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What should I look for before upgrading wheels?

When it comes to cycling, many of us want to be quicker and improve the bike we ride. It can be complicated when it comes to finding the right upgrades for you. Do you want the bike to be lighter, more aerodynamic, or even more comfortable?

When it comes to aerodynamics, improving the bike weight, or increasing comfort, your wheels are a great place to look at when it comes to upgrading. They can affect all these characteristics and are considered the best upgrade you can make to a bike. 

Before upgrading your wheels, there’s a lot to take into consideration. In this article. We'll discuss everything you need to think about before upgrading your wheels, so you know exactly what to look for and get exactly what you need.

Disc or Rim

The first thing to take into consideration is what brakes your bike is running. You will either be using a rim or a disc brake. Rim brake wheels have a braking surface on the edge of the rim, which causes friction against a pad to slow the bike down. These typically are less popular in the current market, but many cyclists still use them.

Then you have disc brakes that use a circular disc and a set of pads to slow the bike down. This is a much more efficient system and works better in all conditions. This is what a lot of modern bikes are coming equipped as standard. You must ensure the rims you choose have the correct braking system.

Tire Compatibility

When it comes to getting a wheel upgrade, you need to ensure the wheel is the right size for the bike and the tires you plan to use. The best way of doing this is to check the bike's specification on the manufacturer's website, or you can check your tire to see what's currently on there.

Checking the manufacturer's website is the best place for the information because then you can see the minimum and maximum tire sizes recommended for the bike. This ensures you won’t put anything too large or small on the bike. Failing that, using the tire to see the code is another great way to find out. 

A road bike will use 700c with tires of 23c to 30c. A gravel bike will use either a 700c or 650b wheel and a tire from 35c to 50c. A mountain bike will use a 27.5” or 29” wheel and a tire from 2” to 2.8”. Once you find out, ensure to make a note, so you remember when you order.

Tire Type

Another thing you will need to think about is tire type. Wheels are designed to work with different types of tires, and some of them are not interchangeable. Here are the main types of tires you will need to make considerations for.


The clincher is the most common type you will hear about on the market. This is where you will you a typical tire with an innertube. It’s one of the most common ways to go and still the most popular to this day.


Tubeless is becoming big in the cycling world and is the standard for many amateur riders. It’s where you use a tubeless tire very similar to a clincher but made of a slightly different compound, and instead of an innertube, you use sealant. You must ensure you get tubeless wheels if you plan to go this way.


Tubular is another type where the tire and inner tube is all one piece. This is commonly seen in races like the Tour de France and on time trial circuits. It’s very light and fast but is very difficult to repair, and the tire is required to be glued onto a special rim.


Another type we see on the market is hookless tires. These are unique tires and need to be paired to a hookless rim. The technology is still new to road cycling but has been in mountain biking for a long time. 

Axle Type

Another consideration that you will need to make is the correct type of axle. With technological advancements, we are seeing bikes come away from the classic quick release and move to a thru-axle.

You will get a quick-release system on older or budget bikes. This will be a skewer that you will have to thread through the wheel and frame, and you will tighten up. Although it works fine, they are not as strong as an axle, and the wheel doesn’t always correct, making your disc brakes rub sometimes. 

Axles come from mountain bike technology we are now seeing on road bikes. They mainly come in two sizes, 12mm for road bikes and some mountain bikes and 15mm and 12mm for mountain bikes. It’s vital you check this before buying a wheelset.

Rear Cassette Fitment

When ordering a set of wheels, it’s important to ensure you have the correct cassette freehub. This will either be SRAM and Shimano or Campagnolo. Most wheel manufacturers will have an option to choose from. Typically most wheels come with the SRAM, Shimano option as these are the more popular groupsets.


Most cyclists upgrade because they want to perform better. One thing you need to remember is wheels work in different ways. Depending on the wheel you upgrade to, you will get different benefits and characteristics.


A lighter wheel will not only bring the bike's weight down but will make you a much better climber. Taking the weight off your wheels will give you much more performance than taking weight off anywhere else on the bike. If you live in a hilly place, then light, low-profile rims will greatly benefit you. 


If you want to be better at riding in flats and at higher speeds, then wheels with large aerodynamic profiles will be perfect for you. They can slice through the air much better, and although they may not be as light as lightweight wheels, they offer a huge benefit for high-speed riding.


Suppose you like your gravel riding and want to use larger tires. You might want to go for wider wheels. A wider wheel will make a larger tire sit better and roll much more efficiently. Not only can this help handling, but it also goes a very long way when it comes to comfort.


When it comes to upgrading wheels, the best improvement you can make is to upgrade the material. Going from a material like aluminum to carbon fiber will make a huge difference to performance because they are just so much lighter and roll so much better. If you upgrade, then stepping up to carbon fiber will hugely improve the performance of your bike.

You can also get huge benefits when you upgrade your wheels by having better hubs and bearings. Not only will they offer less internal friction, but they will also last much longer than cheaper bearings and give you great performance even after thousands of miles. 

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