Summary: A road bike wheel upgrade for well under $1000 can noticeably improve the performance and comfort of your rim brake bike. Of the alloy bike wheels we tested, I rate the HED Ardennes RA Pro currently at USD$850 as the Best Performer (available here) and the Campagnolo Zonda C17 at USD$490/£440 as the Best Value (available from a recommended stores here, here, here).

It’s a truism that wheels are the first and one of the best road bike upgrades you can make to improve your cycling experience and performance.

The unfortunate reality is that most $2500 to $5000 modern bikes we road cycling enthusiasts buy come with inexpensive wheels that aren’t at the same level of performance as the frames that sit on them or the drivetrain components that transfer your power to them.

While it may seem crazy, many cyclists make a road bike wheel upgrade within a couple of years after buying a new bike, which of course comes with a brand new set of wheels. If you didn’t get an upgrade wheelset for your rim brake bike when you first bought it or you did several years ago and are thinking about buying a new, wider set now, you may have hesitated due to the price or concerns about braking performance of the carbon wheels you looked at.

The best rim brake upgrade wheels available now made from aluminum alloy material can give you far better comfort, speed, acceleration, climbing, handling, braking, and versatility than your original or first upgrade wheels. They will also cost you far less than the price of getting a good carbon clincher wheelset. I review them here.

Related: Not sure what kind of wheels to get? Click Road Bike Wheels – How To Choose The Best For You


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Yes it’s true – Wheels should be your first upgrade

Today’s best upgrade wheels are wider, have improved hubs and tubeless rims

My evaluation of wheelsets against performance and cost criteria show which ones standout 

Wide (17-18mm inside width) upgrades offer excellent value  

Wider (19-21mm inside width) upgrades offer better performance 


Why do cycling enthusiasts make a road bike wheel upgrade one of their first purchases after buying a new bike? Is there a real benefit in your riding performance and enjoyment or is it just one of those bike industry marketing mantras to get you to buy more of what they’re selling?

Endurance or sportive bikes that enthusiasts prefer for long, comfortable rides usually come equipped with wheels that aren’t as forgiving or compliant as the frame. Wider tubed or tubeless tires inflated to lower pressures than you’d normally use with narrower tires can dampen the road imperfections but won’t make the wheels themselves any more forgiving. Wider tires on stock or traditional width wheels can also reduce the wheelset’s responsiveness and won’t do anything to improve the precision of your handling.

It’s kind of like putting lipstick on a pig. Prettier, but still a pig.

Composite bikes made to be ridden and raced aggressively in the enthusiast price range often come with wheels that also aren’t laterally stiff enough to take advantage of the frame’s stiffness and actually dampen the responsiveness the bike is capable of when you want to accelerate, go aggressively into a turn, climb out of the saddle or sprint for the line.

The wheels that come with your bike, commonly known as “stock wheels”, also tend to be heavy by modern-day standards. They usually weigh at least 200-300 grams more than a good road bike wheel upgrade, an amount most enthusiasts will notice when you want to accelerate from a stop or increase your speed during a ride or if you do any long, steep climbing in the mountains.

Stock wheels also typically have hubs that are durable but don’t roll as smoothly as those that help you maintain your speed with less effort. The rims are shallow and boxy and provide no aerodynamic benefit that deeper ones with rounder noses and sides do, and have a pretty basic look to them.

There are probably a half-dozen reasons that might explain why bike companies put these underperforming stock wheels on otherwise high-performing bikes.

The most compelling reason comes down to price and profit. Putting better wheels on a new bike drives up its price and depresses sales. And since most bike companies don’t make their own wheels in the first place, there’s very little profit gained by selling a bike with better and higher-priced wheels.

It’s better for them to sell a less expensive bike where they make essentially the same amount of profit per bike as a higher-priced one. They’ll sell more bikes and earn a greater total profit on the higher volume of sales.

The bike-stock wheel relationship is similar to you buying an engagement ring with an expensive diamond mounted on a cheap band or a house with an undersized circuit breaker panel. You focus on the quality of the diamond or the size and location of the house and go forward with the purchase knowing (or learning later) that you’ll soon have to upgrade the band or panel.


Since around 2015, there has been a move to wider tires and wheels in road cycling. Back then, most wheels had 15C rims (meaning a 15mm inner width) and 23C tires were speced for them. In the years since then, rim brake wheels have widened to 17C and 19C (some even to 21C). 25C and 28C tires have become all the rage.

In past years, riders used to be overly focused on weight. Now we seem to have become overly focused on width and mostly on tire width.

Unfortunately, you can’t really upgrade your stock wheels merely by putting a set of wider 25C or 28C tires on them. Doing this will make your ride on these typically less forgiving wheels more comfortable and that is one of the reasons why many new bikes come with 25C tires regardless of the wheel size. Another big (bigger?) reason is that it’s the trend now to have wider tires and without them, bike makers appear to be behind the competition.

With wider tires, you can inflate them to a lower air pressure while still having the same amount of air needed to hold your bike and body weight in what is now the larger volume of space between your tires and wheels. Lower pressure tires are more comfortable because they absorb more of the road’s imperfections.

But, putting wider tires on the same width wheels can also make your bike slower and your handling worse if you go too wide and inflate them too low. And, wider tires without wider wheels certainly won’t make your bike any more responsive, accelerate any faster, get you in and out of turns more precisely or roll noticeably better or faster, all of which should happen, along with improved comfort, from upgrade wheels.

Why? A tire that is wider than the outside width of the rim at the brake track will create a wheel that has more drag than one whose tire is less than or about equal to the outside rim width. Most 15C wheels have an outside width that is 20-21mm wide measured across the brake track. Most 17C wheels are 22-23mm wide and 19C wheels are 24-25mm wide at the same location.

Once mounted and inflated on 15C or 17C rims, most 25C tires will expand by 1-2mm creating a 26-27mm wide or wider tire mounted on a rim that is somewhere between 20mm and 23mm wide on the outside. That extra 1.5mm to 3mm of rubber on either side of the rim will cause air hitting the tire to get turbulent or stall as it passes across the tire to the rim.  With a tire that is narrower than the rim, more of the air will re-attach to a rim after it passes by the tire and continues with a more laminar flow, reducing drag.

A traditional 23C tire will still be wider, once mounted and inflated, than a 23mm wide rim but only by about 0.5 to 1.0mm on either side at most.  Racers or those looking for the most speed will put even narrower tires on their wheels.

Over-wide tires that add drag and reduce speed is less of an issue for shallow alloy bike wheels that aren’t really intended to give you more speed through better aero performance in the first place the way deeper, rounded profile carbon wheels do. But more drag leading to slower speeds on a shallow wheelset certainly doesn’t help.

More troublesome is the effect wider tires mounted on too narrow rims have on handling. 25C tires on 15C wheels or 28C tires on 17C wheels can feel squishy, even more so if you’ve reduced the air pressure to get more comfort. This squishy feel is a symptom of the wider tire becoming more rounded as it sits in the same width wheel and an increased tendency to fold back on itself without the support of wider rims.

This is the opposite of the improved handling that is also promoted by going to a wider tire.

A tire that’s too wide for its rim is more likely to experience a pinch flat when you are leaning into a turn or cornering at a high speed.  The tire bead can also pull away from the rim hook in the turn, also resulting in a flat. Not good, to say the least.

road bike wheel upgrade

A wider tire and a wider rim together provide better handling. The wider rim sets the foundation for the wider tire to better keep its shape as you can see in the drawing on the left above.

The square shape of a wider rim supporting a wider tire provides a wider “contact patch” than on a narrower tire. While the total area of the tire patch for both tires is the same as long as your weight and the tire pressure are the same, that area spreads further across the width and less along the length of a wider tire.

So how wide should you go with your wheels and tires and what combinations are best? It depends on whether you prioritize comfort or speed and handling or whether you want the best of both and, as always, what your budget is.

Here’s my take on what mix of comfort, speed and handling you can expect with different tire-rim combinations.

A 23C tire on a 15C wheel – this is the likely stock or upgrade alloy bike wheels and tire combination you have as a baseline on bikes made before 2016. You know how it rides. This is still a perfectly good width combination in my view. What follows are your options.

A 25C tire on a 15C wheel – somewhat improved comfort over a 23C tire but worsened speed and handling for reasons described above. Better to reduce pressure 5psi or so on 23C tire for better comfort without losing handling performance. Neither combination is going to be an aero star.

A 25C tire on a 17C wheel – better comfort but no better speed or handling than a 23C tire on a 15C wheel. 23C tire on 17C wheel at right pressure will get you somewhat improved comfort with improved aero if the rim has at least a rounded nose rather than box or V profile, is >35-40mm, and you are riding at 18mph/29kph or faster.

A 25C tire on 19C or 21C wheel – better comfort, improved speed and handling over options above. A nice set-up for long endurance rides at a good average speed (18mph/29kph or higher) especially on deeper (>35-40mm) and preferably rounded profile wheels. But, most alloy bike wheels aren’t going to be that deep or have a rounded rim profiles where the spokes join the rim.

A 23C tire on a 19C or narrower wheel – best speed. If you’ve chosen this set-up, crits, road races or TTs and triathlons are probably your passion, deeper aero wheels are probably your preferred hoops and comfort is further down your list of what matters though there are plenty of wheelsets in this width that will be plenty comfortable to start without the need for a wider tire.

A 28C tire on a 19C or 21C wheel – best comfort but at the expense of speed if you put them on a deeper aero wheelset. There’s also a likelihood that the tire – which will likely measure 30mm or wider – won’t fit between the rear stays of your rim brake bike and earlier model disc brake bike.

A 28C tire on a 17C or 15C wheel – handling could be seriously compromised with this combination. You are also likely to get an increased number of pinch flats. Also, as with the combination above, it’s likely the tire won’t fit between the rear bike stays or inside your rim brake calipers.

I’ve written mostly about rim and tire width developments in this section. In recent years, there has been little new in the other components that make up a rim brake wheel – the hubs and spokes – that have caught my attention. There are things going on, like wider spacing between larger radius hub flanges where spokes are attached, but I just haven’t seen independent data that shows how much stiffer a wheelset becomes with these changes.

Of course, tires, rims, hubs, and spokes aren’t developed in isolation. Among the wider wheels I’ve reviewed, you’ll see more rounded rim shapes, more straight-pull spokes that connect the hubs and rims for higher reliability and easier replacement when necessary, and more tubeless-ready wheelsets than ones that are strictly set up only for tubes and tires to reduce pinch flats at lower pressures.

You’ll also find wider rims with the same width between hub flanges to make for a bigger angle for the spokes running between them. And you’ll see wheels with great distance between the hub flanges or larger diameter flanges that also make for bigger angles. All of this theoretically creates more laterally stiff wheels, something that should be welcome for heavier and stronger riders.

Using tubeless tires instead of the traditional tube and tire combination can provide you still more comfort on top of wider wheels and tires. While there is nothing inherently more comfortable about a tubeless tire, you can run them at 10 psi or so lower pressure than you would a tubed tire to make the riding experience more comfortable without noticeably affecting other performance characteristics.

At lower pressures, inner tubes and tires will move more independently when you hit a bump or some road debris and you are more likely to get a pinch flat when the tube rubs against the tire. With a tubeless tire, you don’t have this concern.

Not all of the wheels I’ve evaluated are “tubeless ready” and you shouldn’t try to use tubeless tires on ones that aren’t. I’ve noted which are tubeless-ready or “TLR” in the chart detailing the wheels below.


While I’ll focus my evaluation of the different rim brake alloy bike wheel upgrade options on the performance factors I mentioned in the opening, I consider about 20 criteria – either performance, design, quality, or cost-related – when making my recommendations. You can read about these selection criteria in more depth here.

Note that I do put an emphasis on performance and cost-related criteria. Quality is a go-no-go consideration. I won’t write a review on anything that is poor quality and I’ll note those products that have an exceptional quality level or longer than normal warranties.

Wheel makers have for years marketed wheels around some of the design factors – wheel weight, rim width and profile, hub materials, spoke shape and butting, etc. – because they are easier to quantify and promote. Specs and design factors often take up the first half (or more) of many reviews.

The more important and harder to describe and quantify performance factors including stiffness, comfort, handling, acceleration, braking, aerodynamics, and rolling smoothness are what truly separates one wheelset from another and is where I like to focus my attention.

Design serves performance objectives and shouldn’t be discussed in isolation. Sometimes a wheelset’s design delivers on the performance objectives and sometimes it doesn’t.

If, for example, you end up on a light, wide, blingy wheelset with double-butted bladed spokes and carbon hub shells that are as stiff as a noodle and as comfortable as riding a jackhammer with spokes that easily break and hubs that freewheel about as quietly as a pair of maracas, you probably won’t be very happy. So please don’t buy wheels based on a few of the eye-popping specs and cool sounding tech features that are thrown around without knowing how they perform.

There is usually a relationship between price and performance. Stock wheels typically cost USD$150-$300/GBP£100-£200/€125-€250 and you are usually going to have to spend more to get something that performs noticeably better. I find it’s best to know what you are willing or able to spend and then seek the best performance you can get within that budget.

The wheelsets in this review run from as little as USD$250 to $950. While the wheelset’s width most directly leads to how they have been priced, the level and nature of performance differs from one wheelset to another at a given width range and does not align with their prices.

Said more succinctly, you’ll pay more for a wider wheelset but you don’t need to for a better performing one.


I’ve classified the wheels below into a wide group that has an inside width of 16.5mm to 18mm between the hooks that grab the tire beads and a wider group that runs between 19mm and 21mm inside width. Most of these wheelsets were introduced between 2015 and 2018.

With the major wheelset companies focusing their development emphasis on carbon disc brake wheels, I don’t expect to see much if anything new from them in this category of rim brake alloy bike wheels. If anything, I’m seeing brands making fewer alloy rim brake wheels available for sale or dropping alloy bike wheels and rim brake wheels from their lines altogether and seeing next to none adding them.

I’ve been surprised before and if something new comes out that competes with those I’ve reviewed here, I’ll update the post.

If you’ve got 15C wheels now, you are better off going to 19C or wider rims if you want the best combination of comfort, speed and handling. If you just want more comfort or insist on riding a 25C tire, you don’t need to go any further than a 17C wheelset.

Wheels with all-carbon rims start at around $1000 to $1200 (see here) but most of them are flawed in one or several ways. Most of the better ones start around $1800 on sale and climb as much as another grand from there (see here and here).

With better carbon wheels, you can usually get a faster, better accelerating and stiffer ride that also handles as well and is just as comfortable if not more than an alloy one. This is because carbon rims can be made deeper and with more shape than alloy and because their strength to weight ratio is greater, allowing for no weight penalty for that added depth.

If you are ready to upgrade now, I’ve hopefully made it clear in these evaluations below which wheelsets I like and provided you enough (or perhaps too much) info and comparative analysis to choose which one or ones would be good for you.

Without further preamble then, here’s my review of the best wide and wider alloy bike wheels out there now.

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Campagnolo Zonda C17 – A stiff wheelset comfortable enough for both Moose and Squirrel

The newest model Zonda C17 introduced in 2017 increased a couple of millimeters to 17mm wide inside (measured between the bead hooks) and about 22.5mm outside (across the brake tracks).  Little else about the wheelset has changed.  The Zonda still has a box rim profile, steel bearings, and aluminum body hubs, signature 3-spoke groupings around the rear wheel, low profile alloy rims (measured 24.4mm front, 27.2mm rear), middle of the pack weight (measured 1537 grams) and not tubeless.

It also still remains a bargain at a market price of about USD$460/£400/€458. You can order it by clicking on these links to recommended stores Merlin, Wiggle, and Chain Reaction Cycles, and these search results from Know’s Shop where you can price compare the Zonda from additional stores I recommend because they have the best prices, customer satisfaction records, and selection on enthusiast-level cycling gear and kit.

Zonda - road bike wheel upgradeThe good news for stout riders is that the new, wider Zonda remains very stiff alloy bike wheels.  My 200lb/90kg (or so) friend and fellow tester Moose reported that it has the best out-of-the-saddle stiffness while climbing of any alloy bike wheels he’s ridden.  And I call him Moose for both his strength and weight so that’s saying something.

For a squirrel like me at 150lbs/68kg who finds many wheels plenty stiff for what I do to them, the Zonda is noticeably stiffer and seems to transfer every last watt I can put out with utmost efficiency.

The big question before riding these Zondas was, would the extra width make them less harsh than the 2016 and earlier models, ones that only a heavier rider could love and for their stiffness rather than their compliance.

I mounted them up with 25C Michelin Power Competition tires and at 85 psi front and 90 psi back and found them middle-of-the-pack comfortable.  Neither harsh nor plush. Moose, who rode them closer to 100psi, felt they rode pretty smoothly on the typical unevenly paved and occasional bumpy roads he normally rides.

While they might handle better with 23C tires at 5-10psi higher pressure or be more comfortable on 25C tires inflated 5-10psi lower, the size and pressures that Moose and I ran them provided for a great combination of handling and comfort. I also recognize that with all the hype around wider tires, few are going to buy these wider Zondas and put 23C tires on them.  That’s ok because they are too shallow to get any real aero benefits from them, even if the inflated tire width were narrower than the rim width to improve airflow.

The hubs are also middle-of-the-pack performers.  They certainly aren’t the fastest to accelerate but aren’t slow. They aren’t super quiet but also don’t put out the clickety-clack of louder hubs that some riders love. Overall, reasonably good accelerating, rolling and sounding hubs that aren’t going to set themselves apart from the others for these qualities.

In summary, the Zonda C17 addresses one of the biggest issues with stock wheels – lack of stiffness – with a solution that works for riders large and small, the latter thanks to the little bit of added width.

Perhaps the best news for Campy and Fulcrum fans (I’m a fan of good wheels, not of brands) is that all of the variants of the Campy Shamal and Fulcrum Racing lines have moved to 17C widths. The bad news is that they haven’t gone to 19C widths and I don’t expect they will.

The Campagnolo Shamal Ultra C17 (price compare here) and twin Fulcrum Racing Zero C17 (price compare here) are the flagship alloy bike wheels from Campy, essentially the same wheels and from the same company under different brand names.

They are part of lines that also include the Campagnolo Zonda C17 /Fulcrum Racing 3 (the latter now also made in the 17C width; see below), which run at half the market price of the Shamal Ultra/Racing Zero, to the Campagnolo Shamal Mille C17 (here)/Fulcrum Racing Zero Nite C17 (here), the models with blacked-out brake tracks that sell for even more.

These wheelsets all share the same rims and spoke patterns with differences in rim etching, brake treatments, spoke materials, hub shell materials and bearings, freewheel, and flange materials.  Whether you would notice any performance differences between these wheels or could justify the price differences is for each of you to decide.  I, for one, can’t and am just happy to have a decent upgrade option at a great price.

I recommended the last, narrower model Zonda as the best alloy bike wheels for 175lb/80kg and heavier riders.  If you need or want a stiff wheel and budget is your first consideration, the Zonda C17 should be your first stop for riders of all sizes and my recommendation as the Best Value among your road bike wheel upgrade choices.

Fulcrum Racing 3 – A Zonda twin at a higher price

Separated at birth, the 2018 model of the Fulcrum Racing 3 is built and performs very similarly to its twin sibling Campagnolo Zonda reviewed above. It is a bit heavier, at times, more expensive and its looks don’t stand out as much but it seems to get along with more bike owners thanks to the way its parents have presented it.

What am I talking about?

Quite simply, the Racing 3 and Zonda are the same wheels made by the same company. There are only a few cosmetic differences but the brands to market them distinctly and to different audiences.

Fulcrum Racing 3 road bike wheel upgradeThey use the same rims, hub components, and number and type of spokes.

The Zonda rims are milled between spoke holes a bit more than the Fulcrum leading to minimal depth (1mm or so less for the Zonda, depending on where you measure it) and weight differences (a claimed weight 20 grams lighter for the Zonda though I measured it to be about 50 grams lighter).

The inside and outside widths of both the Zonda and Fulcrum Racing 3 rims are now the same. The Racing 3 got its 17C rims as part of the 2018 model year introduction. Campagnolo gave the Zonda C17 a couple year’s head start over the Racing 3 going from 15C to 17C. Neither is tubeless-ready per the recommendation of Campy and Fulcrum though both have a rim bed without spoke holes (the spokes screw in from the top of the rims) and some enthusiasts have posted forum reports describing having successfully set them up tubeless.

The Zonda places its trademark G3 rear spokes in groups of 3 whereas the Fulcrum spreads them out in a more typical pattern along the rim. Both, however, use a 2:1 ratio of drive side to non-drive side spoke arrangement, a key contributor in getting the desired stiffness in a bike wheel.

Zonda is pure Campagnolo, identifies as Italian, and is marketed to Campy groupset and Italian brand bike owners. While wheelset makers of all stripes continue to offer separate 11-speed Shimano/SRAM and Campagnolo rear hubs, wheels made with either hub fitted with a cassette from the same brand will work equally well with a groupset made by Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo.

That became the case only with the advent of 11-speed groupsets. Fulcrum was launched as a brand to appeal to Shimano groupset owners (SRAM wasn’t in the road groupset business back then) and for cyclists whose aesthetic didn’t allow for putting Campy wheels on a Shimano equipped bike.

For their neutral, open-to-all branding and their distribution strategy, Fulcrum might as well be Swiss. Like DT Swiss’ wheelset business, Fulcrum got a lot of early traction by making stock wheels sold either under their own brand name or under brands chosen by the bike companies the wheels were made for.

Over the years, Fulcrum has developed a wide portfolio of wheels and undoubtedly many of those are of their own design. The Fulcrum Racing 3 – Campagnolo Zonda and Fulcrum Racing Zero – Campagnolo Shamal wheels, however, are part of a close-knit family with little to separate them.

The Racing 3s performance is indistinguishable from the Zonda. If you prefer the Fulcrum brand name or Racing 3 look, you can order it by clicking on these links to recommended stores Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles, and Wiggle or to the search results that show you the best prices from the best stores at Know’s Shop. Depending on the store, they sell at a small or significant price premium to the Zonda but still below that of most of the other wheelsets in this category review.

The Fulcrum Racing 3 is certainly not a bad option if you are looking for a good stiff wheelset, don’t care for tubeless and don’t put comfort above all else, or are on a budget that requires making trade-offs.

DT Swiss PR 1400 Dicut Oxic – A good but expensive mountain goat that will only graze on the flats

This renamed but all but cosmetically unchanged DT Swiss RR 21 Dicut is built around the company’s 240 hub internals used on many carbon wheelsets from high-end wheel makers that sell for 2-3 times this alloy one.

This is a hub I really like – it rolls well, engages quickly, and is relatively quiet when freewheeling. Combining that hub with a relatively stiff rim into a 1450 gram wheelset makes for a good climber that also accelerates well.

Unfortunately, the base PR 1400 Dicut Oxic rims are about as deep (21mm) as they are wide (18mm inside, 21.5mm outside) which shows up in the need to really work them on the flats to just to keep up riders on deeper (and wider rims).

In 2020 DT Swiss began selling a 32mm deep model of this wheelset in the UK and Europe that is also nearly 200 grams heavier. This depth doesn’t provide significantly improved aero performance over the 21mm version. The added weight would, however, require noticeably more work than the 21mm deep PR 1400.

For best handling, you’ll still want 23C tires even though many buying new wheels these days want the added comfort a less inflated 25C tire will allow. Either way, their handling is below par when compared to the others in this category.

While a good tubeless-ready training wheel that rolls and brakes well, I don’t think you’ll find these wheels will be ones you’ll be very satisfied with if you want to ride competitively, keep up on fast group rides or if you want to do more than just cruise.

Compared to the benefits of other alloy bike wheels in the wide and wider groups that run 5mm to almost 10mm deeper and 3mm to 4mm wider, weigh less than 100 grams more, cost about the same, and just feel faster and more planted when cornering, it’s hard for me to get excited about this DT Swiss wheelset unless you are looking for a dedicated climbing wheel with alloy brake tracks.

DT Swiss makes these wheels with a black ceramic coating for the alloy brake tracks they call Oxic.  This is similar to the Exalith coating Mavic, Campy and Fulcrum use on some of their wheels to give it more of a carbon wheelset look and adds a mere 25 grams to the overall wheel weight. Over time, most of these coatings wear off to a less appealing dull finish but they are are only about 30 to 50 dollars, pounds or euros more than wheels without the coating so it’s not a whole lot more for however long it lasts.

To order the PR 1400 Dicut Oxic, click these links to top-rated stores Competitive Cyclist and Merlin Cycles or to the search results at Know’s Shop to see the best prices from other stores I recommend.

Mavic Ksyrium Elite UST – Still stiff but no more compliant with tubeless-ready rims

Mavic updated its Ksyrium Elite model for the second time in the last three years. Just a few years ago it went from a 15C wide wheelset to a wider one with a 17C rim. And now it has gone to a tubeless-ready 17C wheelset using its new UST or Universal Standard Tubeless technology. (Mavic has also added a 19C UST disc brake wheelset but this rim brake one is 17C)

I’ve been testing the Ksyrium Elite and Mavic’s deep, carbon-rimmed, disc brake Comete UST wheelset and been very impressed with how consistently small the width tolerances are in these new wheels. Even the most expensive wheels made by other brands typically vary in width by 0.2 to 0.3mm when I measure them at a half dozen places along the rim. By contrast, these Mavic wheels vary by less than 0.05mm and that may be due more to the limitation in my measuring technique than the variability in the wheels’ actual widths.

Having measured these Ksyrium Elite UST rim brake wheels, however, it’s clear they aren’t 17C (or 17mm wide) wheels. The front wheel measures 16.75mm wide inside (between the bead hooks) and 20.5mm wide outside (across the brake tracks). The roughly 3mm deeper rear wheel measures a slightly narrower 16.35 inside and the same 20.5mm outside.

When Mavic introduced the UST wheels, they also promoted the relative ease of installing the Yksion UST tires that were made for and come with each wheelset compared to mounting other tires on wheels made by other companies.

I’ve been installing a whole bunch of different tubeless tires on a whole bunch of different tubeless rims for a few years now and watching a lot of YouTube videos to make sure I’ve got all the tricks down. And with Mavic UST, I found the Yksion Pro UST Tubeless tires that Mavic sells with these wheels no easier to put on, inflate, seal or remove than most other road tubeless tire and rim combinations.

These are neither pros or cons – I rate wheels on performance rather than design or specs – it’s just me injecting a bit of reality into the marketing hype that’s been going around.

There are three factors, all plusses, that I believe are more important than the two points above for those of you who want all the benefits of tubeless but uncomfortable about having to install tubeless tires.

1. Mavic’s UST wheels are sold with 25C Yksion Pro UST Tubeless tires already installed on the rim. All you have to do is unscrew the valve core, pour 30ml of the sealant that Mavic provides with the wheels into the open valve, screw the core back in, and pump up the tire with a regular track pump. Done.

2. The price of the wheelset includes the tires. That’s a good thing, and about $100, £80, €100 you don’t have to spend for another set of tires if the Yksion Pro UST Tubeless tires are any good.

3. My experience riding these tires on a few different wheelsets leaves me feeling pretty good about them. And, a review published by independent tester Jarno Bierman at Bicycle Rolling Resistance shows that the tire’s rolling resistance and tread puncture resistance are within you-won’t-be-able-to-tell-the-difference range of the Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless and Continental Grand Prix 4000S II tubed clincher tires.

How about the wheels’ performance?

Prior Ksyrium Elites have earned the reputation of being stiff. Elites and Campy Zondas have always been the wheels you recommended to your heavier friends because they were unbending no matter how much weight or power someone could put into them. My 200lb fellow tester Moose, self-appointed president of the FFCC (Fat F***ers Cycling Club) tells me these current Elites uphold their reputation for stiffness.

The rear hub engages quickly, rolls smoothly, and freewheels quietly, all characteristics I liked about these Ksyrium Elites. But they accelerated like a heavier wheelset and didn’t seem as responsive to changes in speed or direction as I would have liked. It wasn’t bad, similar to many of the other wheels I’ve evaluated in this category, just not what I expected from the wheels based on how the hub performed.

I was disappointed with the Ksyrium Elite’s comfort level. I tried the 25C Yksion Pro UST Tubeless tires inflated to both 80psi and 70psi (10psi and 20psi, respectively below where I normally ride a 17C tubed wheelset) but really couldn’t get to a good level of compliance between these tires, wheels, and my Specialized Roubaix rim brake endurance testing bike.

Going tubeless and lowering the pressure seemed to deaden the rough sections and cracks in the road but the muted vibrations still came up through these wheels.

Moose, who at 200lbs (or so he says) is about 50lbs heavier than me, found them comfortable at 90psi, also about 10psi below where he rides tubed tires. Compared to the Zonda, he found the Ksyrium Elite more comfortable.

Despite going tubeless, my conclusion about this new Ksyrium Elite UST is not a whole lot different than the tubed version it replaces. Stiffness continues to be the characteristic strength of the Elites. Mavic’s alloy bike wheels also have a history of being very durable and reliable. Their performance in other areas is on par with the other wheels I’ve evaluated.

They are a decent first upgrade at a sale price of USD$470/£450/€510/AUD$830 market price, especially for heavier riders, when you consider that you are getting a good set of tubeless tires already mounted along with the wheels. To order, you can click on these links to top-ranked store Performance Bicycle or compare prices at Know’s Shop.

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HED Ardennes RA Pro – An innovator that combines performance and prestige 

HED has been one of the leaders in the wide rim movement with the Ardennes. First introduced with wide rim dimensions and a 24.5mm deep V-profile, HED went wider with the Ardennes Plus model in the 2014 season. The same It now measures at 20.6mm inner and 25mm outer width, making it one of the two widest of those evaluated for this review. Only the Zipp 30 Course is wider on the inside at a full 21mm but has the same outside width and the other wider alloy bike wheels in this category.

Renamed the Ardennes RA (for Rim Alloy) in 2020 but unchanged from the earlier Plus rim, Ardenne’s added width enables the same tire to square up that much more and contributing to better aerodynamics and handling. While I can’t speak to the relative aero performance of these wheels versus others in this review, they do feel fast and I can certainly feel the effect of the wider rims and tires in their excellent handling.

Of course, whether my “feel” is real or just imagined is debatable; it’s definitely subjective and something you might not feel or care about if comfort is your priority.

The Ardennes is available now as the RA Pro with the same rim, spokes, and hubs as the earlier Ardennes Plus SL, and the RA Black. The Black is the same wheelset as the Pro except that, for a $250 premium, the alloy brake track is blacked out to make it look more like a carbon wheelset.

For this review, I chose to evaluate the RA Pro. It delivers big on a comfortable ride with confident handling even with the 23C tires I tested with them. I say that somewhat tongue-in-cheek since people have been led to believe that only wheels with 25C and 28C tires are comfortable these days. You can certainly run wider tires on them for more comfort. If you use 28C tires, be careful not lower your air pressure so much that your handling gets mushy.

If you ride tubeless, you’ll find this wheelset one of the easier wheelsets to work with. Tires install and remove relatively easily and inflate with a floor pump. These are also very well built and HED wheels have a reputation for being very durable over time.

While not flexy, these aren’t the stiffest wheels out there, so if you plan to race or ride them hard up hills, in and out of corners, etc. and you weigh north of 185lbs/80kg a stiffer wheelset might suit you better. For most enthusiasts, however, this won’t be an issue.

The Ardennes, as with most of the wheels in this review is shallow and also has a V profile.  So while it says HED on the rim and certainly rolls very well, don’t think you are getting an aero wheel just because of who makes it.

There’s really is a lot to like about this wheelset and while just about every other wheelset in this upgrade rim brake wheelset category was introduced or updated at least a couple of years since this one was, it still has a lot going for it. Priced at $850 (Hed store), you can consider it the luxury choice of wider alloy bike wheels. It performs well enough if not the best on all my criteria but is one of the two most comfortable I’ve reviewed in this category.  It is worry-free and if you are willing to spend for it, is one that will also add a little cache to your steed.

Bontrager Paradigm Elite – Great handling and braking for the cruising enthusiast

Bontrager’s alloy Race and Race Lite road wheels have been found as the stock wheelset on bikes from parent company Trek for years.  From my evaluation, the performance of the Race Lite is better than most other stock wheels, including those from Mavic and Fulcrum, but not as good as most upgrade wheels.

road bike wheel upgradeWhen Bontrager Paradigm Elite wheels started showing up on the highest priced builds of Trek’s Madone and Domane bikes in 2016, I was curious.  When the long-time manager and bike fitter at my LBS said he put a set on his wife’s bike, I asked for some to test.  And when I noticed an enthusiast riding alongside me on a group ride was using Paradigm Elites that came off the bike from a friend who “upgraded” to a wheelset he said didn’t seem to be much of an upgrade, I was intrigued.

One of the first things my fellow tester Moose (90kg/200lb) and I (68kg/150lbs) both noticed after riding the Paradigm Elites was their handling performance.  They tracked very well in and out of corners on the flats and on downhills, giving you plenty of confidence.  We ran them with Bontrager 26C tubeless tires and at about 10 psi lower than regular clincher pressure.  This, in combination with the wheelset’s 19.5mm internal width likely helped produce the solid handling platform.

I also loved the braking feel – confident, smooth, no fade.  Most alloy bike wheels brake when and where you want them but the feel or “modulation” of these stood out for me and made them “Elite” compared to others I’ve ridden.

What makes many alloy bike wheels an upgrade over the stock set is the way they roll – usually smoother and quieter.  The Paradigm Elite uses DT Swiss 240 hubs that are often speced on carbon wheels which cost several times the price of these.  That said, there are a lot of great hubs in this review and the hub is only part of what leads to the great rolling. Moose, for example, preferred the rolling performance of the Campagnolo Zonda, a much lower-priced wheelset.  I found the Zipp 30 Course, a more expensive wheelset with hubs used by Zipp even more expensive Firecrest carbon wheels, rolls just as well as the Paradigm Elite.

These wheels, while stiff enough for most riders, aren’t as stiff as the Campy Zonda, Mavic Ksyrium Elite UST, or Zipp 30 Course.  They also don’t accelerate as well as the Campy or DT Swiss.

Comfort?  With tubeless tires and inflated to a lower pressure than a tubed clincher, the Paradigm Elite absorbs the bumps better than most.  But, I felt bumps, surface cracks and rougher roads being dampened by the tires rather than by the wheels themselves before they ever got to the tires.

Speaking of the tires, the Bontrager 26C R2 TLR on these wheels measured 26.7mm wide once installed (piece of cake) and inflated (one with a hand pump, the other took a compressor).

Overall, the Paradigm Elite wheelset gives you an enjoyable upgrade over the average stock set – confident handling, refined braking, smooth rolling, and dampened road surfaces.  At $950 on the Trek website, a marginally lower price than most of the other wider upgrade wheels, they give the cruising enthusiast a good option for a better ride.

Boyd Altamont Lite – A very capable if not dazzling wider alloy wheelset at a great price

Boyd Cycling is a US-based wheel maker that sells alloy and carbon clinchers and carbon tubulars in shallow and mid-range depths for both the rim and disc brake bikes. They sell direct and through dealers in the United States and Canada.

The Altamont alloy bike wheels come in two versions. The Lite reviewed here is the 25mm deep model and claims to be about 100 grams lighter than the straight Altamont at 30mm deep. Boyd offers each in three different spoke counts to best suit your weight or desired stiffness, three hub options for either Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo gruppos, and with a standard tube or optional tubeless rim tape.

Boyd Altamont Lite road bike wheel upgrade The Lite with 20 spokes in the front and 24 in the back, standard hub and regular rim tape weighed in at just under 1500 grams (1496g) on my scale. This $650 model’s rims measured 19.8mm wide inside and 24.5mm wide outside. So while this Altamont is as light and wide and nearly as deep as the others in this wider group, it’s about $70 to $240 less expensive.

They have U shaped rims, bladed spokes, brass nipples, and a machined (grooved) brake track, a unique combination of features for the wheels reviewed in this post and all features that should add a little something to the performance and value of this wheelset. It looks to be well made all around.

On the road, the Altamont Lite is a very capable, if not dazzling wheelset. While it only took me a couple of hundred miles to develop an opinion about these wheels, there is a lot I like about their performance but nothing that really separates them from the others. They roll comfortably, smoothly and quietly on both 25C and 23C tires. They handle and brake confidently.  Climbing is good, what you would expect from a wheelset at about this weight.

Maybe I’m getting greedy, and I’m certainly not complaining, but I would like the Altamont Lites to be a bit stiffer and more responsive when I put the hammer down. They don’t flex or hesitate but they also don’t spring into action like any number of carbon wheelsets do. Of course, they are less expensive than those wheels.

You can add 4 more spokes front and back (adding 50g that you’ll not really notice) and should if you want them stiffer at my weight (150-155lbs/68-70kg) and, as Boyd recommends, when you get up around 175lbs/80kg.

If comfort and good performance at a great price in a wider wheelset are most important to you, the Altamont Lite is a wheelset worth considering.

Zipp 30 Course – Best for a combination of on and off-road riding 

The Zipp 30 Course is a wheelset you’ll want to check out if you ride off-road as much or more as you do on.  It’s as wide and tall as any of the wheels in the wider group but it’s heavier by about 100 to 150 grams, an amount that you’ll begin to notice on the road especially when compared to other wheels that have similar rounded shapes and well rolling hubs.

Off-road you can put on 25C or wider tires and lower the pressure to maximize comfort.  You can do the same with most all the wheels in this wider group but the 30 Course’s excellent stiffness comes in handy when grinding up rough mountain roads or navigating holes and obstacles along on a bumpy, turny trail.

The trade-off comes back on the road when higher speeds and smoother pavements are your natural environment.  Whereas the disc wheel version has a full toroid profile that runs to the edge of the rim that joins the tire, the hybrid toroid rim brake version ends its rounded profile early to make room for a parallel brake track.

So some aero benefit is lost and the added weight against the others in this review makes the Zipp a little slower to accelerate. Whereas many alloy disc brake wheelsets these days are converted rim brake ones that bring some characteristics that make them less than the ideal on a disc brake bike (e.g., unneeded brake track thickness/weight), Zipp appears to have designed the 30 Course for disc brake bikes first and its conversion to rim brake use brings characteristics that make it less than ideal in that mode (e.g. rim profile).

However, if you are a serious roadie that wants to try out ‘gravel’ or cyclocross riding or you want to have a year-round training wheel so you can leave your carbon wheels inside during lousy weather, the Zipp 30 Course rim brake wheelset is a good option for you.

The wheelset will cost you USD$1000 and isn’t available online anymore but can be ordered through a local Zipp dealer.

* * * * *

Thank you for reading.  Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.

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First published on May 13, 2018. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.


  • Hi Steve,

    Thanks again for your valuable insights. I have been riding the original, 15c Zondas, and since January 2017, the wider 17C Zondas that you recommended, for several years now. I like them and have had no issues with them. They are also easy to change tubes on the road when I get a flat (which happens far too often where I live due to thorns). This is a very important consideration if you are far away from help.

    I am planning to really up my game in the next year and I want to ride the Haute Route Alps event in 2019. I have a lot of training and weight reduction I need to do before then. I normally ride 100-120 miles a week, but I am going to have to step that up. I am a heavy (6’4″, 228 lbs) but strong rider, and I average about 19mph most days (I have averaged as much as 21mph for a half-Ironman event – 56 miles – that was mostly flat – on an ordinary road bike – not a TT bike). The Haute Route Alps is anything but flat. I have heard horror stories about blown tires coming down some of the Alpine descents on carbon clinchers, and with my weight, I want to stay with alloy rims. I want to get back down to about 190-198 pounds (tough at my age, but possible, since I have been that weight before, albeit 15 years ago). I am hyper-motivated though. I just recently built up a 2018 Trek Emonda SLR from the frame up with leftover 9000 Dura-Ace components, Zipp cockpit, super light Time pedals, and I now have a sub-14 pound climbing bike.

    What can you recommend for wheels for doing the Haute Route Alps for a rider like me? Stick with my Zondas, or you think that the HED Ardennes Plus SL or Easton EA90s are better performers for such an event? I have considered the Campy Eurus or Shamal wheels, but they have aluminum spokes versus the steel ones on the Zondas, so not sure about their durability. Price is not unimportant to me, but I am willing to spend what I need to spend to get the best wheels for this once in a lifetime event (but I don ‘t want to waste money either). I need strong, reliable wheels, but every gram matters. I also need to be able to easily change tubes myself (FYI, I also have a set of American Classic 420 Aero 3 wheels, which are great to ride on and more aero than the Zondas with similar weight, but I would never use them in such an event as they are nearly impossible to change tires without many hands and many tire levers). Are there any sub-1400 gram wheelsets that can suit a rider like me? I looked at Novatec Sprint wheels (sub-1400g, but they have an 85kg weight limit (and are not aero at all).


    • Steve, Looks like you’ve got an exciting year ahead of you. At your weight and even at 190-200 lbs, wheel stiffness is more important than wheel weight. And if you are going to stay with alloy, Zonda is your best choice. Your weight reduction and training will be much more important than anything else you do. Good luck. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    I am looking to upgrade from the Fulcrum Racing 5 clincher wheels on my 2014 Focus Cayo 3.0. I would like Tubeless wheels and had narrowed down my choice to the DT Swiss PR 1400 Dicut 21 and the Mavic Ksyrium Pro UST. After reading your article, however, I believe I have a problem with my choices. I am 60 years old, 150 pounds, ride half the year in PA with rolling hills and half the year down south where it is completely flat. I really like my bike on the hills and only want a wheelset that is faster uphill, but at the same time while down south my bike group rides at 18-22 MPH, and I have to take my turn leading.

    Your description of the DT Swiss wheels means it won’t be fast enough on the flats. And based on your comments of the Ksyrium Elites, I am concerned that the the stiffer Ksyrium Pro UST will be uncomfortable and not fast.

    My bike wasn’t built with wide rims in mind. Would you have any thoughts or suggestions?



    • Frank, A few things to consider. Your training and technique are a lot more important to going faster than your wheels and other equipment. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to read my posts about 10 ways to go faster on your bike (start with this one.) Spoiler alert, fitness and training are at the top and having the right wheels and other gear is way down the list.

      Once you have dialed in your training and technique, your gear can help you go faster still. But none of the wheels in this review or at this price point are ideal climbers and none are aero enough to help you pick up or hold added speed on the flats.

      That said, rolling hills don’t require “climbing wheels” and 18-22 mph rides don’t require “aero wheels”. You can do rolling hills quite well and maintain 20mph+ speeds with the best 45mm deep carbon all-arounds. But those are several times more expensive than these alloy upgrade wheels.

      So there are fitness, budget and performance trade-offs. There are some guys I ride with who regularly drop me going uphill on upgrade wheels even when I’m testing light climbing wheels and dust me on the flats on those same alloy upgrade wheels when I’m riding 60mm deep hoops. I’d probably get dropped earlier and dusted sooner were I not on the wheels best suited for those situations but my point is that fitness and technique matter more than any gear you can buy.

      If you do have a little budget flexibility, a mid-depth carbon all around would be better for the combination of terrain and speeds you are riding. If your budget is more limited, train harder! Steve

      • Thanks for the link Steve. I have worked on a lot of these things and I am realitively fit and agile, though the hardest thing is converting my pedal technique into muscle memory. I will also look into a power meter which is a good way to keep focused. I can increase my budget for the wheels though a big budget such as Enve will wait until I upgrade to a disc brake bike in a couple of years. The terrain up north is a little more punchy than rolling, and braking on wet or downhill roads seems to be a gripe of lower priced carbon. Would you have any specific carbon or alloy wheels that I should consider? I saw your favorable mention of the Zipp Firecrest 303 but they are not tubeless, the HED Ardennes Plus SL (if my bike can accommodate the width) and the Easton EA90 SL wheels alloy wheels.

        • Frank, I’m working on a post now about lower priced carbon wheels and I’m not finding a whole lot to get excited about. The two alloy wheels you mention would be good options and notable step ups from the Fulcrum you are riding now. Steve

          • Thanks Steve. Thanks Neil check out the width of the HED and Eaton tonseenif they will work on my Focus. I will also try to demo a Magic Cosmic Pro Carbon SL UST. I believe you had found them to be not lively and Nate did not like the braking, but there are reviews in Cycling Weekly and Peloton Magazine that found the exact opposite. Since Mavic has a testing program I hope to see for myself.


          • Frank, you’re most welcome. Please note that unlike the two publications you mentioned and most others which are industry sponsored through advertisements and seldom publish a critical review, In The Know Cycling is written by and for one audience – fellow road cyclists – and does in-depth gear comparisons, free of industry (or any) ads and the potential conflicts of interests that come from trying to serve multiple masters and commercial objectives.

            The Mavic will feel better than your Fulcrum for sure but you can do better at or near that price and nearly as good for a lot less. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    Great article, thank you!
    Bought some Zondas a couple of years ago after doing my own performance versus value analysis, and very glad to see I made a good choice!


  • Hi Steve – have you had a chance to look at the Roval SLX 24 clincher – on paper at least it looks to have some of the characteristics of the wider rim clincher options

    • Hi Travis, I haven’t ridden the Roval SLX 24. But, yes, the specs do look comparable save for the hubs. The DT Swiss 350 internals are good but not on par with the ones used in many of the wider wheelsets in this review. Steve

  • Hi Steve, Great articles and great advice. I have a set of 30mm Giant SLR1s rim brake (2016) that are great wheels but I am scared to death when descending even in the dry as the braking is not brilliant even though I use swissstop black prince pads. I like to go hill climbing and thought to get an alloy climber to feel safer on descents. I like the bortolas but I can’t find whether there is a weight restriction on these wheels. I am 80kgs looking to reduce a little but I’m tallish and wouldn’t ever be less than 75. Did Moose ride the bortolas? Would you recommend I go with Zonda’s or Ksyriums that can handle some rider weight or would Bortolas be OK?


    Hi Steve,
    First of all I want to thank you for the great work you are doing helping all of us the cycling enthusiasts, congratulations!
    I am looking for new wheels, I’m really confused and I would really appreciate your opinion if I’m not taking advantage of your time.
    I am from Greece. I am riding for 5-10 hours per week, 50% flats and 50% climbing.
    My goals are Brevets, last year I completed ten 200km brevets, one 300km and one 400km and this year I’m planning to try 600km.
    Some of those rides have 20km to 30km ascending and descending and this is the reason I am a bit skeptical about carbon wheels and how they perform braking in 20km descending.
    My bike is S-works tarmac sl6 rim brakes 2019 with Di2 ultegra.
    My budget for wheels is maximum 2000$ but I am confused between carbon vs aluminum (for durability and braking) and between deep vs low profile, also between so many brands.
    I would really appreciate your opinion because I live in a place where I don’t have access to good bike stores or to many riders and I cannot check or discuss about equipment.

    • Lampros, Thanks for your kind feedback. Much appreciated. The confusion you describe is not unusual. We have all gone through it. May I suggest you read through this post to help you sort through and get on the path of finding the best wheelset for you. It’s long but so are the rides you have coming up (impressive!) so I hope it’s worth it. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    Do you tested any Hunt wheels and how they stack up to competitors? I’ve read some good reviews about them and curious to hear your thoughts.


  • Steve, thanks for such an informative and thorough site to help fellow enthusiasts select the best gear for what we do!

    Since you published this update, prices among several of the wider wheelsets have (thankfully) come down. For instance, your site links to great resources that can sell the Easton EA90 for about $725 and the HED Ardennes Plus SL for about $720. In addition, Boyd Cycling has dropped the price on the Altamont Lite wheelset to $650. (I recognize prices change frequently, and this is as of 3/16/19). With this in mind, I had two questions about these wheelsets:

    1) For the benefit of all your readers: With prices changes among wider rim brake alloy wheelsets, do you now wheel that one is a “best value” among the group? Or are do they just have different strengths as your great reviews have detailed?

    2) For me personally: My weight fluctuates between 170 and 190 lbs depending on how hard I am training and for my goals (i.e. training for long-distance running, cycling and triathlon events vs. enjoying my life). 🙂 Among these three, is there one you would say is ideal from a stiffness standpoint? I appreciate that the Zondas are among the most stiff you have found in the upgrade group, but I would really like to get a wider set to improve comfort and cornering on 25 mm tires. I would be willing to get additional spokes added on the rear despite the slight weight penalty, but I think that may only be easily available on the Boyds.

    Thanks again for all you do!

    • Cody, Time I updated the prices on the chart! Fortunately, with Know’s Shop, you can compare prices from over a dozen of the best stores I recommend instantly. As to your question #1, the Zonda is so inexpensive for what it offers, it’s hard to find a better value amongst these upgrade wheels. As for your #2, the Eastons are the stiffest of the three you mentioned. When all alloy wheels and hubs basically had the same design you could get stiffer wheels by adding spokes. Today, you have more variables you can control such as bigger diameter flanges, flange spacing, rim depth and width all of which leads to different bracing angles. At your weight, you don’t need “Clydesdale” wheels. Steve

  • Hi Steve-

    Do you have thoughts on the fulcrum Racing 5 wheelset? I just got another bike that comes with these wheels. I’m planning to swap them for ENVE 4.5 from my old bike and use the fulcrum set on my old bike for rainy day rides as well as for hills. Are the racing 5s good climbing wheels? I used to run Ksyrium elites and also the DA C24s in the past- both great climbing wheels. Given the racing 5 is a cheaper stock wheelset, I’m assuming it won’t be on par with either of those. But is it better for climbing than the ENVE? I figured it would be good for rainy days (I live in the Pacific Northwest where rain is pretty much expected almost year round!) regardless since it has aluminum brake tracks. Thanks!

    • Biren, I think our assumptions are right. While I haven’t done a direct comparison, I’d further assume the 4.5s would be better climbers (because they are stiffer with better hubs and little/no noticeable weight difference). I also agree that they would be better to use in wet and wintry weather so you keep the carbon tracks and hubs from wearing prematurely from the wet and gritty road surface. Steve

  • Come across this post when searching for wider alloy rims.

    Happens to have 3 sets (kind of) wheels mentioned in this post.

    I used the DT Swiss Oxic and I find it kind of disappointing. The Oxic coating becomes polished (not peeled) after about 1 year of riding and the wet braking performance deteriorate to a pathetic level. My old Campy Bora Ultra 2 could do better. Also, it has the worst tubeless interface I ever came across. I have installed tubeless tires on 9 different types of rims and only this one gives me the most trouble to seat the tire. Not to mention the unusual selection of 1X lacing pattern on the rear.

    Now I use a pair of EA R90 SL laced to Onyx road hubs with 24/28 spokes front and rear as training wheels and race on ENVE 3.4 with Carbon Ti hubs.

    Recently I acquired a pair of Boyd Altamont Lite rims with 20/24 holes. I plan to lace them on to Extralite hubs with Berd spokes which will make the wheelset weighs about 1.25kg only. They actually weigh 455g each instead of 430g as claimed. Make their weight on par with the EA R90SLs.

  • Hi Steve, I had some Zonda’s on my old non disc braked bike, which were great but have recently bought a Specialized Roubaix & want to upgrade the stock DTSwiss R470’s to something of a similar or better standard to the Zondas. Do you have any recommendations? I was thinking of perhaps the Zonda C17’s but have seen good reviews for both the Hunt aero light disc & Mason x Hunt 4 Season wheel sets. I don’t think my budget at the moment would stretch to Hunt’s carbon wheel sets although they have had good reviews too. I would be grateful for any advice.

  • Hi!
    Let me first say that your site is great resource for relatively fresh enthusiast cyclist like me.
    I am also considering an upgrade of my road bike, by replacing stock Shimano rs 11 wheels with something better. After some reading I have concluded that wider wheels would be good choice for me, since I plan to ride some longer breveto’s this year. I guess that going from 15mm inner width on rs11 to 19mm should be noticeable improvement in comfort (on 25 mm Continental tyres), and additional aerodynamic benefits are welcome, as well.
    However, I am limited to a max 400 EUR budget, and therefore the wider wheels that you recommend here are out of my budget.
    What do you thing of Vision TriMax 30 Wheelset? Any other recommendation for wider wheels under 400 EUR?
    Thank you in advance and best regards!

  • Steve,
    Looking to replace my Bontager Race rims on a 2011 Madone. Found this great article (and then the 10 ways to ride better) when I searched HED SL vs Paradigm Elite. I’m 6’2” and currently about 215, looking to be 195 for a lot of climbing in a fall fondo. Last weekend I averaged 265 watts for 70 mins on a climb. Given your comments in the ride better tips about stiffness vs weight, which of those 2 sets would you recommend or would I be better served by the Ardennes CL?


    • Dan, Neither of those wheels have more than average stiffness. Given your weight and improving form and power, you might want to look at the comparison table and consider one that has a better than average stiffness denoted by the + symbol in the stiffness line in the of the performance comparison section.

      Note also that wheelset weight will make no difference relative to the body weight you are losing. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    Very informative material from your article, especially for a new rider like myself. Thank you. I’ve been a gym rat for 10+ more years but fell in love with cycling during the recent years. I ride a mixture of gravel and flat paved in my home town in Canada. My current setup is a Cube Nuroad PRO with a set of Mavic All road wheels for my gravel riding. Love the upgrade from the stock wheels. Now, I’m looking for a set of affordable road wheels/slick upgrade to the gravel bike. I’m eyeing the Mavic Cosmic elite disc or the Bontrager aeolus comp 5. I’m a 6’2″ and 210 lbs, climbing is not substantial in my home town. Any suggestions? Thanks much for your time!


    • Kevin, Best to define a better profile of your riding, goals, budget before looking at specific wheels or going with ones your bike shop sells. Your current wheels set up slightly differently (tires, pressure) may be perfectly good for what you want to achieve and your riding profile or it may do nothing for you nor might or might not the ones you are eyeing. Check out my post on how to pick the best wheels for you to help get a better idea of your best options specific to your situation. Steve

      • Thank you Steve! My current riding profile is around 3 rides a week, two short gravel/mixed pavement at around 30-40km and a long pavement at around 70-80km session (Total elev. is about 500m-600m for each ride). My FTP, according to zwift with the TACX NEO is 245.My goal is to be able complete the august 100km race at a pace of about 30km+ hr. My current pavement pace is about 29-31km/hr. My budget is within $1000 CDN. I will definitely read into the article. Thanks!!!

  • Hi Steve, thanks for such a great write up.
    I’ve been running C-24’s for years now and love them. I think for the street price they can’t be beat for overall value.
    But Shimano has still yet to go wide.
    I love the way they ride and spin forever. I know they are not the stiffest, but I’m 160lbs, and they work for me.
    I have a chance to get some Envy SES 2.2s for about half their normal price, but I’m am hesitant to go carbon and worried I’ll lose the great ride and durability of the C-24’s .

    Your thoughts?

    • Chris, I had a set of C24s of my own that I loved too. Light wheels, terrific hubs, very durable. Just right for me for what I was doing when I owned them. Wouldn’t be right for me now.

      Depending on what you want from your cycling and the terrain you ride, carbon wheels and wider wheels can be a game changer or make no difference to you. I’d suggest you read my post on How To Choose The Best Wheels For You to help you figure it out. Steve

  • I just mounted some new 24mm Specialized Turbo Cotton Tires on some new Campagnolo Zonda C17 Wheels.
    After feeling good about my purchase, I read the enclosed Campy User Manual (I know, who reads manuals) and the chart shows that Zonda’s should have a minimum 25mm tire as supported by ERTO standards. Do I need to run larger tires to be safe? If I move up to 25’s I would loose any aero advantage which I know is not great on mid depth rims but isn’t that one of the major advantages of wider rims? Anyway, my question has more to do with the safety of running this combination of Tire / Rim. I haven’t even had the chance to ride these yet and now I’m worried the tires will blow off the rim?

    • Other than putting one of the most expensive tires on one of the best value wheels, you will be fine. You could save yourself about $100 by returning those tires and buying some 23C Conti GP4000 SIIs for about $40 each.

      There’s no aero advantage to be gained on those wheels because of their depth and probably the speed you are riding and not because of their width. Those tires will likely measure close to 25 mm once mounted and inflated anyway and besides the ETRTO is badly outdated for modern road wheels not that most have followed it for years. Steve

  • Steve – I’ve read this and looking for training wheels for long endurance training rides, a combination of hilly and flat work. Based on the above I was considering Paradigm Elite vs Zipp 30. Which way would you go?

    • Travis, hard to say without knowing you better. The Zipp is a stiffer, more comfortable wheelset than the Paradigm which accelerates, handles and brakes a bit better. If you are a heavier, powerful rider that likes to cruise around, go with the Zipp. Aggressive, lighter rider? Paradigm would be my suggestion. Steve

  • Steve-
    I am looking to upgrade on 2016 Carbon Synapse but am not sure how wide I can go. I want something that will have some aero but still be light for the hills. My weight varies between 180-200 and rides are between 15-20 mph. I’m looking in the sub $1000 range. What would you recommend?

    • Chris, I’d expect the Synapse would fit any of these wheels depending on what tire you put on. Wouldn’t suggest anything wider than a 25C. None of these wheels are deep enough to give you aero benefit and you really need to ride at 18-20 mph to get aero benefit from a 40mm+ deep wheelset. At your weight, I’d focus on a wheelset that has + stiffness. Of those the Zonda is a great value and the Easton is a better overall performer. Steve

  • Hi there, I just bought a set of Hed Ardennes Black in the Stallion build. I am about 165lb. The rear wheel seems to have a lot of flex when pushing hard so it rubs the brake pads unless they are set a long way off the rims. Worse, in addition to the ‘normal’ braking sound made by the ridged, black brake tracks, I simply cannot stop terrible brake squeal and judder. I’ve tried with regular Shimano pads and SwissStop BXP, sanding the pads, setting them close to the rim and further away, toeing in and parallel to the brake track, but nothing helps. I’d add that I bought them to replace a set of DT Swiss PR1400 Dicut Oxic, which by comparison are utterly brilliant (though as you say, not the greatest on long, flat sections or sprints). If I’d paid the RRP of £1,100 for the Heds, I’d be mortified.

    • Jon, There’s clearly something wrong with the wheels. Stallion build should be stiff enough for a horse so shouldn’t flex under your weight. I assume you’ve checked the spoke tension, true, dish, etc. If it’s not a simple shop fix, I’d return them for another set. Let me know you you make out. Steve

  • Hello Steve,

    Any review or comments on Pacenti White Industry Forza 700c rim wheel set ?

    Thank you


  • Steve, what’s your sense of having custom alloy wheels made by a wheel builder instead of ordering them complete and ready made? Are there wheel builders you like, and does the resulting product (if correctly specified) reach the same levels of quality as those sold by the original manufacturer? I’m a lighter rider (140 lbs) with a rim-brake CAAD12 and would like to have something tailor-made for my needs.

    Thank you,

    • Hi Robert,
      FWIW, I recently purchased the Zonda C17 wheelset from Chainreaction Cycles as an upgrade for my CAAD12. I really like them. They accelerate and climb great. I’m 150lbs and have the Cannondale carbon SAVE seatpost and don’t find the ride harsh at all.

    • Robert, I don’t follow custom wheel builders. There a way too many and every wheel is… custom so it would be hard for me to evaluate them. If you need something special or have specific preferences that can’t be served by what’s being made already, that’s the reason to order a custom wheel. Steve

  • Steve,
    I read the article above and you have put a lot of great information. I’m still a little confused and looking for some guidance or recommendation on upgrading my wheelset. I currently have stocked wheels (Oval 723 – w/28s on it). It seems sluggish and when I do climb some times I feel and hear the disc brake rubbing (flexing laterally).
    I’m 53 and usually do solo rides (longer distances) and do 24 races. I currently live in southwest Michigan but do travel where the terrain is hillier. I have a budget $500-700 or should I wait and save and get my budget closer to $1,200 which would open up other possibilities?
    Thank you in advance.


    • Brian, stock wheels are usually heavier and not as stiff as better ones. Sounds like you are racing a lot so a better set of wheels will serve you better. Hard to know exactly what to recommend but suggest you look at some of the reviews I’ve done of disc brake wheels rather than this one that reviews only rim brake ones. Here’s a link to my road disc wheelsets at various prices Steve

  • Hi Steve, great insightful information, thanks.

    Question for you or any other riders of the Zonda, can they handle 28mm tyres?

    Thanks Brian

  • Hi Steve
    First up, let me say that your website is a wonderful resource and I’ve learnt a great deal from it.
    I was just wondering if you’d had the opportunity to try the Roval SLX 24 or had heard much about it? 20/24 internal/external rim width and DT Swiss 350 internals.

    • Tom, Thanks for your feedback. The SLX 24 is a basic wheelset. Not much of an upgrade over your stock wheels. Steve

      • Hi Steve – Great to know! I was about to buy a pair (heavily reduced price – AUD$275), but I think I’ll re-consider now. I run DA c24s, which are great. Would you say I’ve a lot to gain by throwing on a pair of Zondas for example? Maybe slightly comfier due to 17C? Cheers again.

        • Tom, Depends what you want to gain. Comfort? Wouldn’t say you’d gain much if anything. Stiffness? You’d gain a lot going to a Zonda. Climbing? You lose a lot. C24s much better. Also have a better hub. If you are looking for more comfort, check to see if you are running your tire pressure at the right level. If too high, drop it 5psi. Steve

          • Thanks again for your time, Steve. After reading your wheel choice article and realising I mainly enjoy riding with mates on the weekend and Gran Fondos, I’ve ended up going with the Paradigm Elites. I’m looking forward to that 19.5mm internal rim and the extra comfort and handling that’ll go with it. Not to mention the brakes sound excellent. All the best, Tom.

  • You are a Great resource, thank you. I’ve read hours worth of your articles but can’t really get to the advice I need so I’m just gonna ask. 205lbs rider in Durango Colorado. Building up a Allez sprint w/disc. Budget of $1500 or less for wheels. I need stiff climber which is descent on flats but Critable too(comfort is optional) carbon or alum doesn’t matter to me. Can you give me a few choices. Thank you

    • Scott, Thanks for the feedback. I should probably come up with a recommender algorithm – Input requirements and spit out recommended wheelset – but unfortunately it’s not that easy.

      This post is for rim brake wheels. The one you want to be looking at is this one for disc brake wheelsets in your price range. These are alloy wheels. A decent carbon one is going to be $500 or more beyond your budget. You can get a stiff wheelset – a priority for your weight and likely power output – but not one that’s both a climber (shallow/light) and “critable” (deep) – in your budget range. For that, you need to go carbon to something like the ENVE SES 3.4 disc that will cost you about $2500. More about that wheelset and other carbon wheels here Carbon wheels will cost as much/more than your bike so probably not a good economic choice.

      Bottom line, I’d probably go with the Easton EC90 SL Disc (reviewed here as the best option for what you’ve described. Stiff, accelerates and handles well, reasonably priced (see the links for online options), looks good. Let me know how you make out. Cheers, Steve

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