Saturday, February 10, 2024

The Guitar Ted Wheel Series: Cheap vs Expensive

What Do You Get For Your Money?

Wheel prices can be all over the place for a wheel that you may be looking for. Cheap, foreign made wheels all the way up to expensive wheels with US made components. Which is best? Can you get top dollar performance for little cash outlay? Do you always "get what you pay for", or is there a point of diminishing returns?

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when looking at wheel sets. I have some opinions based upon my research and experiences. Here goes...

If It Looks Too Good To Be True - It Probably Is: Let's say you are in the market for some gravel wheels with through axles and carbon rims. You shop around online and see an ad for wheels costing $500.00/pr. They look just like the $1500.00 wheels! Why pay more when you can get those wheels for less?

Because they are not as good. How can I say that? Because materials, like carbon fiber, come in varying qualities. There is "excellent" quality carbon, "average quality" carbon, and - you guessed it - poor quality carbon. Same goes for bearings, hub shells, etc. Cheaper parts may look the same, but may not last as long, weigh what you think, or be replaceable/serviceable. A wheelset for $500.00 is not going to have the same quality parts or materials as a $1500.00 set. Not to mention the probability of the more expensive wheels having a crash replacement warranty, service after the sale, and replacement parts down the road. But as always, if you want to gamble with your money, that's your call. 

A good warranty and service after the sale is worth something.
Research & Development, Service, and Warranties Are Not "Free":

Good and better wheelsets have warranties worth the digital images they are communicated with and research and development that goes into a wheelset can make those wheels perform at a higher level. 

That stuff is not free.

And you have to decide - honestly - if that matters to you. If it does, then your wheelset will meet and maybe exceed your expectations, be utterly forgettable while riding (a good thing - See the previous post in the series), and if you have a problem, there can be a reasonable solution. And you'll have better resale value, if that matters to you. 

If It Matters To You - It Is "Worth It": Then you have things like "Made In The USA", brand image, "parking lot cred", (it's a real thing in places), and ultra-technical, fine details that may give you an infinitesimal advantage. These things add dollars and won't make you go any faster, ride smoother, or make the wheels last any longer, probably. But....if you have the scratch, you can buy into those things if they matter to you. As an example, I saw a wheelset offered recently with gold leaf lettering on the carbon rims. No one needs that, and it made the wheelset cost $7,000.00, reportedly. But hey! Who am I to say that's crazy? Well, I am Guitar Ted, and I say "That's crazy!", so there! 

Image courtesy of Easton

There Are Lots Of Great Wheels Out There

This is probably why people have such a hard time choosing wheels for themselves. There are just too many good ones! Seriously. If you purchase a wheelset in Aluminum from $500.00 - $1000.00, or a carbon wheelset from around a grand to maybe a bit more than 1500 bucks, you are probably in the sweet spot for great wheels. 

I've tested a lot of wheelsets and ridden even more. All of them had differences, of course, but almost every one of them were at least "good" and many were great. I can think - off the top of my head - of maybe two or three wheels that were really bad. (Crank Brothers. oof!) So, yes - There are stinkers out there, but in this day and age of instantaneous reviews and reactions, a product cannot afford to be sub-par and last in the marketplace very long. That is just reality in 2024. 

Conclusions: So, to answer the question - Cheap versus Expensive, which is best? The answer? Neither one! Look more toward the middle ground, and only spend more if the nuances mean anything to you. 

Next: Materials: Why Aluminum or Carbon Rims May Be Best For You.

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