Finding the Right Road Wheels

Finding the Right Road Wheels

Let’s face it. There are a lot of road wheels on the market. Even if you look only at Reserve’s selection of wheels, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to determine which wheelset is right for you. Over the years we've attempted to help answer this question with videos, literature and other primers, yet it can still be a daunting undertaking.

For this month’s newsletter, we’ve taken a step back and are providing some general info on road wheels to help answer the questions that remain. Applying the theoretics to the real world, we also delve into the details surrounding which wheels Jonas Vingegaard used for his 2023 Tour de France victory and why. 

To make it easy to digest, we've separated the story into three parts starting with wheel aerodynamics and rolling resistance, then switching to the section on the wheels used by Jonas at the Tour. Let's start with aerodynamics.

Part 1: Wheel Aerodynamics

Starting in the late 1980s, there has been a significant focus on bicycle and bicycle wheel aerodynamics. This makes sense as it can have a significant impact on a cyclist's speed and efficiency. Reserve, for its part, has spent more of its engineering time and resources on aerodynamics than any other single aspect of development. It's what drove us to the wind tunnel over four years ago and was the impetus behind our developments in Turbulent Aero measuring and technology.

In general, the most aerodynamic bicycle wheels typically have certain characteristics that help reduce air resistance and improve aerodynamics.

  1. Rim Depth: Deeper rims are generally more aerodynamic because they reduce the drag caused by air interacting with the wheels. Deep-section rims typically 40mm or deeper, have been common choices for people looking for improved efficiency, but we are seeing advantages all the way down to our 32mm deep rims.

  2. Rim Shape: It's long been known that a rounded, teardrop-like rim profile tends to be more aerodynamic than a flat or boxy shape. Common sense tell you this. It's obviously something all rim manufacturers are doing, but we are riding more and more that its the nuances in the shape that are making the incremental increases in speed.

  3. Spokes: Spoke patterns and the number of spokes can significantly impact aerodynamics. It's the reason all of the Reserve road wheels are using 24 spokes, nearly all of which are bladed (again for reducing air drag). An exaggerated example is a disc wheel like the Reserve Infinity Disc. This wheel in essence, because it has a solid disc cover, has a single spoke and is by far the most aerodynamic wheel that Reserve makes.

  4. Hub Design: After you have spent loads of time and resources evaluation rim shapes and spoke drag numbers, the next obvious place to look is the hub. Theoretically, there are hubs that are designed to reduce turbulence and air resistance, but if we are honestly, we haven't found any significant difference in terms of aerodynamic advance from one hub to the next

  5. Tire Width: One of the most important factors in improving aerodynamics in with the tire to rim interface. Contrary to tradition, we have found that wider tires (especially tubeless) on a wider rim not only lower rolling resistance, but reduce drag. A combination with smooth transition from the tire to the rim

When considering aerodynamic wheels, it's essential to keep in mind that the optimal choice can vary depending on your specific riding style, the type of cycling you do (e.g., road racing, time trials, triathlons), and the environmental conditions (e.g., wind conditions) you typically encounter. While the entire goal with Turbulent Aero was maximizing stability with deep section wheels, there is a trade off to the improvements in aerodynamics created by rim depth.

Part 2: Rolling Resistance

At the point in this story, we are going to take short detour and talk about rolling resistance. Over the past two years, in combination with Vittoria and Team Jumbo-Visma, we have spent a lot of time studying rolling resistance. 

Scientifically speaking, rolling resistance in bicycle tires is the force that opposes the motion of the bike when it's rolling on the ground. This resistance occurs because the tire deforms as it makes contact with the road or surface, and this deformation results in energy loss. Rolling resistance is a significant factor affecting a cyclist's speed and effort required to maintain forward motion. Here's how rolling resistance works and what factors influence it:

  1. Tire Deformation: When a bike tire makes contact with the ground, it flattens slightly to create a contact patch. This deformation of the tire requires energy, which is primarily lost as heat due to the internal friction within the tire material.

  2. Tread Design: The tread pattern and construction of a tire influence rolling resistance. Tires with a smoother tread and supple casing tend to have lower rolling resistance. In contrast, heavily treaded or knobby tires, like those used for off-road or mountain biking, generate more rolling resistance due to increased deformation and friction.

  3. Tire Pressure: Tire pressure has a significant impact on rolling resistance. Proper inflation is crucial to minimize resistance. Overinflated tires can reduce the size of the contact patch, leading to higher rolling resistance, while underinflated tires can increase deformation and resistance.

  4. Tire Width: Wider tires tend to have lower rolling resistance compared to very narrow tires. This is because wider tires can create a larger contact patch, which distributes the rider's weight and reduces deformation, resulting in less rolling resistance.

  5. Tire Material and Construction: The type of rubber compound used in a tire and its construction play a role in rolling resistance. High-quality tires with advanced rubber compounds and lightweight, supple casings tend to have lower rolling resistance.

  6. Surface Conditions: The type and condition of the road or surface also affect rolling resistance. Rough or uneven surfaces increase resistance, while smooth and well-maintained roads reduce it.

Reducing rolling resistance is important for cyclists because it directly affects the efficiency and speed of the ride. Lower rolling resistance means less energy is wasted as heat in the tires, and this results in a smoother, faster, and more efficient ride. However, it's important to strike a balance between low rolling resistance and other factors like grip, comfort, and puncture resistance, depending on your cycling needs and conditions.

Now we are going to move to the next part of the story, perhaps the more interesting part of the story, where we apply the theoretics to the real-world application. In this case, it's describing which wheels Jonas Vingegaard used during his 2023 Tour de France victory and why. 

Part 3: The Wheels in Use

In general, there are few things more difficult than defending a Tour de France title, but we’d like to think that his Reserve wheels had a big part in this success. Obviously, his stage win in the hilly Stage 16 time trial aboard the Reserve 77|Disc wheelset was the first hint of his eventual dominance, but it was the massive time gain on the Stage 17 climb to Col de la Loze with the Reserve 34|37s that saw Vingegaard put serious and permanent time in the GC.

Stage 3: Amorebieta-Etxano to Bayonne

Wheelset: Reserve 40|44 Tubeless

This stage took riders from Amorebieta-Etxano in the Basque Country and deposited them back into France, 193.5 kilometers later in Bayonne. It always looked like a sprint day, despite four classified climbs, one cat. 4 and three cat. 3 climbs, but they were all dealt with in the first half of the race. After that, the going was generally flat to rolling and it was assured that the day would end in a sprint finish. The day’s victory went to Belgian sprinter Jasper Philipsen who pipped Phil Bauhaus at the line for the win.

In general, deeper profile wheels are heavier, but provide more advantages aerodynamically and once brought up to speed, do a better job maintaining forward momentum and maximizing efficiency. As a result, in Stage 3 Vingegaard opted for the deeper profile Reserve 40|44s, the main reason being that the day had a lot of flat and/or rolling sections. Also, the climbs were not of a super high gradient and Vingegaard sat on the wheel of his teammates most of the day so it would be easy to keep pace with the peloton. 

Stage 5 Pau to Laruns

Wheelset: Reserve 34|37 Tubeless 

If you recall the race on this day it wasn’t a stage that Vingegaard won, nor the stage where he earned himself the yellow jersey. Stage 5 was however the first stage where he started putting distance between himself and his main rival Tadej Pogačar. Tour debutant Jai Hindley had a day to remember, winning the mountainous stag, and taking the yellow jersey, but Vingegaard dropped Tadej Pogačar decisively, putting more than a minute into the UAE Team Emirates rider by the finish.

Vingegaard chose the Reserve 34|37 this day with DT Swiss 180 hubs, and the reasons are relatively obvious. The course is mountainous and Vingegaard was looking for the lightest wheelset in the lineup, the wheelset with which he could not only bring up to speed the quickest if Pogačar decided to launch an attack, but also the easiest to turn over in the last 20 kilometers on the steep gradients of the Col de Marie-Blanque.

Stage 6 Tarbes to Cauterets-Cambasque

Wheelset: 34|37 Tubeless 

Like Stage 5, Stage 6 wasn’t a day where Vingegaard won the stage, but it was nonetheless a pivotal day in the Tour overall. After an aggressive day of racing by the entire Jumbo-Visma team, Vingegaard succeeded in distancing himself from all of the rivals bar Tadej Pogačar, who dropped the Dane to win the stage. 

Jumbo rode the climbs aggressively and attacked towards the top of the Tourmalet, swiftly dropping the yellow jersey wearer Jai Hindley, which left just Vingegaard and Pogačar as the only GC riders out front. However, after the Dane set tempo for a few kilometers, the Slovenian launched a stinging counter-attack and put 28 seconds, including bonuses, into Vingegaard.

Vingegaard again decided to ride the Reserve 34|37 on this day, the same version with DT Swiss 180 hubs. Again, the reasons are relatively obvious. The course is mountainous and Vingegaard was looking for the lightest wheelset in the lineup. Yes, Pogačar dropped Vingegaard in the end, taking the lead down to 25 seconds, but this was also Vingegaard’s first day in yellow as Hindley was dropped and moved down the rankings. 

Stage 14 Annemasse to Morzine

Wheelset: 34|37 Tubeless 

In this hotly anticipated mountain battle between Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar, the winner was a rider nobody expected: Carlos Rodríguez. Dropped on the final climb of the Col de Joux Plane, Rodríguez actually caught up and pushed on alone to claim a stage win in his debut Tour. Victory in Morzine catapulted Rodríguez into third in the GC by just one second over Jai Hindley, but Vingegaard also added one second to his lead over Tadej Pogačar in the fight for the overall Tour. 

This was another hilly stage, and everyone knew it would set up for a remarkable duel between the two best GC riders on the Col de Joux Plane. And it did. Pogačar launched one of his signature attacks with 3.5 kilometers to the summit and opened up a gap, but Vingegaard clawed his way back to his rival’s wheel and set up a track sprint for the bonus seconds on offer at the top of the climb.

Helping the claw back were the Reserve 34|37 wheels. Again, the lightest climbing wheelset Reserve makes helped Vingegaard follow the attacks on the steepest gradients and overall ease his efforts turning over the pedals. 

Stage 16 Passy to Combloux

Wheelset: Reserve 77|Infinity Disc

The individual time victory at Combloux marked Vingegaard's first and only win at this year's Tour de France, but this stage also put him in the driver’s seat to win his second Tour de France title. Not only did he beat his rival Tadej Pogačar by one minute and 38 seconds, but the Dane was the only rider to average in excess of 40 kilometers per hour around the 22.4 kilometer Alpine course. The Team Jumbo-Visma rider went into Stage 16 with a GC advantage of just 10 seconds, but walked away with an almost two minute advantage. It was an incredible day, prompting Tour de France commentators to say, “It’s obvious that Jumbo-Visma has the best equipment in the peloton.”

Individual time trials are an interesting subset of road racing. As the name suggests, each rider is literally out on their own, so it’s a pure exhibition of individual strength and prowess. This stage was a little different in that it is somewhat hilly, prompting some teams to switch from pure TT bikes to climbing bikes mid-race, but Team Jumbo-Visma  and Vingegaard rode Cervelo P5s equipped with Reserve 77|Infinity Disc for the entire stage. 

A wheelset like 77|Disc is designed specifically for events like an individual time trial, where bringing the wheels up to speed and maintaining that speed over a relatively short distance is the name of the game. In general, the deeper the wheel section is, the better the overall aerodynamics; the potential disadvantage is the increase in overall weight of the wheel. But as Vingegaard proved in stage 16, when you have the horsepower, the advantage is that it’s easier to keep the heavier wheels rolling.

Stage 17 Saint Gervais to Courcheval

Wheelset: 34|37 Tubeless 

Stage 17 was quite the day for Jonas Vingegaard. Felix Gall actually won the stage, but Vingegaard’s rival Tadej Pogačar cracked on the slopes of the final climb. Vingegaard increased his lead by over 7 minutes in the fight for overall victory, extinguishing any hope Pogačar may have had of wearing the yellow jersey in Paris. 

Like the other stages where Vingegaard rode the 34|37 tubeless Reserve wheels, this 165 kilometer stage is filled with steep ascents, especially the final climb up to the Col de la Loze before descending into Courcheval. The expectation on this day was that Pogačar would launch one of his signature attacks in a final effort to nab back the yellow jersey. Vingegaard was looking for the lightest wheels in the lineup, a wheelset which he could bring up to speed quickly to counter Pogačar’s attack.

Stage 21 Saint Quentin-End-Yvelines to Paris 

Wheelset: Reserve 40|44 Tubeless

The final stage of the tour, by tradition, is normally a parade lap for the rider who ends Stage 20 in yellow. It’s also a stage that is left for the sprinters, as the peloton laps the cobbles around the Champs-Elysees building up to a final dash for the line. 

Like the earlier stages on the tour where a sprint finish was expected, Vingegaard chose the Reserve 40|44. This wheelset is generally deep enough to provide good aerodynamics, shallow enough to be relatively lightweight, and altogether a good wheelset for quick acceleration when the peloton swings into one of its patented surges. 

On this day Vingegaard was able to drink champagne, sit in with his team, and finish the tour with a repeat victory. It was truly awe-inspiring to see such an incredible rider and team dominate this year’s tour, and being the first time Reserve competed in the tour, an unbelievable achievement for our brand and our wheels.

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