Kit Upgrade: Wheels

Triathletes love kit and they love upgrading - it's a perfect match, or storm, depending on your outlook and bank balance. Upgrades are usually designed to make us go faster and because the bike leg is the longest section of a race it's here that triathletes most often turn to make those changes that can mean better times. And where better to start than wheels?

There are two features in a set of wheels that can help your performance - lower weight and better aerodynamics. Having light wheels is beneficial under certain circumstances - it takes less power to accelerate a lighter set of wheels to race pace and this means you can conserve precious energy while keeping your bike rolling at a good pace. It's worth bearing in mind that once up to speed, the weight-saving has no benefit over a heavier set of wheels.

What will make more of a difference as you speed up are your wheel's aerodynamics. The less friction or 'drag' that a bike and rider present, the less energy is needed to go at the same speed. Wheels can contribute up to 10 per cent of the drag of a bike and rider package. By selecting an aero rim, you can theoretically go faster while putting out the same power.

In pursuit of more speed and power conservation we have looked at a range of wheel upgrades. Every set has a unique feature to allow us to present the options available. By testing the different models we hope to give you a few ideas of what to look out for and how to work out if a particular wheel will suit your purpose.

Find out which wheels are right for you or join the tubulars v clinchers debate. 

Easton EA90

Type: Aero aluminium clincher
SRP: £320 (front), £360 (rear) 
Weight: 1,605g (claimed)
Tyres used: Continental Force and Attack

Features:
The EA90 is the entry-point wheelset in Easton's range. Designed for high-performance riding, these wheels feature a 28mm-deep front rim and 31mm-deep rear. 

The Ride:
These wheels look good. The matt finish on the rims is robust, bold stickering is eye-catching and the unique shapely hubs and spokes are aesthetically pleasing. The wheels come pre-fitted with rim strips and our test tyres were fitted without drama or the need for tyre levers. When out clocking up the miles it was reassuring to feel the stiffness and lightness of this pair of wheels blending to give the feeling of a much more expensive setup. We found that we were rolling with ease, with no side-wind effects - thanks to the relatively shallow rims - but all the stiffness and spring that build the confidence to push harder in corners and on climbs. If you want to drastically improve the feel of your bike on long rides, you'd be hard pushed to beat the Easton EA90s.

Buy them if:
You want to improve the feel of your training
Forget them if: You're looking to gain an aero advantage specific for triathlon

Info:
extrauk.co.uk

Altair Full Carbon 52

Type: Full carbon clincher
SRP: £1,199.99 pair
Weight: 1,683g (claimed)
Tyres used: Continental Force and Attack

Features: Profile Design has developed a range of wheels designed for triathletes to get the best performance they can at an affordable price (they start at £999.99). We tested the 52mm deep-section full-carbon clincher.

The Ride:
Our test rider was quite light but it was still reassuring to find that these wheels have no rider weight limit - a factor that needs to be considered when choosing your upgrade. At 1,683g (claimed) the wheels fall in the middle ground for this sort of offering and certainly were not sluggish on acceleration.

After several miles, the combination of lateral stiffness from the mid-section rims and smooth bearings meant that the wheels really rolled along and felt like a real performance upgrade. Crosswinds did not tend to drag this mid-section rim. They were not the deepest on test but Profile Design does offer an 80mm version for those seeking even more aerodynamic advantage. These wheels are a great all-rounder - you could use them in a sprint-distance race or an Ironman.

Buy them if: You're a novice or intermediate rider on a budget
Forget them if: You want an out-and-out time-trial wheel

Info: profile-design.com

Shimano RS30 Wheelset

Type: Aero aluminium clincher
SRP: £219.99
Weight: 1,938g (claimed)
Tyres used: Continental Attack and Force clinchers

Features: These RS30 clincher wheels are said to offer aero performance and excellent quality at a competitive price. This is something that Shimano does very well - taking proven designs, tweaking them to create products that look the part and do exactly what they say on the box. These wheelsets are mass-produced but don't let that put you off.

The Ride: These wheels can take a hammering straight from the box. They are well built, reasonably stiff and roll smoothly on their slightly antiquated angular contact bearings. They seem to be a great all-rounder. Sure, they don't feel particularly springy or exciting but they do feel dependable and offer the same level of aero advantage you might only expect from a wheel that's twice the price.

The only thing that lets them down is their weight; at a shade over 2kg (as we measured them) they certainly don't get off the mark like some of the others. But once up to speed it's all about conserving momentum and this is where these wheels certainly offer some benefit.

Buy them if: You're on a tight budget
Forget them if: You want to maximise your performance

Info: madison.co.uk

Reynolds 66 C Paired Wheelset

Type: Full carbon clincher
SRP: £1,999.99 pair
Weight: 1,669g (claimed)
Tyres used: Schwalbe Ultremo

Features: The 66 C pair incorporates Reynolds' high modulus carbon and refined resin system. That makes them among the lightest on the market, yet still tough enough to handle one-day classics and the hardest time trials.

The Ride: These wheels look the business, with neatly applied transfers on bare carbon. Slim, lightweight skewers hold the wheels in place and the hoops spin up well once out on the road. Reynolds offers a dealer-based 'no-risk test-ride programme' - try before you buy, an insurance package and also a crash- replacement policy (see website for details).

On our test course there were mixed results in the ride. These wheels roll well and feel fast when travelling directly into or away from the wind, but once the corner was turned a crosswind made the ride interesting, as the front wheel tended to move erratically with the gusts. These are top-line premium wheels, but do try before you buy.

Buy them if:
You're a confident rider looking for the aero advantage of a deep-section rim coupled with a clincher setup
Forget them if: You're a novice rider not used to the lively and sketchy feel of riding sideways in a crosswind

Info: reynoldscomposites.co.uk

SRAM S60 Clincher Wheelset

Type: Semi carbon clincher
SRP: £499 (front), £599 (rear)
Weight: 1,850g (claimed)
Tyres used: Ultremo R 23 mm clinchers
Features: The SRAM S60 clincher wheelset is billed as a versatile 'does it all' option. 

The Ride:
These wheels are certainly aero but they are not lightweight, and without cost you can't really have both. They are pitched at the improver - someone who wants to get more out from the effort he or she puts in. It will help if you're a slightly stronger rider with more power to get these heavier wheels up to speed; our light tester found he constantly had to reapply
the pressure to maintain momentum.

Once at pace or on slight downhills, the wheels fairly whistled along. Despite the 60mm profile section the wheels were not affected by crosswinds, unlike some of the other hoops. This is possibly due to the bulging shape, which stops the wind getting hold and tugging the rim. The only real downside of these wheels is that they come with a rider weight limit of 80kg; if you're under that then they could be just the ticket.

Buy them if: You're a powerful improver
Forget them if: You're a smaller rider who would benefit more from a lighter wheelset

Info: fisheroutdoor.co.uk

DT Swiss RRC 625F and DT Swiss RRC 725R

Type: Full carbon tubular
SRP: £1,799.98 pair (sold separately £799.99 front, £999.99 rear)
Weight: 1,360g (claimed)
Tyres used: Continental Competition 22mm tubs

Features: These wheels are among the lightest and stiffest on the market. Each wheel (they're sold as singles so you can mix and match for your exact needs) is supplied with titanium RWS skewer, rim tape, Swiss Stop carbon brake pads, specialist nipple and spoke keys and certificated wheel build-quality document.

The Ride: These wheels are tubular versions so they're very light compared with some of the clincher setups. They have a certain pro feel about them and are certainly an extravagance. The extra pressure in the tyre meant that from the moment the pedals started turning the bike surged forward. The wheels seemed very stiff and when accelerating there was little noticeable flex.

Cornering was a joy - something about the way it rolled in the corner meant that banking over in the bends was a pleasure. The deep 66mm rims did tend to shimmy a little with crosswinds but the overall feeling was one of stability and surefootedness. They won't suit everyone but they do represent the top line in world-beating, race-ready wheels.

Buy them if: You want the edge
Forget them if: If you're not heading for the top

Info: dtswiss.com

Strada 50mm Hand-built Carbon Tubular Wheelset

Type: Full carbon tubular
SRP: £940.00 pair
Weight: 1,354g (claimed)
Tyres used: Continental Competition

Features: Strada is a small company specialising in building wheels to order. This pair of 50mm carbon-fibre tubular wheels give the powerful rider an advantage for time trial and triathlon.

The Ride:
Strada offers wheelsets that are produced and tuned for specific types of event and rider characteristics. It's a truly bespoke service at an affordable price. They come with titanium quick-release skewers and the package includes a free 'truing-for-life' service.

We ordered a set of the hand-built, carbon deep-section tubulars laced via Sapim spokes to simple yet efficient-looking hubs. Rider weight was 67kg and the wheels were tensioned accordingly. Out on the road the hand preparation was apparent - the wheels felt responsive and lively.

The aero effect was noticeable in a straight line and this setup would be great for out-and-back 10- or 25-mile time trials. In the slow corners the stiff, deep sections took a bit of getting used to but once mastered they were still pretty nimble. All in all we were impressed with this set of wheels.

Buy them if: You want to go faster, on a budget
Forget them if: You're a big brand chaser

Info: stradawheels.co.uk