Its a long time since bike wheels were taken from horse-drawn carts! Wooden wheels with a metal band round the bicycle rim were very hard and uncomfortable to ride. Cycling became much more fun when the pneumatic tire was invented and tarred roads came along. And after the first wooden rims then came steel, alloy and now if you can afford it, carbon. These days you can take into account a number of different things including the material used, the shapes/cross-section and the hub construction ( spoked or solid ).
Out of all the bicycle parts the wheel rim can make a big difference to how your bike handles . If you’re into bike workouts where you’re moving fast, this can be important, and if you’re a sprinter or climber then you need light wheel rims so that you don’t get slowed down. With road biking, where the surfaces are flat and even, it’s easier to get the wheels rolling and then the weight gives you good momentum to keep moving .
Flat rims are best for climbing, as aerodynamics are not so important on a hill, while a deep section, aerodynamic wheel rim will help you cut through the air if you’re moving fast ( you can get some handling problems with these in strong cross-winds though ). So the shape of the rim can be important too.
Take into account the material used to make the bike rim too, as although steel has been used the most in the past , and is cheaper, it’s heavy and can be hard to repair if it gets damaged.
Alloy is likely the most popular now-days. It can be made into any shape and profile, flat or aero, but not too deep as it would then weigh too much. Most deep section rims have an alloy braking section nearest the tire which is then mounted into a deep carbon section, which keeps it light and can be molded to be more aerodynamic.
The best wheel rim would have to be an all-carbon one. Carbon is strong and very light, but there are also a few problems with these rims. They don’t brake so well in wet conditions so you need special brake blocks for carbon which are quite expensive. Also the rim has to be perfectly round and not have any bulges in the rim wall or the braking can become erratic. Carbon is a difficult material to work with and must be well looked after.
The type of tire you intend using also influences what rim you go after. There are two types:
- Tubular tires are glued onto the bicycle rim. These are more modern and cost more ( also being more difficult to repair ) but for racing they feel and ride wonderfully.
- Clincher tires fit into the rim. They’ve improved a lot recently and are nearly as good as tubulars for performance and are easily repairable and cost far less.
So there’s a lot to decide on, but one good thing these days is that wheel are are manufactured in all these variations and in sets – Mavic, Shimano and Campagnolo are probably the best known, and there are other brands as well. The manufacturers make up the wheels as complete units so that you can buy them already set-up for the type of riding you’ll be doing .