Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thoughts on Carbon rims, Quality, and Road Wheel Components - NO*GAS Hand Built Wheels

For all out road bike wheel performance, the big topic of discussion is deep profile carbon rims. 

You get the aerodynamics of the deep profile and contours of the rim, but without the weight penalty of similar-shaped aluminum rims. In many cases, the higher end carbon rims have been tested thoroughly in a wind tunnel.

I have done extensive research trying to find a high quality, affordable, & attainable carbon rim. It seems all three of those features don't exist in any one single product at this point in time. It may be a different story 1 or 2 years from now as technology develops.

High quality carbon rims, are, in my opinion, well worth the cost and are the way to go. Right now, the two brands of carbon rims I would put on my bike would be ENVE (hand made in USA) and Hawk Racing (made in China). Zipp Speed Weaponry is really nice as well, but they are not available to me as rims only. Cole rims are very nice, but they are designed around spoke angles of their proprietary hubs and are generally not suitable to build with most other hubs. Cole also appears to have some USA distribution issues at this moment, but I will be keeping an eye on them as time goes on.

As you may have noticed, cheap carbon wheels out of China are rather plentiful. I have worked on these, and have seen enough to know they are a gamble at best.. You might get a good set, but it will likely take a few tries to find that one good set that will last and be problem free. At that point, you'd be better off buying once and crying once. :) Several of the cheap carbon rims I've seen started to delaminate All of them were not exactly true, and/or did not stay true, and/or were very difficult to true. Budget carbon rims can be found for $200 or less per rim. It certainly sounds attractive at first, but once you examine the quality of the carbon, construction of the braking surface, heat resistance/tolerance of the resin, build quality, etc, it's just not something you'd want to race on.

See A Video Of Custom NoGas Rims Built Ride Here at Ride-A-Bike! CLICK HERE or HERE
So, for prices, I'll just break it down between hubs and rims. In most cases, we should be able to build about any combination off the list below.

Carbon Rims

Enve clincher rims are mostly all at $975 for *each* rim. The very deep profile rims may run a little more. Demand for ENVE products is very high right now, so there is typically a 3-6 week waiting period between batches before they are back in stock & available for purchase. 

Hawk carbon rims - depending on how deep the dish is, for clinchers, they range in price from $1300 to $1415 per *set* of clincher rims. ENVE rims are, on average, 100 grams lighter per rim than the Hawk rims. 

Typically the highly competitive tri athletes are looking for a very deep carbon dish rim, such as 70, 80, or 90mm. Sometimes they'll even run a full disc rear wheel. Keep in mind that typically the deeper the dish, the harder the bike will be to control in cross winds. ENVE's rim design has minimized the effects of cross winds and, in my experience, is stable and predictable. There's always trade offs in performance vs handling vs cost.

Alloy Rims

There are some very nice light weight shallow-profile alloy clincher rims that are affordable, but they don't have the aerodynamic properties of the above mentioned carbon rims. The Stan's Alpha ZTR 400 and Kinlin XR200 are the first two that come to mind. DT Swiss makes some very high quality alloy road rims as well. The very obvious advantages are low cost and no handling issues in cross winds. If this is something you're interested in, I can examine the details in depth with you.


Arguably, one of the best road hubs in existence is the Chris King R45s. They are available a myriad of colors and have the signature "angry bee" freehub sound. A set of R45 hubs runs approximately $600. Ceramic bearings and Campagnolo freehub body are available at an additional cost. They have the fastest engagement of any hub out there. Very high quality and made in the USA.
Another highly respected road hub is the DT Swiss 180. They feature a carbon fiber shell and ceramic bearings. A set of these will cost you about $1200. These are certainly one of the lightest hubs on the market.

A great option that has some of the lowest rolling resistance is the T11 hubs from White Industries. They are right at $415 for the set. Very high quality and made in the USA. A very strong option for high performance at a reasonable price level.

There are a few other options, but those mentioned above are the major players in the road market. Definitely can't go wrong with any one of those three.

I currently have an Enve rim in the shop right now, as well as some Chris King R45 hubs. Next time you're in, you can check them out and see what you think. If you would like to see the DT Swiss 180 carbon ceramic hubs, let me know when you're stopping by, and I'll bring my road bike to the shop.


If you're in this far to a high end custom build, you might as well use the lightest and most aerodynamic spokes - the Sapim CX Ray. These are by far the best spoke that is available to us for traditional style J bend hubs. We are a big fan of using non-proprietary components on our wheels. This aids in quick serviceability and greatly reduces risk of obsolescence. The CX Ray spokes are in the neighborhood of $3.00 per spoke (I'd have to make a few calls to get the exact current price). Pricey, but absolutely worth it for an all out build.

Other high quality spokes that we often build with are the Wheelsmith DB14 series. They are 2.0mm on the ends, and 1.7mm in the middle. This allows for a lighter spoke, and are actually stronger than a straight gauge 2.0 spoke. These are very affordable at $0.80 to $1.12 per spoke depending on color.

Spoke Nipples

Spoke nipples will vary based on rim choice. The high end carbon rims often require a special nipple. This would be one of the last things we would determine.

For a traditional rim, we prefer alloy nipples because they are lighter than brass. Keep in mind that nipples are rotational weight.

When you get a chance, check out to see a large variety of what we have built and to learn a bit more about our wheel building services.

Brantley SmithAbout Me
Hello, I am Brantley Smith and have been riding road and mountain bikes since the mid 90's. I previously worked here at Ride-A-Bike from mid-97 to mid-2000 doing repairs and other duties around the shop. I attended Wester Carolina University and graduated in 2004 with a computer information systems degree. Add my to your circles.