Thursday, February 08, 2024

The Guitar Ted Wheel Series: What Wheels Will Work For You?

 You, Your Riding Style, and Wheels:

So, what pair of wheels would be best for you? That's really what the question is, isn't it? Beyond some standard prerequisites like being true, strong, reasonably lightweight, and affordable, what things do you need to look at when it comes to a pair of wheels? 

I have, in the past when working with customers in a retail setting, asked a few important questions that helped me get them on a set of wheels that they would be happy with. Wheels that they could forget about and just go on about their ride. This is probably the goal most cyclists should strive for when dealing with choosing wheels. Your ability to be able to forget about the wheels and enjoy cycling is not a quality I - nor anyone else - can build into a wheel set.  I will just say that continuous thought about the minutiae of a wheel's details and how that might affect anything is counterproductive and is stealing your joy of cycling. It will be something that will drive you to madness. 

Your choice there, but I would highly discourage such activity.

The Rider: So, with that said let's move on. I would first think realistically about you and your skill level. For example, if I were dealing with a 6'3" man that weighed 250lbs that wanted a low spoke count wheel set that weighed under 1300 grams to be used on weekend rides and for RAGBRAI, and cost $500.00 well...... I might suggest something a bit more utilitarian, and if that wasn't going to fly, well I would wish the man well. There are some things that can be done but maybe should not be done. Assess yourself honestly and buy a wheel set accordingly and you will be able to forget about the wheels and have fun. There are weight limit concerns and materials meant for daily usage. Dismiss this and well..... I hope you have a great working relationship with a wheel builder/repair person. Because you'll be visiting them often. 

Secondly, and related to the above, would be concerning wheels meant for racing. If you only use those wheels for racing, then fine. However; keep in mind that 'racing' by definition, means that the wheel set is bumping against the cutting edges of technology and "long-term durability" is generally not a concern. Racing wheels should get you through an event. They were not meant for daily-driving. Can you get away with that anyway? Maybe. Maybe not. Many people do, but again, if you want to not have to think about the possibility that your racing wheel set will meet its demise sooner than later, then that racing thing should be avoided. Again - your choice. In general, racing wheels that fail because they were used for things beyond what they were designed for doesn't make that wheel set "bad". It usually means the rider chose poorly.

A Note On Gravel Wheels: The category of gravel has infused a bit more utility and durability into wheel sets and this has mitigated the chances that you might choose a fragile set of racing wheels instead of a set of wheels you can forget about and just ride. Fortunately, this has made wheel choice for bikes in this category less dependent upon that concern. However; you still need to honestly assess yourself and how you ride. 

Rider Skill Type: Throughout my thirty-plus years of being a mechanic, I have run across many instances where a rider had a riding style that was incompatible with making things last a long time. There definitely are things riders can do to either shorten a components lifespan or lengthen it, and wheels are not immune to this. 

Leaving the oblivious things aside like doing bunny-hops, jumps, and drop-offs behind, which are all high-stress activities for wheels, I would like to point out a more subtle issue many riders have. I call it "wrestling the bike" down the road. 

This riding style is typified by the use of a gear or two that is too high, low cadence, torquing on the cranks and handle bars, and a general lack of smoothness and the ability to "flow" with the bike, not against it. If you have trouble "holding a straight line" while riding easy, flat terrain, or if you really wrench on the cranks and bars while climbing, you may be a "bike wrestler". (Single speeders may have to do this out of necessity to some degree)

All of that stresses wheels and can shorten the lifespan of a lightweight, more fragile wheel set. So, assess your skill level and intentions for a wheel set. If you are stressing out equipment by your riding style, be that through doing stunts or simply by your natural style, then you might want to account for that in your wheel choices. 

The gravel category has been responsible for bringing more practicality to wheels.

Not Every Wheel Is A Good One For You:

So, keep in mind that there are a lot of wheel choices out there that may not be good ones based upon who you are and how and where you ride. But that doesn't mean that you cannot have a "nice set of wheels". It just means that you need to be realistic in your expectations and match those with an appropriate set of choices. And then  - while it may seem obvious - you actually just have to make a choice. So many people get stuck here that it is mind-boggling. Going to social media for "advice" is also not really going to help you there either. In fact, it causes more confusion. Don't ask there. Ask a professional wheel builder instead. You'll be glad that you did.

In the end, the choices you have in front of you should lead you to many good wheel sets or ways to have some built up for you. Then that all should lead to a set of wheels that will bring you many miles of smiles and an ability to focus on riding, not on wheels

Next: Cheap vs Expensive: What Do You Get For Your Money?


tntmoriv said...

Thanks for running this wheel series. You already pointed out the categories you will be covering so I have nothing else to suggest! But I did want to thank you for meandering down this path. Have a great day!

Guitar Ted said...

@tntmoriv - Thank you! I hope that your day goes well also.