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Do i really need a carbon fiber wheelset for my bike?

   Whether it is for amateur players, or for regular competition or professional athletes, the appeal of carbon fiber wheels is inherently irresistible. Almost every carbon fiber wheel manufacturer is more or less telling you how much time and energy their wheels can save you. And many first-tier manufacturers have also produced wind tunnel test data to prove how good their carbon fiber wheels are. But does this mean that carbon fiber wheels are worth the money? Let's analyze the popular frame brakes and disc brake carbon fiber wheels and "unmarked" wheels in recent years. 

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At the top of the wheel market is the carbon fiber wheel, which is the ultimate upgrade for all players, which promises to improve the speed of the driver and the performance of the vehicle. However, these wheels also tend to be expensive, although with the growth and development of the carbon wheel market there is now a trend to overtake aluminum wheels. Among them, marketing played a huge role, allowing more players to have a new understanding of the aerodynamic performance of the wheel set.


The composition of the carbon fiber wheel market has changed subtly over the years. In the past, due to the high cost of materials in the early stage and the high cost of research and development in the early stage, the products made by carbon fiber wheel sets were also expensive. However, with the penetration of technology in the past ten years and the rise of China's bicycle manufacturing industry, the manufacturing cost has been greatly reduced, and more and more brands have begun to pour into the competition of carbon fiber wheels.


  Once-expensive carbon fiber wheels are getting cheaper,Do i really need a carbon fiber wheelset for my bike?


Although it is too early to doubt whether the entire wheel industry will abandon aluminum alloy and fully switch to carbon fiber. But looking at the now marginalized aluminum alloy frame, how many people predicted that carbon fiber frame would become the mainstream of today's market 20 years ago? Who remembers how many people got into a fight over its high price and unproven reliability? If you have traveled from that year, you should still remember the fierce debate in the forum.

Is marketing the culprit behind the high price of carbon fiber wheels?

Today, the advantages of carbon fiber composite materials are almost well known, and high strength and low weight are its biggest attributes that attract players. In fact, the introduction of carbon fiber rims in the 1990s brought a huge leap forward in designing and building wheels.


  20 years ago, it was made of aluminum alloy, with a frame height of 40mm and a weight of about 2kg (1980g). This seems almost unacceptable today, but at the time it was a breakthrough in aerodynamic design. In contrast, when using carbon fiber material, there is an immediate weight loss of 300g.

  20 years later, carbon fiber wheels are taller and weigh less than 1500g (especially tubular versions), and the lightest wheels are already well under 1000g.


    On the one hand, the high rigidity-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber materials can easily have the same performance as aluminum alloy wheels in lateral and radial rigidity with the same weight, and often surpass aluminum alloy wheels. On the other hand, carbon fiber gives a lot of freedom to the final shape of the wheel, allowing wheel manufacturers to design and manufacture the final product in a way that has never been possible with aluminum wheels.

    Although the deep V-shaped NACA low-speed airfoil rims on the early shamal were aerodynamically reasonable, the fundamental reason for the popularity of the early shamal rims was that it would be easier to manufacture aluminum alloy rims. In the 1990s, Hed and Zipp quickly demonstrated in research that a wider, rounder rim profile would be more aerodynamically advantageous, but such a rim shape would ultimately have to wait for carbon fiber technology to mature. Introduce.

    Today, round rims like this (fat rim) have become popular, and aerodynamic performance has become a commodity on the market. Almost every wheel manufacturer that makes a difference will come up with its own wind tunnel. Test results or fluid computational mechanics data are placed in their own product introductions. Let players who decide to buy a wheelset and want to receive the most marginal benefit can weigh their options by the wheelset data they provide (such as drag, drag coefficient, weight, etc.).


    However, even today, carbon fiber wheel manufacturers are still increasing their investment, constantly improving their products through new designs and tests, and the price of carbon fiber wheel sets is still falling. This is not because of the price cuts of first-tier brands like Zipp or ENVE, but because of the proliferation of other second- and third-tier brands. These brands usually choose the way of lower manufacturing cost, which is often referred to as OEM. They do not need to build their own production lines, as long as they have their own trademarks. Although these products are very similar, they are usually close in weight and performance to established products, while being priced lower than these established brands. This not only increases the competition in the market, but also provides players with more choices.


   It can be said that the popularity of carbon fiber wheels has increased in recent years as their prices have fallen. But when you're considering buying a carbon fiber wheelset at this time, it's cheap, but you still have some downsides to consider.

Relatively small increase in aerodynamic performance

Although the difference is evident from the wind tunnel test data: taller wheels have more aerodynamic advantages than low-profile wheels (carbon or aluminum), but from a bike and gamer perspective, These savings are small. In practice, these time and energy savings are often difficult to replicate without highly controlled experimental conditions (real-world usage).


In addition, it should be pointed out that the test data of the wheel set in the wind tunnel test are usually obtained after high-speed and long-term testing. The other thing is that the advertised drag reduction for the test wheels doesn't apply to all wind directions, so a small change in the rider's relative wind direction can have a huge drag change on the data. Then there's the impact of the bike, which further reduces the real-world gain the wheelset brings to the rider.

Therefore, the time and power savings that any wheel manufacturer promises cannot be exactly the theoretical maximum in a real-world usage environment. For example, if you plan to upgrade from an older wheelset (such as a 32-hole alloy wheelset) to an aero carbon fiber wheelset, then the speed and performance increase will undoubtedly be tangible. But you're unlikely to perceive subtle changes from one brand to another.


Rim braking is the Achilles heel of carbon fiber wheels, are carbon wheels worth it?

If you've been using alloy wheels, you'll find that carbon wheels feel like you can't stop.

In order to reduce the heat generated in the brakes, various carbon fiber special brake pads have also emerged, and many buyers have been asked by wheel manufacturers to use their special carbon fiber brake pads. However, even though these brake pads can reduce the risk of overheating of the rim, they still cannot solve the heat generated during braking.

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In addition, careful selection of the heat-resistant resin used in the brake rim also contributes to improving the heat-resistant performance of the carbon rim. However, the problem that this corresponding strategy can solve is limited, because increasing the glass transition temperature of the wheel frame makes the carbon fiber material more brittle and more susceptible to damage by impact.

  Even conservative gamers are starting to appreciate the importance of disc brakes on road bikes, especially when paired with carbon wheels.

  So, damage to carbon fiber wheels due to heat is an unfortunate and unavoidable disadvantage. In fact, some brands even exclude thermal damage from their warranties. However, this is not to say that carbon fiber wheels are dangerous in use, but players must pay attention to these changes in use (reduced braking force, try to avoid heavy braking for a long time), which is not necessary when using aluminum alloy wheels .


   However, when disc brakes meet carbon fiber wheels, this concern is completely eliminated. In fact, if you consider braking, safety and durability, disc brake carbon fiber wheels will be better and more attractive than heat-resistant resin and special brake pads. The advantages of the increased weight versus the increased weight will depend on the ultimate needs of the rider, but for now, carbon rims have become standard on all disc brake road bikes.

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  How strong and durable?

The application of carbon fiber materials on bicycles has been developed for more than 20 years. Frankly speaking, the attention to the strength of carbon fiber frames has become less and less, which is already the most basic quality. Likewise, confidence in carbon fiber wheels has grown. Carbon fiber wheels, once only used on race days, are now increasingly used as daily training wheels.




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