so i’ve read (constantly) about how lighter wheels on your bicycle make all the difference in the world – particularly for climbing. i intellectually believed it, but never really saw it with my own eyes, so didn’t really have an appreciation for it…until now.
my normal wheels are custom – they’re HED C2 Belgium rims with CX-Ray spokes and Chris King R45 hubs. i run them with Continental GP4000s tires. they come in at about 1020 front and 1160 rear – without a cassette. on the other hand, i recently traveled to Hawaii and took my old “heavy” wheeels. i decided to give them a spin when i got back today, on roads i’m accustomed to, and oh my did things feel sluggish. they’re Mavic CXP 22 rims with Specialized hubs and an unknown, non-bladed spoke. there’s a Specialized Armadillo on the front and a Continental Gatorskin on the rear. the front weighs in at 1390 grams and the rear 1730 grams. so the total weight difference between the two wheels is a rather massive 940 grams, or almost exactly 2 pounds!
so what differences did i feel? first – the good. even though the wider rim on the C2s is supposed to provide a smoother ride – largely by letting you ride at lower pressure – the heavier wheels provide the smoother ride. this even though i ride the HEDs at just under 100 PSI and the CXPs at 110. i’d actually almost call the CXPs boat-like in comparison. kinda Cadillac to BMW, if you will. why? my guess is that the heavier wheels just absorb more of the impact. i think that’s where “the good” ends.
that whole thing you read on forums when people say “when i push it just wants to go”. well, i never got that – until today. push as i might, the damn bike just kind of wanted to stay put. i never knew how good i had it! i also noticed my cruise speed was lower – i’m guessing because of marginally worse aerodynamics – lack of bladed spokes and a narrower rim causing more upset in the transition of the air from tire to rim. climbing, things were even more noticeable. i went up Old La Honda today – it was just much harder. i had to use a taller gear much more than normal. there were sections of the climb where i just couldn’t believe how hard it was to push the rig up the hill! the most interesting thing was that i got demotivated – largely because i’m probably used to riding a much snappier ride.
i looked back at my strava data and found a couple of marginally comparable OLH climbs – similar average wattage. this climb – my 10th OLH climb recorded on Strava – was my slowest. i did it in 25:13. i averaged 240 watts. another ride where i averaged 237 watts took 23:56. on another OLH climb i averaged 247 watts and did the climb in 24:09. the only equipment difference was the wheels and wind is rarely a factor on OLH. the biggest externality would probably be how hard i pushed on the relatively flat sections. i’d say it’s fair to say that the wheels cost at least 1 minute heading up OLH.
net: i had no appreciation for how much lighter wheels really do make a difference. of course, 2 pounds is a lot! if you get lighter wheels, it’ll be damn hard for you to go back.