Coach Aaron: The Right Wheel for the Right Job

You've probably heard the adage that a deeper wheel is faster.  Speaking very generally, this is true.  The deeper the rim, the less of your spokes that are exposed to the wind, the less wind resistance is created.  So deeper is obviously better!  Well... only up to a point.  I've seen many athletes get into trouble by going too deep; especially with their front wheel.

Here's where the strength of the athlete comes into play.  The resistance of a 10 degree crosswind for a cyclist traveling 15mph is not the same resistance as a cyclist traveling 23mph in that same wind. Without getting too technical, the faster a cyclist goes, the lower the effective wind angle becomes.  So standing still the wind hitting us might be at a 10 degree angle; at 15mph it becomes a 8 degree wind angle (effectively); at 23mph it becomes a 5 degree angle (effectively)... and so on.  Keep in mind, I'm being very general with the numbers to demonstrate the point: the faster you go the less severe a given crosswind will effect you.  The less a crosswind will effect your handling, the deeper the wheel you can use on a given race day.  Go with too deep of a wheel and you'll spend a lot of your core strength fighting with your front wheel to keep you traveling in a straight line.  The more energy you use fighting this
side-to-side movement, the less energy you have to push your pedals and eventually run.

Finally, I'd like to mention what is probably the most overlooked aspect of race wheels: the setup.  The little details that most people put no thought into, but added up probably make the most difference.  I've seen countless people who have bought wheels that I wouldn't hesitate to race on but setup them up to be as slow as possible.  Pay attention to your tires.  Racing and training tires are made for those specific purposes, just like your wheels.  A good training tire is more durable and more puncture resistant.  A good racing tire has better grip, handling characteristics, and lower rolling resistance.  Different wheels are made at different widths.  Matching the width of your tire to the width of your wheels improves both handling, aerodynamics and rolling resistance!  The tubes you put in those tires will also have a dramatic effect.  Normal training tubes are black and made from butyl rubber.  Race tubes are made from latex are either pink or green depending on the manufacturer.  Even picking the right skewer can save you a few watts.

Now, when it comes to the value, and buying a new bike or race wheels vs a power meter or a coach or a training camp... that's a whole different debate.

Questions about Wheels, Coaching or anything Triathlon?  Contact Coach Aaron at aaron@playtri.com today!