Bicycle wheels - Complete guide

Wheels For Bicycle

Bicycle wheels - Complete guide

Wheels are one of the most important elements of a bicycle. Their quality and type significantly affect the bike's performance and riding experience. In this comprehensive guide we will go over all aspects of bicycle wheels in detail:

  • Anatomy of the wheel: components and terminology
  • Types of wheels: road, MTB, city bike, etc.
  • Rims: materials, sizes and profiles
  • Spokes and nipples
  • Hubs: types and fixing systems
  • Tires: sections, tread and pressure
  • Inner tube and valves
  • Braking systems: rim, disc or drum
  • Wheel parameters and measurements
  • Assembly and maintenance
  • Accessories: tires, fenders, wheel guards
  • Tips for choosing wheels
  • The best wheel brands on the market

Let's find out in detail all aspects of this indispensable component for every bicycle.

  1. Anatomy of the Bicycle Wheel

Let's begin by looking in detail at the components that make up a bicycle wheel.

A wheel consists of:

  • Circle (or rim): is the main body, circular in shape, connecting all other elements.
  • Spokes: are the thin metal bars that join the rim and hub. They transfer force from the hub to the rim.
  • Nipples (or nipples): threaded elements used to attach spokes to the rim and adjust their tension.
  • Hub: is the central element of the wheel that connects it to the frame and to which the sprocket set is attached. It contains the braking mechanism (in the drum version) and the bearings.
  • Tire: consists of the tread, sidewalls and heel. It provides grip and cushioning.
  • Inner tube: present inside the tire, serves to maintain inflation.
  • Protective tape or fleece: is applied to the inside of the rim to protect the inner tube.
  1. Types of bicycle wheels

There are various types of bicycle wheels, which differ in features and purpose of use:

  • Road wheels: thin rims, small section spokes, small hubs. Very light, suitable for high speeds.
  • MTB wheels: reinforced rims and spokes, wide hubs. Designed for off-road use. Increased grip and impact resistance.
  • City bike wheels: high-strength rims, strong spokes, hubs with integrated drum. For daily use in the city.
  • Racing wheels: high-profile rims, aerodynamic spokes, integrated hubs. They minimize air friction at high speeds.
  • BMX wheels: small but very strong rims and spokes and reinforced hubs. For stunts and evolutions.
  • Folding wheels: rims and spokes that can be closed. For folding bikes and easy transportation.

The choice depends on the type of bicycle and how it is to be used.

  1. Wheel rims

The rim is the main element that determines the characteristics of the wheel. Let's analyze the materials, sizes and profiles of rims.


  • Aluminum: light but strong alloy. Most widely used due to its quality-to-weight ratio.
  • Carbon fiber: very high strength for minimal weight. For top-of-the-line wheels.
  • Steel: traditional, heavier but with high strength.

Rim size:

  • Diameter: ranges from 24″ on MTBs to 28″ on road bikes. Critical size for bike compatibility.
  • Width: affects the grip of the tire. From 25 mm in time trial wheels, up to 30-40 mm in MTBs.

Circle profiles:

  • High profile: V- or U-shaped section, improves aerodynamics at high speeds.
  • Low profile: almost flat section, more robust and suitable for off-road.
  • Concave profile: centrally reinforced, increases rigidity and stability.
  1. Spokes and nipples

Spokes perform the function of connecting the hub with the rim by transferring force by means of the tension to which they are subjected.

Ray materials:

  • Steel: traditional, cheap and strong. Heavier.
  • Aluminum: very light alloy but prone to breakage.

Beam characteristics:

  • Profile type: round section, blade or aerodynamic. Affects resistance.
  • Diameter: the larger it is, the stiffer and stronger the beam will be. 2 mm the most common.
  • Length: determines the tension of the spokes and varies with the diameter of the wheel.
  • Number of spokes: usually 24-32, racing wheels have up to 40.

Nipples are the threaded components that tighten and tension the spokes to the rim. They can be stretched to adjust tension.

  1. Hubs

The hub houses the bearings inside it and forms the core of the wheel. Here are the main types:

  • Rear hub: stronger and wider, houses the sprocket pack and gear mechanisms.
  • Front hub: small size, usually houses the braking system.
  • Drum brake hub: with integrated brake drum.
  • Disc brake hub: designed for disc attachment.

Main hub fastening systems:

  • Through-bolt: crosses the hub longitudinally, tightening it with nuts at the ends.
  • Quick locking: the hub attaches to the fork with a quick-release lever.
  • Thru-axle attachment: the pin is constrained to the frame and passes through the hub bore.
  • Thru-axle attachment: pivot integral with the frame that crosses the hub by tightening it.
  1. Tires

Tires influence the bike riding experience quite a bit. Let's analyze in detail:

Tread types:

  • Smooth tread: smooth on asphalt, for road use.
  • Taxed: deep tread blocks, maximum grip on rough terrain.
  • Semi-taxed: compromised between the previous two.

Sections and measurements:

  • High section: wider tire, better cushioning.
  • Lowered section: lower rolling and aerodynamic friction.
  • Wheel diameter/width (inches): e.g. 26 x 2.125 for MTB

Materials and construction:

  • Anti-puncture fabrics: reinforced with Kevlar or Vectran to resist cuts.
  • Folding casing: folding sidewalls for clincher tires.
  • Tubeless: no inner tube, use internal liquid sealant.
  1. Inner tube

Contained inside the tire, its function is to maintain proper inflation. Composed of:

  • Air chamber body made of highly elastic synthetic rubber
  • Valve (Presta, Schrader, Dunlop and others): allows for inflation and deflation.
  • Protective valve cap: prevents dirt from entering.

Tube types:

  • Standard: without side flexibility, for 19 mm wide rims.
  • Reinforced: with puncture protection under the tread.
  • Extra light: without reinforcement, for tight circles on the road.
  • Tubeless: designed for tubeless tires.
  1. Braking systems

There are three main types of braking system for bicycle wheels:

  • Pad brake on rim: calipers squeeze the rim on both sides.
  • Disc brake: calipers clamp a metal disc integral with the hub.
  • Drum brake: shoes inside the hub compress the drum.

Disc brakes are the highest performing and most progressive. They allow stable and powerful braking.

Drum brakes are inexpensive and require little maintenance, but there is little modulating braking.

Rim brakes are a good compromise for road use.

  1. Parameters and measurements

Let's look at the main parameters and measurements related to bicycle wheels:

  • Wheel diameter: expressed in inches or as a ratio (e.g., 650c).
  • Rim width: measured in mm, affects comfort and grip.
  • Tire section: width x diameter expressed in inches or mm.
  • Overall outer diameter: sum of rim and inflated tire.
  • Wheel weight: determinant of road performance.
  • Hub attachment type: main standards are QR, thru-axle or thru-axle.
  • Number of spokes and their arrangement: 16, 20, 24 or more spokes with cross patterns.

Choose sizes based on frame, use, and desired performance.

  1. Assembly and maintenance

For proper wheel assembly and maintenance, follow these guidelines:

  • Always tighten nuts or locking levers to the recommended torque.
  • Center the rim well with respect to the brakes, checking clearances on both sides.
  • Maintain proper spoke tension by acting on the nipples with the appropriate wrench.
  • Inflate the tires to the optimum pressure indicated on the sidewall.
  • Check wheel centering and tread wear condition periodically.
  • Clean the rim with degreasing products for optimum adhesion of brake pads.
  • Lubricate bearings and internal hub mechanisms with spray oil.
  • Avoid violent impacts on wheels that could damage components.
  1. Accessories

We analyze the most useful accessories for improving and protecting bicycle wheels:

  • Tires: slipped on the tire, they protect it from cuts and punctures.
  • Fenders: prevent water and mud from damaging transmission components.
  • Spoke guards: elastic plastic ring that slips over the rim to protect the spokes.
  • Rim protection tape: prevents the inner tube from getting holes between the spokes.
  • Pressure sensors: wireless indicators that warn if tire pressure drops.
  • Adhesive patches: allow quick repairs in case of tire puncture.
  • Led lights: useful position light visible on the tires even at night.
  • Odometer: small wireless odometers that can be attached to spokes.
  1. How to choose the right wheels

What are the factors to consider when choosing wheels for your bike?

  • Bike type and intended use: strong wheels for off-road, light for speed.
  • Size and compatibility with frame and brakes: measure carefully.
  • Specific front and rear wheels: the rear needs to be sturdier.
  • Performance needed: light weight for performance, durability for off-road.
  • Balancing quality and budget: always prefer quality for such a critical element.
  • Personal style: wheel choice affects the overall aesthetics of the bike.

Try the bike with the new wheels before final purchase to assess compatibility.

  1. The best brands of wheels

Which are the best bicycle wheel manufacturers? Here are the top brands:

  • Mavic: renowned French manufacturer, cutting-edge materials.
  • Campagnolo: legendary wheels, the top for racing bikes.
  • Fulcrum: Italian excellence for sports enthusiasts.
  • Shimano: reliable and balanced wheels, very popular.
  • DT Swiss: Swiss manufacturer of the highest precision.
  • Roval: Specialized's brand of high-performance wheels.
  • Zipp: specializing in ultra-high-tech chrono wheels.
  • ENVE: 100% carbon wheels made in the USA. The ultimate for many enthusiasts.
  • Easton: leading brand for strength and lightness.

In addition to the brand name, it is important to always evaluate the quality of materials and workmanship of each specific wheel model.

Frequently Asked Questions about Bicycle Wheels

1. What is the importance of bicycle wheels? Wheels are crucial components of bicycle riding and stability. They contribute to speed, grip and handling.

2. What does the size of the bicycle wheels mean? Wheel size refers to rim diameter, often expressed in inches (e.g., 26″, 27.5″, 29″). An influential choice on performance and comfort.

3. What is the difference between 26″, 27.5″ and 29″ wheels? The 26″ wheels offer maneuverability, the 27.5″ wheels a compromise between agility and speed, and the 29″ wheels offer stability and better ability to overcome obstacles.

4. What is the difference between tubeless and inner tube rims? Tubeless rims eliminate the need for inner tubes, offering less risk of punctures, better grip and a more comfortable ride.

5. How do I choose the right wheels for my bicycle? Consider the type of bicycle, your riding style, and the terrain you ride on. Wheels should be compatible with your frame and braking system.

6. Can bicycle wheels affect speed? Yes, wheels affect rolling resistance and aerodynamics, contributing to the overall speed of the bicycle.

7. What is the importance of the material of the wheel rim? The rim material (aluminum, carbon) affects the stiffness, lightness and durability of the wheels. Carbon is known for its lightness and strength.

8. What are bicycle wheel spokes? Spokes are the thin supports that connect the hub to the rim. They are responsible for load distribution and stability of the wheel.

9. Can I improve performance with lighter wheels? Yes, lighter wheels can improve acceleration and handling. However, also consider durability and terrain type.

10. How should I maintain the bicycle wheels? Keep spokes properly aligned, inspect rims for damage, and keep an eye on tire pressure.

11. How much does rim width affect performance? A wider rim width can increase stability and traction, but it could also increase aerodynamic drag.

12. Can wheels affect comfort while driving? Yes, wider wheels and high-volume tires can improve comfort by better absorbing ground shocks.

13. Can I switch from inner tube rims to tubeless? In many cases yes, but it may require the use of tubeless-specific rims and tires. Consult a professional for proper conversion.

14. Are more expensive wheels always better? Not necessarily. More expensive wheels often offer superior performance, but the choice depends on your budget and needs.

15. Can I change the width of the wheels on my bicycle? In some cases, you can change the width of the wheels, but you may have to check for compatibility with the frame and brakes.

16. How can I repair a broken or loose spider on my wheel? You can tighten a loose spider with a spider wrench. If a spider is broken, you should replace it. Consult a mechanic for more complex repairs.

17. What are wheel butts? Butts are threaded parts on wheel axles that hold the wheels in place in the frame. They can be quick or quick-release.

18. Can bicycle wheels be customized? Yes, many companies offer customization options for wheels, such as choice of rims, spokes and butts. You could also purchase separate parts.

19. Can I use the same set of wheels for different types of terrain? You can use the same set of wheels for different terrain, but performance may vary. Road wheels may not be ideal for extreme off-road riding.

20. How can I check if my wheels are well aligned? Check to see if the wheels turn straight in relation to the frame. You can do this by lifting the bicycle and spinning the wheels, observing their movement. If in doubt, ask a professional.

Remember that these answers are informative and general. For more specific maintenance and advice, consult your bicycle manual or go to a specialty store.