt Race Aero Wide wheel offer exceptional performance and value for money. They’re light, stiff, well-made, and tubeless ready, and frankly I really can’t find fault in them.”
The best rim brake road bike wheels £500-1000
Fulcrum racing zero carbon wheels £849.99
Read more: Fulcrum Racing Zero wheels review
We threw these on a Pinarello Dogma F10, a bike known for showing up flexy wheels and they held their own.
At 1358g they’re lightweight, which helps on the hills. However, it’s the fact they’re now updated to be tubeless ready that makes them such a catch. Partner this with great stiffness and a decent rolling speed and these upgrade wheels would be very good for budding racers or enthusiasts alike.
“Fulcrum has done a great job at improving its aluminium Racing Zeros with this carbon offering. Although a little pricey you get a lot of performance. Braking in the dry is brilliant and the wheels feel great and agile. This can be really felt when pushing the descents, which made my recent Majorca trip a true joy. The only downside is that they catch the wind more than other 30mm deep section wheels I’ve tested.”
Hunt 50 Carbon Wide Aero £899
Read more: Hunt 50 Carbon Wide Aero review
At a sniff under £900, this performance 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 tyres you put on it will sit far far wider than their stated widths
“They’re not the fastest to accelerate but once up to the speed the wheels hold their pace and the difference they make to the speed of a ride is dramatic. They’re a cut above the competition and have a ride quality more expensive wheelsets should envy.”
The best rim brake road bike wheels £1000+
Zipp 302 carbon clincher £1299
Read more: Zipp 302 carbon clincher review
It’s rare to find a set of carbon Zipp wheels for under £2,000 but with the Zipp 302 the US firm is applying the principle of trickle-down to create what it calls ‘achievable speed’.
It goes for simple, smooth UD carbon and reliable and replaceable parts such as Sapim CX-Sprint J-bend aero spokes with brass nipples laced to hubs with very everyday-looking flanges. It’s clear that the Zipp 302s have retained all of Zipp’s extensive knowledge and experience, just in a stripped back form.
But meeting this price point has done nothing to dampen the performance of the wheels and these clinchers are devastatingly fast thanks to their wide rim profile, holding their speed like a deep aero wheel.
“A perfect 10 for these truly excellent wheels. They’re cheaper than the range-toppers but they still have the look and feel of a very fast pair of Zipps.”
Black Inc Black Thirty wheelset £1,850
Read more: Black Inc Black Thirty review
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 tyre. 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.
A stunning set of climb hungry wheels that could be a real GC contender for your bike’s wardrobe – the Black Thirty is compliant, stiff and never clattery. Aero gains have been considered, but of course 30mm rims are never going to be flat-terrain sprint optimised. However, if you want one wheel to rule them all, or a lightweight set for the mountains, these could tick your boxes.
Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset £1,986
Read more: Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset review
Zipp has long pushed innovation with its rim brake wheelsets and these new Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels are no different and the performance out on the road is spectacular.
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.
The Zipp 303 Firecrest wheelset have a very stable ride quality, but they’re also very quick and really rocketed up to speed and stayed put long after you stopped pedalling.
At £1,986 for the pair, these wheels are not cheap. But if you’re looking for a high-end upgrade then the Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels are a worthy consideration.
Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST £1,579
Read more: Mavic Cosmic Pro carbon SL UST
The Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST was one of the best carbon wheels on the market. They’re tubeless ready, and the wider rims because of this sit tyres more comfortably.
Mavic’s carbon braking technology is superb, and had our tester feeling safe on long descents in the mountains. The carbon fibre brake tract is of Mavic’s own development, and the brand uses a laser to prepare the braking surface.
On the scales, the wheels weigh in at 1490g, which isn’t bad for a deep section carbon wheel. However, the important thing to note is that the rims have a low weight, which reduces the level of effort needs to get them rolling.
“At £1579 a pair, they are expensive but the price is still much lower than those of other premium brands. Plus, you get tyres included, too. The weight is slightly higher than a pair of Zipp 303s or Enve 4.5s, but as previously mentioned, this added weight is not in the rim, where inertia is most important.”
The best disc brake wheel sets
A disc brake wheel set is specifically designed to be slowed via rotors mounted to dedicated hubs. Since the rotor is braked by a caliper close to the hub, disc wheels often have a higher spoke count than rim-braked wheels because of the additional and one-sided twisting forces the system generates.
However, disc brake wheels have no need of a braking surface at the rim, so less material can be used in that area, making a disc wheel potentially faster to accelerate.
Current disc brake rims can be – and are – often wider, designed for bigger tyres since they are freed from the constraints of the rim caliper. Proponents of disc brakes claim that they offer better modulation at the lever for less input from the fingers.
Why go for disc brakes?
It has been argued that before carbon clinchers arrived, there was no need for disc brakes in road cycling since rim braking on aluminium was safe, predictable and progressive in all weather conditions and heat was dissipated reliably enough. Whether you’re a disc-brakes fan or not, it’s indisputable that disc brakes have solved that particular problem for the now-ubiquitous carbon clincher.
Watch: How to bleed your disc brakes
Disc brake wheel sets reviewed
Cero RC35-D £899
Read more: Cero RC35-D review
Cero are following the trend of most wheel brands and opting for a wider rim. The RC35s have a 25.2mm width (19mm internal) which gave our tester’s Continental tyres a really nice round profile and increased the rubber surface area to play with. It also allowed them to run the tyres at a much lower pressure for better compliance and road comfort.
The Cero RC35-D comes laced with Sapim’s range topping CX-Ray spokes, 20 front and 24 rear, in a 3-cross formation for a stronger layup and to resist additional torque inputs from disc brakes. The wheels underwent a good couple of months gravel and off-road riding and they stood up to the challenge with ease.
With a weight of 1409g, the Ceros felt stiff and responsive on climbs and zipped along on the flat. Setting them up tubeless couldn’t have been easier and the wide 19mm internal rim width sat both 25mm Continental tyres and 35mm gravel tyres comfortably. Hammering along the road, racing cross or gravel riding, these wheels were faultless.
The Cero RC35-D’s are one of the best carbon wheelsets under £1000 I’ve tested. Some might argue that there’s lighter, faster wheels out there on the market, but none that even come close with a price tag of £899. They’re tubeless ready out the box and Cero provide a host of spares and adapters. For a solid mix of all-around performance, long term durability and quality, even for those that might want to venture off the tarmac, look no further!
Hunt 50 Carbon Aero Disc £899
Read more: Hunt 50 Carbon Aero Disc review
At £899, Hunt’s 50mm carbon wheels are a set of great value upgrade wheels. They have a chunky but good looking 50mm rim profile and Hunt’s name is tastefully placed on the rim in white.
As with all of Hunt’s wheel options, these are tubeless ready as standard and Hunt will even send them to you set up and ready to go. A wide, 21mm internal rim width sat my tubeless ready Continental GP5000 tyres flush to the rim. In general, I found they leaked about 10psi a day, suggesting a good seal between the tyre 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. In general they rolled along on the flat at 34/35kmh 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, knocking descending confidence a little.
“The Hunt 50 Carbon Aero Wide wheels match the performance of hoops almost twice the price – highly recommended.”
Buy now: Hunt 50 Carbon Aero Disc at Hunt
Giant SLR 1 Disc Full Carbon 42 disc brake wheel set £1,000
Read more: Giant SLR 1 Disc Full Carbon 42 review
Giant is now producing wheels that are as good as any currently on the market, with the Sunweb pro team riding the top-level ones as proof.
It’s no surprise that its own-brand wheels are characterised by a high level of technology paired with a competitively low price. They have a deep-section carbon tubeless-ready rim that has a depth of 42mm. There are 21 aero spokes at the front and 24 in the rear, Giant using Sapim CX-Sprints, like Zipp in this test and many big other big OEM wheel manufacturers.
The wheels added a responsiveness to our test rides that’d been missing and supplied some much needed aerodynamic help. It’s hard to fault the SLRs: stiff and responsive at a competitive price point – they’re tubeless ready, too.
In fact, it was hard to find fault with the Giant SLR 1 Disc Full Carbon 42 wheels. It’s nice to be certain of the provenance of these wheels – something not always possible with companies that buy in rims and rebrand them
“This is a good a wheelset as you’ll find at this price. Design, build quality, weight and aesthetics are everything you could hope for. However, bear in mind Giant’s advice if you plan on running them with clinchers rather than tubeless.”
Buy now: Giant SLR 1 42 at Tredz for £999
Roval CLX 50 Disc wheelset £1,850
Read more: Roval CLX 50 Disc review
A very wide 20.9mm internal rim width seats tyres comfortably and is all the better for those wanting to run tubeless. A high 21/24 spoke count helps maintain the wheels rigidity and these wheels use 12mm thru-axles to counter the additional forces of the disc brakes. The wheels have a 20.9mm internal rim width which is in-keeping for Roval, a brand that has always championed wide internal rims.
Wide and stiff, the Roval CLX 50 Disc are some of the fastest rolling wheels we’ve tried. They offer the addictive combination of being light, accelerating well and have great rolling speed elevating my riding speed from 30km/h to 34km/h.
Want something a little bit deeper? We also rate the Roval CLX 64 Disc wheels very highly.
“High-end carbon fibre wheels don’t come cheap, but the Roval CLX 50 wheels are some of the best.”
Enve SES 5.6 Disc wheelset £2700
Read more: Enve SES 5.6 review
Enve has an enviable record for its premium carbon wheelsets. A pioneer of deep section carbon rims, it’s been a feature of the pro circuit for years, its wheels currently being ridden by Team Dimension Data.
Enve’s SES 5.6 have received an updated hubs that offer better durability. The front rim is 54mm deep whilst the rear is is 63mm which is more aerodynamic and the wheels are both tubular and tubeless ready. We tested the latter and found them to be particularly tubeless friendly, setting up with no hassle at all.
Riding the Enve’s took minutes of our standard test loops and at 1576g they’re light for a deep section rim, which probably contributed to their lively ride feel which brings out the quality of any bike frame.
“Enve has kept all the excellent aero qualities of the original SES 5.6 wheelset, while the revamp of the hubs promises better durability, as well as delivering a price reduction. It’s a winning combination, if still pricey.”
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.
If you know you live somewhere with terrible roads, or choppy terrain then you’ll probably put a great emphasis on robustness, and having a set of wheels that will stand the test of time. Typically, “bombproof” wheels are shallow, with a box design and an aluminium rim. That doesn’t mean they’re slow though, and we’ve been very impressed with box aluminium 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.
If you’ve just bought yourself a snazzy 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 travelling 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, aluminium builds but these tend to be a bit heavier.
Watch: How much faster are aero wheels?
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 fibre builds, and other neat features like lightweight spokes, carbon fibre hubs and the general removing of any excess material – and for that reason 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
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 tyre they use.
Clinchers utilise an open cross section tyre with a bead that holds it in place on the rim profile and an inner tube is placed inside the rim. 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 aluminium rim. These are heavier, but are cheaper than a completely 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 tyres, can be done in minutes
- Clincher tyres 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
Watch: How to set up tubeless road 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 tyre, the tyre itself creates an airtight seal against the rim, so all you have to do is inject some sealant and pump some air into the tyre.
A consequence of making the rim airtight can be that it is slightly heavier, but this is somewhat offset by the lack of 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 tyre combinations.
- Much lower risk of flat tyres
- Low rolling resistance
- Fiddly to set up
- More weight at the rim
Tubular road bike wheels
Prior to the invention of clincher tyres, 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 tyre, with an inner tube sealed or sewn inside, making them very inconvenient if you have to change a tyre.
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 tyre. Instead, the tubular tyre is glued or taped onto the rim.
Bonding of the tyre to the rim is crucial, in order to avoid rolling the tyre off the rim while cornering. Gluing is 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 training on a tubular tyre (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 tyre 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. In summary:-
Advantages of tubular wheels
- Lighter wheels
- Lighter rim is better for acceleration
- Tubular tyres 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
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.
Having a carbon or aluminium wheel is going to directly impact the braking surface of the rim. It is easier to manufacture a perfectly flat braking surface with aluminium, resulting in more consistent braking. In addition, aluminium 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 compared to aluminium it is often not as good in the wet. Carbon braking surfaces can also suffer heat build, especially if you drag your brakes for a long time. This can lead to de-lamination of the rim.
Hubs are at the centre 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 is a freehub. This means you can freewheel without turning the pedals. The cassette is fitted onto the freehub body.
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. Note Shimano and SRAM are compatible with each other. In addition, Edco now make a freehub body that is compatible with Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo cassettes.
10, 11 or 12-speed?
All 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 has become 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 Campagnolo ones, meaning you should be able to keep using your old wheels.
Spokes and Nipples
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 over all price points.
Nipples help hold the spoke in place on the rim and are typically made of brass (although aluminium can save weight). When a wheel is trued the spoke tension is adjusted via the nipple.