Profile wheels are no longer limited to professional cyclists’ bikes or time trials and triathlon events. The lower prices of carbon wheels in recent years, due to the diversification of models and ranges and the launch of different profile sizes, means that these profile wheels are spreading widely among amateur cyclists.
But… What benefits do these wheels bring? Are they a fad, or do they really enhance performance? Is it worth buying a set of profile wheels? Now is the time to answer all your questions about the wheels of the present (and possibly the future) in road cycling.
What are profile wheels?
Profile wheels are those that have a height extension of the rim surface beyond the braking track (the latter for bikes with conventional shoe brakes).
However, in recent years the term profile wheels have been popularly associated with those with a large rim profile or height, greater than 30 mm, and not with low-profile wheels, less than 30 mm, called conventional wheels. Or classic (although these also have a profile).
High profile wheels (over 40mm) improve aerodynamics when rolling on the flat at speeds above 30km / h
Profile wheel types
According to that rim height, we can classify the current profile wheels for road cycling into three types.
As we have already explained, these are conventional road wheels with a profile size (measured from both edges of the rim, outside and inside) between 20 and 30 mm. They are the cheapest and the most recommended for going up and down mountain passes.
Its profile ranges between 30 and 40 mm. They are versatile wheels with extra aerodynamics. Right now they are having a great commercial boom for both amateur and professional cyclists.
This type of road bike wheel has a profile greater than 40 mm and is the step before the lenticular wheel (solid, without spokes) of time trial or triathlon. They are the aerodynamic wheels par excellence, traditionally used in time trials. But in recent years, with the rise of aero-type bikes, they have also become popular among fans. They are wheels that improve aerodynamics when rolling on the flat at high speeds (from 30 km / h).
Furthermore, it is possible to make a distinction between them based on their material. Although the highest quality and most beneficial profile wheels are the carbon ones, there are also slightly heavier aluminum versions with a worse drag coefficient, but at the same time they reduce the price considerably.
Low profile wheels are the cheapest and most recommended for going up and down mountain passes.
Benefits of profile wheels for road cycling
We can list two great benefits of profile wheels for road bikes:
The medium and high profile wheels dramatically increase the bike’s aerodynamic performance as a whole. The wheels, and especially the front, are the parts of the bike most exposed to friction with the air, the profile of the rims being one of the key parts of this friction or brake when advancing. Increasing the surface of the rim allows to dissipate that wind resistance, whether it is front or rear, and increases the inertia of the wheel in motion.
This translates into more than 10% aerodynamic gains on flat terrain compared to a low-profile wheel, as revealed in this report from the British magazine Cyclist. The same report also points out that the engineers at Cervélo, one of the most established road bicycle manufacturers, calculated a certain aerodynamic gain for profile wheels on climbs with slopes of no more than 5% for amateur cyclists, and up to 8%. % of slope in professionals.
It can be considered an advantage if we ride on flat terrain and without many curves. Increasing the rim’s profile means adding more material, shortening the length of the spokes and ultimately increasing the wheel’s stiffness. This translates into a better transfer of power to the wheel that is generated by pedaling, without the greater energy losses of classic wheels due to their greater flex.
Disadvantages of profile wheels
The increase in the profile has a series of counterparts that it is also convenient to assess:
A higher profile means more use of material and, therefore, an increase in the weight of the wheel. Comparing conventional wheels (25mm) with 40mm profile wheels, the average increase is 100 grams more per wheel. This translates into poorer riding behavior at low speeds, especially uphill and when changing pace. It will cost more to move them.
Less manageable in crosswinds
This type of wind is one of the worst enemies of profile wheels. They become more unruly due to the wind hitting a larger surface of the rim, impairing the bike’s control and handling.
Worse performance on uneven asphalt
The increased rigidity of these wheels translates into less absorption of vibrations, bending of the parts, etc. On roads with rough asphalt in poor condition, these impacts are transmitted to the cyclist with greater intensity than with conventional wheels.
Price: do profile wheels cost more than conventional ones?
The price increase is not really in line with the increase in profile, but rather with the material used: aluminum or carbon. For example, in brands like Mavic, the Cosmic SL carbon series in 32, 40 and 65 mm profiles, the price is the same: € 1,190 per set.
The same happens with another reference brand such as Fulcrum: sets with 55 and 40 mm profiles, such as the Speed for disc brakes, cost the same, 2,109 euros a pair. While conventional high-performance ones, also for disc and carbon, like the Racing Zero, are a bit cheaper: € 2,050. A little decisive difference in those price ranges.
On the other hand, if we compare some wheels with a carbon profile with others with a similar profile in aluminum, the price difference is already noticeable, as is the case with conventional ones. In the case of Fulcrum, the Racing 4 DB model, with a 35mm aluminum rim is priced at € 431 per set, while a carbon model, the Wind DB with a similar 40mm profile, shoots up to € 431 per set. 1,263 euros per pair.
The profile wheels are a good option for cyclists who like to roll fast on the flat, providing a quality extra to the assembly of their bicycle
When to use profile wheels
After analyzing the types, advantages, disadvantages and prices of profile wheels, it is time to assess whether it is worth installing one on your road bike. Like many other aspects of bicycle assembly, your purchase will be conditioned by the use to which they are intended.
The profile wheels are a good option for cyclists who like to roll fast on the flat, providing a quality bonus to the assembly of their bicycle, which will affect the quality of the training, in the increase in power and average speed of the bike. Same.
They are wheels that also require good handling of the bicycle at high speed due to their greater inertia, instability with strong side winds, or less absorbent on uneven asphalt. In this way, if you have been riding a road bike for a short time, it is recommended that you accumulate kilometers and increase your level by mounting conventional wheels, which are more manageable and comfortable.
Finally, for anyone thinking of changing their aluminum wheels for carbon ones, getting a profile directly will be a good choice if you are not so obsessed with the weight aspect and prefer to ride fast. On the other hand, if you want to lose as much weight as possible on your bike, opt for conventional ones, which will behave better going up and down mountain passes.