Choose the right wheelset for your next race

By Kaye Lopez | Photos by Caleb Woods and Daniel Llorente/Unsplash
Shallow

Juliette Leusink, whose talent and potential were quickly spotted by Polo Tri after only a few races in 2014, ran a unique combination of Mavic Aksium front and Shimano RS510 rear wheels on her Orbea road bike at the inaugural Challenge Philippines. Curiously, she also used that exact combo at Cobra Ironman 70.3 half a year later, so maybe that’s her preferred ensemble.  Finishing in the top half of the F30-35 category with a 4:17:54 bike split, the shallow 24-mm deep aluminum rims with robust spokes give her assurance that they’ll be reliable even with the potholes and crosswinds. When the climbs come, she will have to exert a bit more effort to spin the hoops upward since they aren’t as light as pure carbon rims, but the aluminum surface on the brake tracks means no problems on descents and heavy braking.

Medium Depth

There are quite a few options for rims with a 35 to 52 mm depth and these are largely regarded as the best compromise between aero and weight (or speeding fast and climbing fast). The popular Mavic Cosmic Carbone was Efren Uy’s choice for the same event and, coincidentally, he finished just one position ahead of Leusink in the overall standings. Apart from gender and genetics, Uy would have found substantial benefits from the 52 mm depth of the Cosmic Carbone’s carbon shroud on the flats and the descents, without any disadvantages compared with Leusink’s wheel choice when the roads tilted upward. That’s because the Cosmic Carbones tip the scales a bit lighter than the Aksium/RS510 combo. If weights are close between two wheelsets, aero should always trump weight.

Staggered

Because I’m a light rider, I stagger with a shallow 24 mm rim in the front (same depth as Leusink’s ) to give me handling confidence and use 52-60 mm wheels (same as Uy’s) in the rear for that extra aero benefit. Because the wheel position is fixed, using deeper rims in the rears gives you more control in the crosswind. If the wind catches your deep-rimmed front wheel though, it can jerk the handlebars away from you and affect your steering.

Oliver Yao swam less than a minute slower than Leusink, but rode 18 minutes faster than Uy with a staggered combination of Zipp 404/808 Firecrest carbon rims. Yao is a distinguished mountain biker so he can compensate for the sudden gusts with his excellent bike control and maximize the aerodynamic benefits of the Zipp rims. He is also an accomplished karter so his motorsport mastery of maximum speed and braking modulation mean that he can get the most out of that aerodynamic benefit without stressing the rim on the descents or into high-speed corners. He obviously found precious minutes on the course with his smart wheel choices.

Deep

Hamad Al Muraisi can also say that he made the best choice out of everyone here because his deep-rim set of Bontrager Aeolus 7 carbon rims contributed to his respectable 3:34:40 bike split and placed him 162 positions ahead of Yao. Al Muraisi’s choice was a wise one as he was also on the then-newest and best Trek Speed Concept 9.9.  Matching the 70mm deep rims with the wind-cheating properties of the Speed Concept TT module was an ideal combination. A TT bike may not have been the best choice for everyone due to the many steep climbs along the course, but Al Muraisi was able to power up the climbs well enough to match the bike split of many local climbers on road bikes.