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  • Back to Blog  

    A guide to aero wheels

       Words by Kathryn Dickinson

       on 19/10/2018 14:09:39

    guide-to-aero-wheels

    This Article was written in part by #TeamRutland ambassador Josh Holman.Find out more about Josh >

    At the beginning of the 2018 season, I was lucky enough to be hooked up with a new set of wheels from the guys over at Rutland Cycling. In the front, a Zipp 303 and in the back, a Zipp 404 Firecrest. Before I delve into my review of these wheels, let’s first understand a little bit of science behind aero wheels and why they are becoming so popular in both the cycling and the triathlon world.

    Why do aero wheels matter?

    Wind resistance is the single biggest thing to slow you down on a bike. At speeds over 15mph, wind is the largest force against your forward motion when cycling. Both your position on a bike and wheels are the main causes of drag on a bike. Wheels have a large surface area and when they are rotating, this changes how easy it is to control airflow across the rim and over the whole of the bike.

    The tyre is the leading edge and splits the air as it hits the wheel. Behind it, a deep rim controls the airflow, helping it to come together again smoothly. A shallow box-section rim which you see on most standard bikes can’t do this, so the air behind it is turbulent, causing more drag.

    Deep section wheels aim to ‘sail’ on crosswinds by making the airflow follow the shape of the wheel as it passes over it at an angle, creating forward thrust. In this way the wheels’ own drag decreases as the wind angle increases, until they reach a ‘stall’ point at which the drag sharply increases again because the airflow detaches causing turbulence and an area of low pressure behind the rim. Wide rims enable much higher stall angles, as such there is less drag and less turbulence caused in comparison to a shallow rim.

    Zipp 303 & 404 Firecrest

    The original 303's rose to cycling fame after winning the two most famous Cobbled Classics, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. Firecrest technology was engineered by Zipp back in 2010, but don't let that fool you into thinking the technology is out of date. Despite the deeper section rim of the 404, they still perform extremely well in crosswinds due to the Firecrest technology. With Firecrest, the magic happens in the back half of the wheel (this is in the deep section of the wheel underneath the tyre). Firecrest uses a mathematically derived shape made up of a series of complex curves, this basically means the wheels are more aerodynamically efficient and stable for the rider. Firecrest wheels feature a rounded rim which, as mentioned earlier, reduces the 'stall' as the air flows over the rim for a longer time, creating an effective airfoil. Rims which are pointed will have an earlier separation of the air flow and a larger 'stall'.

    Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Tubular Front Wheel

    Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Tubular Front Wheel

    Perfection. Zipp's 303 Firecrest Tubular Front Wheel offers all the performance, durability, and style you could every need to finish at top of any professional bike race.

    • Weight - 605g
    • Rim Depth - 45mm
    • Dimpled Surface - Yes
    Shop Now > See the full Zipp range >
    Zipp 404 Firecrest Carbon Tubular Rear Wheel

    Zipp 404 Firecrest Carbon Tubular Rear Wheel

    Zipp's 404 Firecrest Carbon Tubular Rear Wheel combines a 58mm deep rim with Firecrest shaping for maximum speed and stability in all conditions to create the perfect all rounder.

    • Weight - 840g
    • Rim Depth - 58mm
    • Dimpled Surface - Yes
    Shop Now > See the full Zipp range >

    Still unsure what this translates to in the real world? Zipp have created a video explaining their Firecrest technology. Watch it below!

    How did the Zipp's feel riding?

    My first real test of the Zipp wheels came back in June when I raced in the Challenge Middle Distance Championships in Slovakia. A race which saw headwinds, crosswinds and hot temperatures. I can honestly say that in a straight line it was extremely easy to build momentum and increase top end speed, but the benefits didn’t stop there, during the crosswinds I was able to maintain control of my Giant Trinity whilst holding a decent pace, something that normally cyclists struggle with. I believe that this massively contributed to my fastest ever bike split over the middle distance, covering the 56 miles in 02:13:00 and averaging 40.1kph!

    guide-to-aero-wheels-zipp-303-404

    Another super cool benefit of deep section rims is the superb 'swooshing' noise that the wheels make! When you're riding on the flat, a quality set of deep-section wheels will make holding a given pace that little bit easier. This gives you the option to kick on, or keep something in the tank for the run and I definitely felt these benefits when starting the run, posting some of my best run splits ever! Overall, I was very impressed with the Zipp 303 & 404's. I believe that they complimented my Giant Trinity extremely well, giving me a far batter aerodynamic set up and I would recommend the upgrade to anyone serious about cycling or triathlon.

    Lightweight wheels vs. aero wheels

    Many have researched whether the increase in weight, but increased efficiency of aero wheels, outweighs a light weight wheel. It would appear from most tests that the increase in weight doesn't matter as the aerodynamics add a larger benefit. There are some wheels that now blur the lines between lightweight and aero with developments in carbon fibre technology, for example the Roval CLX 64 wheels.

    Roval CLX 64 2017 700c Front Road Wheel

    Roval CLX 64 2017 700c Front Road Wheel

    Nearly every inch of the Roval CLX 64 Wheel is crafted from premium carbon fibre, from the rim, brake track and even the hub, to offer a super light weight that defies its 64mm rim depth. A pair of SwissStop Black Prince brake pads are supplied with the wheel to maximise performance.

    • Weight - 695g
    • Rim Depth - 64mm
    • Rim Type - Carbon Clincher, Tubeless-ready
    Shop Now >
    Roval CLX 64 2017 700c Rear Road Wheel

    Roval CLX 64 2017 700c Rear Road Wheel

    With the 21mm tubeless ready internal rim, the Roval CLX 64 boosts tyre volume, creating a larger contact patch for improved grip, traction and lower rolling resistance. The CLX 64 is supplied with an S-Works Turbo Tyre to maximise performance from the box.

    • Weight - 850g
    • Rim Depth - 64mm
    • Rim Type - Carbon Clincher, Tubeless-ready
    Shop Now >

    Are disc brakes aero?

    In short, no one's sure! One company found a 16% increase in wheel drag between a disc and clincher version of the same wheel, whereas another company found no significant increase in drag using a disc brake.

    The theory suggests that the extra drag comes from:

    1. The rotor
    2. Increased number of spokes
    3. The larger hub body

    It is really up to the individual whether they want to use either type of break. More evidence is required to prove whether or not disc brakes have a significant effect on drag. Specialized did release their brand new 2019 Shiv Disc earlier this month for Kona, perhaps there is a shift towards disc brakes on time trial bikes due to the increased breaking ability? We will have to see in the upcoming years.

    Bontrager Aeolus Comp 5 TLR Disc Road Wheel Rear White

    Bontrager Aeolus Comp 5 TLR Disc Road Wheel Rear White

    The Bontrager Aeolus Comp 5 TLR Disc road wheel is perfect wheel for riders who want to ride fast and stop faster.

    • Weight - 1085g
    • Rim Depth - 50mm
    • Rim Type - Tubeless-ready
    Shop Now >

    What rim depth is best?

    For the everyday rider it would seem that 65mm is manageable, with some practice if you haven't ridden deep section wheels before, and more than enough to receive the benefits of having aero wheels. This depth will be perfect for racing, but if you're looking for something deeper then these are available, or you can go the whole way and get a disc but beware the cross wind!

    Giant SLR 0 Aero 65mm Tubeless Rim Brake Front Wheel

    Giant SLR 0 Aero 65mm Tubeless Rim Brake Front Wheel

    Made with ultralight carbon composite rims, this Pro-Level Aero WheelSystem is unbeatable whether you’re sprinting for the podium or alone against the clock. The SLR 0 65 blends proven aero performance with maximum transmission stiffness and superior braking control.

    • Dynamic Balance Lacing (DBL) technology - Enhanced transmission efficiency and braking control
    • Rim Depth - 65mm
    • Rim Type - Tubeless, supplied with rim tape and valve kit
    Shop Now >
    Giant SLR 0 Aero 65mm Tubeless Rim Brake Carbon Rear Wheel

    Giant SLR 0 Aero 65mm Tubeless Rim Brake Carbon Rear Wheel

    • Ultralight full composite
    • Rim Depth - 65mm
    • Rim Type - Tubeless, supplied with rim tape and valve kit
    Shop Now >
    josh-bio

    Josh Holman

    Instagram: ironman.josh

    Twitter: Ironman_Josh

    I am an amateur triathlete and Team GB Age Grouper in Long Distance Triathlon. I first embarked on my triathlon journey back in July 2016 where I completed my first and only triathlon at the time, Ironman UK. Having totally fallen in love with the sport, I have not looked back since, completing a further two Long Distance triathlons and a number of Olympic Distance triathlons.

    During this time I have represented my country at the European Long Distance Championships, taken part in a few crazy cycle rides, the most famous being the ‘Cambridge Pork Pie Ride’ to Melton Mowbray and back, and also a number of marathons, most recently the iconic London Marathon, all whilst trying to share my passion and inspire as many people as possible along the way.

    My goal for this year is quite simple. Strive for progression every single day and enjoy the process! I have recently PB’d at the London Marathon in a time of 2:42:20 and my next race is the Grafman Middle Distance Triathlon on 20th May, followed by Challenge Samorin-Slovakia 70.3 on the 3rd June and then the ITU Fyn World Long Distance Championships in Denmark on the 14th July. I will then need to sit down with my coach and discuss what races I will do in the second half of the year, but for now, I am excited, motivated and looking forward to pushing myself to the limits.

    Find your nearest Rutland Cycling Store

    Browse our full range of wheels either in store or online

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