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. 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 mid-to-upper-range road wheels to help you find and buy the best road bike wheels for the money you have.
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.
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.
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.
No wheelset is complete without a good set of tyres, and your rim will dictate whether you can run clinchers, tubulars or tubeless rubber. 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.
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.
Best road bike wheels 2019
Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 series C60
Deep section wheel used by the pros
Depth: 60mm (also available in 24mm (C24) and 40mm (C40)) | Brake: Rim, Disc | Tyre format: Tubular, tubeless, and clincher (23mm-32mm) | Rim width: 28mm | Spoke count: 24 | Weight: 1508g (disc, pair)
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.
Shimano Ultegra RS-700
Value for money training or racing wheel
Depth: 31mm | Brake: Rim, (Shimano Ultegra RS-770 Disc) | Tyre format: Tubeless (23mm-32mm) | Rim width: 20.8mm | Spoke count: 16 front and 21 rear | Weight: 1540g (rim, pair)
Released along with the latest Ultegra groupset are the RS700 and RS 770 (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.
Scope R5 Disc
Easily one of the fastest-rolling deep-section carbon options on the market
Depth: 55mm | Brake: Rim, disc | Tyre format: Tubeless, clincher | Rim width: 19mm (internal) | Spoke count: 21 front, 24 rear | Weight: 1632g (disc, pair)
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.
Campagnolo Bora 45 WTO
Versatile, mid-depth carbon clincher
Depth: 45mm | Brake: Rim, disc | Tyre format: Tubeless, clincher | Rim width: 26.5mm (external) | Spoke count: 18 front, 21 rear | Weight: 1476g (rim, pair)
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.
Campagnolo Zonda C17
One of the most dependable lightweight alloy training wheels available
Depth: 24mm front, 30mm rear | Brake: Rim, disc | Tyre format: Clincher | Rim width: 22mm (external) | Spoke count: 16 front, 21 rear | Weight: 1540g (rim, pair)
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.
Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 TLR
Bontrager's most technical race wheel to date
Depth: 47mm | Brake: Rim, disc | Tyre format: Clincher, tubeless, tubular | Rim width: 21mm (internal) | Spoke count: 24 front and rear | Weight: 1455g (disc, pair)
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 Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST
All around carbon performers, but expensive
Depth: 40mm | Brake: Rim | Tyre format: Clincher, tubeless, tubular | Rim width: 19mm | Spoke count: 18 front, 24 rear | Weight: 1490g (rim, pair)
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.
Mavic Ksyrium Pro UST
High-performance alloy clinchers for those who don’t want to make the jump to carbon
Depth: 22mm | Brake: Rim, disc | Tyre format: Clincher, tubeless | Rim width: 17mm (rim), 19mm (disc) | Spoke count: 18 front, 20 rear (rim); 20 front and rear (disc) | Weight: 1650g (disc, pair)
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.
Roval CLX 32
High-end, light carbon wheel that is tough enough to take past where the road ends
Depth: 32mm | Brake: Rim, disc | Tyre format: Clincher, tubeless, tubular | Rim width: 20.7mm (internal), 19mm (disc) | Spoke count: 16 front, 24 rear (rim); 21 front, 24 rear (disc)) | Weight: 1350g disc
The Roval CLX 32 are 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 404 NSW
Tech heavy carbon hoops designed to cheat the wind, but you’ll need deep pockets
Depth: 58mm | Brake: Rim, disc | Tyre format: Clincher, tubeless, tubular | Rim width: 19mm | Spoke count: 18 front, 24 rear | Weight: 1615g (rim, pair)
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.
Cyclingnews sorts through thousands of deals to offer the best prices from the most trustworthy retailers. While all of our reviews are researched and written independently, Cyclingnews is a participant in a number of affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn fees for linking to online retailers.