The Value in a Carbon Wheelset
By Matt Wikstrom
The value, according to the hype
According to the marketing hype, the value of a carbon wheelset lies with its weight and superior aerodynamics.
The weight saving afforded by carbon is well known and readily demonstrated;
the material also ushered in the current era of aerodynamic wheel design.
Consider Campagnolo Shamals from the mid-90s,
the alloy rims were around 40mm tall and the wheelset weighed 1980g,
yet they were considered a breakthrough in aerodynamic design.
Now carbon wheelsets feature rims that are as tall (or even taller) and weights have dropped below 1500g.
Another advantage of carbon is that it can be molded and the companies leading aerodynamic wheel design
have been able to design wind-cutting profiles with the help of wind tunnel testing and fluidics.
Current marketing efforts have provided riders with a basic understanding of aerodynamics along with hard data (of sorts)
so they can compare the drag and stall of different rims or wheel designs before making a decision to buy.
Carbon rims and wheels also benefit from an impressive stiffness to weight ratio.
We all know from the performance of carbon frames that the material can be very stiff,
and carbon rims are typically engineered to be very stiff so as to allow low spoke counts.
At the same time, carbon wheelsets can offer a smooth and compliant ride,
so gram for gram, they easily outperform aluminium in this arena.
Low weight, superior aerodynamics and stiffness to weight,
these traits are of enormous value when performance is the primary consideration,
but at what point does a set of carbon wheels seem overpriced?
Considering the alternatives
It is possible to buy or assemble a set of alloy wheels that dip below 1200g for less than $1500,
but there isn’t much choice. Stan’s offers their Alpha 340 rim,
which is tubeless ready (385g) that can be paired with a lightweight set of hubs (eg. Dash),
while American Classic has two wheelsets, a new tubeless wheelset that weighs in at 1179g,
and their magnesium wheelset (1108g). Just recently,
I’ve heard about Spada Oxygena wheels that also weigh in under 1200g.
However, don’t expect these wheels to be as robust as a standard alloy wheelset.
Just like carbon, they have specific requirements or shortcomings
when it comes to spoke tension, brake pads, and/or tire mounting
I also doubt any of them will satisfy a sprinter’s needs.
the only sound advice, is first decide on your needs, and then set about finding the product that completely satisfies them.