THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING A CARBON RIM BRAKE WHEELSET

My bike mechanic recommended that I replace my wheels. It’s been a while so I’m not up on the latest road bike wheel technology. I have rim brakes and roll on 23mm tires. I don’t race ,so I don’t need super-deep aero rims, nor do I need to spend $3000. Without recommending a specific brand, could you help me figure out what I should look for in a new wheelset? I’d really prefer it made in the USA.

When it comes to rim-brake wheel technology, I’d say they hit their evolutionary peak around 2012. Sure, different layups and braking surfaces have come to try to improve sustained braking and heat build-up, but the underlying shapes and designs are pretty much the same.

With that said, I would look for a wheel that has a wider internal profile, but not too wide because of how it will modify the measured tire size. I think an internal width of 17–19mm would likely be the limit and ideal. Don’t worry about tubeless, unless you can fit at least a 25mm tire and are willing to adopt the more appropriate sub-75-psi pressures that tubeless requires.

Carbon fiber rims do offer better strength-to-weight ratio than aluminum, but also sacrifice consistent braking in all conditions. On the last note, I, too, am a big fan of made-in-the-USA products, but that doesn’t always make them better, especially when it comes to carbon. When it comes to buying wheels, I’d prioritize reputable brands with great warranty over manufacturing origin. More important to the life of a wheel is the build quality. It is the single-most overlooked aspect of a wheel. Since it’s a dynamic system that is being weight-cycled nonstop, getting a custom-built wheel is always worth a bit of extra cash if you ask me. I’d even go custom and pay extra for the build and sacrifice a bit on something like ceramic bearings or ultra-light hubs.

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