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The pros and cons of carbon wheels

Nothing beats a nice set of Full Carbon Clincher wheels in your road bike. Carbon wheels have great qualities, like stiffness. But there are also some snags: the carbon braking surface doesn’t have the same level of braking qualities as an aluminium rim surface, especially in the rain. On top of that, carbon wheels are seriously expensive. Are they worth it?

The times that one rider could win because he had a carbon wheelset in his bike are over. These days all professional riders have the best materials and they all choose the best full carbon wheels.

Carbon wielen voordelen en nadelenCarbon wheels have only gotten better over the past years. The teething problems of the first sets are solved, and the braking performances have improved as well. The wheels are much cheaper than before, so they are also more accessible for recreational riders.

It is about time to look at the pros and cons of this popular product. We offer a short overview, and below you can read more about those pros and cons.

Pros

  • Stiffness
  • Weight
  • Aerodynamics
  • Looks

Cons

  • Braking qualities
  • Heat resistance (during braking a lot of heat is generated by the brakes)
  • Durability
  • Price

Pros of carbon wheels

Stiffness

Carbon wheels are stiffer than aluminium wheels. Especially during sprints and in the corners the stiffness is valuable. During sprints the carbon wheels transform all of your pedal strokes into speed.
Carbon wielen voordelen en nadelenIn corners the stiffness is apparent as well, with great handling qualities and easy acceleration.

Weight

Carbon fiber is a light material. This is apparent when you compare them to aluminium wheels: carbon wheels with a 45mm rim, which is higher than normal, have the same weight as aluminium wheels with a 20mm rim.

Aerodynamics

Is carbon more aerodynamic than aluminium? Probably not in itself. However, the way carbon is used in wheels makes sure that aerodynamics are better.

Carbon wielen voordelen en nadelenCarbon makes it possible to produce higher rims that are still relatively light. The higher rims guide the air better, and therefore reduce drag.

Looks

Carbon wheels with high rim simply look great on a bike, what more can we say?
Carbon wielen voordelen en nadelenPerhaps that is one of the most important qualities in a full carbon clincher. A set of high carbon wheels are an asset on every bike.

Cons of carbon wheels

Braking

Despite the manufacturers’ best efforts to get the best braking qualities, most carbon wheels simply don’t achieve the same level of wheels with an aluminium braking surface.

Carbon wielen voordelen en nadelenEspecially in the rain. This doesn’t mean that carbon wheels have bad braking qualities, period. Most carbon wheels are almost as good as aluminium wheels in this area, and only in the rain you notice the difference between aluminium and carbon.

Durability

Carbon is an incredibly strong material and carbon wheels last long. The stiffness of carbon wheels do have drawbacks, though. In case of a crash, aluminium often bends or dents. Carbon, however, can handle much less force than aluminium, so the consequences are worse. Often carbon is damaged beyond repair in case of an impact. Carbon isn’t made for the kinds of forces that are generated during a crash.

Heat resistance (during braking)

A carbon wheel consists of layers of carbon that are glued together with resin. The layers of carbon are heated in a mould to get the right shape. This results in an incredibly strong material.

Carbon wielen voordelen en nadelenThe drawback of the resin is that it loses its stiffness because of heat. This is the reason why some people have trouble with carbon wheels in long descents.

When the carbon reaches a certain temperature (generally somewhere between 180 and 280 degrees, depending on the manufacturer) the resin will become weaker which results in the rim being less stiff. The high pressure of the inner tyre can lead to the rim losing its shape or even a blowout.

Braking power and temperature

You need a lot of braking to achieve that kind of heat, so it doesn’t mean that carbon clinchers are not suitable at all for the mountains.

Carbon wielen voordelen en nadelen

Someone who hardly brakes during descending will have all the advantages, with the stiffness and the aerodynamics.

Price

Carbon wheels are expensive. Most wheelsets still cost around 1500 pounds. It needs saying that carbon clinchers have become more affordable over the past years.

Our own Mantel wheels prove that it is possible to offer wheels that cost less than 1200 pounds, and are professionally built.

Disc brake wheels

The great leap forward that disc brakes offer, is only truly apparent when you look at the disadvantages. Many of these drawbacks can be forgotten when you use disc brakes instead of disc brakes.

Carbon wielen voordelen en nadelenA disc brake is primarily designed to brake, and carbon rims simply aren’t. A disc brake has better qualities on all levels than a (carbon) rim brake.
Add to this that you only need to replace the disc and braking pads, instead of the entire wheel when the brakes are worn out, and you can hardly overlook disc brakes anymore.

Conclusion

Carbon wheels have many advantages compared to aluminium wheels. They are stiffer, responsive, and direct handling qualities.

The light material makes it possible to create higher rims which makes this material perfect for aerodynamics, and carbon wheels look fantastic at that!

Carbon clinchers have drawbacks. The braking qualities are not at the same level and there is a chance that they lose their shape during long descents, which makes them less versatile than aluminium wheels.

These cons however, can be forgotten when you have disc brakes. In that case nothing beats a set of full carbon clinchers.

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Martin Luijk

Martin Luijk

I'm fond of both riding and racing. To me, getting on my bike is relaxing and fun, and I'm always up for a challenge! Entering a race, or going on a 200 kilometer sportive are certainly some of the possibilities. I work as the product manager for wheels at Mantel.

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