New wheels are the single biggest upgrade to performance you can make, but we don’t all have the luxury of owning multiple wheelsets for every condition imaginable. If you’re going to buy just one good set of hoops, it better be able to take you wherever you want to go in whatever conditions. These all-around wheels are the best bet for most riders.
• Wide, tubeless-ready rims are capable of running some seriously high-volume rubber making all-around wheelsets ever more versatile.
• The original Zipp 303 created the all-around carbon wheel category—and it’s only gotten better since.
• While rim braking won’t match that of disc brakes, Bontrager hasn’t abandoned the rim brake crowd—its new Laser Control Track is the best rim braking we’ve tried.
• The Pacenti Forza C is a screaming deal at $1,000 and 1,470g.
The entire concept of an all-around wheel, one that can climb, survive the cobbles or ‘cross course, handle gravel and do it all providing a significant aero advantage was created by the original Zipp 303. Zipp has continued to develop the 303 ever since, resulting in its latest iteration, the tubeless-ready 303 with NSW aero magic added in a disc-brake version. It’s the same 45mm depth we’ve come to love, but with a new internal width of 21mm, making it fastest with a tasty 28mm tire. Best of all, its rim mates perfectly with a Zipp Tangente 28mm tubeless tire for a lever-free installation that sets the standard for ease of tubeless set-up. But there’s so much more. Zipp’s dimples come in the new ABLC Sawtooth pattern and extend to the rim edge to smooth out handling in crosswinds, while the Cognition hub-set uses magnets to disengage ratchets while coasting, resulting in half the resistance of a traditional free hub. The wheels are faster when you pedal and faster when you don’t. Win-win. $2,200 (Carbon Clincher disc); 1,530g; zipp.com
PACENTI FORZA C
Inexpensive, light and durable—choose three! Pacenti’s latest creation, the Forza C Carbon wheelset, makes this possible. At 1,470 grams, the Forza C is a very light set of disc-brake clinchers. Designed from the ground up for tubeless tires, they are 30mm deep, have a 26.6mm external and 21.3mm internal width and have hook-less rim walls. Perfect for a set of tasty 28mm tires. The rim’s profiles are asymmetric but are mirror images of each other to equalize spoke tension at the front hub—due to the disc rotor’s offset on the non-drive side and the rear hubs offset at the drive side. They are built around Sapim spokes and Pacenti’s own hubs with EZO Japanese bearings, and we especially like the bite guard built into the alloy hub body for extra durability. The Forza C wheels are magic in the hills, leaving many wheels that cost twice as much playing catch-up. $1,000; 1,470g; pacenticycledesign.com
BONTRAGER AEOLUS XXX4
At 47mm, the Aeolus XXX4 wheels are the workhorse of the new XXX family that has replaced the already über-quick Aeolus D3. So, how do you make super-quick wheels more useful? First, make them stop better, then make them handle crosswinds more confidently, then make them lighter to expand the variety of courses they can tackle. The wheels come in a disc-brake version, which obviously stops incredibly well; but the new Laser Control Track, a laser-etched surface on the brake track of the rim-brake version, steals the show—especially in the wet. Best. Rim. Braking. Ever. And in crosswinds, these 47mm-deep wheels handle the strongest gusts with ease across real world conditions. At only 1,400 grams, the XXX4 rim-brake wheel provides a serious aero advantage without weighing down your ride. For good measure, the rim is 21mm wide internally for today’s wider tire movement—and it’s tubeless, a category Bontrager has helped pioneer. $2,400; 1,400g (47mm rim-brake version); trekbikes.com
DT SWISS CRC 1400 SPLINE 24 DISC BRAKE
DT Swiss first became known for making the best spokes on the road—and still makes them for many top wheel brands like Bontrager and ENVE—so it’s no surprise that in 2004 the company launched its own wheel line that now includes the CRC 1400 Spline 24 disc brake. Designed for the ‘cross course and gravel adventures, its stats are impressive: a set of these 24mm-deep carbon clinchers weighs just 1,389 grams—stunning considering they are disc-brake ready, 28mm wide and have a 22mm internal width. This makes them ideal for wider tires, from 28mm all the way to 2.5 inches; and, of course, they are tubeless ready out of the box, with tape and valves included. This wheelset is more than robust enough for a brutal ‘cross course or gnarly gravel grinder with a weight we usually see in rim-brake, climbing-specific tubulars. $2,549; dtswiss.com
SHIMANO DURA-ACE C40
When it comes to carbon wheels, Shimano has been a little anonymous. It’s not that the company doesn’t make them; it does—and they are good. Maybe the drivetrains steal the limelight, maybe it’s because at its heart Shimano is really a giant machine shop, making magic with alloy. Those drivetrains and that alloy better watch out. Dura-Ace C40 carbon wheels will steal some thunder. They are phenomenal. The build is Armageddon proof, with offset spoke beds, a 2-1 lacing pattern and wide-set hub flanges. The carbon rims feature a modern, blunt shape designed for aerodynamics in real-world environments. The hubs are an engineering marvel worthy of their own story—but how’s this for a detail? The bearing cones are alloy; just the ball races themselves are steel, saving weight with traditional Shimano durability. At just 1,563 grams, 40mm deep and 24mm wide in the tubeless disc-brake spec, the wheels absolutely sing in any environment. $2,000; 1,563g; duraace.com
IRWIN AON TLR 38
If you’re needing a gently priced, carbon, tubeless clincher, Irwin Cycling is worth a look. The Irvine, California, company has released its AON TLR 38—a tubeless-ready 38mm carbon clincher. These hand-built wheels lace Sapim CX-Ray spokes to a six-pawl, ceramic-bearing hub. They come with tubeless rim tape pre-installed. Irwin understands that less-visible carbon wheel brands often have the reputation of overheating under severe braking. The company has carefully calibrated its Rapid Heat Dissipation braking surface to maintain 120 degrees on the brake track to regulate that excessive heat. Each Irwin wheelset comes with QRs, tubelessready valve stems, extension valves, carbon rim-brake pads and an 11-speed to 10-speed conversion spacer. The wheels weigh in at a claimed 1,525 grams for the pair, and all Irwin wheelsets are warranted to be free from manufacturing defects in material and workmanship for two years. $1,600 (wheelset); irwincycling.com