Of all the components that can affect the character of a bike, wheels arguably have the best ability to make or break the way a bike rides. They’re also one of the easiest ways to upgrade your bike and greatly improve its performance. The best road bike wheels can all but transform your ride from sluggish and difficult to lively and exciting.
A light and stiff (but not too stiff) wheel will make your bike feel like it’s gliding up a climb, help you effortlessly hold speed along the flats, and also improve steering accuracy. High-quality hubs keep things spinning along for years with a bit of elbow (or waterproof) grease here and there, and, most importantly, keep the elements out.
With more options than ever, between carbon or alloy rims at different depths, clincher, tubeless, and tubular tyre compatibility, disc or rim brakes, and quick release or thru-axle options, finding the right wheelset to buy isn’t always straightforward.
We’ve compiled a list of our favourite road wheels to help you find and buy the best road bike wheels for your budget.
Jump to our guide on what to look for in a set of road wheels
Best road bike wheels
If you’re looking for a wheelset that will offer versatility, then you could do much worse than the Firecrest 303S wheels, which are compatible with tyres from 25-50mm wide. Tubeless tyre installation is a breeze thanks to the hookless rim design, although not all tyre brands are compatible, most notably Continental.
They weigh 115g less than their predecessor, and fall under Zipp’s Total System Efficiency ethos for wider and lighter wheels. This results in a smoother, faster and more cultured ride for a great price.
Harnessing the latest trend for wide tyre, low pressure, they’re suitable for on-road and off, and as a bonus they come with a lifetime warranty.
The Vision SC (which stands for Service Course) wheel range comes with both rim- and disc-brake options, as well as two rim depths to choose from. We tested all four, back to back, and were extremely impressed by the entire range, especially considering its affordable price point.
The disc wheelset is marginally heavier than the rim equivalent, however they still offer almost the same performance levels, aerodynamic qualities, and rim specifications.
The Vision SC 55s inherit the same rim shape and carbon fibre layup from the brand’s superior Metron line, and perform just as well. Considering how much of an investment is needed to upgrade your wheelset, the trickle-down technology at this price point offers exceptional value for money.
The lightweight rim-brake wheels from Hunt offer responsive handling without the punishing ride feel.
Despite being marketed as ‘wide’, the internal rim width is 19mm, which puts it more at the mid-width mark. This is still fairly wide for a rim-brake wheel, but well under disc wheel offerings, making it a good compromise for the rim-brake purist who still wants to fit a slightly wider tyre.
The hooked beads work well with 28mm tyres, which are often the widest clearance available with rim brakes, and result in them feeling quite voluminous.
All the wheelsets come with tubeless rim tape already installed, and there’s an option to order them complete with the valves for a tubeless setup. Plus when you order them from Hunt you can get a bundle that includes tubeless tyres from Schwalbe, Maxxis or Hutchinson.
With six WorldTour teams rolling on Shimano’s Dura-Ace wheels, there’s no question they are some of the fastest wheels money can buy. The deepest C60 variant is available in rim or disc brake varieties as well as tubular and clincher—the rim brake version features an alloy brake track, which vastly improves braking performance but adds a bit of weight too. The disc brake C60 are also tubeless compatible and use a 12mm thru-axle.
Shimano says the C60’s OPTBAL rear spoke arrangement can handle the forces coming from the cassette with better efficiency. The deep section rims are based around the D2 rim shape, which the brand says offers the best aero performance in both head and crosswinds.
Aside from the claims Shimano makes, one of the most attractive features of the Dura-Ace wheels is the cup and cone bearings spinning inside the hubs for their ease of maintenance, and of course how smooth they roll.
Released along with the latest Ultegra groupset are the RS700 and RS770 (disc brake version) hoops. At 31mm in depth, like the Dura-Ace version they are available in both rim and disc varieties. However, the rim brake version is a carbon laminate construction with an alloy brake track, and the disc is full carbon because there is no brake track.
Slotting in as an everyday driver, both are tubeless-ready and feature a 20.8mm internal rim width and will stand up to plenty of abuse — they aren’t the widest or the lightest wheels on the market, but that’s not the point of these wheels.
Like their Dura-Ace bigger siblings, the Ultegra wheels get the easy to maintain cup and cone bearings.
Launched alongside Campagnolo’s Super Record 12-speed groupset, Campagnolo, in typical bike industry fashion, claims the Bora 45 WTO (Wind Tunnel Optimised) features the most aero shape on the market, even going as far as saying in certain wind conditions the wheel generates negative drag, or the sailing effect.
While claims like these should be taken with a grain of salt, the new Bora WTO’s feature a 19mm internal width, Campy’s 2-Way rim bed, meaning they can be run tubeless. The rear wheel features the brand’s G3 spoke pattern, and the spoke holes are moulded not drilled into the rim. Available in both rim and disc varieties, the rim brake Bora WTO’s feature the AC3 textured brake track, which offers a notable improvement over the standard braking surface.
On top of all that they are a great looking wheelset. The outer layer of unidirectional carbon and minimal graphics make for a stealthy-cool set of wheels.
As one of Campagnolo’s best selling wheels, the Zonda is a lightweight alloy training wheel. The rims are supremely stiff and now been widened (22mm) to better pair with wider tyres.
Using what the brand called a C17 rim, it’s milled to reduce weight and sees a differentiated rim height and the brands Mega-G3 Spoke pattern. This spoke arrangement makes for a surprisingly robust rear wheel that has quite a lot of snap when you put the gas on.
This stiffness, however, does translate to harsher ride quality.
Trek’s in-house component brand Bontrager has completely redesigned their range of carbon road wheels and, after extensive testing, claim (like every other wheel brand) that theirs cut through the air better than anything else. While we can’t verify or deny these claims, we can say these hoops are stiff and surprisingly stable in crosswinds.
With an internal width of 21mm, the wheels are also tubeless ready and feature what the brand calls a Laser Control Track. Here, Bontrager uses lasers to add some texture to the brake track for more power and modulation, and it’s an improvement over previous Aeolus wheels we’ve ridden — they’re also available with disc brakes.
As with Bontrager’s other road wheels, the brand uses DT Swiss spokes and hubs, making replacement parts readily available. The 36-tooth star hub ratchet provides for quick engagement and simple servicing.
Mavic makes a big deal about adding tubeless compatibility to the Cosmic carbon clinchers and have engineered a deeper rim bed for easy tyre install and improved the bead for an improved seal with the tyre. A 19mm internal width, Mavic says the Cosmic Pros are the perfect mate to a 25mm Mavic Yksion Pro UST tyre, which offers a marked improvement in ride quality over previous versions.
At 40mm deep, the aero profile is claimed to reduce drag while also keeping them well behaved in crosswinds — the disc version is 5mm deeper. Like Bontrager, Mavic hits the brake track with lasers, a process it calls iTgMAx to make some texture for the brake pads to grab.
They’re a lightweight wheelset, combined with the brand’s Instant Drive 360 freehub makes for quick engagement, but it’s also one that does require a bit of maintenance, especially if you live somewhere wet.
The Ksyrium wheels have been a stalwart in Mavic’s range, and for good reason, they are one of the best high-end alloy wheelsets on the market. Now, as with the Cosmic, they’re tubeless ready and come stock with the brands Yksion Pro tires, have an internal rim width of 19mm and make for a seriously easy tube-free setup.
Built around the brand’s bladed straight pull spokes, the Ksyrium Pro UST are stiff enough, tracking well through corners and holding up to aggressive out of the saddle attacks. The rims are made with Maxtal, an aluminium alloy which Mavic says offers a higher strength-to-weight ratio over the 6160 alloy used in most wheels.
They’re low profile, so there’s not much aero advantage to speak of, and the disc brake version comes with adaptors for quick release, 12mm and 15mm thru-axles.
The Roval CLX 32 is Specialized’s in-house wheel brand, low-profile carbon wheels. In spite of their shallow rim, Roval says the profile is even more aero than the previous deeper section CLX 40 wheels – at 1350g a pair, they’re also ridiculously light.
They’re tubeless-ready and utilise a tubeless plug system to block the spoke holes, although rim tape is lighter, much faster to install and better performing. While the hubs say Roval on the outside, the internals come from DT-Swiss with the 240 star-ratchet, and spin on CeramicSpeed sealed bearings.
Roval’s CLX 32’s are a do-it-all wheel. With next to no weight in the rim, they are lively on the road and are plenty stiff. Available in both rim and disc versions, the brake track isn’t blasted with lasers nor do they receive any special surface treatments, but even still, braking is predictable and the modulation is pretty good too.
Zipp is well known for its stiff, wind-cheating hoops and the 404 NSW are the brand’s do-it-all speedsters. With a 19mm internal rim width, the 404 NSW’s are tubeless compatible and the carbon fairing looks like golf ball dimples covered in what the brand calls ABLC SawTooth technology, claiming to make them extra slippery through the air.
When it comes time to scrub speed, the Showstopper textured brake track (rim brake only) give the brake pads something to grab onto and offers excellent modulation.
The real star of the show is the Cognition hub which uses a magnetic Axial Clutch claimed to reduce drag while coasting and provide instant engagement when it’s time to bring back the power. The only real negative to these wheels is the price.
Developed in-house at its headquarters in the Netherlands, Scope has focused heavily on refining the shape, width, weight and stiffness of the R5 wheels, which have been verified through Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and wind-tunnel testing.
In terms of weight a complete R5d wheelset tips the scales at 1632g (755g front/877g rear) which is on par if not lighter than some of its more established rivals. To achieve this Scope has used what it calls ‘Local Reinforcement Technology’ (LRT) which strengthens the rim at the spoke holes instead of the entire wheel circumference resulting in a 10 per cent reduction in weight with no compromise on durability and resilience.
The Scope R5 disc wheels have been manufactured to go the distance and be used day in day out with assurance, a 3-year warranty is standard. They are easily one of the fastest options in the segment – light and stiff, they offer all the qualities of the more established segment players at a lower price point.
As a robust, disc-equipped option, the Strade wheelset is versatile in that it can be used for both training and racing, and can be run using traditional tubes or tubeless tyres, the latter will, of course, provide a far more engaging and granular riding experience.
The wheels use machined Parcours-branded alloy hubs laced in a 24 front/rear, two-cross pattern with Sapim CX-Ray aero spokes – the freehub body comprises a four-pawl, three-degree engagement system. Both hubs employ EZO cartridge bearings and centerlock disc threading and have been optimised for 12mm thru-axles front/rear (adapter kits are available for other axle standards). The hubs can be optioned with ceramic Kogel bearings on request. The wheels come ready-to-ride as a tubeless application out of the box with pre-installed rim tape and valves, and freehub spacers for 8/9/10-speed cassettes.
Hunts Race Aero Wide wheelset is incredible value for money when you consider what you get in the box. At this price point, there doesn’t appear to be anything that can match them. They’re light, they appear to be faster on the straights for the same effort, and they’re also very stiff without being uncomfortable.
You get decent hubs, in the form of Hunt’s Race Straight-Pull with 10-degree RapidEngage four-pawl freehub, high quality sealed cartridge bearings from Ezo, and the freehub is coated with H_CERAMIK coating, which Hunt says increases protection from cassette damage.
If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive wheelset that will suit the majority of your types of riding all year round (save for the harshest of winters), and can even be used off-road as well as on it.
What to look for in a set of road wheels
With everything from deep-section carbon wheels that prioritise aero performance over all else, to lightweight climbers and even bombproof alloy wheels that can be ridden through pothole after pothole and remain as true as the day you bought them, there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a new set of hoops.
1. Rim width
One of the first things you’ll see talked about when you click a review or a news story about a wheelset, regardless of their intended use, is rim width. Wide rims allow the wheel to better slice through the air while also creating more air volume inside the tyre, allowing you to run lower pressures and improving ride comfort.
It’s crucial to differentiate internal vs external rim width because they have different effects; internal width will affect how the tyre is spread across the rim, and allow you to run something wider because the rim can support the casing. External width, while somewhat dependent on the internal size, is more closely related to aerodynamics. And, as wheels and tyres have become broader, an unfortunate side effect is that some newer wheels won’t fit in older frames.
2. Rim depth
Next is rim depth. The deeper a rim is, generally the more aerodynamic it is, especially when compared to a low-profile box-section rim. However, deep-section wheels use more material and therefore weigh more than their more svelte counterparts. If you live in a mountainous area, you’re probably going to be better served with a low profile or shallow rim. However, if your local roads are pan-flat, something deeper might be more your style.
Deeper rims are also more affected by crosswinds because there is more material for the moving air to grab. However, wheel makers are becoming ever cleverer with their rim profiles and have moved from a ‘V’ profile to a more snub-nosed ‘toroidal’ shape, while others have implemented new technology, like Zipp’s biomimicry Hyperfoil design.
3. What tyres
No wheelset is complete without a good set of tyres, and your rim will dictate whether you can run clincher, tubular or tubeless tyres. We’re not going to get into the positives and negatives of each tyre system here, but we will point out that tubulars are more often than not lighter than their clincher cousins because there is no need for a tyre bead.
4. Brake compatibility
Last but not least is brakes, which will be determined by the frame you’ll be riding. With many wheels now available in both disc and rim brake varieties, many brands are including multiple end caps, allowing a single hub to accept quick-release skewers and 12mm or 15mm thru-axles.