I was talking to some athletes the other day after a race and the questioning from one of them went down a familiar road: are those expensive aero wheels worth the money? Today I wanted address this, but not from a scientific “do they work” context, but rather from the perspective of whether you as an athlete might actually benefit from them.First things first, by aero wheels, what we’re discussing here are deep section rimmed wheels, disc wheels or even disc wheel covers: equipment for your bike to cut down on the wind resistance of your bike as it passes through the air. Many people have already written about this subject and if you were to survey the literature out there, you’d probably find that the recommendation is that you start with a aero bars and bike fit first, then go next with an aero helmet and save the aero wheels for last. The reason for this is two fold: first, the largest amount of aerodynamic drag comes from your body pushing through the wind, so getting yourself low and out of the wind makes the largest impact and second, this formula will generally give you the most bang for your buck.
Second, be sure to carefully understand what you’re getting yourself into when you start thinking about buying new wheels. You may be moving from Clinchers to Tubulars, for instance, meaning a whole new set of spare parts and equipment. I also found out the hard way that my new carbon wheels require carbon brake pads (which is not a big deal) but that they need to be swapped out when I move between my training and racing wheels. These kinds of issues should be sorted through before investing thousands into your new wheels.
When it comes to making a recommendation of whether to invest in aero wheels, I start by dividing people into three groups and then going from there. My groups would be: 1) beginner athletes, 2) intermediate to advanced athletes and 3) advanced and elite athletes looking for the greatest possible racing advantage.
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