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Best triathlon wheels: Top time trial wheels for when you're up against the clock

Tim Van Berkel riding a Giant Trinity fitted with the best triathlon wheels during IronMan Geelong 70.3
(Image credit: Cadex & Korupt Vision)

The best triathlon wheels can save you precious seconds when you're up against the clock, and there's nothing quite so gorgeous as a set of really deep carbon wheels. The right wheelset is an easy path to speed. If you want to get a better time on the bike section of your upcoming triathlon or go for faster time trial times, then a wheel upgrade is a great way to save watts.

There are so many choices though. What is the difference between triathlon wheels and the best road bike wheels? How do you choose the right wheels for time trials and triathlons? The latter is the question that cyclists have been trying to answer for a long time, so we did the research and checked the specs. Keep reading for our selection of the best wheels to help you get faster in time trials and triathlons.

Jump down a bit further and we have some information about how to choose the best triathlon wheels for your needs. Arm yourself with all the considerations that go into finding the perfect set of wheels to have fun, feel confident, and get faster.

Best triathlon and time trial wheels

Zipp 454 NSW

(Image credit: Zipp)

Zipp 454 NSW

A unique way to deal with crosswinds

Internal rim width: 19mm | Depth : 53/58mm | Weight: 860g/955g | Brake type: Disc, Rim | Tyre compatibility: Clincher, Tubeless, Tubular

Eye-catching design
Axial clutch technology
Direct printed graphics

Creating a fast wheel is all about keeping the air attached to the surface of the wheel. The advantage of a solid wheel is that there's no space in the middle where the air comes unattached then gets mixed up by spokes. SRAM looked to the natural designs of whales and sharks as inspiration for a better way to keep air attached, and they think they've succeeded. 

According to SRAM the combination of Hexfin ABLC dimples inspired by shark skin, and the undulating saw tooth rim profile, reduces both aerodynamic drag and side forces. This, combined with a 53/58mm rim depth makes for one of the best options in crosswinds. 

Roval CLX 64

(Image credit: Roval)

Roval CLX 64

A mid-depth wheel which claims to be faster than the deepest spoked wheels

Internal rim width: 21mm | Depth: 64mm | Weight: 735g/880g | Brake type: Disc, rim | Tyre compatibility: Clincher, tubeless, tubular

DT Swiss hub
Wide internal width
Can be a handful in crosswinds

A deeper rim keeps the air attached for longer and shorter spokes makes for less mixing of the air. The downsides are greater susceptibility to crosswinds and heavier weight. Those downsides are worth it because a deeper rim is faster, right? 

Roval claims that the CLX 64 is faster than many 80mm wheels. With a lighter weight and less worry about crosswinds, that makes the CLX 64 an excellent all-around wheel with a quality DT Swiss hub and an excellent warranty. There are even options for rim brakes in a category where rim brakes are getting hard to come by. 

Enve SES 7.8

(Image credit: Enve)

Enve SES 7.8

The fastest wheel Enve makes for most situations

Internal rim width: 19mm | Depth : 71/80mm | Weight: 731g/898g | Brake type: Disc, rim | Tyre compatibility: Clincher, tubeless

Hand made in the US
Plenty of hub options
 Narrow internal width 

Deciding the right rim depth is the kind of decision that falls somewhere between black magic and science. It can be daunting, but Enve is willing to go on record with a clear recommendation. 

It feels that its disc wheel only becomes a benefit above 27mph; anything slower and it recommends the Enve SES 7.8. It's a system with asymmetric rim geometries front to back. The front is a shallower 71mm deep paired with a wider 29mm profile. Then, out back you get an 80mm deep wheel that is 27.5mm wide. More aero, and more stable. It's a win. 

Hunt 48 Limitless Wheels

(Image credit: Hunt Wheels)

Hunt 48 Limitless Aero Disc

The everyday wheel for race day, whatever your event type

Internal rim width: 22.5mm | Depth: 48mm | Weight: 1618g (total) | Brake type: Disc | Tyre compatibility: Clincher, tubeless

Wide internal width
Optimised for wider tyres
Excellent pricing
Not that deep

Look down this list of wheels and you will find incredibly specialised options suitable for the highest level of competition in time trials and triathlons. That's not what makes sense in every situation though. The Hunt 48 Limitless Aero Disc, on the other hand, is. Ride it when you are training and show up on race day without making any changes. If it's windy then you don't have to worry. Not only is it the perfect place to start but add a solid disc rear from Hunt and you might still come out ahead on pricing.  

DT Swiss ARC 1100 Dicut 80

(Image credit: DT Swiss)

DT Swiss ARC 1100 Dicut 80

A complete wheel from the experts in hub design

Internal rim width: 20mm | Depth : 80mm | Weight: 820g/942g | Brake type: Disc, rim | Tyre compatibility: Clincher, tubeless

Wide internal rim
Advanced hub design
 Proprietary spokes 

DT Swiss is ubiquitous when it comes to hubs. It's no surprise then that the DT Swiss ARC 1100 Dicut features a highly advanced DT Swiss 180 hub. Instead of a pawl-based system it's a ratcheting design. The advantages are quicker engagement with less point loads for greater reliability. 

The DT Swiss ratchet EXP hub also has the benefit of a tool-free design for changing freehub bodies and maintenance. A good hub on a DT Swiss wheel might not be surprising but the partnership with aerodynamic experts Swiss Side means the rim is no slouch either. 

Vision Metron 3 Spoke Front & Disc Rear

(Image credit: Vision)

Vision Metron 3 Spoke Front & Disc Rear

The most aero available wheels with tons of tyre and brake options

Internal rim width: 18mm/19mm | Depth : 60.5mm | Weight: 860g/1010g | Brake type: Disc, rim | Tyre compatibility: Clincher, tubeless, tubular

The right tool for a specific job 
Narrow internal width

There are brands that make a range of products including those focused on aerodynamics. Vision is a brand born from triathlon with a sole focus on beating the wind to be the fastest in triathlon and time trial situations. It is also a company that works very closely with professional cycling to develop the best products it can. 

It's no surprise then that Vision is one of the relatively limited sources for solid spoke front wheels in today's market. Not only does it have a three-spoke front wheel but there are options for disc, rim, tubeless ready clincher, and tubular. Whatever your frame requires there is something to make you as fast as possible.  

HED Vanquish RC8 Pro & RCD Pro

(Image credit: HED)

HED Vanquish RC8 Pro & RCD Pro

HED manufacturers in the United States and makes it easy to pick and choose the perfect setup

Internal rim width: 21mm | Depth : 84mm | Weight: 805g/1135g | Brake type: Disc | Tyre compatibility: Clincher, Tubeless

Wide internal rim
Disc wheel is a fairing design

HED Cycling is a classic American success story that started in a basement with an idea. The idea was for a new kind of disc wheel for triathletes and 37 years later it is still manufacturing innovative products in the US.

The Vanquish RC Pro series goes all in on full carbon and disc brakes. The innovation is all about making the rim wider than the tyre and HED claims to be the holder of the patent for the most aerodynamic bike wheel in the world. That means you can pick and choose anything in the series and put together a package that works for you. Whatever you pick it's going to be fast. 

Cadex 4 Spoke Aero & Cadex Aero Disc

(Image credit: Cadex)

Cadex 4 Spoke Aero & Cadex Aero Disc

The ultimate combination for when the conditions are perfect

Internal rim width: 21mm | Depth : N/A | Weight: 840g/1180g | Brake type: Disc | Tyre compatibility: Clincher, Tubeless, Tubular

Wide internal rim

Cadex is a group within Giant whose focus is making the absolute no-holds-barred, best of the best, products. The Cadex Aero Disc and 4 Spoke Aero front wheel are among the results of that extreme focus.  It's not just a focus on aero, though. Rolling resistance and stiffness get consideration to make sure there's nothing given away. 

Cadex claims class-leading torsional stiffness that gives maximum power and superior acceleration. The rolling resistance of the hubs comes with a claim of bettering the competition by as much as 70 per cent. When conditions are right you can be sure you won't be losing any of the power your legs are capable of.  

Parcours Disc² & Chrono

(Image credit: Parcours )

Parcours Disc² & Chrono

Gorgeous stealth carbon paired with a focus on affordability

Internal rim width: 20mm/17.5mm | Depth : 77mm | Weight: 775g/1380g | Brake type: Disc, rim | Tyre compatibility: Clincher,tubeless

Stealth aesthetics
Package pricing available
Affordable pricing
Narrow internal width (rear disc) 

Parcours is a brand based in London who is making a name for bringing performance and affordability to the game. There is a single focus on pushing the latest aerodynamic technology at an affordable price. Quality control, design, and support all happens at home while manufacturing gets handled by the experts overseas. It's a successful partnership that leads to a muted and carbon focused aesthetic. 

The designs focus on wider, tubeless tyres for the best combination of comfort and speed. In the case of the Disc option, it's a 17.5mm internal design optimized for a 25mm tyre. The design is available for rim or disc brakes. 

How to choose the best triathlon wheels

The wind and your weight

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Wind resistance is the single biggest factor that holds back your speed when riding your bike. Make yourself and your bike more aerodynamic and you will go faster for the same effort. You have to consider more than all-out speed though. Think about the wind and how it's going to affect both you and the bike. 

If the course is going to be windy then you've got to not only consider how that affects wheel choice in relation to speed but also safety. A deeper wheel is a faster wheel but not in every situation. As the wind angle changes different wheel depths and shapes offer different advantages. As an example, a deep "V" shaped rim is very fast into the wind. As the wind moves that speed advantage falls off and other considerations might be more important. 

As the wind comes around the side of the bike a thin frontal area starts showing a broad side area to the wind. You are riding a sail and now it's getting pushed in a different direction than you are riding. The wheel at the front has the ability to rotate. A sudden, hard, gust can actually turn your bike. At the rear of the bike you won't get a twisting feeling, since there's no ability to rotate, but you still experience a push. This is when you have to think about what kind of rider you are. 

A lightweight rider with less than stellar bike handling skills will experience the scariest ride. If you've got more weight over the front wheel, it will have a greater resistance to twisting. If you are a better bike handler, you might find yourself more comfortable dealing with the twisting front end. Remember though every little bit of energy you spend doing something other than pedalling is making you slower. 

A deep wheel, or even solid disc, on the rear is less scary. You will often see it described as a 'push feeling' vs a twisting motion. It's more manageable. More manageable doesn't mean ideal though. It can be hard to internalise what people mean when they say a 'push feeling'. In practice you might find yourself leaning into the wind as if you are cornering. It's less scary but it still takes an energetic toll. 

The biggest takeaway is that you need to plan and know yourself. What is the prediction for the wind on race day? Is it going to be an issue for your body? Are you prepared to handle it if it is? Depending on the answers to those questions consider a shallower wheel setup. You will be faster if you are concentrating on pedalling, not staying on track. 

What is the course makeup?

There's still no free lunch. The modern consensus is that for most situations aerodynamics is more important than weight. The only place weight is more important is the steepest gradients and reducing weight only gives a small advantage. Getting to and from the climb you end up giving away those gains if you've chosen weight over aerodynamics. There is another consideration though. 

Reducing weight to save time climbing has limited benefit but there are very real effort differences when changing speed. If you have a course with lots of turns and climbing that is a course that requires lots of momentum changes. Really understanding what that means takes a deep dive into physics and Newton's laws. Stay in the shallow side of the discussion though and the basics are that a more aerodynamic wheel is going to be heavier. A heavier wheel will have greater resistance to a change in momentum. Even simpler, a heavy wheel will take more effort to get up to speed but once it's there it will maintain it easier. 

So, while you might not save much time going to a lighter wheel for a hilly course you will save time going to a lighter wheel on a course with lots of changes. If your course has lots of twists and turns that require you to slow then accelerate, a light wheel setup might be a better choice. 

Consider a power meter instead

Wind resistance is the biggest force you are overcoming while cycling. There's no disputing this. Wheels are a big part of the bike's aerodynamics so it makes sense that's where you should spend money if you want to be fast, right? Not so.

The biggest contributor to aerodynamic resistance on your bike is you. Depending on the source, estimates for the total aerodynamic contribution of the bike tend to fall between 20-30 per cent. That means your body is far and away the low hanging fruit when it comes to speed. Optimise your clothing, your helmet, and your body position. After all that you might consider looking at the aerodynamics of the bike. There's another side of the equation though.

On one side is the ability of you and your bike to slice through the wind. That part of the equation is all about minimising your power output. What if instead of minimising the power output required to slice through the wind you increased your power?

You are reading this article because you want to be faster on your bike. You want to reduce your time trial and triathlon times. It's easy to fixate on wheels to accomplish those goals. Deep wheels are so lust-worthy and you've heard since the beginning of time that wheels are the first upgrade you should make to a bike. Instead, consider a power meter before a set of wheels.

Depending on the power meter and wheels in question the cost can be similar. If your singular goal is to be faster, better training and pacing will do a lot more for that goal than new wheels.

Consider the tyre

You've already optimised everything you are wearing, worked on your position on the bike, and you train constantly. You are sure you want new wheels and you are here to figure out which wheels to get. You have an understanding of what depth wheels are suited to your body type and your bike handling skills, compared to where you are riding. With that info, you can start looking at prices and products from different brands to fit your needs. Wait, have you thought about your tyres? Lots of people have a lot to say about it but Silca has an excellent series of posts covering it.

Whatever wheels you have, consider tyre pressure as it relates to rolling resistance and comfort. If you are optimising every last little detail, you probably want to think about rolling resistance too. The old school thought was that minimising rolling resistance meant pumping up your tyres until they were rock hard. Turns out that's not necessarily the fastest solution because roads aren't that smooth. Not only that but, as mentioned above, anything that takes you away from pedalling your bike as hard as you are able slows you down. Rock hard tyres are uncomfortable and comfort matters when it comes to being fast.

While finding the right tyre pressure is ongoing, rim width requires a decision before the purchase. Wider rims make for a wider tire and better aerodynamic interplay between the rim and tyre. If you can go wider, you should. It will be more aerodynamic, and more comfortable. Whatever you decide to do at least consider your tyres as part of the puzzle that is buying a wheel.

What about full disc rear wheels?

There's a ton of info here that talks around the subject of a solid disc rear wheel. Disc rear wheels are one end of the spectrum that all wheels live on. The equation for deciding to go for a full disc is the same as going for a 65mm or 80mm wheel. The bottom line is that a disc rear is faster. Professional Triathlete Cody Beals has a great summary. There is one more consideration though.

Never use anything on race day you aren't familiar with. If you can only afford one set of fast wheels, get something you can use all the time. The idea of getting out the best gear for race day sounds good but it's a recipe for disaster. Everything you use should be surprise-free. If you aren't comfortable riding with your disc rear on a regular basis during training, then don't get it.

Also, don’t forget to check the rule book for your event. Disc wheels are not always permitted.

What about solid spoke front wheels?

The fastest wheel is a solid disc wheel with no spokes at all. The fastest setup would be a front and rear disc wheel. Outside that's not a safe setup though. What's the next best thing? A solid spoke front wheel is as close as you get to a solid disc while still being safe outside. Vision has a three spoke front wheel and they did some testing to give an idea of actual numbers. In their tests, the Vision 3-spoke V2 with 25mm tyre averaged 16.8sec faster than the Metron 40mm with 25mm tyre over a 40k TT course.

The downsides for a solid spoke wheel are the same downsides as a disc. Wind has a smaller effect on a solid spoke wheel compared to a disc wheel but it's still an issue. Look at the section above discussing wind, your weight, and your bike handling for more detail. Then, again, just like wind is an issue in the same way for a disc and a solid spoke wheel, so is weight. Look above for a deeper discussion about weight and inertia.

There is also another piece of the puzzle to think about when it comes to solid spoke and disc wheels. Without spokes there is a reduction in vertical compliance. Meaning that speaking broadly, these types of wheels will be less comfortable. Tyre pressure can help mitigate that but it's still an issue. When you are giving everything you have to pedalling it's important to minimise distractions.

The takeaway is a solid spoke wheel is a very specialised piece of equipment. If you've done everything you can to get as fast as possible, and the conditions are perfect, a disc rear and a solid spoke front are the fastest option. There are drawbacks though so be sure your use makes sense.

65mm or 85mm wheels?

If you aren't using a disc rear and a solid spoke front then what size wheel do you choose? All the considerations for making the choice are above but when it's time to spend the money what do you actually choose? Wheels around 60mm deep are more controllable and lighter. Wheels around 80mm are faster. How do you make the decision?

Hunt wheels have done some testing to help you out. The difference between an 82mm wheel and a 62mm wheel at 45km/h with 25mm tyres is 3.9 watts. When you see that number you either think that's a ton or barely anything and that's your decision right there. If you've already trained and optimised everything you know that 3.9 watts is huge. That amount could represent months of training and the difference between first and second place. Or it doesn't matter.

The takeaway here is that for most people wheels around 65mm are the best choice. From there you might decide to add a disc rear. If you still need that little bit of extra performance then it's time to start looking at an 85mm depth or a solid spoke front. The performance is there for the taking if you need it and can afford it.