bike wheels
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After choosing the right bike frame your wheels should be your next most important consideration. But what should you be looking for when it comes to upgrading your wheels? Do you know your rims from your hubs? Your bearings from your nipples? have put together this guide on wheel composition to help set you on the right track.

Your bike wheels are undoubtedly the most important part of your set-up: without them you’re not getting anywhere fast! Not only are they essential to your basic ride, they can have a massive influence on getting that little bit of extra speed and comfort that could make a big difference.

What is the perfect wheel?

The perfect bike wheel should be light, stiff and aerodynamic, so it doesn’t slow you down and transfers all your energy from pedalling. If a wheel isn’t stiff it will feel spongy when accelerating out of the saddle or while sprinting and in some cases it may rub on the brake blocks. Light wheels are great for racing and hill climbing.

It’s useful to understand the make-up of your bike wheel so you know what to look for, and keep in mind that the more expensive wheels will have the premium parts.


These are normally the stand-out pieces of any bike wheel, and come in deep and shallow types. Deeper section wheels are more aerodynamic, while the shallow rims are lighter. The rims on a wheel have to be light because they are the furthest piece from the central axis and so, if you know your physics, will have the greatest ‘moments’, or weight resistance. Rims, like bikes, come in different materials, with the lighter carbon rims more expensive than the aluminium ones.


The hubs on a wheel are the centre part, and contain the axle and bearings. You get what you pay for with hubs, as the better ones with better bearings will definitely put you more out of pocket. In free wheel bicycles, the rear hub is a free hub so you can freewheel without turning the pedals, a pretty useful function.

The majority of new wheels now feature a free hub body designed for 11 speed cassettes but you can easily modify them to house 10 speed ones as well.


The hubs contain bearings which enable the hub to rotate on the axle and keep the wheel spinning. The better bearings on the market run more smoothly and with less friction which will require less effort on your side, and come in ‘cup-and-cone’ or cartridge forms. Cartridge bearings are easier to install and replace, while the cup-and-cone ones need more careful calibration, although both will do the job. The more expensive bearings are normally made from ceramics


The spokes of a wheel are an integral part of the wheel set-up, and help to distribute pressure around the bike wheel and increase strength and firmness. The general rule is that the more spokes on a wheel, the stronger it will be, although you’ll have to sacrifice lightness for them. The arrangement of spokes isn’t that important, and they usually come in a laced pattern.


Despite the slightly odd name, the nipples on the wheel hold the spoke in place on the wheel and are typically made of brass due to it’s tensile strength as a material. The tension from the wheel is usually channelled into the nipple, so they do a pretty important job.

Braking Surface:

Disc brake specific wheels don’t feature a braking surface on the rim, but on those that do the surface will usually be made of aluminium or carbon. Aluminium is predominantly used as it is easier to make a perfectly flat surface and therefore gives you more consistent braking, and can also be grooved to help efficiency.

So that’s the main composition of most bike wheels that you’ll come across, and there’s wheels in every price range to suit your needs: there’s so many on the market that I’ll leave you to do your own research on that front.

You can also get different types of wheels, such as tubular wheels, clinchers and tubeless ones and they’re all built for slightly different purposes: tubular for racing, tubeless for endurance, and clinchers for all-round riding. Just remember the three main rules: your wheel should be light, aerodynamic and stiff. Anything else is just an added bonus.

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19 Comments on Bike Wheels and Their Importance

    • I know, Sonia! Apparently the type of wheels you use can make quite a difference. I say ‘apparently’ because my road bike still has the standard (and quite basic) wheels on that it came with, but I’d be interested to see if changing the wheels could help me ride faster. Could it possibly be as easy as that!? *puts the chocolate bar down*

  1. I am holding back from making an immature joke about nipples! Can’t believe there is so much to know. I think I might just get that bit confused….

    • You can do that Rachel,and I think lots of people do just that when they first start cycling. And that’s all you need to get going! Any bike with two wheels! But then as your love of cycling develops, there is so much you can consider…if you want to.

  2. Well I’ve certainly learnt a lot about bike wheels. I hadn’t really considered that there was so much to them.

    • There are so many great bikes for women out there at the moment. The traditional looking ones with baskets are proving so popular and their really cute – I can fully understand why your daughter has her eye on one. Perfect for lugging books to and from the library too!

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