THE BEST CARBON WHEELSET FOR THE MONEY – PART 1

What is the best carbon wheelset for the money? Should I consider Chinese carbon wheels from Yoeleo, Farsports, Light Bicycle or others? What should I expect of relatively cheap bicycle wheels that are only sold online from brands like Prime wheels, FLO Cycling, and Hunt wheels? What about those wheelsets from Profile Design or Rolf Prima that are available primarily through US retailers?

How do these compare to more expensive carbon wheelsets and the lower-priced carbon models widely available from the long-established, better-known wheel makers like Zipp, Bontrager, Reynolds, and Fulcrum?

I get these and similar questions quite often from readers. Many road cycling enthusiasts want carbon wheels and nearly all of us want to pay as little as possible for them. Wheel makers and sellers also know this and have rushed in over the last few years to satisfy our thirsts in the market oasis that exists between under $1000 alloy wheelsets and over $2000 carbon ones.

That oasis has turned into a flowing river with many tributaries feeding it. If you make a good choice in your search for the best carbon wheelset for the money, you can ride that river like a kayaker screaming down the rapids. If you make the wrong choice, you can wash ashore with a badly broken vessel and no good way to get it fixed or replaced. And there are still other choices that can you leave you both partially satisfied and dissatisfied depending on your experience and expectations.

That’s the metaphorical ride many of us road cycling enthusiasts seem to be on these days in our search for the best carbon wheelset for the money or what I’ll call “value carbon wheels”. It’s one I’ve been trying to map out for many, many months. I don’t have all the answers, far from it, but from my trips down this river, I think I’ve put together enough of a guide to ride it with you.

In Part 1 of this review, I’ll navigate you through the uncertainties of buying and owning a carbon wheelset at prices that look almost too good to be true.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BEST CARBON WHEELSET FOR THE MONEY

Click on any red statement below to go directly to that part of the post. Click the back arrow to return to this list. 

Your experience with wheelsets will influence how you view carbon wheels

Four very different types of companies sell value carbon wheelsets

What you pay depends a great deal on what you need from the company selling you wheels

Different experience, warranty, and other policies among wheel sellers can comfort or unsettle us

Engineering and production expertise along with product specs provide a window into wheelset performance

WHY TRUST THIS SITE

From evaluating value carbon wheels and the companies that make them, I have learned that the information behind and marketing of some them is often quite thin or misleading, perhaps worse than you might think already comes from companies in the cycling industry.

Some selling value carbon wheels share very little information about their companies, experience, technology, and products on their websites. Others share a lot, some of it is valuable and some less so. Few have had comprehensive and independent reviews done about them.

You can find many owners of value carbon wheels and wheelmakers who share their experience on cycling forums and in social media. While most of these are honest, personal opinions, some companies follow the practice of influencer marketing (aka “shilling”). This is where people with big social media followings as well as individual riders are paid to say great things about a company’s wheelset each time they do without ever disclosing what is going on.

I created In The Know Cycling for road cycling enthusiasts like you and me who want to know what gear we should get next and where we can get it at the best prices from stores with the excellent customer satisfaction ratings collected by independent sources. I and my fellow In The Know Cycling testers do hours of analysis on an entire category of cycling gear and incorporate insights from other independent reviewers and riders I trust for each review.

To eliminate potential conflicts or perceived bias, I buy or demo and return or donate all the gear we test. I don’t run any ads on the site, go on company-paid product introduction trips, rewrite and post announcements of new gear as “first looks”, accept articles paid for or submitted by companies, stores, PR firms or guest authors, or charge for any content on the site. And, I don’t engage in any influencer marketing.

YOUR EXPERIENCE AFFECTS YOUR PERSPECTIVE OF CARBON WHEELS

Depending on the wheels you ride now and what you hope to achieve with a new set of wheels, your view of carbon wheels may vary widely.

What kind of wheels do I need?

If you are looking at your first upgrade, alloy or carbon you may not have a lot of reference points. Your head may be spinning nearly as fast as your wheels trying to figure out whether you should even buy carbon wheels at all.

If that describes you (and we’ve all been there), I suggest you start with this post about choosing which type of wheelset is best for you.

Alloy to carbon?

Many of us looking for carbon want a wheelset to replace our alloy wheels, either the stock wheels that came with our bikes or the alloy upgrade ones we’re now ready to move on from. Carbon seems to be the next step up, but the price of some of the better-known carbon wheels can look like a huge hurdle that may not work with our budget.

If you are coming from experience only with alloy wheels, you may have high expectation for carbon wheels. Faster, lighter, stiffer, deeper, wider, more comfortable, better looking are all the kinds of things that come to mind.

The key questions you’ll have if you are in this group of enthusiasts are how much faster, lighter, more comfortable, etc., will carbon wheels be from what you’ve experienced with your alloy wheels? Will you notice the difference? How much should you have to pay to get those added benefits? What are the downsides of carbon wheels compared to alloy ones and are they more than outweighed by the benefits?

Talking with friends or reading forum posts about going from alloy to carbon wheels aren’t the best ways to get these questions answered. Because they have limited experience with different wheelsets and perhaps because they subconsciously want to confirm they made a good choice spending a fair amount of money, 4 out of 5 people will say things like this is a great wheelset, a big improvement over the wheels I had before, I’m going faster by 1-2 mph, etc.

Some of that may be true but doesn’t answer the question of what’s the best carbon wheelset for the money based on what you value, what your experience has been, what kind of riding you do, what your riding goals are, and what your wheelset options are.

Adding or replacing carbon?

Others of you may be looking to add to or replace a carbon wheelset that you already have. You may want a more modern pair – wider, deeper, lighter, stiffer, more aero, tubeless, etc. – as carbon wheels have changed a lot in the last few years. Or you may want another set for TT riding or alpine climbing or cyclocross and gravel riding or for a new disc brake bike you bought that came with underperforming stock wheels.

Those of us in this group have experience with carbon, likely know the different characteristics of carbon versus alloy wheels. We might not know the performance differences between carbon wheels that sell at different price levels or where to find value and where to uncover risks buying from different value carbon wheels.



So, for those of us with some carbon wheelset experience and perhaps looking for something more modern or for a different riding purpose, we’ll want to know what’s the best carbon wheelset for the money compared to what our earlier experience has been choosing, and using our carbon bike wheels.

THE COMPANIES THAT SELL VALUE CARBON WHEELS

There are many, many, many bike wheel brands. As I looked at the 40+ companies, shops, and wheelmakers selling lower-priced carbon wheels that I’d either heard of, read about or that my fellow roadies and In The Know Cycling readers had brought to my attention, I began to see two dimensions along which I could organize them for evaluation and discussion with you.

SCOPE – Companies selling value carbon wheels either have a broad or focused scope. By scope, I’m referring to their range of business activities and operations, number and range of products, breadth of the cycling market segments they serve or countries and geographies they sell to.

SALES – Companies today are selling value carbon wheels (and most cycling products) through dealers, either online or at stores that represent them or those directly to cyclists from their own company websites.

Across the scope and sales dimensions, companies that sell value carbon wheels follow one of four primary strategies. Here’s how I describe their approaches

Integrateds: Broad scope selling through dealers – As the name suggests, the Integrateds do or manage the activities involved in designing, producing, selling and servicing wheels. They all sell through distributors and dealers. Most do this both through online stores and at bike shops that serve cyclists on many continents around the world. Bontrager and Reynolds, most notably also sell directly to cyclists through their company website though that appears to be an adjunct to selling through their main distributor and dealer network.

All the Integrateds sell more expensive carbon wheelsets, certainly a greater range and most likely a larger number than the value carbon wheelsets they sell. Most also sell a wide range of cycling products in addition to wheelsets. Shimano (groupsets and individual components), Bontrager’s parent Trek, and Roval’s parent Specialized, and Zipp’s parent SRAM are multi-segment leaders across the bike and cycling products industry.

These companies do the research, design, and testing that goes into determining what rims and, in many cases, hubs will be part of their wheels. Many make, assemble and QC the wheels they produce. Some have others do the actual production for them using production lines and molds dedicated to their wheelsets while they define and oversee the material, construction, assembly, and testing methods that go into making these wheels.

The Integrateds have well-known wheel brands, have been in business for many years, and some are thought of as leaders in the design, production and/or selling and servicing of wheelsets and cycling industry products more broadly.

Regionals: Focused scope selling through dealersRegionals use a similar selling approach as the Integrateds mostly using online store and local bike shop dealers but also through sales from their web store. They sell a far smaller range and number of products than the Integrateds with wheelsets being their primary focus. Most also sell more expensive wheels than those in the value carbon wheelset range as well as wheelsets for mountain biking, cross, and gravel segments.

These companies design their rims and some also design proprietary hubs, own their rim molds but mostly have others do the production of their wheelsets.

As the name suggests, Regionals sell through dealers to cyclists in a specific geographic region. The Regionals selling value carbon wheels I’ve identified – Profile Design and Rolf Prima – are focused on the US. They have distributors around the world but no dealers outside the US.

There are many EU and AU wheelset company Regionals but none I could find selling lower-priced or value carbon wheels that I’m focused on for this review

Best Carbon Wheelset for the Money

Branders: Focused scope selling direct – Branders create equity or value by building their businesses around a name that customers come to recognize and equate to offering unique attributes and benefits to them. The value of these brands in the minds of cyclists allows the companies to successfully sell their products directly rather than needing the value a distributor and dealer network can bring promoting the company’s wheelsets through their own brand, sales, and marketing efforts.

The wheelset Branders I’ve found didn’t start with rim or hub expertise to design or engineer their own wheels. They have depended largely on their ability to source and market their wheels to fill needs they originally saw in the market and have built their brand around.

For most of the Branders of value carbon wheelsets, an element of their brand has been built around the need in the market for lower-priced wheelsets, carbon or alloy.

Adding to that, Hunt, for example, has worked to establish their brand around the perceived need for wheels better suited to the conditions of England’s road and weather conditions. FLO has attempted built its brand around wheels developed from original technical insights targeted mostly for triathletes. Prime’s has tried to build its brand around its wide range of wheelsets and other cycling components made from high-quality materials.

Manufacturers: Broad scope selling directManufacturers are in business to sell carbon products including rims, wheelsets, bike frames and other cycling components in high volumes. Light Bicycle and Yoeleo are also original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or contractors for other companies that put their own brand names on the products supplied by these Manufacturers.

The Manufacturers I’ve selected sell wheelsets with their own brand names on them to individual cyclists direct from their company website. Most give you the feel of being high-volume custom wheel builders by giving you the choice of a couple dozen or more of their carbon rims combined with brand name hub and spoke options. While they ship hundreds and some over a thousand wheelsets a month, depending on what wheelset you want built, it may take them a week or two from ordering to receipt of your wheelset.

But What About….

Beyond these four categories and the companies I’ve listed in each of them, there are a few other categories of companies or wheel builders that I didn’t include.

There are a large number of small, custom wheel builders selling lower-priced carbon (and alloy) wheelsets. Some of these build wheels with the same rims, hubs, and spoke combinations of the Branders with rims from integrated companies like HED, Easton, and Reynolds that sell higher priced wheelsets.

While there are undoubtedly many artisans creating great, economical carbon wheels, I didn’t include these custom wheel builders in this review because even the largest are relatively low volume, locally or regionally focused shops with few employees. There is just no way I can track them all and compare them.

In comparison, the wheelsets of those in one of the four categories I’ve described are built to a standard, wheelset after wheelset, even when built with a combination of differing components. The customer buys that standard rather than a wheelset built by a unique wheel builder or small shop of them.

There are also many store brand wheels that I’ve come across beyond the Prime (Chain Reaction Cyclist) and Cero (Cycle Division) wheels I’ve put in the Branders group of stores. For me, these are branded versions of custom wheels with many of the challenges I would have in evaluating small custom wheel builders.

There were also a good number of Regionals, Manufacturers, and Branders that I had heard of or you put me on to that I researched. Many seem to have come and gone or don’t have much of a presence anymore, at least as wheelset sellers.

Finally, there are some Branders and Manufacturers that have very limited web sites and stores or who sell only on Amazon or eBay with little information about them beyond an incomplete product listing and a hard-to-believe price. They don’t present their product and company information in ways I feel uncomfortable engaging with. I’m trying to be respectful here but I hope you know what I’m saying. (If you don’t, I’m saying these look sketchy, resist the temptation to buy from them, avert your eyes, click on something else, anything else.)

While there may be major sellers of value carbon wheelsets I missed, I’d hope that most of the ones you have heard of fall in one of the four categories I’ve put on the chart or are ones that would fall into the small wheel builder, come and gone, or look sketchy.

If you think I have missed an important one that should be on the chart and that I should review, please do a little search on them and let me know in the comment section below if you still think I should add them. Thanks.

WHAT YOU PAY FOR WHEELS DEPENDS ON WHAT YOU VALUE

Above, I laid out a way to organize the companies that make value carbon wheels on a couple of dimensions. I was trying to point out some basic differences in how the companies approach their business before evaluating their wheels.

I did this first because I believe there are things to consider about where a company selling wheels is coming from that you may want to know before considering the performance or price of a specific wheelset model they sell.

In this section, I’ll lay out what I understand drives the cost (and to some degree also the price) of carbon wheels. This will help each of us determine whether we are ok owning wheels that cost less, once we understand why they do.

It’s important to know first off that the cycling business and especially the wheelset part of the cycling business is a tough one despite how much all the gear we buy actually costs. Companies that have been selling wheels for a long time like Shimano, Mavic, Campagnolo, ENVE, Reynolds, and Easton have struggled financially of late with three of those changing hands and another well-established one (not mentioned out of respect) apparently having shut down during the months I’ve been working on this review.

Some of these companies and others have significantly cut costs, moved production or sourced parts to lower cost facilities, and changed ownership in search of greater efficiencies and new investment.

New companies have entered the wheelset market over the last 5 and 10 years to sell carbon wheels, some with business models that focus on lower costs so they can sell at lower prices. As I described in the section above, some outsource a combination of engineering and production and sell online directly to customers. These are approaches that weren’t easy, economical or, in some cases even possible before they began doing it.

You get what you pay for…

The key for you and me is that we pay for what we need to have and not for the things we don’t. When you are looking to pay as little as possible for a carbon wheelset, you’ve got to be honest with yourself about what you need to have and what would be nice to have but we aren’t willing to pay for.

To flesh out the need to have vs. the nice to have, there are three areas of questions I want to go through.

They are:

1. Quality – Do you value that value carbon wheels are sold by a company that is known to make durable products and has a good quality record, that the company offers a good warranty and will stand by you in case something goes wrong with your wheels, has policies to help you out in case you crash them, or that you can return or replace them if you decide you don’t want them?

2. Engineering & Production – Do you care that the company that puts their name on their wheels is also the one that designs, makes and tests them? Do you need to have wheels that have current generation specs and have known spoke and hub components? Does it matter who makes the rims, builds the wheels, and tests them?

3. Performance – Do you need to have wheels that perform as well as the best in the areas that are most important to you, for example, their versatility over varying terrain and surfaces or their performance for a specific type of riding, how stiff, aero or comfortable they are, how well they brake, accelerate, handle, etc.

Answering yes to most of these questions will cost you money because they cost the company selling the wheels money to deliver on.

If you don’t need to have some of these attributes, you can find yourself a wheelset that costs less to make, should be lower-priced and save yourself some or a lot of money.

As the saying goes and as I’ve found to be true with value carbon wheels, you get what you pay for.

Value carbon wheelset prices…

Roughly speaking, and with some exceptions to be noted later, prices of the better all-around value carbon wheelsets from the Integrateds and Regionals on the left side of my grid above, those selling through online and shop dealers are priced between USD $1200 and $1500.

Value carbon wheelsets from the Branders and Manufacturers on the right of the grid generally sell in the USD $800 to $1200 range.

If you think the price difference is due merely to the differences in their sales models, i.e. that you as a cycling consumer don’t have to pay for the distributor and retailer mark-ups, that’s only partially true. That may be what you’ll hear from companies selling direct to cyclists but it obscures other differences that reduce their costs and allow Branders and Manufacturers to price their products lower while still making profits attractive to their lenders or investors.

Look at the primary activities that go into creating value in the wheelset business. At the most basic level, a business needs to engineer, produce, sell and service wheelsets.

Best Carbon Wheelset for the Money

To increase a business’s profitability, costs can be reduced or eliminated by doing less or shifting activities to less costly sources at places along this value chain. You need to consider whether you are ok or not with the effect of those changes on what you need to have and what you value in your wheelset.

For example, some companies may have engineers on staff and do a lot of leading-edge research, design, and testing trying to accomplish desired performance goals for their wheels. Others may do very little if any engineering or leave that function to lower cost sources they contract to make and assemble wheels for them. These contracted wheel makers may copy designs developed by others or do limited if any computer modeling, prototyping, wind tunnel or field testing.

Production may also differ markedly from one company to another. For example, some wheels may be built by hand while others are partially assembled by automation. One is more costly than the other. Production techniques may differ, some more rigorous than others and produce lower yields at the factory, more warranty claims in the field, and poorer performance along key measures on the road.

Some companies will spend a great deal of money marketing their brand and wheelsets while others spend a lot more on distribution and sales support. A third group may spend very little on either.

Some may choose to save money by having more limited warranties, crash replacement, and return policies than others. As part of these policies, companies farm out service and repair to unaffiliated bike shops while others have a more costly regionalized or centralized repair structure to deal with any major service needs you have.

I’ll detail more of these differences from company to company in the sections that follow.

My point is that the price differences between value carbon wheelsets (and value carbon and more expensive wheelsets) come because companies making a wider range of choices about how they run their business than whether they sell direct or through dealers.

And, some of the choices that companies make to get to lower costs and prices may result in them eliminating things you feel you need to have.


Ultimately, prices are driven by market demand as much or more than costs. Most smart business people are going to sell a product for as much as the market will allow them, or as much as they can above what it costs them to cover their operating and capital costs. If they can’t make a market return on their costs, they won’t earn or get lenders and investors to give them the money to stay in business.

IF YOU VALUE PEACE OF MIND…

Most of the items in my quality group of questions above deal with the peace of mind I and many enthusiasts look for and indeed insist on when buying any piece of gear. This ultimately comes down to whether you can trust the company whose wheels you are considering spending $1000 or so on if there is a problem.

If you are unsure about whether you can trust the company, I and most road cycling enthusiasts aren’t going to even consider buying, no matter the price.

Since I have nothing more than of anecdotal information about the quality and durability of different value carbon wheels, I looked at four considerations to help me and you evaluate whether we should trust the companies selling them.

Longevity – How long has the company been selling value carbon wheels?

I’m a fan of and have consulted to many young businesses and companies on their strategies for growth. Fresh minds, new business models, experienced investor backing, and innovative designs can shake up a market and bring benefits to customers, companies, and investors.

You could easily argue that fresh thinking is what enabled carbon wheels to happen in the first place and what is now driving the market for value carbon wheels.

You could also see that a lot of companies don’t get it right the first time. The pioneers of carbon frames and wheelsets didn’t get it right the first time even though they applied a lot of experience with designing and manufacturing carbon structures and components from years of learning in the aerospace and automotive industries.

A couple of generations of experience with carbon bike wheels and being around long enough as a company to prove you can ride a business cycle or two in the bike industry creates greater confidence when I’m putting down some serious coin for a set of wheels.

There are certainly other factors to consider when sizing up a company’s wherewithal. This includes things like the experience of their management team, their financial condition, or the experience of past customers, but I’m not able to easily determine all of that.

So, I’ll use the most basic metric of how long they’ve been at making carbon wheels and, where I know it, how many generations of carbon wheels they’ve made. I’m using company provided information here so it may not be totally accurate.

Recognize that carbon bike wheels have only been made in commercial volumes since the late 00s. The most experienced companies have made 3 or at most 4 generations of carbon wheels over the 10 years or so since then.

Here’s my understanding of the experience companies on my grid have selling carbon bike wheels

  • The Integrateds – Bontrager, Fulcrum, Reynolds, Roval, Shimano, Vision, and Zipp – have all been at it for a while. Fulcrum and Shimano are new to all-carbon clincher rims but they’ve been making carbon tubular rims for multiple generations.
  • The Regionals – Profile Design and Rolf Prima – have been in business making wheels since before the first carbon clinchers came to market. While they haven’t designed and sold as many generations of wheels as Zipp and other pioneers, they have been in and around the carbon engineering and manufacturing game for a couple of generations with their own carbon wheels.
  • Most of the Branders have been at this a for a far shorter time. FLO, Hunt, Parcours, and Prime started selling carbon wheels in 2016. Tokyowheel began doing the same roughly a couple of years earlier. Cero started selling wheels from the Cycle Division bike shop they set up in 2011 but I don’t know when started selling or how many generations of carbon wheels they have sourced or designed.

FLO and Hunt are selling first-generation of carbon wheels. Prime and Tokyowheel are on their second. I don’t know for sure how many generations of carbon wheels Parcours has sold though judging from how long they’ve been in business, it’s unlikely to be more than two.

These are all companies that saw the opportunity to fill the opening in the market for value carbon wheels. None make carbon wheels that compete in the higher-priced end of the market.

While I’ll say more about this later, these direct sellers outsource the carbon wheel rim production and wheelset assembly. While they may provide some design input, their outsourcers also do the bulk of the engineering. The bulk of their carbon experience comes from their outsourcers.

  • Three of the Manufacturers – FarSports, Yoeleo, and ICAN – claim 8-10 years of experience with carbon. I haven’t been able to determine Light Bicycle’s experience making carbon wheels.

WarrantyWhat is the company’s warranty policy for wheels?

The standard language in most value carbon wheelset warranties says the wheels will be free of material defects and workmanship issues for 2 years. Most are explicitly detailed in lawyer-speak on the company websites and apply for the original purchaser who can show a copy of his or her receipt. Unless I mention the company below, they offer a 2-year warranty.

Reynolds and Roval wheels come with a lifetime warranty, Rolf Prima warrants their wheels for 5 years (essentially a lifetime in enthusiast wheel years), and Shimano’s warranty on their Dura-Ace carbon wheels is a 3-year one.

Yoeleo’s warranty is also good for 3 years but you are responsible to pay for shipping both ways if your warranty claim comes after you’ve owned the wheels for 3 months. FarSports also requires you to pay the shipping costs after 3 months and their warranty term is 18 months.

Light Bicycle’s 3-year warranty covers the rims but not the wheelsets they sell that, of course, include their rims. When I asked them about this in an online chat, they said I’d have to go to the hub and spoke suppliers should I have an issue with those components.

ICAN and Tokyowheel only have 1-year warranties though they will pay the shipping charges both ways should you need to make a claim. You can pay a couple of hundred dollars more to extend the Tokyowheel warranty (and crash replacement program) to 3 years.

None of these 1-year warranties or those where you have to pay shipping costs after just 3 months fill me with confidence. When I put a poll up on the In The Know Cycling Facebook page, twice as many fellow enthusiasts said they wouldn’t buy a carbon wheelset with a 1-year warranty as said they would.

For those who said they would, I’m looking for other reasons – crash and return policies, engineering or production expertise, performance or price – to justify potentially recommending them to you.

Frankly, it’s not terribly surprising that the group of Manufacturers are the ones that have the shortest warranties or that, for some, you have to pay for the shipping after just a few months. The customer service culture of large manufacturers in any industry is different from online or shop retailers. And, shipping wheels back long distances can also be very costly.

Of course, a big challenge can be determining and agreeing whether the issue you have is one the company feels is covered under warranty in the first place. If you bought your wheels from a shop or online store, you can take your wheels into an authorized dealer (whether you bought it there or not) and they can typically tell you whether the company will cover it and get your wheelset back to the company.

If you buy your wheels direct, there are obviously no local physical dealers. In that case, you send photos. Sometimes it will be clear from the photo whether the issue is covered and the company will start the process. No problem.

When it’s not clear and even when it is clear, you may need to send the wheels in, often at your cost for a yeah or nay on your claim. I’ve also read about instances where some Manufacturers will reimburse you if you go to your local wrench to take care of a problem that doesn’t require a rim repair or replacement.

For me, the length and uncertainty around these Manufacturer warranties don’t give me great peace of mind. But I get that there are some of you who don’t need to have this and see some combination of other things you do need to have like price, design, or performance as reasons enough to buy from the Manufacturers.

Crash replacementWhat policy, if any, does the company have to replace or repair wheels if you damage them in a crash?

Among the companies selling value carbon wheels that I evaluated, Bontrager, Reynolds, and Rolf Prima offer lifetime crash replacement programs and Zipp offers a 5-year one. Bontrager replaces your wheels free within two years of purchase and with a 50% discount after two years no matter how you crash them.

Pulling in the garage with your bike still on the car? Yes, they cover that.

Reynolds gives you a 50% discount on new wheels as part of their lifetime warranty also no matter how you crash them. The amount of discount for Rolf Prima’s lifetime crash warranty is unspecified and you have to pay shipping costs. Zipp doesn’t define the amount of discount or shipping cost responsibility. TokyoWheel offers a 50% discount if you crash their wheels within 2 years of purchase.

That, in a nutshell, says a lot about these crash replacement policies. They are a mixed bag. Except for the first couple years of the Bontrager policy, you’ve got to pay at least 50% of the price you originally spent to replace your wheelset in the best cases.

So, if you crash a $1000 or $1500 value carbon wheelset, that’s a fair chunk of change you’re going to have to come up with. Whether the damaged wheelset was a result of something you caused or due to faulty wheelset may make you grateful or pissed off about paying a portion of what it originally cost you to replace it.

Even so, a good crash replacement policy adds to peace of mind knowing that a company feels strongly enough about their wheels or about wanting you to continue to be their customer to offer you this benefit.

On the flip side, the cynic might say this is all just marketing and I probably wouldn’t disagree.

At even a 50% discount, you are essentially buying a wheelset for an amount near the company’s cost. It is not losing anything other than the profit it could have made selling the same wheels it is discounting to you or me at full price to someone else. Meanwhile, it keeps you as a customer.

Like warranties, the length of the crash replacement policy and who pays the shipping varies along with the % of the original price you pay. Most companies selling value carbon wheelsets are less generous with their crash replacement policies – they replace or repair your wheels, offer a lesser or undefined discount, and cover you for more limited time periods or require you to pay the shipping.

Prime gives you a 40% discount on replacement wheels within 2 years of purchase. Hunt gives you a 35% discount, Profile Design 30%, and Light Bicycle 10-25% but none state how long after you buy your wheels they are willing to do this. Roval, Vision, Parcours have policies but don’t state how long they are good for or how much of a discount you get toward new wheels.

Fulcrum and Shimano offer no crash replacement at all. Neither do Branders FLO and Cero or Manufacturers Yoeleo, ICAN, or FarSports.

What’s the chance you’ll need one of these policies?

In the early days of carbon wheelsets, there were many issues with rims breaking due to poor resins or carbon fiber layup practices. You shouldn’t see wheel fractures among the better made and better-known wheels after several generations of learning experience and materials and manufacturing improvements.

The knock on some carbon wheels continues to be delamination. This is caused by the heat generated in the rims from dragging the brakes – applying them for long periods of time going downhill – until the rim warps, cracks or comes apart altogether. No cash replacement policies cover this.

But here again, there have been big improvements to greatly reduce this in the better-made wheels. Wheels that use resins impregnated into the carbon fiber that high “TG” or glass transition temperatures make it pretty hard to delam a carbon wheelset unless you really try hard.

While, yes, using higher temperature resins do make the carbon a bit more brittle, I haven’t heard that they aren’t fracturing left and right now because of this.

Carbon wheels that are made using poor manufacturing techniques or older resins are much more likely to fracture or delaminate. You only need to check out a few forums or wait at the bottom of long alpine descent or two to come away with a story or bear witness to one of these.

The companies whose names you can find on these damaged wheels seem to me to be lesser known and increasingly marginalized these days. Often they are no-name Manufacturer wheels or local bike shop built and branded wheels with rims sourced from who-knows-where.

That’s not to say delamination is not going to happen to you on any set of wheels. But it’s a good chance that if you buy a wheelset from a company that has been making carbon wheelset for a few generations, has a good warranty and crash replacement policy, yours aren’t going to be the ones that break or warp.

It’s not because of their policies. Rather, it’s because they’ve made the resin and layup process improvements so that they know they can have those policies and it’s not going to bankrupt them by having a lot of wheels to replace.

Return – If your wheels arrive with an issue or you decide that you just don’t want them, what can you do?

If your wheels come in damaged, they should be replaced, right? Most every wheel seller I evaluated for this review commit to that in their return policy though a few – Vision, Parcours – has no stated return policy that I could determine.

What if you decide you don’t want the wheels you ordered?

Here it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous or, as it relates to this review, from the confidence building to the uh oh!

At the sublime or confidence building spectrum, you have Reynolds, Hunt, and Tokyowheel. Buy and ride a Reynolds wheelset for 30 days and return it for a full refund if you don’t want it. They’ll also pay the return shipping cost.

Hunt gives you 60 days to ride their wheels before you have to decide. You can also return it for a full refund but you’ll have to pay for the shipping cost.

Tokyowheel does these two even better. A 65-day test ride, they pay the shipping if you decide to return the wheels, and they’ll give you a 110% refund. Their 1-year warranty seems a little out of sync with this return policy though you can pay more to extend it to 3-years. The test ride policy on its own suggests they really are betting you’ll like their wheels.

In truth, most cyclists riding carbon wheels for the first time are going to be dazzled by their initial experience unless there’s a real problem with the wheels or you are sensitive about braking. Carbon wheels are deeper, probably lighter, look cool and you just spent a grand or more on them.

You are going to like them, not going to know better, and not going to return them, and that’s what these return policies are based on. I worked with a Harvard Business School professor who researched the heck out of return policies for high priced consumer products. Unless there’s a quality issue, return rates from people who change their minds is very low and the brand equity built from having a “satisfaction guaranteed” policy is very high.

At the other end of the spectrum, you better be on your toes if your Yoeleo or ICAN wheels arrive damaged or you decide you just don’t want them. They give you 3 days to let them know. Don’t be on a business trip when your wheels arrive.

Most other wheels can be returned if unused within 30 days for a refund. Shimano and Prime give you a full year to return unused wheels.

Who pays for shipping varies though I can’t hold it against any of these companies to ask you to pay the return shipping on a product you just decide not to keep.

Some retailers will offer better return policies on the wheels they sell than the wheelset companies themselves, especially if you are a good customer. Zipp and Fulcrum leave the return policies up to their dealers.


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IF YOU VALUE ENGINEERING AND PRODUCTION EXPERTISE….

I’ve often written that performance and price are what matters most in choosing between wheelsets. The design philosophy, engineering approach, production process, product technologies, components, specs, brand, and looks are only important if they deliver the performance we want at prices we are willing to pay.

And then I read the comments at the end of wheelset reviews (including my own), the reviews that many established publications write, and the marketing materials companies publish about their wheels.

Being on-trend. Checking the boxes. Wheel weight, rim width, tubeless ready, brake track treatment, rim profile, straight pull and bladed spokes, brand name hubs, ceramic bearings, blacked-out logos, how the wheelset will look on my bike or go with my brand of bike, what the salesperson in the store told me, what I read in a forum, etc., etc., etc., are all things that some enthusiasts value and consider in choosing between wheels.

I can’t deny that many of those things are important to road cycling enthusiasts and part of our buying decisions. They wouldn’t take up as much of our consciousness and what marketers appeal to if they weren’t.

To help sort through which wheelsets I want to review, I also consider product specs and try to learn what engineering and production expertise companies bring to the party. It’s a place to start – but not end – and can be helpful in separating the wheat from the chaff.

For this review, I considered what each company stated on their web site and from answers to my questions along with what I found from my own research to better understand their engineering and production activities. I also reviewed the specs for what looked to me to be their most current rim and road disc brake all-around wheelsets below USD$1500.

Here’s my take on all of this:

Integrateds – As a group, these companies bring the most engineering and production experience and what appears to be the greatest expertise of any of the four groups of companies selling value carbon wheelsets. They typically have larger staffs that are doing or overseeing more of the engineering and production activities themselves than the other groups of companies.

Integrateds also have more generations of experience researching, designing and testing carbon wheels than the Regionals and Branders, and probably more than the Manufacturers as well. Many of their design principles and the actual wheelset designs or key aspects of them have been copied by other Integrateds companies as well as those in the other three groups.

All the Integrateds save for Shimano make USD$2000+ carbon wheelsets and sell many more models that are likely a far larger number of higher-priced wheelsets than they do value carbon models. While price doesn’t directly correlate to performance, in my experience the higher priced carbon wheels do have many performance advantages, e.g. braking, handling, comfort, acceleration.

To the extent that there are “trickle-down” effects available from the experience engineering and producing higher-priced wheels, the Integrated’s value carbon wheelsets should benefit from it.

For example, the Reynolds AR 41 rim and road disc models are new designs with fully modern or “on trend” rims – U shaped profiles, 19 mm internal and 28 mm external widths for their rim brake model and 21mm/30mm internal/external for the road disc one, tubeless, low 1500 and 1600 gram wheelset weights, Reynolds designed hubs, each selling at a $1300 price.

Reynolds has long had a mid-tier priced wheelset line. These and others in the AR line follow the Assault, Attack and Strike models that had a successful long run for the company.

Yet the specs of the Reynolds AR 41s are an exception among the value carbon wheelsets now sold by the Integrateds. (Unfortunately, the AR 41 wheels are unexceptional performers despite their specs – more on this in Part II of this review).

When you look at the specs of the value carbon wheels made by many of these Integrateds, it appears as if you are essentially getting the last generation designs and, in some cases, the actual last generation carbon wheel models.

Yes, the $1300 Bontrager Aeolus Pro 5 rim and disc wheels are 50mm deep, 19.5mm internal and 27.0 mm external width rims, tubeless ready with a nicely rounded toroid shaped rim. But, these wheels have the same rim specs and use the same rims molds as the last generation Aeolus 5 D3 models that Bontrager sold for many years. They also use lower grade carbon materials and down-speced hubs used in the company’s other Pro model wheels.

The wheels have claimed weights of 1605 and 1720 for the rim and disc models respectively which are about 100 grams heavier than more expensive wheels of the same dimensions. The Aeolus Pro 5s use the same rim for the disc and rim brake wheelsets instead of taking weight out of the disc brake version where it is not needed for structural integrity along the brake track of the rim brake model as most modern disc brake models do. Bontrager continued this practice for the current Aeolus XXX models.

Zipp does much the same with their $1500 302 rim and disc brake models which are essentially the original, now two generations old 303 Firecrest wheelsets without the golf ball like dimples in the rim. These are 16.25 mm internal and 25.6 external (at the brake track) toroid shaped rims used in both the rim and disc models, tubed only clincher wheelsets that weigh in at over 1700g.

Spoiler alert and to my point about performance mattering more than specs – the 302s outperform both the Reynolds AR 41 and earlier Bontrager 5 D3 on many criteria so much so that I’d prefer them without question for my road riding.

Roval’s $1200 C 38 Disc wheelset has some attractive specs – 21mm internal, 27mm external, a cross between a U and box profile rim, disc only model, with a claimed weight of 1560 grams. Yet it is only 38mm deep where most all arounds are 40mm plus these days and rolls on DT Swiss 350 hubs rather than the lighter and better regarded DT Swiss 240.

Perhaps a play to those of us wanting one wheelset for both road and gravel riding?

Vision’s Trimax 40 Carbon clincher is only $1000 but has a somewhat anachronistic 15mm internal width and is rim brake only. Fulcrum sells 40mm deep Racing Quattro Carbon rim and disc brake models that are 17mm internal/24mm external U/box shaped rims that are also a generation or two behind in width and shape.

Finally, among the Integrateds, Shimano sells an all-carbon, $1500 market priced ($2000 MSRP) Dura Ace 9170 C40 road disc wheelset that is also 17mm/24mm, only 37mm deep and claims to weigh nearly 1600 grams. These numbers won’t spark the spec junkie inside many enthusiasts. Despite sharing C40 name with the disc brake model, the rim brake version is actually a rebranded C35, still a 35mm deep, 15C carbon-alloy wheelset

With the exception of Roval and Reynolds Frankly, it appears the Integrateds are trying to cover their flanks from the newer value carbon wheelset entrants by using older designs that don’t greatly benefit from the engineering expertise currently employed in their more expensive newer models.

This isn’t totally surprising because a) as mentioned above, the wheelset business is a tough one, and b) these wheelsets already have a lot of engineering and production expertise built into them. While not necessarily having specs that are on trend, most have more going for them than those of a lot of competitors in this market that are still on their first generation of carbon wheels or who don’t have as much (or any) unique engineering and production expertise.

Regionals – The Regionals reviewed in this post do their own wheelset design and testing and have their carbon rims made in proprietary molds for them.

Whereas the Branders are more marketing and sales-oriented companies, these Regionals are more engineering oriented. Profile Design engineers and sells a range of carbon cockpit components – bars, stems, seatposts, and saddles – in addition to their road wheel line.

Rolf Prima focuses on wheels but makes a wider range of them for road, tri/TT, CX, MTB etc. in both carbon and alloy. They also assemble their wheels in-house and make their own alloy rims for their wheels and for sale to others.

Do the Regionals do as much CFD and wind tunnel testing of their wheels as some of the Integrateds? Likely not. Have they been in the carbon engineering and wheel making game as long? Yes, although likely on a smaller scale than many of the Integrateds.

All of Profile Design’s wheels are either carbon road wheels sell in the $1500 and under range. They introduced their TwentyFour series wheels a half dozen years ago to call attention to what at the time was a relatively wide 24.5 mm external width line of wheels. Nowadays, that external width combined with the 17mm internal width looks a bit dated to design spec connoisseurs as does their tube-only clincher and narrow spoke-edge rim profile.

The $1150 price tag of their 50mm deep 1/Fifty rim brake only and their $1350, 38mm deep 38/TwentyFour disc brake wheelset are their best-priced value carbon wheelsets. Both have claimed weights in the low 1600 gram range.

The 1/Fifty are made with smaller diameter hub flanges that make the wheelset less stiff than the TwentyFour and come from a lower cost supplier. All Profile Design’s wheels are assembled in Asia allowing them to further reduce their costs.

Rolf Prima’s wheels have more modern specs. Rolf’s $1400 Ares3 LS rim and disc brake wheels roll on 19mm internal, 27mm external toroid shaped rims. They are tubeless ready and claim seemingly competitive 1515 gram and 1630 gram weights for the rim and disc brake models respectively but are a bit heavy considering they are only 32mm deep.

Rolf makes a ton of deeper wheels but they range from $1700 up to $2800 owing to hubs better than those used on the Ares3 LS.

The Regionals neighborhood is a tough one to live in if you want to put out value priced carbon wheels. I didn’t find any in Europe (though there may be some I’m not aware of).

Rolf Prima went dark in the 2008 economic downturn, rebooting the following year with just 3 employees but is now back to health. Williams, another long-tenured player in the value-priced wheels and components market has stopped working its dealer network over the last year or so, shows few products in stock at its site store, and has put out the for sale sign.

It seems that the expenses that go along with having some combination of experienced engineering staff, in-house wheel assembly operations, and sales and marketing to support a dealer network can’t be easily covered selling carbon wheels for under $1500.

Branders – FLO, Hunt, Parcours, and Prime introduced their first carbon wheelsets in 2016. Prime introduced a second generation of carbon wheels in the summer of 2018. Tokyowheel started selling carbon wheelsets in 2013 and claim to be producing their 3rd generation now.

While most Branders don’t share information about their rim and hub suppliers, only the largest volume ones appear to have moved from so-called “open mold” rims made from non-proprietary designs available for sale to any wheelmaker.

Most of the Branders I reviewed don’t suggest that they have done more than provide their design preferences to those engineering and producing wheels for them under contract.

Some do assert they have more design involvement and expertise that includes specifying rim shapes after doing field testing, computer modeling and/or wind tunnel testing.

A couple have also talked about hubs, rims or wheels being built in “our factory” rather than in factories owned and operated by others that the Branders contract or buy their components and wheels from.

Some of these claims are a bit squishy but are central to the brand image these companies are trying to create.

Take FLO and Hunt, two Branders that market aggressively through different combinations of reviews in targeted cycling publications, newsletters, photo journals, forum participation, and social media.

FLO regularly tells its story around the activities of its twin brother founders who do the full range of company activities from wheelset design and sourcing to managing logistics to doing a wide range of marketing and running the web sales operations. It’s an impressive, feel-good story unless you feel bad for them since they seem to be working 24×7 to pull it all of.

In addition to their face-of-the company branding approach, they publish detailed reports to create the impression that their field research and wheel design is leading edge and that this has led them to create advanced aerodynamic wheelsets ideally suited for the technologically sophisticated, demanding triathlete that appears to be their primary target market.

The toroidal-shaped rim and disc FLO 45 carbon wheels they introduced in 2016 were part of their first carbon wheel line. At a price of $1200 and $1250 for rim and disc respectively, it is priced well.

At 17mm internal, 24mm external brake track width and requiring a tube, the FLO 45 and deeper wheels in their carbon line with the same widths won’t stand out among those eyeing wheels for their specs. The claimed weight of the rim brake FLO 45 is a competitive 1537 grams. The disc brake version, which uses the same rim as the rim brake one, is a head-scratching 1688 grams apparently owing to a heavier hub and 4 more spokes.

And in a much followed and to some, independent and real-world comparison of 40 different models of wheels for their aero performance done by Hambini Performance Engineering, the FLO 45 wheels were one of two sold by Branders in this review that finished far back in the pack. Hambini called out FLO’s “limited understanding of aerodynamics” for the comparative performance of the wheelset, further suggesting that they hadn’t taken into account the drag effect of the spokes on their wheels.

An ugly public battle followed between FLO and Hambini on a couple of major cycling forums with several well-known industry figures and forum member coming to FLOs defense and questioning the validity of Hambini’s testing protocol.

As it turns out, the other company identified by Hambini for the same lack of aerodynamics expertise was Hunt whose $1100, 50mm deep, 19mm internal, 27mm external width, U-shaped rim profile wheelset Hambini’s tests faired slightly worse than the FLOs in aero testing.

From my review of Hambini’s results, neither of these wheelsets were more than 3% different in their aero drag in watts than the average of the others of similar depth. And, of course, aero performance is but one of many performance considerations in choosing a a wheelset. If, however, you are creating a business largely around your brand image and part of that image is built around your claimed technical expertise, I can see where being a little bit off the pace in a test like Hambini’s could pose a major challenge.

Hunt has published its own wind tunnel performance tests (predating and using a different protocol than Hambini’s) that show prototypes of their road disc wheels are competitive with USD$2000-$3000 wheelsets of similar rim depth from leading brands.

Hunt has built its brand around the price of their wheels and their professed suitability to British roads and weather conditions. Although a storyline in some of their marketing, there is much less focus on the (non-twin) brother founders or any claim to superior or unique engineering expertise.

Indeed, Hunt speaks openly about the experience of one brother coming from a sourcing background and the other from a marketing one. This makes sense when you consider that sourcing and marketing is key to Hunt’s business approach.

In my email exchange with Hunt, they did write about the goals and influence on the designs of their wheelsets but also readily acknowledge that most of their wheels are made using mostly open mold rims (some of their alloy wheels are made from propriety rims), along with hubs and spokes available to anyone. These components are also assembled into wheelsets and tested in Taiwan.

Of course, selecting the combination of components that make up the rim and choosing the sources that make and assemble them isn’t simple. This selection and sourcing capability is what separates the design, quality and ultimately the performance of one wheelset or family of wheelsets sold by one Brander from another.

The challenge with Hunt for me as an enthusiast and independent reviewer is that their wheelset line is evolving quickly and doesn’t appear to have common design themes, goals or characteristics across their wheels. I could ride and compare one of the Hunt wheelsets today but it might offer no indication of how other wheelsets in their line now perform or what might replace it next year.

This is a marked difference between wheels that come from companies who engineer and produce their own wheels, have specific performance goals and characteristics they want to achieve that differentiate their wheels from others. They employ engineering and production teams that follow processes to work toward those goals across a line and from one generation to the next.

For Branders like Hunt, being able to source open mold wheels engineered and produced under contract allows them to nimbly keep the specs of their product line up to date. It does give me some pause trying to pick ones to review for you. Nonetheless, here are the specs on wheels I would choose from Hunt as the most modern looking, best-priced options.

The Hunt 50 Carbon Wide Aero wheelset is their USD$1080/£800 rim brake U profile wheelset that claims 19mm internal and 27mm external rim widths at a weight of 1537 grams. The slightly differently named 50 Carbon Aero Disc sells for the same price but has more of an 0 profile, claims a weight of only 1487 grams and has a 21mm internal, 27mm external rim width.

Clearly, the Hunt road disc wheelset is a little wider and lighter than their rim brake one, making it more applicable to dirt and gravel riding and eliminating carbon thickness that would be needed for strength and dispersing heat in the rim brake model. This is becoming common with the best road disc rims these days that don’t have to double on rim brake wheels.

Both wheelsets are tubeless and use 3-pawl, 48 ratchet hubs with EZO bearings. They also use straight pull, butted Pilar spokes with alloy nipples.

Prime Components, the house brand first for Chain Reaction Cycles and now both CRC and Wiggle, started selling their second generation of value carbon wheels in late 2018. When I reviewed their first gen carbon wheels that came out in 2016, they made no claim to design, engineering or production and used open mold rims at the time.

I see nothing about the marketing of Prime’s current generation of wheels that suggests they’re doing more than sourcing their latest generation. For what its worth, their 50mm deep first gen and narrower carbon wheelset outperformed similar depth current generation wheels from FLO and Hunt in the Hambini aero testing.

Prime’s current BlackEdition 50 Carbon and BlackEdition 50 Carbon Disc wheelsets sell for USD$850/£800 and weigh a claimed 1580g and 1642g respectively. They share the same rim which sizes out at 50mm deep with 19mm internal and 27.5mm external width. The hub internals have 4 pawls and 26 points of engagement.

Tokyowheel introduced their 3rd generation EPIC line of carbon rim and disc brake wheelsets in 2016. They feature front and rear wheels with different depths as in the EPIC 3.4 (33mm/43mm) and 5.6 (55mm/65mm).

There was a fair amount of controversy about who actually designed and made Tokyowheel’s second-generation carbon wheelsets. Much of this was created by Tokyowheel’s owner who left the impression on a prominent cycling forum that their wheels had proprietary designs and were made in Tokyowheel factories.

In a series of long and at times, hard to follow posts, he later fessed up to the reality that his wheelsets were indeed not proprietary, the rims being made in open molds and the wheels being assembled in a contractor’s factory. I’ve sent emails asking him to update me on their engineering and production activities but he has yet to respond.

Most “all-around” carbon wheels are in the 40-50mm range these days with shallower ones being considered best for climbing (if they are light) and deeper ones being used for triathlon, time trialing, and crit racing. So there isn’t a competitive all-around offering from Tokyowheel currently.

Tokyowheel gives you the option to combine their 18mm internal and 25mm external width 0-shaped front rims and U-shaped rear ones with several different hub and spoke options. Their standard hubs and spokes on the EPIC 3.4 rim brake wheel deliver a claimed 1554g rim wheelset that sells for about $800 and a claimed 1648g disc brake wheelsets that each sell for $850.

If you opt for DT Swiss 240 straight-pull hubs and Sapim CX-Ray spokes, the rim brake wheel claimed weight drops to 1483g at a price of $1179. That same combination of hub and spoke models on the disc brake EPIC 3.4 model reduces the weight to 1543g with a new price of $1234.

Parcours is another UK Brander selling £800 or so wheelsets targeted to triathletes and roadies. Their 40mm deep Grimpeur with modern 19.0mm internal, 25.5mm external/brake track, 27.0mm max width toroid profile rims stands out for its claimed 1320g and 1395g rim and disc brake weights.

These look to be second generation Grimpeurs introduced in 2018 with non-proprietary, open mold rim designs and some tailoring to allow for tubeless tire use. The hubs appear to be Novatechs and the spokes are CX-Ray from Sapim.

Parcours seems to be a lean operation with limited marketing bluster and no claims of unique design or engineering expertise. Sourcing carbon wheelsets that can compete with the best-performing ones at a fraction of the price looks to be the focus of their branding efforts.

Manufacturers – These Chinese companies specialize in fabricating carbon cycling components from rims to frames, bars, stems, and seatposts. They also assemble wheelsets using their carbon rims with hubs and spokes engineered and made by well-known brands.

The Manufacturers I’ve identified for this review all brand and sell their own wheelsets for sale directly to cyclists. Two of them – Light Bicycle and Yoeleo – also make carbon wheelsets and other carbon components that are branded and sold by other companies.

There are many Taiwanese or Chinese carbon manufacturers making rims and assembling wheelsets for large, medium, and small wheel sellers around the world. Some are made for and sold exclusively by the companies that design the wheels including the rims and often the hubs. They use proprietary rim molds and are run on dedicated production lines where the wheel seller and manufacturer jointly develop and control the manufacturing requirements, process, and quality levels.

Other rims and wheels are available for anyone to buy and sell, are made from designs developed by the manufacturers, layed up in non-proprietary or open molds, and assembled with catalog selected hubs and spokes where all the processes are the responsibility of the manufacturer. The wheels can be built under a long term contract or on an order by order basis.

The best or most in-demand carbon manufacturers make only proprietary designed carbon wheelsets, bike frames, and other carbon components. The least in-demand manufacturers copy rim and wheelset designs that are doing well in the marketplace and sell mostly open mold rims and wheelsets using those rims. And then there are manufacturers that do some of each.

The most in-demand carbon bike parts manufacturers tend to be based in Taiwan while the less experienced ones are based in China.

Bike Biz, a publication that reports on the cycling industry did an analysis of Asian carbon bike frame suppliers. They called the best carbon molders the Creme, the next tier the Competent, and the bottom tier the Cowboys. Those tier names probably extend well to wheelsets and other carbon components made in the same factories.

I don’t know where any of the four Manufacturers I identified fit on that Creme/Competent/Cowboy spectrum. I doubt any of them are Creme. Those manufacturers just don’t make and sell individual products to cyclists like you and me.

I also don’t know whether any of these Manufacturers have particular wheelset design skills or how much CFD (computational fluid dynamics), wind tunnel or in-the-field prototype testing, or other engineering they do. Carbon manufacturing and wheelset assembly is their primary competence. Reverse engineering is a skill many manufacturers of all sorts of cycling and other industry products often have and that some of these Manufacturers may also possess.

Two challenges I have with picking products from Manufacturers is that they 1) have a lot of rim, hub and spoke combinations to choose from and 2) some of their rim options get updated more quickly than those of any of the Integrateds, Regionals or Branders.

You can order wheels from these Manufacturers with a wider choice of hubs and often spokes available from the Integrateds, Regionals, and Branders. All of them offer well regarded DT Swiss 240 and 350 hubs or more standard Novatec ones. With some, you can specify more expensive hubs from Chris King or White Industries or less expensive ones from Bitex. Sapim CX-Ray and Pillar spokes are widely available.

To simplify and compare the Manufacturers wheel prices, I’ve speced all their wheelsets with DT240 hubs and CX-Ray spokes, and tubeless rims. The CX-Ray spokes are the same are on par with those used in most of the other wheelsets in this review. The DT240 hubs are generally a step up in price and performance than many of those used on the other wheelsets. You can knock off $200-$300 from the wheelset price by dropping down to a Novatec hub and Pillar spokes.

Comparing pricing and some of the basic rim and wheelset specs (but not the layup materials, warranties, crash protection, returns, engineering or production expertise or on-the-road performance), the Manufacturers have very modern, competitive offerings.

With DT 240 hubs, CX-Ray spokes, and tubeless rims, Farsports sells a claimed 1580 gram, 50mm deep carbon, U profile rim brake wheelset with 18mm internal, 25mm external widths for $850. Their 45mm deep disc brake model has a toroid-shaped rim, measures 21mm internal, 27mm external, weighs a claimed 1495 grams and sells for $955.

ICAN sells its 50mm deep carbon rim and disc brake wheelsets using the same 18.4mm internal, 25mm external width tubeless rims. Their max width is claimed to be 28mm so these are very toroid-shaped rims. The rim brake model has a claimed weight of 1504 grams and the disc brake model 1524 grams. Both price out at $945.

Light Bicycle sells its 45mm deep rim brake and 46mm deep disc brake carbon wheelsets with quite different rims. It’s $956 rim brake wheels have an 18mm internal, 25mm external U shaped profile with a claimed weight of 1485grams. The V-shaped disc brake rim profile is wider (21mm internal and 28mm external) and lighter (460 grams vs. 475 grams for the rim brake though the total weight of the complete wheel is only 5 grams lighter) but the disc brake wheelset, at $1288, is more expensive than any I speced from the Manufacturers.

Yoeleo’s rim and disc brake value carbon wheels are also quite different from each other though are more similarly priced. Their 50mm deep SAT C50 Pro rim brake wheels cost $1164, have conventional 17mm internal, 25mm external rim widths with a U profile and weigh 510 grams. Overall wheel weight is a claimed 1550 grams.

The SAT C50 Pro disc brake wheelset rims claim the same weight as the rim brake ones but measure 20mm internal and 27mm external and have more of a toroid shape. The wheels use a higher grade carbon fiber than the Yoeleo’s rim brake wheels, leading to a lighter claimed weight of 1518 grams despite a wider rim and heavier hub. They sell for $1223.

**********

With that, I’ll end Part 1 of this value carbon wheelset review here. In Part 2, I will post reviews of the performance of wheels I’ve identified above as I and my fellow testers work through them. Some will come soon as we’ve already ridden them. Others will come later in the spring and summer as we get them in and evaluate them. We won’t be able to test them all but we will evaluate a representative number.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share your feedback and questions in the comments section below.

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19 comments

  • Not including Boyd wheels?

  • Great article – look forward to Part 2

  • Great Article as always. Very insightful. Thank you for your continued education. One particular manufacturer interested to get your thoughts on is Swiss Side. Where do you put it and how do you rate it / compare to something like Reynolds?

    • Ahmed, Thanks for your feedback. SwissSide is a relatively new design and engineering shop focused on aero performance of carbon wheels. They market the Formula racing experience of their team. I don’t know whether they manufacture or contract production of their wheels. I suspect it is the later, perhaps to DT Swiss, some of whose wheels they co-brand now. Steve

  • Fantastic article and on point for so many of us. Looking forward to the remaining parts.

  • I’d love to know what wheelset you’d recommend for a 2016 Cervelo R3 where I am trying to maximize comfort while minimizing performance loss. A severly broken wrist that is now partially fused means I need to look at everything possible comfort wise in order to continue riding. Thanks!

    • Geoff, Sorry to hear about your hand. In general, get wider tubeless wheels that allow wider, lower inflated tubeless tires. But I expect you already knew that. As to your question about a specific wheelset for your bike, I really can’t begin to answer that question. There are too many variables to consider beyond what you wrote in your comment. I wrote this post to try to help readers figure out which wheelset might be best based on your riding profile, objectives and budget. Take a look. Hope it helps. Steve

  • Very nice distillation of a complex subject. I look forward to Pt. 2.

  • I am willing to pay $800-1200 for a second set of wheels for sporty gravel riding. This seems to me to be in the crossover range between high quality aluminum disc wheels and budget carbon disc wheels, and I have no idea which would be better. Any thoughts or recommendations for an 86 kg rider?

    • nellborg, I’m a roadie but my understanding is that an alloy rim will get dinged up a whole lot more than a carbon one when both are ridden on “gravel” paths, independent of your weight. Steve

  • sittingintransit

    Really good breakdown!

  • planning to buy some cheap carbon wheelset, look forward the next parts, nice work

  • Hi Steve – this article is a tremendous wealth of info but has left me in suspense as I need to pull the trigger on a training and race day wheelset for IM Lake Placid. With a $1000 budget, I am torn between hunting used/demos (older Reynolds 46 Forty Six $900) or taking a chance on new Prime RR-50 V2 Carbon Clinchers ($529). Any advice as I don’t anticipate your final thoughts will be in time!

    Dave (155 lbs, 2015 Giant Propel, Rim Brake, and staying with clinchers, targeting 18+mph for the 112 miles, 7000 ft elevation)

    • Dave, Wish I could but I’m just not there yet. If you’re looking for a rim brake wheelset, I will say that my experience with most open mold wheels like Prime and others from the Branders and Manufacturers groups is that they aren’t very good braking. That could be a problem for anyone descending as much as you will be doing at Placid. Steve

      • Thanks for the quick reply. I will direct my efforts at the Integrateds as I previously found the Fulcrum Racing Quattros C17 (40mm) and Vision Trimax 40 in my sights. The smaller rim width suits my older bike model too. May need to flip a coin on this one but hopefully 40mm depth is the right call for Placid

  • Very thorough summary of the scene, thank you. I still think November Bicycles has awesome wheels, as an unaffiliated two time purchaser…I hope you check them out some day.

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