Guide to choosing carbon wheels for your rides
This section covers some of the main considerations when selecting and buying carbon wheels and wheelsets. We have generally included issues to think about that are specific to these types of wheels, rather than wheels in general.
We hope you find it helpful.
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The introduction of carbon fibre in wheels has produced a wide variety of profiles suitable for any cycling discipline. As a result you'll find there is plenty of choice from around 25mm rims for pure mountain climbing wheels through to full aero carbon disc wheels for track use.
Tubular or Clincher ?
Mainly this choice depends on the event or type of cycling you do, but also partly on personal preference and experience. Except in the low profiles, many models of carbon wheel are available in both versions. We've listed a few pros and cons below:-
Benefits of tubulars: Comfort, lighter, no pinch flats, higher pressure (low rolling resistance), sealant available to cope with flats.
Disadvantages of tubulars: Cost more, can be tricky and time consuming to change on event, punctures can't really be repaired, spare is bulky to carry.
Benefits of clinchers: Easy to change when flat, easy repairs when flat, easy to carry spare tube and tools.
Disadvantages of clinchers: Heavier, lower pressure (higher RR), not as comfortable, pinch flat risk.
As extreme examples: running a tubular on a touring ride in the mountains with no spare is probably asking for trouble, but if you've got access to a full ready prepared wheel and tyre then it's not an issue. (For example at a track or if you've got the benefit of the team following you in a car).
Full carbon wheel or composite with alloy ?
If you've decided on a clincher wheel in a low profile then you'll find most options use an alloy rim and carbon profile, rather than a full carbon wheel. Otherwise the decision will be more to do with braking, rim strength and wheel weight. For frequent descents with a heavy rider, it's possible for carbon brakes and surfaces to overheat, so that is an important consideration.
If you need the ultimate in lightweight wheels, then using a carbon rim saves quite a chunk of weight. However, on very rough surfaces, a full carbon wheel may not take as much stress as an alloy rim model because the lateral forces may cause distortion.
It's worth noting that some carbon wheels are specifically designed for lighter riders, so make sure you check any limits before buying. This particularly applies to the lower profile wheels.
Wheel vibration damping
On longer rides you may well feel quite a benefit from carbon wheels as a result of their vibration and shock cushioning properties. Some of these are enhanced by the manufacturers with extra technology applied in the carbon fibre layering processes.
If you are considering using a powertap on the rear wheel, check the axle width and also the compatibility, as some carbon wheels cannot take the width of the hub without compromising the strength characteristics of the spoke layout.
This is worth checking with higher profile wheels in case there could be any interference between braking components and the wheel, particularly any bulges designed into high-performance aero wheels.