Once you’ve dialed in your position on the bike, the next most important purchase you’ll make in the search for the fastest bike split is a set of fast race wheels. Typically, the deeper the rims the faster the wheel, but that needs to be balanced against the handling characteristics of the wheel. Disc wheels are prohibited at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii because the winds can be so strong that even the world’s best triathletes can run into problems on their bikes. So, if you’re going to invest in a speedy set of wheels, you’ll of course want to get the fastest option available, but make sure you temper that choice with the realities of being able to comfortably ride the wheels in challenging conditions. As you’ll see from our choices below, picking a wheelset isn’t easy – there’s lots of choice and they’re all excellent.
One of the biggest debates you’ll have when it comes to picking a race wheel is whether to go with a tubular (often referred to as a sew up – the tire and tube are sewed together and glued to the rim) or clincher (tube and tire separate) rim. Up until a few years ago it was always felt that tubular tires were faster than clinchers, but recently manufacturers have been claiming that their clincher wheelsets are testing faster. What used to be a nobrainer decision has become a bit more complicated, but more often than not triathletes will do well to lean towards a clincher wheel since they’re easier to change and maintain. There are lots of us, though, who can’t bring ourselves not to race on tubulars no matter what the scientists tell us.
This 78 mm deep wheelset offers an aero design and a light-weight forged aluminum hub for excellent performance even in the windiest conditions. The 7001-T6 freehub is specially designed to be 18 per cent stronger than other aluminum freehubs, which improves power transfer so more of your effort goes into moving you forward. In addition to being fast, these wheels are tough, too, with a maximum weight limit of 220 lbs. These speedy wheels also provide excellent braking power so you can push yourself to the limit with confidence.
At 80-mm deep, the Bora Ultra improves on the original 50-mm deep Ultra 50 rim set (which couldn’t have been easy), the choice of some of the world’s fastest time trial athletes. Super-light, the Bora wheels are hand built by Campagnolo technicians and use high end CULT hubs with ceramic bearings. The result is a super-sleek wheel that offers excellent lateral stiffness and precious little rolling resistance.
Using Ceramic Speed bearings, the Black Eighty offers excellent performance and power transfer with a sleek 80-mm deep rim. Black Inc. offers that speedy wheel in a tubular combo package along with the Black Disc, which makes for a lightweight (1,972 g for both wheels) and speedy wheelset.
Bontrager Aeolus 9 TLRD3 Clincher US$1,830 (F), US$2,240 (R)
While many manufacturers have made their rims thicker, the Aeolus 9, at 19.5 mm thick, maintains a sleek profile that tucks into your aero frame providing a stealth-like set up. Using the same OCLV carbon that you’ll find in Trek’s high end carbon bikes, these 90-mm deep rims handle extremely well even in the toughest wind conditions thanks to the dual-direction design profile.
As is befitting the high-end Dura Ace moniker, the C75s combine outstanding aerodynamics, along with excellent performance and durability. With 75-mm deep rims, these 21-spoke wheels combine a smooth ride with excellent lateral stiffness that allows you to power through virtually any course or climb.
Thanks to a wide, 24-mm thick profile, the Textreme Carbon disc has a wide, aerofoil profile to cheat the wind and gain you valuable seconds. Using monocoque TOW carbon construction techniques, PRO has managed to create a disc that not only goes fast, but one that also provides a smooth ride and excellent performance – you feel like all the effort you’re putting into the pedals goes in to moving you forward.
Remember the days when people were hesitant to go with a Powertap wheelset because it added a bit of weight? Those days are long gone. Now you can get a wheel that offers super-accurate power reading in a lightweight, speedy package. With SES carbon rims made by ENVE, the GS 6.7 uses Powertap’s GS hub that provides power data accurate to 1.5 per cent that uses high-end DT Swiss components for a smooth, fast and efficient ride.
Even though athletes like Sebastian Kienle have been ripping up courses on the regular 808 wheelset, the engineers at Zipp decided they could make the wheels even faster. The NSW version pulls out all the stops, including a hub that uses the Axial Clutch system to disengage the ratchet when coasting, along with graphics that are built into the wheel and an improved dimple system to improve aerodynamics. The end result is a wheel that tests three to four watts better (resulting in 90 seconds improvement over an Ironman race).