Graeme is a Victoria-based web developer who worked as a bicycle mechanic for three years. He loves writing about bike-related topics.
Finding a Set of Good, Inexpensive Road Bike Wheels
Road cycling is one of the best all-around exercises out there, and it's a lot of fun to do. If you're a road bike rider, you know the thrill of flying down the road on a light and fast bicycle. If you're looking to upgrade and improve your bike, or if you simply need to replace a worn out or outdated set of wheels, it's worth considering a good, cheap road bike wheelset.
Replacing the wheels on your bicycle isn't as difficult as it once was. There are literally thousands of options to choose from, including all sorts of price points, materials, and features, so it's pretty easy to find an awesome upgrade for your road bicycle wheelset that's cheap with high performance. With the advent of quick release axles, cassettes, and freehubs, it's really easy to install a new set and set them up with the right gearing.
This article will take a close look at four of my favorite, cheap road bike wheelsets, reviewing each one and talking about the pros and cons. We'll also talk about what you might want to look for when shopping online for a set of wheels and what you might need to know to help you interpret the wave of information they'll throw at you (things like wheel size interpretation, materials, etc.).
Buying Wheelsets for Road Bikes? Things to Know
If you're buying a cheap road bike wheel set online, it can be a bit tricky and confusing. There are a lot of companies out there vying for your attention and money, and you don't want to buy the wrong thing, or an item that's incompatible with your current bike.
Here are a few tips to help you on your way.
- Wheel Size:
There are several popular wheelset sizes for road bikes, listed here from smallest to largest: 26 inch, 27 inch, 700c, 28 inch. There are also some other less popular sizes like 29 inch, but these are the common ones.
On road bikes the most popular these days seems to be 700c. One size isn't better than another, but different types are used for different styles of riding. If you're unsure what size wheels your bike uses, look on the sidewall of the tire. Unless it's worn off or the tire is really old, you should see the size printed there.
It's important that your road bike wheelset is the same size as what you currently have. If you get wheels that are too small or too big, your current brakes may not line up properly with the rims. That's bad news.
- Number of Spokes:
As you shop online for the best road bike wheel sets, you'll notice that different sets have different numbers of spokes. The general standard these days is 32 or 36 spokes per wheel, which is a quite standard wheel look. However, many wheels now use far fewer spokes, as few as 12 or 16 in some cases. You'll know when there are fewer spokes because the wheel will look 'emptier'.
Despite what you may hear, there is honestly no advantage to having fewer spokes, save for a negligible weight saving. Fewer spokes means lower strength, don't believe otherwise.
That said, there's nothing functionally wrong with a few fewer spokes either, and some of the more minimalist spoke patterns can be quite cool to look at.
- Rim Style:
You'll also notice a variety of wheelset rims, and differences in size and materials. A very popular style is the 'deep V' rim, which involves a very tall rim, sometimes as much as two inches in height. Also, many higher end wheelsets will include double walled rims, which increases the strength somewhat.
You'll find materials ranging from steel and aluminum to carbon fibre. Personally I prefer aluminum alloy, but ultimately there isn't a definitive best road bike wheelset rim material, it comes down to personal taste and weight requirements.
- What Are 'Cassettes'?
A very popular way of installing different gearing options on a road bicycle wheelset is by using cassettes. In fact, most modern wheelsets you can find online today will include the technology to make use of cassettes.
Cassettes are great because you're not stuck with a single gearing like on some wheelsets. As long as the freehub (attached to the wheels) is compatible with the cassette, you have a lot of options.
1. Aeromax Alloy: A Good, Affordable, Versatile Wheel Set for Road Bikes
The impressive and popular Aeromax Alloy Wheelset is a phenomenal product, simply because there are few other wheelsets that can compete with it in terms of bang for your buck.
The wheels include double walled, deep V rims that use 24 spokes per wheel. The sidewalls of the rims are machined, which means that they will work well with conventional brake pads.
This is a freehub wheelset that's compatible with 7, 8, 9 and 10 speed cassettes which can be purchased separately. Each wheelset is also hand built, and they're very true and spin extremely well for such inexpensive wheels.
They're not exactly flashy, but the looks will lend themselves to a wide range of styles. This set will look impressive on everything from an everyday commuter to a committed touring bike to a Sunday racer.
The best thing about them? They have a solid track record. I'm not the only one who feels this way, as they review extremely well.
2. Stars Shimano: A Cheap Alloy Wheelset for Road Bikes That’s Shimano Compatible
This budget-priced road wheelset by Stars is a really affordably priced product, especially considering it's compatible with high quality Shimano cassettes, including 8, 9 and 10 speeds. If you know Shimano, you'll know that their cassettes are considered some of the best and most popular on the market, so to find a good, strong and inexpensive wheelset that fits is a great thing.
The wheels themselves have double walled, deep V rims, 24 spokes for the front wheel and 24 for the rear for a clean, modern look and good strength and rigidity. They are also pretty lightweight.
The hubs are KT Quando, which are admittedly a lower end manufacturer. But they do the job, and that also translates into an excellent price point for you. For Shimano fans, consider these fantastic wheels to save money.
(This company also does a Campagnolo compatible set of wheels, in case that's what you're searching for.)
3) Campagnolo Khamsin Clincher Wheelset: A High Quality Road Bike Wheel Set
This set of Campagnolo Khamsin G3 clinchers is a very nice wheelset by a very highly regarded company in the cycling world. These wheels include all of the extras you'd expect from an industry leader, but you get them at a wallet-friendly price.
Sealed bearings in the hubs ensure a smooth spinning experience, and the deep V wheel has a deep pocket in which to place the tube: a real asset when it comes time to replace them. These wheels are compatible with Campagnolo 9, 10 and 11 speed cassettes, and the rims themselves are intended for high performance carbon brakes.
There are other smart features, like the fact that the G3 spoke pattern is engineered to reduce spoke stress and increase lateral rigidity. And of course the wheels are really lightweight.
Overall, this inexpensive Campagnolo road wheelset is worth your time to check out.
4) Vuelta Corsa-Lite: Super Strong, High Quality Wheel Set for Road Bikes
This attractive Vuelta Corsa-Lite wheelset is a bit of a step up in both quality and price point, but it's still a really well-priced wheelset considering the components and construction quality. If you're wondering whether it's worth the extra costs associated, definitely. By most standards these are still budget-priced compared to higher end gear with similar performance.
These 'clincher' style rims are 6066 aluminum alloy, light and very strong indeed, and the wheels are equipped with EZO cartridge bearings, which ensure the wheels spin effortlessly.
The weight of these wheels is quite a bit lighter than lower-priced competition listed above, and you'll really notice the difference when you hold them. The freehub on this road bike wheelset is compatible with Shimano cassettes, so you'll have a wide variety to choose from, including 8, 9 and 10 speed cassettes.
They also happen to be exceptionally eye-catching, if that makes a difference to you. It certainly does to me.
Before You Buy a New Bike, Consider New Wheels
If you're dissatisfied with your current ride, you should definitely look into upgrading your wheels before you go to the trouble of purchasing a new bicycle altogether. It's amazing how much a new wheelset can improve your enjoyment of your bicycle; it's by far a more affordable route.
We have a throwaway culture nowadays, and people are trained to consider most purchases to be disposable. With bicycles that's not the case. They're intended to be kept, upgraded and improved over time.
(Well, not usually. Department store bikes are often referred to as 'junk' bikes by the government. These stores actually pay a special disposal tax in advance, because they know that the bikes will end up in the landfill in a year or two. The parts on department store bikes are not easily replaced or upgraded. However, most bicycles purchased from your local bike shop are meant to have a very long lifespan).
When something becomes unsatisfactory, I urge you to take it to your local bike shop and get new parts, or do the research, find out what you need and order it in. Not only will you save money, but you'll get a lot more enjoyment out of cycling. Thanks for reading!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Do you ride a road bicycle? What kind of wheels do you have?
Timi Devlin on September 04, 2017:
I'm riding on 700c Alexrims RP15F.
But looking for something better.
James on August 23, 2016:
I have the corsa lites from 2012. Super light and now on sale at nashbar for 204 shipped plus tax.