Advice for new wheelset. Stick with aluminium?

Hi All

I’m looking for advice on upgrading my wheelset and also to reinforce that my current thought process (and that of my LBS) is on the correct path.

About the bike: I ride a Trek Emonda SL6 - rim brakes. Currently using Campagnola Zondas (C15 version) although rear wheel pretty much needs replacing now and was thinking about an upgrade anyway

About me: 74kg average recreational / club rider. I live in a fairly hilly area so most group rides are over rolling terrain (2-3000 ft climbing in a typical 40 -50 mile ride). There are also some sustained climbs of around 25 mins although I’d say these only feature in say 10% of group rides, due to group avoidance!

I will also do a few sportives in the UK which tend to be reasonably hilly. My local one is 95 miles and 7,500 ft climbing.

Over the last few years I also do one or two cycling trips in Europe with some of the guys and these tend to be fairly mountainous (Asturias or Andalucia in Spain) or Alps / Ventoux etc.

I do not race or do TT.

in discussing with my LBS they believe that I should stick to an aluminium wheelset especially due to the fact that there are mountain descents involved. My LBS owner ( an ex pro mechanic) says that carbon clinchers on rim brakes are best avoided udue to heat dissipation etc unless you are purchasing a high end wheel. I would say that I am also a bit of a brake dragger on long descents rather than the advised sharp on and off technique!

Although deeper carbon wheels look great I do tend to agree that they don’t necessarily suit my type of riding apart from the flatter group rides., although I do have concern that shallow rim wheels will need to be worked harder on fast group rides.

Therefore I have narrowed my search to focus on aluminium rim brake wheelsets with a wider internal width than the Zondas, reasonably light, tubeless ready with good braking and handling. Budget is £1,000 but less if I can. I am considering the DT Swiss PR 1400 Dicut Oxic (£850 RRP) or the Bontrager Paradigm Elite TLR (£750 RRP). The LBS usually give me a discount between 5-10%.
LBS are also recommending these wheelsets as they advise these wheels are easier to service and to find replacement parts (e.g spokes as they both use DT Swiss). They advise that the issue with Campag / Fulcrum is that if I break a spoke whilst on a trip abroad there could be issues in fixing it within a day) so I have ruled out Fulcrum Racing Zero and Campag equivalent.

Note : LBS can source most wheels not so just selling me brands they supply. Will have to order in whatever I get.

Questions; Do you think the LBS and my own thinking is correct ( i.e. stick with aluminium due to braking performance and riding terrain etc)

Any experience with either these wheelsets. Especially interested in Bontrager experience as not many reviews on line.

Any other wheels that I should consider?

Thanks for reading the long post and any advice given!

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I recently had the similar quandary. In the end I went with Shimano’s Dura-ace C40 wheelset as they are currently around the £1k mark in the UK. They have an aluminium brake surface rim as I also had reservations around the brake performance but still get the benefit of a aero carbon profile and reasonably lightweight. I am also running these tubeless with GP5000 TL’s but they were incredibly tight to fit and a lot harder to install than Hutchinson’s tubeless tyres have I was running on my Ultegra wheelset!


I have a set of the DT Swiss for pretty much the same use case as you (I have some carbon tubulars for racing).

Maybe some aero carbon wheels will be faster, but if you’re not racing, then why do you need to go faster? And is that worth sacrificing braking/weight/money for? Probably not.

I think in UK conditions (steep, narrow, wet!) aluminium braking surface is still the best choice if you’re on rim brakes. Could be worth looking at a carbon wheel with an aluminium brake track though, would allow you to get something a little deeper and more aero (and bling looking!) without sacrificing braking. Mavic Cosmic carbon with the exalith braking surface are reasonably good value and serviceable. HED Jet Blacks are also a great mix of performance and value if your shop can source them.

DT Swiss hubs are not quite what they were a few years ago (in my view).

I’d go with another set of Zondas. HED alloy are also great wheels.

My question would be why do you think you need carbon? IMO I really don’t think you’d see much of a performance advantage if you aren’t racing. I’d buy some nice aluminum wheels and put the saved money towards something else.

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I think you could definitely get away with full CF rims in terms of weight, etc.

The question you need to answer is whether or not you can overpower your bad habit of dragging the brakes.

My personal recommendation is Boyd. I’ve been through 4 or 5 different wheel sets (from Gen 1 until the most recent gen) and have alway been happy with their quality + customer service (I’ve gotten to meet + chat with Boyd and Nicole several times at industry gatherings).

The 44mm carbon clinchers are great, handle well in the cross winds and have served me very well in the Santa Monica Mtns — where its no problem to hit a descent with 60-ish turns inside of 3.5 miles, a -22% switchback or a straight run where you easily hit 50 mph (80km) . . . or link those all up in an 80 mile ride.

I’m your weight. The key is understanding how to brake properly, when to pulse your brakes, etc.

If you end up going with an aluminum rim, look at the Boyd Altamont ceramic coated rims. They are also absolutely SUPERB! Those rims, paired with some Pillar bladed spokes or CX-Rays + a high end hub like Onyx or White Industry (upgraded pawl system) would be absolutely killer. And, if I remember correctly, should be able to build up around 1550g. (24 hole f/r, White Industry T11, CX-rays + tubeless tape)

I have no complaints about HED, Enve, Corima, Bontrager or Zipp wheels. TBH Enve and Zipp handle a bit better in cross winds but they’re (way) more expensive. Boyd has a great brake track so modulation (Even in wet) shouldn’t be a problem.

All that said, if you were limited to “cheap” carbon wheels I would say just go with aluminum. Cheap carbon is cheap for a reason . . . that reason might be life ending, front tooth removing, TBI causing, etc.

even if you are racing.

my last two podium finishes (one they had steps for top 5, so my 4th still counted, heh, heh) were on my alloy training wheels because I was too lazy to change brake pads.

for daily drivers, I still believe in alloy.

Yes, have a word with DCR Wheels and get them to build you a pair with some CX-Ray spokes. They stock a great range of high quality wide-section alu rims and will lace them to some lightweight hubs to give you a better wheel arguably than the “Big Brands”, lighter, stronger and most importantly serviceable when, for example, the rim needs replacing.

I have no affiliation with them other than I ordered a set of components from them for my local wheelbuilder to make me a nice pair of handbuilt wheels at 1500g, even using sensible stainless nipples and a reasonable spoke count. Their DCR branded BItex hubs are amazing quality and value if you want quality at a decent price and don’t just want to flash off a trendy brand (like Hunt for example who are essentially selling similar stuff (eg rebranded Novatech) but at a higher price).

EDIT: all my riding is on hilly terrain and it rains a lot here in Scotland so I woudn’t entertain carbon rims unless I went to disc brakes which is not really forseeable.

The aero profile of a decent 30mm+ alloy rim will not slow you down in a group ride vs all the bling deep carbon rims that your mates are on, and the bonus is that you will be able to stop if it rains, without any involuntary chamois-soiling incidents.

Easton EA90 SL. Tubeless ready, 27mm depth, 19.7mm inner width, reasonably light. I built up a set with these hoops and Miche hubs. My favorite wheels

Also look at the wheels offered by JRA - Just Riding Along in York. I had a set built for me about three years ago. They’ve done lots of club rides, gravel type excursions and have been faultless. John was great to work with and the quality is spot on. I’d be tempted to drop him a line and see what he recommends.
I have no affiliations but myself and my best riding buddy are very happy customers.
They seem to get good ratings in reviews too.
If I were after another set I’d certainly go with hand-built.

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HED Ardennes are amazing, the best training wheelset I have ever used. I had the black version, which is anodized and has a profiled brake track for better stopping power in the wet. If you want aero then go for the HED Jets, aluminium rim with a carbon dish, you can get them in black as well, but mine are just the standard.

If you want your own hubs you could also get the Belgium rim from HED, it comes in every configuration imaginable (tubeless, 23mm internal, 25mm internal, tubular, all of the spoke counts).

For that kind of budget you could get some lovely handbuilts, hub and rim of your choice.

I had a set of DT Swiss RR21 dicut in the past and found them to be a fantastic set of hoops. They were absolutely bombproof and rolled beautifully. From memory, I think the weight was ~1400g which is not to shabby for an aluminum wheelset. I rode them in all weather conditions, up and down some nasty inclines. In conjunction with Swissstop BXP brake pads, I never had any issues slowing down, even in some horrible scenarios.

I also had a set of Mavic Cosmic Carbon wheels with exalith rims. The stopping power of those exalith rims / pads is quite something.

If I was going to pull the trigger on a new set of rim brake wheels for a lot of climbing, I’d probably go Mavic R-SYS SLR. Sub 1300g and exalith rims.

The thing that put me off carbon rims was heat buildup with rim brakes and the potential to pop a tube on long descents :frowning_face:

I think you and your LBS are on the right track. There’s a lot of parity in the wheel market. You’ve identified ones that meet your criteria; choose one that excites you.

For traveling: just buy a few spokes for your wheel (front, rear drive, rear non-drive) and put them in your bike travel bag.

I agree with your LBS. Their advice is totally sound. I’ve been in the sorry position of having to wait weeks for spokes for a wheel that weren’t a simple off the shelf standard. It sucks.

Another option though to consider is Shimano Dura-Ace C24 clinchers. These wheels are superb. Completely bomb proof and very light. They will come in under budget.

spokes. yep, one more reason for some HED alloy rims. I have two sets of HED Belgium + DT Swiss hubs/powertap rear. One bladed spokes, one round. Easy fix for the local shop.

CycleDivisions Cero AR 24 & 30 are highly regarded. Scrible Race wheels reviewed well on both under £400.00

Hi All

Thanks very much for the considered replies (and apologies for the delay in acknowledging them!).

Really useful comments and looks like it’s pretty unanimous that aluminium is the way to go. I feel more confident that’s best way forward now. I will also look into some of the wheels recommended such as the HED Ardennes, Shimano C24 , Just Riding Along, Boyd etc etc.

Still struggling to find reviews of the Bontrager Paradigm elite TLR so would be very interested to hear of anyone with any experience of riding those. I don’t think they are very common here in the UK.

Thanks again for all the helpful feedback - much appreciated!