How to choose the best triathlon wheelset

Triathlon wheelset How to choose the best triathlon wheelset

Choosing the right triathlon wheelset for you

Many people have a hard time finding the best wheelset for triathlons. There are a lot of factors to consider like rim depth, weight, rim type, material, but the single most important factor and what should drive the entire selection process is the rider. An honest evaluation of your riding strengths, weaknesses, style and expectations should help narrow down the wheelset to the best one for you. The second major factor is the type of event or events you will be racing in.

Matching wheelsets to the triathlete

First, you assess what you’ve got physically going for you. Your height and weight are the main components to consider. Lightweight riders with a smaller aerodynamic profile will be more impacted by wind, especially side winds, and so need less surface area in their wheelsets. Bigger and heavier riders will be less affected by side winds with the same depth rim.

Next, bike handling skills should be the next factor to consider. The better your bike handling skills, the more depth you can ride compared to someone of lesser skills. A deeper wheel can be pushed around more which with inadequate handling can result in losing aerodynamic body position.

Finally, a rider should consider how fast they are. The faster you ride, the less side pressure there is on the wheels and for headwind pressure due to increased aerodynamic drag. Riding above 18 mph will generally reduce crosswind pressure and increase stability allowing for a deeper rim.

Choosing wheelsets by the event

The next major component in finding the best wheelset for a triathlete must be the event or events that the triathlete encounter. Factors like the terrain and course help determine the right wheelset. A hilly course would place less emphasis on aerodynamics and more on weight. Just the opposite would happen if the majority of terrain ridden on the wheels were flat. Consider the course style, will there be a lot of turns requiring a lighter, better handling wheelset? The overall importance is to maximize power output without over-exertion.

Best wheelset materials and components

After evaluating yourself as an athlete and the types of events that will be ridden, you have an idea of what the best wheelset would be with regards to rim depth. From here, materials will mainly be determined by budget, which will in turn affect weight. Carbon rims will reduce rotational weight and increase stiffness but will increase the manufacturing cost. Alloy rims provide increased durability and lower cost, with increased weight and less stiffness.

Hubs and bearings are equally important to a wheelset. More weight savings can be found in the hub bodies and skewers. Carbon front hubs are becoming increasingly common and affordable. Titanium and carbon skewers offer an easy and relatively cheap way to shave some grams. Some people swear by ceramic bearings, but they come at a hefty price for single digit reduction in resistance.

Another important choice is the type of tire that a wheelset can accept: tubular, clincher, or tubeless. Tubulars can reduce tire weight and reduce flats if the rider is comfortable with installing and maintaining them. Clinchers offer easier installation, more tire choices, and lower cost but can require a tube and increased vulnerability to flats. Tubeless rims can eliminate the need for a tube, but require a compatible clincher rim and sometimes require a small amount of sealant.

Spokes are one the last components in wheelset choice. Generally an aero bladed spoke will be used with triathlete wheelsets, unless a full disc wheel is chosen. The deeper the rim, the less spoke material will be used and the stiffer the wheel will be. Spokes come in a variety of light materials including carbon and aluminum alloys.

Conclusion: Your best wheelset

As you can see there are many factors that play into choosing the best wheelset for triathletes. Given the athlete is such an important consideration, what was the best wheelset for a new triathlete, might not be the best as they increase speed and manage body weight. Also budget plays a role as the best wheelset might be determined by performance over several races if you can’t afford a light wheelset for a hilly course and a super aero wheelset for a flat course. Remember that in the end, the wheelset that is the best for you will be the one that helps you deliver the maximum output performance for the minimum energy input.

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