Are Wheels The Best Upgrade You Can Make To Your Bike?

Are Wheels The Best Upgrade You Can Make To Your Bike?

Talk to an experienced cyclist about
upgrading your bike, and I’m fairly sure they would tell you that the most
important thing you can do is to change the wheels. The theory goes that a lighter
set of wheels will transform the way your bike rides and unlock new levels of
performance no matter what’s the starting point. So, we thought we would take a
closer look to see if wheels really are the best place to invest your
cash when upgrading your bike. As a starting point, we’ve got this Scott
Speedster 40. It’s not exactly an entry level bike but we think it represents the
kind of price point at which you’ll start to consider some serious upgrades. And our
upgrade wheels is this pair of Reynolds’ Assault SLGs, light, stiff and arrow,
pretty much the holy trinity of wheelsets. ♪ [music] ♪ First up, let’s deal with the most quoted
reason behind the fact that wheels are the best upgrade for your bike, the
effective rotating weight. Now, the theory goes that rotating mass of your
wheels has an effect three times greater than the equivalent static mass, meaning
that if you save 50 grams from your wheelset that would be like saving 150
grams from your frame. Or in this case, 800 grams from your wheels
would be like saving 2.4 kilos. Unfortunately though, that is only partly
true because rotating weight has no greater or lesser effect on the power
that it takes to sustain a speed, even when climbing than the equivalent
static weight. That’s not to say that it has no effect at all. It does. Saving any
weight at all from your bike will enable you to climb faster. ♪[music]♪ The greatest benefit from lighter weight
though comes from when accelerating and decelerating. It takes less energy to get
a lighter pair of wheels up to speed than a heavier pair making them more
responsive. So, from a standing start, I will save about not 0.1 seconds by
the time I get to 30 kilometers an hour. And that’s about an entire bike length.
It might not sound like much but it will certainly add up over the course
of a three-hour ride. And in a race, it can be the difference
between winning and losing. ♪ [music] ♪ Now, you wouldn’t have thought that kind
of minimal difference would be detectable out on the road. But I’m pretty sure that
even swapping out an already decent set of wheels that came with this bike
that I can feel the difference. The bike feels faster, climbs well
and generally handles superbly, but the difference might not be
coming from the reduction in weight but actually from a significant
improvement in aerodynamics. You see, the wheels generally represent
about 10% to 15% of your total aerodynamic drag, although it can be as little
as 0% or as might just 20%. That might not sound like all that much
but if you swap out your wheels for a really aerodynamic pair, you might be able
to reduce that figure by about 25%, meaning that your total aerodynamic
drag would reduce by about 2% to 3%. And that is not to be sniffed
at. Generally, aerodynamics will have an effect that’s much
greater on your speed than lightweight, although, the exact
nature of your route or course will determine that. But if you combine the
right set of wheels that have both lightweight and aerodynamics, then your
bike is going to be significantly faster on just about any course. ♪ [music] ♪ Clearly, though, we need to put this in
the context of other upgrades you can make to your bike. Now, first of all, I’m going
to discount training aids like a power meter, because although these can make
a huge difference, they rely on you putting the work in over a long period
of time in order to actually make those gains and ultimately make you
faster. I’m also going to discount a bike fit, because although those
are undeniably a good investment for your cycling, it’s not exactly an
upgrade. What about tires though? A well-chosen tire can save a good
few watts of rolling resistance. In fact, the difference between a really
good tire and a rubbish tire can be as much as 20 watts at 40K
an hour, and that’s per wheel. Similarly, changing parts of your bike to
increase your comfort is quite a good idea. So swapping your handlebars and
saddle, even your seat post if you’re suffering out on the bike could be a
worthwhile investment. But while it might help you get more out of yourself on
the bike, it’s not actually making the bike itself go any faster.
Gears are a common upgrade, given that they wear out anyway
and regularly need replacing. But it has to be said that from
my experience there isn’t really any performance benefit when it comes to
replacing gears with more expensive ones when done on a component by component
basis. But what is undeniably a performance upgrade is maintaining what
you’ve already got. So keeping out some of your hardware, replacing like-for-like as
and when needed will keep your bike running smoothly and efficiently
and therefore making you faster. ♪ [music] ♪ But despite all of this, there is one
last factor to take into consideration, aesthetics. Now this is a can of worms
many people feel and we know they feel it, because they, some of you, tell us in the
comments section that making decisions based on aesthetics is shallow, a mug’s
game. And based on pure performance data from the lab, that much is true,
but I am going to respectfully disagree with you. To me, aesthetics do matter.
Now, I think this bike looks good as standard but replacing the
wheels makes it look seriously cool. I would be proud to open my
garage to a bike that looked like that. And that’s value to me should not be
underestimated, because perceptions and emotions have very real bearing on
performance. Now, you, it may not surprise you to hear, are not a laboratory,
hopefully not anyway. Humans are emotional, and emotions affect
performance. Feeling good is a great way to go faster, fact. Is that
a fact? I think it’s a fact, fact. ♪ [music] ♪ So, are wheels the most important
upgrades? Well, short of keeping on top of your bike maintenance which
wasn’t really an upgrade at all then yes, I think wheels do have the biggest
bearing on the performance of your bike. Tires for rung resistance, lightweight for
lower inertia, and improved aerodynamics for outright speed. However, whether
buying set of wheels that cost more than your entire bike will make
your bike perform better than a new and more expensive
one is a matter for debate. You guys know what to do. Let us know
in the comments section down below. Now, if you want to see a video about the top
10 other things we think might be worth upgrading, then you can click up there and
get straight through to a video on that. Or for a video about all the different
types of tires you can buy then click down there, and you go straight through to a
video about that. Before you go to either though, do make sure you subscribe to
GCN. To do that, you can click on my, well, upgraded and quite fancy looking
bike there. Just avoid that triple chain set , don’t click on that. I’m not sure
what would happen if you did that but yeah.

About the Author: Michael Flood

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