Are Wheels The Best Upgrade You Can Make To Your Bike?
Are Wheels The Best Upgrade You Can Make To Your Bike?

Talk to an experienced cyclist about
upgrading your bike, and I’m fairly sure they would tell you that the most
important thing you can do is to change the wheels. The theory goes that a lighter
set of wheels will transform the way your bike rides and unlock new levels of
performance no matter what’s the starting point. So, we thought we would take a
closer look to see if wheels really are the best place to invest your
cash when upgrading your bike. As a starting point, we’ve got this Scott
Speedster 40. It’s not exactly an entry level bike but we think it represents the
kind of price point at which you’ll start to consider some serious upgrades. And our
upgrade wheels is this pair of Reynolds’ Assault SLGs, light, stiff and arrow,
pretty much the holy trinity of wheelsets. ♪ [music] ♪ First up, let’s deal with the most quoted
reason behind the fact that wheels are the best upgrade for your bike, the
effective rotating weight. Now, the theory goes that rotating mass of your
wheels has an effect three times greater than the equivalent static mass, meaning
that if you save 50 grams from your wheelset that would be like saving 150
grams from your frame. Or in this case, 800 grams from your wheels
would be like saving 2.4 kilos. Unfortunately though, that is only partly
true because rotating weight has no greater or lesser effect on the power
that it takes to sustain a speed, even when climbing than the equivalent
static weight. That’s not to say that it has no effect at all. It does. Saving any
weight at all from your bike will enable you to climb faster. ♪[music]♪ The greatest benefit from lighter weight
though comes from when accelerating and decelerating. It takes less energy to get
a lighter pair of wheels up to speed than a heavier pair making them more
responsive. So, from a standing start, I will save about not 0.1 seconds by
the time I get to 30 kilometers an hour. And that’s about an entire bike length.
It might not sound like much but it will certainly add up over the course
of a three-hour ride. And in a race, it can be the difference
between winning and losing. ♪ [music] ♪ Now, you wouldn’t have thought that kind
of minimal difference would be detectable out on the road. But I’m pretty sure that
even swapping out an already decent set of wheels that came with this bike
that I can feel the difference. The bike feels faster, climbs well
and generally handles superbly, but the difference might not be
coming from the reduction in weight but actually from a significant
improvement in aerodynamics. You see, the wheels generally represent
about 10% to 15% of your total aerodynamic drag, although it can be as little
as 0% or as might just 20%. That might not sound like all that much
but if you swap out your wheels for a really aerodynamic pair, you might be able
to reduce that figure by about 25%, meaning that your total aerodynamic
drag would reduce by about 2% to 3%. And that is not to be sniffed
at. Generally, aerodynamics will have an effect that’s much
greater on your speed than lightweight, although, the exact
nature of your route or course will determine that. But if you combine the
right set of wheels that have both lightweight and aerodynamics, then your
bike is going to be significantly faster on just about any course. ♪ [music] ♪ Clearly, though, we need to put this in
the context of other upgrades you can make to your bike. Now, first of all, I’m going
to discount training aids like a power meter, because although these can make
a huge difference, they rely on you putting the work in over a long period
of time in order to actually make those gains and ultimately make you
faster. I’m also going to discount a bike fit, because although those
are undeniably a good investment for your cycling, it’s not exactly an
upgrade. What about tires though? A well-chosen tire can save a good
few watts of rolling resistance. In fact, the difference between a really
good tire and a rubbish tire can be as much as 20 watts at 40K
an hour, and that’s per wheel. Similarly, changing parts of your bike to
increase your comfort is quite a good idea. So swapping your handlebars and
saddle, even your seat post if you’re suffering out on the bike could be a
worthwhile investment. But while it might help you get more out of yourself on
the bike, it’s not actually making the bike itself go any faster.
Gears are a common upgrade, given that they wear out anyway
and regularly need replacing. But it has to be said that from
my experience there isn’t really any performance benefit when it comes to
replacing gears with more expensive ones when done on a component by component
basis. But what is undeniably a performance upgrade is maintaining what
you’ve already got. So keeping out some of your hardware, replacing like-for-like as
and when needed will keep your bike running smoothly and efficiently
and therefore making you faster. ♪ [music] ♪ But despite all of this, there is one
last factor to take into consideration, aesthetics. Now this is a can of worms
many people feel and we know they feel it, because they, some of you, tell us in the
comments section that making decisions based on aesthetics is shallow, a mug’s
game. And based on pure performance data from the lab, that much is true,
but I am going to respectfully disagree with you. To me, aesthetics do matter.
Now, I think this bike looks good as standard but replacing the
wheels makes it look seriously cool. I would be proud to open my
garage to a bike that looked like that. And that’s value to me should not be
underestimated, because perceptions and emotions have very real bearing on
performance. Now, you, it may not surprise you to hear, are not a laboratory,
hopefully not anyway. Humans are emotional, and emotions affect
performance. Feeling good is a great way to go faster, fact. Is that
a fact? I think it’s a fact, fact. ♪ [music] ♪ So, are wheels the most important
upgrades? Well, short of keeping on top of your bike maintenance which
wasn’t really an upgrade at all then yes, I think wheels do have the biggest
bearing on the performance of your bike. Tires for rung resistance, lightweight for
lower inertia, and improved aerodynamics for outright speed. However, whether
buying set of wheels that cost more than your entire bike will make
your bike perform better than a new and more expensive
one is a matter for debate. You guys know what to do. Let us know
in the comments section down below. Now, if you want to see a video about the top
10 other things we think might be worth upgrading, then you can click up there and
get straight through to a video on that. Or for a video about all the different
types of tires you can buy then click down there, and you go straight through to a
video about that. Before you go to either though, do make sure you subscribe to
GCN. To do that, you can click on my, well, upgraded and quite fancy looking
bike there. Just avoid that triple chain set , don’t click on that. I’m not sure
what would happen if you did that but yeah.

100 thoughts on “Are Wheels The Best Upgrade You Can Make To Your Bike?”

  1. Why O Why says:

    Simon your advice on emotions is spot on. Keep up the vids gcn.. and stay off the roads u crazy cyclists

  2. suzuki06g says:

    Simon, this brings up an interesting question which is, if you had say … 3k to spend would you buy a 1k bike and put 2k wheels on it or a 2k bike and put 1k wheels on it?  And what bike would be better or faster?

  3. A. Random says:

    You can also carry the wheelset on to a newer bike when you ultimately buy one.

  4. John Kim says:

    I think Eddy Merckx said it best…"don't buy upgrades, ride up grades."

  5. Nachatar Dhaliwal says:

    I'm a very low mileage and low frequency rider, but I love this channel.

  6. Adam Parker says:

    A new set of wheels can be a great upgrade, however, i personally feel that you cannot underestimate the benefits of a powermetre for increasing your performance.
    A powermtre offers measurable increases in performance, and gives you the ability to set measurable goals and milestones in fitness. They also allow you to tailor a training program to suit you. Wheels cannot do this

  7. Frank Schilperoort says:

    0:54 This is complete nonsense. Please explain it better next time with help from an engineer or someone who understands dynamics.

  8. Martin Hartley says:

    Newer wheels are definitely a good investment on vintage bicycles – especially if you are starting out with a set of chrome steel rims, an upgrade to an aluminium alloy wheel set will make a huge difference. If you are starting out on a good set of alloy or carbon rims, there isn't much performance to be gained with a newer wheel set.

  9. Jarne Elst says:

    HELP: I want to buy some new wheels for my Giant Tcr Advanced 1 I bought earlier this year. I do found a lot of wheels with a 10sp body but my bike has an 11sp casette. My question; Can i just replace the 10sp body on the wheels i'll buy with an 11sp body? Or is it just not possible to fit those wheels to my 11sp casette, deraileurs, etc?

  10. Len Baird says:

    Simon is definitely the best GCN presenter when it comes to heartfelt speeches about nice looking wheels.

  11. Bike!Bike! says:

    Yes wheels are the best upgrade. You do not have to go carbon. I upgraded to a pair of dt swiss 20s. 1500g for 400$ and they are phenomenal!!

  12. patiofurnituregt says:

    I just got Enves for my XC race bike and my road bike (specialized venge expert) and would say that it was a more noticeable improvement to the road bike than it was for XC. The combo of a larger tire (25c) and more aero wheel resulted in a more plush ride , were faster on the flats and they certainly look cool which is added motivation to go riding. Definitely happy with the upgrade!!

  13. Eemeli Bergström says:

    Speaking of wheel upgrades, what would be a good 700C carbon wheel set with disc brakes be? I'm struggling to find a lot of them.

  14. Isa Amistad says:

    <3 you simon.

  15. bon voyage says:

    cycle components are a rip off, especially wheels!!. Look above reynolds wheels 1300 quid, you must be fuckin joking, I paid less than that for my car. Those wheels are made in china for about 20 Quid a pair I suspect. Dont give me that crap about the cost of R&D etc etc. Carbon is now cheap as chips, Its just a round object, nothing special, If the chinese dont know how to make bikes/wheels then nobody does, after all…there are 9 million bicycles in Beijing

  16. Scott Davidson says:

    Question:. Is a 700c road bike faster than a 26 inch road bike? (Haven't seen an article/video on this topic.)

  17. Alonso Martii says:

    Granny crankset onboard.

  18. bugboy152000 says:

    #GCN I have a decent, midrange, aluminum bike. Running HED alloy disk break wheels. Could you help recommend an affordable carbon substitute?

  19. René Rothenbücher says:

    Hello GCN! Thanks for all of the great videos!
    I got a question about different sets of wheels.
    Is it ok to use different cassettes for different sets of wheels?
    So that I don’t have to change the cassette every time I change the set of wheels.
    I would buy the same cassette (same type and configuration) for my second set of wheels.
    Thanks in advance!

  20. sploofmonkey says:

    How hard you train is the most important. Climb some really steep hills once and while or when on flat land put it in high gear and pedal as hard as you can for as far as you can. Bicycle maintenance comes second, keep it tuned up – cleaned, greased, and lubed. Aerodynamic wheels and weight reduction on any part/piece of bike may play a role, however, those who train the hardest are usually the best at what they do. Weight reduction also has limitations. If your bike is so light, you may actually get poor acceleration on starts, and on sharp corners, light bikes can be very dangerous. And the one about aesthetics will make you want to ride hard, maybe, could also be a form psychological warfare, having a presence can also intimidate the competition but it isn't a beauty contest.

  21. Daniel Harber says:

    What about the hub's/bearings of the wheel? Does that affect rolling resistance or next to negligible compared with weight and aerodynamics?

  22. Adam Martin says:

    From a standard stock set of shimano rs11’s, how far up the £ scale do you have to go to really notice any significant benefits?

  23. Max Siegieda says:

    "Aesthetics matter" I kinda agree. I don't think you need to spend much money for aesthetics but they do matter. I painted my bike all sorts of awful shades using nail varnish and a toothbrush so it looks absolutely horrible and has no resale value but I'm still kinda proud of it. In particular there's some glittery gold stuff splattered on the top tube which is really quite lovely. Overall cost was maybe £20.

  24. Hammer says:

    Isn't replacing baggy clothing with skin-tight pretty important? Looking Sexy.

  25. Eoin Kelleher says:

    10kg bike? I thought they went out with the eighties.

  26. Jon Fairhurst says:

    Why Will I upgrade? To have 35C gravel tires on the beefy set and 25C road tires on the light, aero set. Two bikes for the price of 1.5.

  27. Buckles says:

    Power2max & Garmin Edge 500. Best upgrade I made. Accurately Pacing intervals, recording training session data and routes, etc I found really useful and made riding a completely different and more enjoyable thing

  28. Charles Bradford says:

    Ok, I do wish to invest in a carbon wheel set. With so many different manufacturers what is the difference between them and what brands should i consider.

  29. Danfuerth Gillis says:

    Alluminum wheels have a sparky reaction vs a deadning feel of carbons. For extreme downhill speeds of course alluminum is my choice for pushing the limits. For pure climbing Carbon wheels do have an advantage . Best trick is to have an aluminum front wheel and a carbon back wheel.

  30. joynthis says:

    Buy more expensive shit, immediately.

  31. Antoine Morin-Prévost says:

    Just bought a set of Enves 4.5, now I'm afraid of riding my bike because of all the potholes and shitty car drivers around my area….plus my bike looks so good now I just want to stare at it all day long. So think twice before buying a new set of wheels, it might discourage you from riding your bike !

  32. Gabrielle ramos says:

    how about down hill carbon rim vs
    alloy rim?

  33. BooBoo Bear says:

    Let's also not forget about how efficient the bearings are. You can have the lightest, stiffest rims, but if you have to constantly fight against high friction bearings, that'll just kill your ride.

  34. Fernando Espinosa says:

    Best upgrade is a well trained, well fit rider. There are no shortcuts, just ride and train consistently.
    Anyway great videos and thanks for posting them guys.

  35. grindupBaker says:

    A new re-conditioned engine is the best value. If you can't afford it consider a de-coke & replacing the fluids.

  36. Dinesh Deena says:

    I like to buy Scott speeder 40 (2018) can any give me a feedback of it . Or any other road bike in the same cost pls help me

  37. Daniel Prendergast says:

    i reckon weight savings on wheels is most important on a xc mtb. XC races require you to go into the red. You have to sprint to get a position on the single track, and sprint to get up speed again because the corners slow you down so much

  38. DFTA (Don't Feed The Animals) says:

    I like the GCN branded scale used to weight the wheel! 🙂

  39. Marcin Zdunek says:

    Yeah, so the presented set of wheels alone is almost 3 times the price of my bike…

  40. Maine Cyclist says:

    I ride 120 miles a week, have significantly trashed my entry level wheels on my $750 bike after 1300 miles in three months, upgrading to Mavic sealed bearing wheels is a necessity for me. Tired of popping spokes and bearing noise from riding in the rain.

  41. argenis lopez says:

    I’m new at biking. Got an entry level bike. First upgrade was a carbon fork. Old fork was straight. Carbon fork has a 40 degree rake. What a difference. Definitely rides faster. Will do wheels next.

  42. vedhed21 says:

    Simon doesn't have a garage. Does this still apply?

  43. Belisarius says:

    With the Enve 4.5 SES Tubulars i gained 2 Km/hr vs Zipp at 33-38 Km/hr, and close to 3 40-45. That s due to a better angular momentum guaranteeing a straight stable line EVEN WITH Xwinds.. Embarrassing how 'aero' Zipps are as they keep trying to turn and neutralize the gust, therefore I never realized fighting them!!! I went for people catching up to me 35-39 to parking myself at any speed and they never catch up. I also modified the rear Zipp with a Chris King hub and it improved- but nowhere as good as 4.5…

  44. Dimitrios Verginis says:

    i have owned a green, nice and beautyfull klein quantum pro(A BIKE MYTH) and i am planning to change its wheels to carbon.what is your opinion?greetings.

  45. Matthew Whittle says:

    Where did you film this?

  46. željko šimić says:

    Well fcourse. You can't ride a bike without wheels, right?! 😀

  47. oyettebagaporo says:


  48. kevin ruiters says:

    Which has the greatest effect on aerodynamics – body position or wheel choice?
    What is the percentage influence of each?
    For those who don't want to or cannot afford to spend lots of money on new wheels, perhaps it is much cheaper to change flexibility and body position first since those are perhaps only a new stem, head-spacers and or seat post adjustment away.

  49. Sevintrix says:

    I totally agree that emotion affects not only your performance, but also your enjoyment on a ride. I absolutely love my bike (Merida Scultura 5000), so I enjoy each and every KM.

  50. Shaz Barlas says:

    How about testing a £1k bike with £2k wheels and an OEM £3k bike?

  51. Morpheus_00 says:

    Where was the test? It would have been easy: original wheels at X watts for X mins. Repeat with new wheels. Would give us some actual facts, not just opinion. I mean I like your opinions, but facts would help me make a better decision about whether upgrading wheels is worth it… beyond the fact they look nice. Which is a fact..

  52. C Lan says:

    true. my penny farthing rides great with a set of carbon wheels. riding at max capacity uphill i must have gained three big wheel lengths. that could well make the difference in my next triathlon.

  53. Kandace Steelman says:

    Can you put a larger rear wheel on a 1997 huffy metaloid xl that's made from recycled aluminum cans, can anyone please answer this question for me

  54. John Athan says:

    Groupset first….

  55. Andrea Veronese says:

    Can you please give me an advice?
    I have a Cannondale CAAD and wanna upgrade the wheels. anything good around 400euro? thanks

  56. Al Harman says:

    I gave this a thumbs up, because i just got a new set of wheels, and they look greeeat! :-0

  57. Ryan Seemiller says:

    If you threw aesthetics out the window wouldn't a fairing technically have the biggest impact on a bikes performance?

  58. Taha Lmo says:

    If you put better wheels = confort ===> pleasure riding + training harder and harder.
    So expensive wheels are finally cheap !
    That's it.

  59. Alex Smith says:

    10.4kg to 9.7kg is 800 grams less not 500!

  60. H Souza says:

    I fail to have 1500€ hanging around to get shiny top of the range carbon wheels.

  61. Clarke Natolie says:

    Aesthetics is important. I ride more with deliveroo with a bike upgrade. I look forward to it!

  62. LedMV007 says:

    What are some good rims to buy without spending $1000??

  63. Indonesia America says:

    I've only ever bought 3 complete bikes. Choosing the wheels is at least as important as choosing the frame. It's just easier to swap wheels for special rides and races. The whole reason I'm looking at the new Izalco Max is to get a disk frame so that I can use carbon rims in all conditions without worrying about brakes. At this stage, once you have a decent frame, the wheels are even more important than the frame.

  64. Green Bean says:

    The seat, your ass will thank you

  65. Heather Spoonheim says:

    I'm more interested in comfort than speed. I'm not trying to break records, I just want a bike that I can enjoy riding for hours. Big, padded seat is number one for me. Next is a basic tool kit, tube replacement/repair kit, spare tube, and a pump so I feel confident riding 20 km before turning around. Next is good rain gear as we get crazy random rain storms in my area – so I'm not afraid to keep riding away from home on a cloudy day. I like having extra bags for my tools, rain gear, food, and extra bottles cages so I'm never worried about going thirsty or being tempted to grab fast food on my ride. My bike is a Cadillac, not a Corvette.

  66. Peske tarier says:

    if you’re not fast at least the bike and the kit is professional….🚴🏽💦

  67. KP Schlov says:

    Example for full bulshit! Bla-bla-bla and..nothing ! What feeling,what emotions ,when exist big difference between one high level road bike and one 10 kg entry level bike?! May be profi riders are so stupid,all they use expensive and the best known bikes,may be their sponsors/companies are so stupid to waste so much money,if was possible they to provide cheap heavy bikes for their team and riders?? Nothing concrete give such kind of article,the authors of such video clips are very careful not to affect the interests of the companies and their customer base, ie the profit …

  68. catherinespark says:

    What about pumping up your tires with helium?

  69. jim hughes says:

    Tires and tubes.

  70. RollinRat says:

    It really depends what wheels. Handbuilt wheels built sensibly and practically just for your usage, weight and style are an excellent upgrade.
    Buying the blingiest, lightest and most aero wheels isnt always the wisest decision.
    Prebuilt wheelsets and proprietary parts are often quite problematic for recreational riders.
    High end wheels are for racing not commuting or everyday rides. They are similar to a high end sports car, expensive to maintain and not durable for rough roads. Proprietary parts means only one part works. Kind of silly when you consider simple spokes.

  71. RollinRat says:

    Tires and proper pressure are the best value upgrade. Most riders wheels are overinflated. Tire set up is practically free performance!

  72. Dan Jakubik says:

    Yes! Because of the effects of rotational inertia.

  73. Dan Jakubik says:

    Good point about aesthetics. A faster lighter looking bicycle certainly motivates a bicyclist to improve their performance. Emotional appeal is real and important.

  74. Doom Slayer says:

    I wonder if Carbon wheels will make me ride and accelerate faster.

  75. Car Tay says:

    Aesthetics is a factor.when I upgraded my wheels and someone stole then I was gutted

  76. Phillio says:

    "Simon does not have a garage" 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂

  77. Minerva Li says:

    I think it's the power meter.

  78. Julia Chang says:

    looks is very important…. love looking at carbon wheelsets …

  79. Francis Ling says:

    Pay a visit to the porcelain beforehand shed a few kilos and save that ££££.

  80. Jeffrey Quinn says:

    I remember many years ago trading up from a steel-rimmed Canadian Tire tankcycle to a lightly used Concorde Europa. The one drawback to all that lightness was riding into wind gusts. Once you got it up to speed, that old tankcycle stayed at speed. Those prairie wind gusts stopped the Europa faster than the brakes did.

  81. Joseph Cabalquinto says:

    I agree with so much of what you’re saying. Overall whatever makes you get back in the saddle and ride is an upgrade!

  82. Grumbel Bumbel says:

    The best upgrade is not to find at the bike. It is your determination.
    If you use a road bike to just drive around and getting from point a to b, you got the wrong bike. If you want the melt the street below you leaving cars behind, you're doing it right.

  83. Gino diFonzo says:

    I don't see there being a conflict between performance/aesthetics; typically the most well built and highest performing components also look fantastic, and come in colors that match other high end components on your bike and/or your personal taste as well.

  84. lee oien says:

    Dropping a few pounds of body weight has to be up there too. It's a key bike component– the engine!

  85. Alex Daine says:

    Which is better light wheels with minimal aero or aero wheels that are same weight or possibly slightly heavier than standard wheels for increased speed

  86. Sealteam7 says:

    YES! I had some heavy Mavic Clinchers! I sold them and got Zipp tubulars. You can tell a difference in weight.

  87. Christian Langenohl says:

    So you can benefit from aero wheels even though your bike is non aero?

  88. Endo Alley says:

    Best bike speed upgrade? Gotta be pharmaceuticals.

  89. Jeremy Appell says:

    That's exactly the bike I am using for my commute haha.
    Has my front wheel is bent I have doubt I would gain performances…

  90. Mad mechanic says:

    Dura ace wheels look awesome

  91. uKnow says:

    I am not emotional :I

  92. Yeah buddy says:

    The best upgrade is lose body fat and it’s free

  93. Curtis Larson says:

    I’d say the best upgrade is good tires. Having ridden thousands of miles on shit department store tires, tolerable budget oriented LBS tires and good high end tires, there’s just a world of difference. Once you get tires that roll fast and don’t go flat constantly, you’ll never skimp on tires again.

  94. street rat208 says:

    What about clipless pedals and riding gear

  95. dalton knox says:

    A friend will ride his mountain bike, but never his street bike. The excuses are vague, but the real reason is that it's so uncomfortable. The aluminum frame and fork beat him up too much. The riding position might have worked when he was 20, but he's 65 and overweight, so it hurts his back and his wrists. The cure would be an aftermarket carbon fork, straight bars and a short angled stem, but of course that wouldn't be cool so he rides a mountain bike on asphalt.

  96. Runner Five says:

    i totally pick on looks.

  97. GabKoost says:

    Having a ugly bike vs having a cool bike is often the difference between not wanting to go for a ride or wanting to.
    And that has a direct impact in your performance long term.

  98. Samuel Fawdry says:

    I will say the best upgrade is a power meter then wheels

  99. Clarence Levi says:

    Feeling good totally affects performance. If your the coolest guy on the track you will perform better. Fact. That's a fact right? Fact.

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