To Carbone or Not To Carbone?

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That is the question. Are carbon wheels a viable option for everyday riding? Should carbon wheels be your go-to wheels rather than your just-for-racing wheels? I don’t really race and I don’t own any carbon wheels and I wonder. Granted, every professional is and has been on carbon wheels for many years so it’s easy to think we should be on them too. Brett’s review of ENVE wheels certainly made a case for them, who dosen’t want to go faster, all the time? Frank has raved about how fast his Zipp 303s are since he first put them on his Cervelo. I hefted his Café Roubaix Haleakala climbing wheels and one dosen’t need to heft them as much as hold them down, they are unbelievably light, sub-1000 grams light.

Those wheels are too light for the rigors of the East Maui Loop pavé and potholes, or so I thought. I talked Frank out of using them and he did the Cogal on Zipp 404s and 25mm clinchers. In retrospect, with bigger tires I think he would have been OK doing the Cogal on his climbing wheels. If ultralight carbon wheels are tough enough for that ride then when are they inappropriateAmbrosio golden ticket aluminum box section rims versus Zipp 303s, let’s see, Boonen just won Paris-Roubaix on the Zipp 404s. That is the end of the discussion. It should be the beginning of the end for three-cross box section aluminum wheels. If Zipp 303s win Paris-Roubaix then when wouldn’t one use carbon wheels?


Surprised to see so much talk of carbon wheels for a Cogal; which is, essentially, not much different than a club run. I understand Frank wanting to run them for his climb up Haleakala, since he was going for a PR up a huge friggin’ volcano and I’m sure they certainly helped. But as an every day wheel for a club/social/training ride? At least within the circles I ride in, that’s a good reason to get laughed off the ride (comments would especially come from the local racers). It’s like saying “I can’t keep up with you guys without these wheels!” Or at least that’s how people generally take it.

…but how common is it among Velominati to use carbon wheels on an everyday basis?

On the Cogal ride, out of seven riders there were two people on carbon wheels. On our Sunday club ride there is maybe one user. I see a lot of bikes on the site with drool-worthy carbon wheels. Are aluminum rims old school? Are we being played here or are we all just a little behind the times or are we saving our money for better bike investments? 

Strong, light, cheap. Pick two – I’m going to attribute this to Keith Bontrager as it was etched on my Bontrager’s stem cap. I’d like to add a fourth adjective, aerodynamic, but my tiny brain can’t compute how picking two or three might work so cleverly.


There are not many high end frames made from aluminum anymore. Could the same case be made for wheels? The aluminum box rim may be light but it is not strong unless you lace a lot of crossed spokes on it. I have some 80s Campagnolo Vento deep wheels, aero maybe, not light and the ride is a bit harsh. An unlaced carbon rim may not be lighter than a light weight aluminum rim but it is much stronger.


I’m afraid carbon is going to win here. While a case could have been made for the Ambrosio golden ticket being strong, it is not light. There are some semi-aero aluminum wheels out there that are light but they make me nervous with their low weight limit.


Boing! There it is. Strong and cheap is aluminum’s territory. One pays $1100US more for Easton’s Carbon EC90 SLX wheels than the aluminum EA 90 SLX wheelset. 200 grams is the only difference between the two models. If that was the end of the comparisons I wouldn’t lose any sleep over my lack of carbone wheels but there is still one other factor.


Carbon wins this easily. The carbon can be a fairing or integral to the wheel’s strength but carbon’s moldability is the future. Formula 1 cars are no longer made of aluminum. Boonen must have saved significant energy on the long paved run-in to the pavé sectors using his Zipps, maybe enough energy to help burn everyone off his wheel later on. @Tommy Tubulare’s Cervelo with Campagnolo Bora deep carbon wheels makes my heart skip a beat. Carbon wheels look badass. 


Once again I have no informed opinion having never ridden carbon wheels. Would I love to see my bike looking extremely pro with some deep section carbon wheels? Yes. Would it be very bad to be shelled out the back end of a group ride while riding said wheels? Yes, it would be very bad.

Should my wheels be worth more than the rest of the bike? Who cares. Let’s address @chiasticon’s question, who’s riding carbon and when?

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170 Replies to “To Carbone or Not To Carbone?”

  1. @Deakus

    Owning a great set of wheels or a killer pair of bibs means having the tools to enjoy a better experience. If this blog is about anything, it’s about enjoying cycling. You shouldn’t suffer because your cheap saddle is uncomfortable. You should suffer because you drilled it at the front with the group single file behind you for 2k.

    I’ve never been in the army, but I think they had it right: Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

    Very solid point! This is my philosophy as well, that is why we are here. If carbon keeps you out on your ride longer  or allows you to shave time from the morning / evening ride. Which in turn keeps the VMH and family in check than by all means put them on. Just like a good pair of shoes, they feel good.

  2. @VeloVita



    I have a pair of mavic open pro’s laced up to dura ace hubs. They were handbuilt by a wheelmaker who knew what he was doing and they rock my jocks every day. Heavy, yes, but so strong and fun to ride.

    Maybe its just because I’m a bigger rider, but I find it hilarious that ~1750g wheels are referred to as ‘heavy’. I was thrilled when I got my HD C2/CK R45s and they came in at 1711g.

    Whats absurd is that after riding the Haleakala rims, I now consider my Zipp 404 clinchers to be heavy training wheels.

  3. @unversio



    Login is acting funky these days on Safari. And posts.

    I’ve been having the same issue, both on Safari and Chrome.

    Brought the same iMac home and appears to be corrected when connected to ethernet.

    I’ll look at this when I get the chance. Chrome (the world’s superior browser) works great.  Noticed the mobile site is fucked as well; disabled it for the time being until I have a chance to fix it.

    @unversio, thanks for sending stats along, I”ll look at it and let all y’all know what I find.

  4. @frank

    Whats absurd is that after riding the Haleakala rims, I now consider my Zipp 404 clinchers to be heavy training wheels.

    That’s not absurd at all – they are heavy wheels! They’re 1662g according to Zipp, which is only about 100g lighter than my Hope Pro III / Mavic Open Pro / 32 Spoke commuting and training wheels. Plus all the weight is in the rim so they take more effort more effort to spin up (although they steamroller along when you get ’em wound up). I went for a second-hand pair of 2010 404 tubbies and they are a great improvement, providing you’re happy with the tub faff factor. Nearly 400g lighter than the Al/carbon hybrid clinchers so they’re practically a set of climbing wheels as well as being aero. Braking is good in the dry, but I must confess I haven’t tried them in the wet yet.

    I’m currently building up the ‘middle set’ of wheels – for crit use on #2 and general miles on #1 when I want to be able to fix a flat easily. Chris King R45s, Velocity A23s and CX-rays (all black) laced 20h front and 24h rear. Should be about 1350g all in – front is built, rear is waiting for spokes and rim and a rainy evening to lace her up. Even going 24/28 would give a decent set of wheels with clincher convenience for a lot less than Carbon prices.

  5. @ Scaler911

    I totally agree with ‘train heavy, race light’ and I’d add ‘…and slow’ on there as well. My bike permanently wears Bontrager RXL All Weather tyres for commuting and they stay on for training and club rides. Not too heavy but puncture resistance is good but they are hellishly draggy. The bonus is that if you can keep the pace up on training rides then chuck on a set of Race tyres (Ultremo ZXs in my case) when you need them you will fly – it’s free speed! Can’t believe the difference – one test I’ve seen did a roller + power meter check at a given speed and the difference between race rubber and something middling was ~30W; winter tyres will give an even bigger difference. Who wouldn’t want another 30W for free?

  6. @Fausto If you’re putting the money into King hubs, I highly suggest you get rims better than Velocity.

    I ran A23s for the last year and the rear rim is now bent beyond repair. The LBS confirmed that the aluminum in the A23 is pretty soft.

    Granted, that happened over Belgian cobblestones and technical CX courses, but King hubs deserve better rims.

  7. @G’rilla @Fausto second the upgrade of the velocity rims.  My Ridley Xfire came with a set, and hands down they are the weakest link for whats supposed to be a decent cx rig.

  8. @G’rilla @roger

    The Velocity rims were a compromise choice I must admit. Internet opinion and friends experiences are that the more recent US made ones are more durable than the older Aussie made ones. Other choices were NoTubes Alpha 340s (one friend using them with no issues, but they struck me as a bit too light), H Plus Son Archetypes (too heavy for what I wanted). I don’t think anyone really makes an ideal light aluminium rim at the mo – if Mavic did a slightly lighter Open Pro in low hole drilling a I’d have gone for it straight away, but unfortunately not. I’m hoping I’m light enough to get away with the A23s but if they prove to be delicate I’ll reconsider.

    Any other recommendations? The CK hubs were a good deal by the way; I was going to go for something more sensible but couldn’t turn them down.

  9. @frank




    Login is acting funky these days on Safari. And posts.

    I’ve been having the same issue, both on Safari and Chrome.

    Brought the same iMac home and appears to be corrected when connected to ethernet.

    I’ll look at this when I get the chance. Chrome (the world’s superior browser) works great. Noticed the mobile site is fucked as well; disabled it for the time being until I have a chance to fix it.

    @unversio, thanks for sending stats along, I”ll look at it and let all y’all know what I find.

    Which is odd because yesterday I posted successfully on the mobile site for the first time ever.

    Although that said my witty remark putting hirsute cycling in to hilarious perspective turned in to some bilge about Lawrence ten Dam’s beard and a soup strainer.

  10. @frank




    Login is acting funky these days on Safari. And posts.

    I’ve been having the same issue, both on Safari and Chrome.

    Brought the same iMac home and appears to be corrected when connected to ethernet.

    I’ll look at this when I get the chance. Chrome (the world’s superior browser) works great. Noticed the mobile site is fucked as well; disabled it for the time being until I have a chance to fix it.

    @unversio, thanks for sending stats along, I”ll look at it and let all y’all know what I find.

    Seems to work OK for me at the moment both on the Mobile side and Safari desktop. There was a problem with one of the plugins we use that I’m blaming for both problems, without any due process in terms of testing; I just loaded the update and it seems OK now. Which, to me, rounds out nicely.

    Let me know if anyone is still having issue with the site.

    Also, @girl has mentioned random articles coming through on her RSS feed – anyone else have that problem? I”m seeing weirdness on the posts in the sidebar not being up to date, but I’ll have to monkey with that problem another time.

  11. @frank I have the RSS weirdness with random old articles from time to time.  It’s been a while however.

  12. I would ride carbon 28h Enve 1.45 & 2.45 (front & rear) tubular wheels with Vittoria Pave 27 tubs, anyday, anywhere, anytime, rain or fricking shine. Life is too short to stare at a carbon wheelset hanging in the garage and not be riding it. I found the 45’s to be as big a profile to use on the front for everyday riding here in windsurf country. If I lived where people thought 20 kph wind was windy, I’d go for the Enve 65’s. I solved the carbon braking problem with a Enve disc brake road fork on my Trek 5.2. Trek was nice enough to allow plenty of tire clearance for my fat tires.

  13. I kind of have a foot in both camps.  I train / commute on a set of 36h ambrosio excellences with ludicrously heavy wire-bead gatorskins, and have a choice of a set of zero 38mm carbon clinchers (that came with my (second-hand, budgetatus compliant bike, I think these are a re-badged zipp?  Either way, alloy tracks, not full carbon…) or a pair of 32 spoked nemesi(?) laced to DA 7900 hubs currently wearing Vittoria Paves (which are, to be honest, a little disappointing)

    If I’m racing in the wet, or in the wind, or on shit roads, or on anything twisty, the gold flags get it, all the time. The braking surface on them is phenomenal, even compared to other alloy rims…don’t know why, but it is.  And cranked over, tubs have always seemed to stick like shit to a blanket – something to do with the profile?

    If I’m doing a local crit night round the industrial estate the zeros go on.  Maybe they’re a little lighter and spin up a tiny bit quicker, maybe a little better into the wind – couldn’t really tell you, to be honest.  Between not crashing into everyone else, trying to stop myself from attacking too soon AGAIN, and holding onto whatever it is I’ve just eaten, I really couldn’t tell you.

  14. I was a little torn at first whether to ride my carbon wheels full time or to stay on my trusted training wheels, but after riding the carbon I will have a hard time going back. I have 28h Mavic Open Pro’s laced to Ultegra hubs with DT Comp spokes, and they ride like a dream and they are super durable, I ride them for cross as well. But when I ordered my new Trek Madone 6 this year I decided it was time to see what all the hype was about, enter Bontrager’s D3 Aeolus 5 wheels(tubular of course).

    As a heavier rider (~85 Kilos) the stiffness of the carbon rims feels amazing. You can feel the bike taking every watt of energy and transferring it to the road.

    “But they must be harsh riding if they are so stiff,” you may ask? I will go out on a limb and say that the carbon rides 90% as well as the fully spoked wheels.

    Price? Well you have me there. $2300 for a set is stiff. Ok let me rephrase that, HOLY S#!$ that is a lot of money for just wheels!

    The last question I had when I got them was how were they going to hold up over the couse of the year. Well that remains to be seen but Bontrager says its DT swiss internals so they should be easy to replace bearings in when the time comes.

    The last point is they are sexy!

  15. Sorry for the late addition to this string, but I bought a set of PowerTap 45mm Carbon Tubular Wheels in November 2011 as my training wheelset.  After going through what seemed like an Italian rear tire every other month I glued on some Continental Grand Prix 4000 tubulars with some Conti sealant in them and I have found bliss.  The wheels have been bullet proof and with the new tires I haven’t flatted in months (and they wear very well).  Yup, you can ride carbon everyday.  With the G3 hub the wheel set goes about 1,350.  Not too shabby.  Brake pad selection becomes the key- living in the mountains in an area that gets a lot of rain picking the wrong pad compound can be a bit dangerous!

  16. @Spartan

    I am with you on that school of thought. I run my only set of carbon wheels, Zipp 404 clinchers full time now on my Cervelo S2. Yes they are exie but I would take them off now and these have proven to be bulletproof wheels.

    I would like tubs but find the clinchers more practical for myself. I have my LOOK 595 running Rol Race SL’s on DT Swiss 240 hubs. The S2 is my fast bike while the 595 is my all day bike. Different horses for different courses.

    Both sets of wheels are wrapped in Vittoria Zaffiro tires which have proven to durable all round rubber.

  17. I have been on the fence as far as carbon wheels myself. Not really because of the cost but because I wasn’t sure I wanted to ride on those wheels full time. In the end I decided to build out a light weight carbon bike and fit the carbon wheels to that instead. In fact, I now have all the components save for the crank arms which are currently back ordered but do in within a month. Just in time for great mountain weather!?!

    Regardless, I went with locally made wheels from Industry Nine. There are the wheels I ordered up, just all in black…

    I only just ran across the article this morning otherwise I would have posted more to this thread than the more current wheelset discussion ongoing in the “Sur La Plaque: Café Roubaix Haleakala Climbing Wheels” thread. Either way, I posted the following two links to VeloNews about carbon road wheels. If you’re interested in carbon wheels (or even if you’re not) these articles talk about the pros and the cons of carbon wheels.


  18. Just bought a set of November RSC 38 carbon wheels w a powertap hub on eBay

    I really bought them for the powertap and the Carbone was just extra.  It’s all one big experimentt and I know I’ll probably take some flogging for the powertap itself.  But I channel my inner geek proudly and want to see how the power feedback works.  Back on subject, I’ll ride those bitches util they fall apart.  Road, CX, whatever.  The hub is on them and I’ll use them  until they give up the ghost and then build a new wheel on the hub.

    Im not certain what effect they’ll have for me.  I think the technology is there for everyday use, its just a matter of cost now.  good deals can be had and like carbon frames i think costs will come down dramatically in the coming decade to the point where they’re the new standard.  its something I’ll certainly pay attention to in light of this post.  So more to follow once I get back to the States.

  19. @Souleur don’t hate me for my carbon clinchers and white shoes.  I am not fast.  I will probably never be fast again, for a whole lot of reasons.  That being said, I work hard spending months and years away from home placing my life in danger for not a hell of a lot of money.  That lifestyle takes a toll on your body that you can’t imagine if you haven’t lived it.  So when I am home and have time to train, some guy blowing me shit about my hear is just another reason to seek other company.  Life’s too short to spend time critiquing others or worrying about what others may think and for the most part I don’t.  And in large part I not only get, but enjoy the rules and the life within the limits of that other stuff that supports the family, defends your rights to do whatever etc…  As long as that doesn’t cross into making my limited time on the bike less enjoyable.  Credit to whomever said earlier in the thread that our prejudices are often based on envy or desire.  S you ride yours and I’ll ride mine.  I’m pretty sure that on any given ride there is sPapp guy on a $500 box store special who can crush me.  Good on him.

    one of the reasons I so enjoy biking is the tech aspect of it.  I’m queer for gear and the last I checked there wasn’t a test to take to scratch that n+1 itch.  I do enjoy your writing but your comment hit tippytippy

  20. Dudes !!!

    Live and let live !!!

    I sure don’t deserve the rocket I ride, but I feel great riding it, and for me, that’s what counts. As it happens, I’m a retro fan, so I have Shamal Ultras on. I think back to when I drooled over the original Shamals, and just love Campy, so a full Campy kit it was.

    If carbon hoops are what makes you feel good about riding, carbon hoops are it. I might add that it also makes me feel good to ride away from someone using carbon hoops, so I get a bonus from them without spending a dime !!

    Not sure why we bag each other. Share the love. Or, at least, respect our differing preferences.

    Damn, how gutless. Just read what I wrote. Rule #5.

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