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Buyer's guide: Best disc wheelsets

Cyclist magazine
5 Aug 2021

Pick your perfect disc wheelset, from entry-level alloy all-rounders to high performance carbon

Disc brakes are now a permanent part of the road cycling scene. Freeing your rims from the responsibility of providing a braking surface, the switch to discs has allowed for a renaissance in wheel design. With wild new profiles now easily achievable, the latest disc wheelsets are faster, stronger and more user-friendly than riders would have dared dreamed possible just a few years ago.

As with all things bike, you can spend as much or as little as you like. With increasing spend, look for lower weight, carbon construction, aero profiles, faster hub engagement and better quality bearings and spokes for improved durability.

If you’re buying a new disc brake-equipped bike, we’d recommend looking for bolt-through hubs which are stiffer when riding and will allow consistent positioning when replacing the wheel in the frame. For this reason, bolt-through fixings have become near standard. That said, there are still plenty of options for bikes with the spacing for traditional quick-release 9mm hubs.

Future-proofing your purchase is also smart, so look for tubeless-ready rims, adaptable axles fixings and wider rim widths if you think you might upgrade your frame at some point.

The best road bike disc brake wheelsets

Scribe Aero Wide 32 Carbon Disc Wheelset

These wide, tubeless-ready carbon wheels will perk up any bike. Light, stiff, and just deep enough to provide a noticeable boost, at £870 they’re also dirt cheap. Easy to handle in blustery conditions and with a quick to engage 54-tooth hub, they use high-spec components including straight-pull Sapim CX-ray spokes.

Available to fit all major standards, they arrive pre-taped and with a kit containing valve-stems, spare spokes, and rotor adapters. With an external width of 30mm and 21mm internal seat, they work best with tyres 25c and up, imparting a perfectly rounded profile to models 28c and up.

Using a ramped rim bed, tyres go on easily, while the design of the rim aims to hold them in place securely, even at low pressures. This is especially welcome on a wheel that would also be deadly fast on a cyclocross bike.

Verdict: So cheap you’ll be looking for weak links. Good luck finding them; these wheels are light, stiff, and ludicrously cheap.

Buy now from Scribe for £870

Hunt 48 Limitless Aero Disc Wheelset

Hunt claims these are the fastest sub-50mm road disc wheels in the world. While we’ve nowhere near enough dosh to stick them in a wind tunnel to independently verify this, we can confirm they’re plenty quick. Considering that it’s possible to spend in excess of three thousand pounds on equivalent products from more established brands, these hunt wheels promise Premier League performance at Conference prices.

Getting on for being as wide as they are deep, Hunt uses something called Limitless Technology to boost the volume of the rims without increasing the weight. Using a low-density polymer to bulk out the carbon sidewall, early versions hit a pothole, both literally and figurately when the first generation had to be recalled.

Now relaunched, Hunt says the design of the rims allows them to maintain aerodynamic efficiency with tyres as wide as 30mm, but will also still happily mount a set of 23mm tyres. As seen beneath Team Qhubeka ASSOS, they've got WorldTour pedigree too. 

Buy now from Hunt for £1,289

Fulcrum Racing 4 DB

Long the sign of a mid-range bicycle with a more-than-averagely thoughtful designer, Fulcrum’s Racing 4s have recently had an overhaul. Making them even better for adding a little extra whizz to a bike with unbranded alloy hoops, this has seen them gain many of the latest design features necessary to make your old wheels jealous. 

Key among them is an increased rim width of 19mm and a two-way fit tubeless capability allowing for tubeless or clincher tyres to be used. Arriving taped and ready to go, their rims have also been nibbled down to give an overall weight of 1,710g, which is pretty good for something that’s likely to be both bombproof and features a usefully-aero 34mm-deep profile. 

According to Fulcrum, the Racing 4s have even been adopted by Cofidis for their training bikes. And although this is probably because they’ve been paid to, we’d still expect these to make an excellent training wheelset if the reliability of Fulcrum's previous attempts is anything to go by.  

DT Swiss ER 1400 Disc Wheelset

A workhorse wheelset with some thoroughbred traits. Using the same Spline hubs found on the brand’s top-end wheels, these employ DT’s ratchet design. Both extremely durable and very light, this sees two interlocking rings sporting 36-teeth combine to provide a fast 10° engagement. The result is you won’t have to turn the pedals far before the wheels jump into action.

The rims are alloy but don’t let this put you off, they’re still light. This is despite being broad at 20mm across the inside. Meaning you’ll want to match them to tyres of at least 25c, and the design will support models up to 35c making them suitable for gravel or cyclocross. Low in profile, they’re no trouble in crosswinds.

With straight-pull spokes and bolt-through hubs, they’re plenty stiff, although conventional nipples mean they’re easy enough to service. Seamless conversion to tubeless is pretty much standard now, and the ER 1400s don’t disappoint in this respect either. A simple but durable wheelset that’s light and versatile.

Buy now from Freewheel for £795

Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3V TLR Disc Road Wheelset

Tough enough for gravel, easily fast enough for the road. This broad-rimmed carbon wheelset will support both oversized tyres and rides, thanks to a 25mm inner rim width and no weight limit. The V in the Aeolus Pro 3V name stands for volume. Meaning you’ll need to run tyres at least 28mm wide, if you’re after something more conventional, look for the standard model.

Moving on to the next bit of the name, the TLR means they’re TubeLess Ready. Best set up this way and with tyres 32c wide and up, doing so should give you the optimum profile for both traction and aerodynamics. Able to be adapted to fit the most common bolt-through standards, most are likely to find their way onto high-spec gravel or cyclocross builds, although with a conventional maximum PSI rating there’s no reason you couldn’t run them on a forward-thinking road bike either.

Taking care of propulsion is Bontrager’s Rapid Drive rear hub which offers 108 points of engagement via six alternating pawls. Backed by a generous crash replacement programme and lifetime warranty, they should keep rolling as long as you want them.

Buy now from Trek for £1,100 

Vision TC 40 disc wheelset

Easy to set up, great in crosswinds, very robust, and under £800; there’s a lot to recommend Vision’s revised TC 40 wheelset. And while they’re not the very lightest you can find, given the cost, they’re still pretty respectable at 1,650g for the pair.

Able to be run either tubeless or with conventional inner tubes, their 19mm inner diameter and 25.5mm outer is perfectly suited to a 25c tyre. Allowing the most aerodynamic rim and tyre combination, they’ll still play well with wider 28c options.

In terms of depth, the Vision TC 40’s 40mm profile provides the perfect sweet spot between speed and stability. Nippier than a shallow wheel but less hairy in blustery conditions than the more common 55mm depth (in which the TC wheels are also available), we found ourselves keeping up on the hills and not getting blown about on the flat, so we were happy all round.

For less than £800, these wheels represent a tempting first pair of carbon hoops for anyone considering upgrading the alloy wheels that came on their bike. Near-ideal for most kinds of riding while they’re not quite race-ready mountain-flatteners being low on compromise and high on performance makes them easy to recommend. Read our full review here.

Buy now from Tredz for £799

Specialized Roval SLX-24 Disc Wheelset 

It’s almost hard to believe that Roval can make a disc brake wheel that’s suitable for everyday use as well as cyclocross racing.

Forget the fact they're aluminium and not carbon. The fact they weigh just 1,515g and promise to be super durable means they're still well worth considering. 

It’s worth pointing out, however, that SLX-24s are not the broadest of rims, nor are they aerodynamically tuned, but then again not everyone wants these things anyway.

Built with Roval aero hubs, the internals of which are nearly infallible thanks to the use of DT’s 350 star-ratchet system, it’s safe to say that they’ll take quite a beating without a fuss. This is further aided by using DT Competition Race spokes.

Available with quick-release endcaps or 12mm bolt-thru front and 12mm x 142mm rear bolt-thru axle compatibility.

Mavic Ksyrium Elite Disc Wheelset

In Mavic’s range of disc brake road wheels, the choices are mind-blowing, with 14 versions from the entry-level £165 Aksiums upwards.

This beautiful set of carbon-rimmed Ksyrium Elite wheels are an excellent carbon upgrade costing just £449 for the set.

Designed to run Mavic’s own 25mm tyres, which are included in the price, they are very much a set for best rather than everyday use but are certainly capable all-rounders. The internal rim width is 19mm and tubeless-ready, too, making these also suitable for gravel riding.

Mavic has also managed to keep weight for the pair down to 1670g despite being an aluminium rim. A great pair of wheels that are very versatile and even come with tyres.

Deda Elementi SL45DB

These wheels are a great example of the way aero technology has developed in recent years, and also of how a wheel upgrade is about more than becoming ever more slippery in the wind.

Gone are unwieldy performance hoops so deep and pointy you could slice your finger on them. Replacing them are wheels like Deda’s Elementi SL45DB which approach aerodynamic performance by focusing not only on the depth of the rim but also increasing its width. 

Giving tyres a profile that should help smooth the progress of the air as it passes over them, they’re also far better than older style in crosswinds. Of course, at 45mm deep, they’re still quick, just no longer scarily so.

Weight is also as you’d want it for a pair of proper racing wheels, being 1.28kg for the rear and 1.66kg for the front. Despite this, they’re also a good deal cheaper than carbon wheels from just a few years ago.

Although, incredibly, not nearly the cheapest you can find. Are they the ones for you? Read our full review here and find out.

Buy now from Swinnerton for £1,350

Zipp 454 NSW Disc Wheelset

Put very roughly, the deeper your wheels, the less drag they’re likely to generate. However, go too deep and they’ll start to become unruly in anything other than dead-calm conditions. The quest to create wheels that are both efficient and stable is one many cyclists and manufacturers seem happy to fling money at.

With their jagged whale-fin profile, Zipp claims to have cracked this conundrum. Apparently the design, ‘reduces aerodynamic drag while improving crosswind control through higher frequency wind vortex shedding’. This works by ‘generating a greater number of smaller, less powerful, yet more predictable vortices to create a wheel with superior stability’.

As I studied English and not science, I’ve no idea what that means. However, Zipp claims it allows these 58mm deep rims to manage the same sort of stability as its shallower 45mm deep 303 Firecrest wheels. When our tame racer, Stu Bowers took them for a spin down some blustery Dorset lanes, he was inclined to agree.

Buy now from Tredz for £3,570

Read our Zipp 454 NSW wheel review: here

Prime BlackEdition 38 Carbon Disc Wheelset

The switch away from using the rim as a braking surface has not only improved wheel design, it’s made the prospect of cheaper carbon rims a less nervy one. Backed by the UK’s largest cycling retailer, these models from Wiggle/Chainreaction house-brand Prime are stunningly good value.

Able to fit either bolt-thru or 9mm axle fittings, their 28mm deep, 25mm wide aero rims will provide an enormous improvement over the standard alloy wheelsets native to most mid-range bikes. With a low weight of 1,404g, they benefit from DT Swiss straight-pull spokes and a robust free-hub design. Coming pre-taped and with valves for tubeless set-up, Centre-Lock rotor fixings further help easy their initial installation. Perhaps a tad narrower than the very latest design, given their low price, there’s still nothing here to moan about.

Buy now from Wiggle for £699

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