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Buyer's guide: best carbon wheels

Cyclist magazine
16 Sep 2020

High-performance bling for your bike, whether you’re racing or just want to look like a pro

We’re not sure if everyone feels this way, or if it’s the additives they put in cyclists’ electrolyte drinks, but there’s something incredibly appealing about a set of deep-section carbon wheels.

Sure, they offer a superior strength-to-weight ratio for more responsive handling, faster acceleration, less weight and a more aerodynamic shape to further enhance speed – but there’s still something more.

Added to almost any bike you care to think of, they provide that extra je ne sais quoi that will turn it up at least one notch on the awesome-o-meter.

For those riding with conventional calliper brakes rather than discs, here are five of the best wheelsets out there.

Best road bike carbon wheels

Best all-round: DT ARC 1400 Dicut 48

The shallowest of DT’s ARC range, the 48mm deep versions of the 1400 Dicut wheelset is a good general use option. Easily deep enough to give you a noticeable boost, but shallow enough to avoid weighing you down or causing too much trouble on a blustery day, if you’re only going to use one wheelset, these strike a good balance.

At a time when it’s getting difficult to find mainstream makers producing non-disc brake wheels, these pack in all the key modern accoutrements. This means they benefit from heat-resistant resin for consistent braking and come taped ready for tubeless set-up.

Their nipples are also hidden inside of the rim, for both improved aerodynamics and equally slippery aesthetics.

Famous for making among the best hubs you can get your paws on, these wheels are based around DT’s bomb-proof 240 SL ratchet system. Fast to engage, and easily serviceable, their internals will outlast cheaper hubs by thousands of miles.

Arriving with a dedicated wheel bag, valve stems and SwissStop Black Prince brake pads, they also include DT’s skewers which are some of the best you’ll find. 

Buy now from Chain Reaction for £700 (front) and £975 (rear)

Best value carbon wheelset: Prime RR-50 V3 C

A carbon wheelset at a price unthinkable a year or two ago. These 50mm deep rims are capable of injecting a huge dose of speed into most bikes. At 1,635g, they’re not super light, but given the likely aerodynamic benefits, they remain a good choice for almost every style of terrain.

Backed by a full range of spares from Wiggle, they come built using quality bearings and Pillar brand spokes. Tubeless-ready and with pre-fitted tape, they even arrive with a set of matching Prime carbon brake pads.

Further backed by a crash replacement programme, if you manage to write them off within two years of purchase, you can return the damaged hoops in exchange for a new pair at 40% off RRP. 

Buy now from Wiggle for £600

Best money no object carbon wheels: Enve SES 3.4

Now in its second iteration, Enve’s SES line up would seem to have a rim depth for everyone, starting with the 2.2, then moving up to the 3.4, the 4.5 and the 7.8, all for clincher tyres and rim brakes, though disc-brake versions are available too.

The update is to keep them in line with current tyre width understanding so they’re designed around the use of 25mm wide tyres.

You’ll notice from the images that Enve prefers a shallower front rim to rear and the names indicate the relative depths of each – our featured 3.4 model has a 38mm deep front and 42mm deep rear.

This is seen as a way to optimise aerodynamics and handling as the rear wheel isn’t affected in the same way by crosswinds. This pairing has a list weight of 1,477g.

While the rim is crucial, the hub is equally a hugely important component. For this Enve has partnered with Chris King – probably the world-leading name in hubs – which bumps up the price as the hubs alone would cost you £680 for the pair.

At this price, it’s no surprise that Enve wheels have been developed with extensive wind tunnel time to make sure they’re optimised for speed, handling and weight. 

Buy now from Merlin Cycles for £3,200

Best for mixed conditions: Hunt 3650 Carbon Wide Aero

Hunt is a relative newcomer but with a fairly small but dedicated line-up, there is plenty to recommend the West Sussex-based brand.

First and foremost has to be the pricing – the price tag is keen, to say the least, yet there isn’t a whiff of corner-cutting. Selling direct helps no end in achieving this.

Hunt offers two carbon clinchers with a 36mm or 50mm deep rim, either paired up to make a matching combo or as we selected, a split with a 36 front and 50 rear, which have a list weight of 1,477g. Whichever you go for, it’s the same price.

Tubeless-compatible, the brake surfaces sit 27mm apart and the internal width is 19mm, meaning they are perfect for 23-28mm wide tyres.

Heat management is important, as is stopping power, so to this end Hunt has used an extra friction brake track it calls Griptec and a High TG resin holding the Toray carbon together that is rated to above 200ºC to make sure you can’t cook them.

Lastly, the sealed bearings come from EZO in Japan.

Buy now from Hunt Bike Wheels for £739

Best low-profile wheelset: Mavic Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL

Mavic Ksyrium Pro Carbon SL rim

One of the longest established wheel makers, it’s taken French brand Mavic some time to make a carbon wheel it’s happy with.

With a listed weight of 1,390g and a rim depth of 25mm, Mavic has created a great carbon clincher wheel for those targeting low weight and stiffness with a rounded profile that claims to make it one of the fastest wheels in the category.

One of the biggest downsides of carbon wheels is the braking performance, so it’s unsurprising that Mavic has gone after this with the use of something it calls iTgMax technology, which stands for Integral Glass Transition Temperature.

This gives a one-piece rim contour without cutting fibres so it’s more resilient, while the brake surface is laser machined to give an efficient stopping surface.

Straight-pull spokes keep weight down and make for a quicker responding wheel and, of course, like all Mavic wheels, their own tyres are included in the price.

Now a few years old, these wheels still hold their own in most situations. And having had their price slashed too, they’re well worth considering.

Read our full review here 

Buy now from Wiggle for £1,399

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