TeamCBC Cycling Tip – What’s the Difference between Carbon and Aluminum Wheels?
Most new bikes today come with aluminum alloy wheels. There’s nothing wrong with aluminum alloy wheels, they are strong and lightweight. However just like with bicycle frames, carbon fiber, although pricey, has some advantages.
Carbon is Lighter
Entry level carbon wheels are about 10% lighter than the equivalent aluminum wheels. That doesn’t sound like much, but the difference is significant since the weight reduction is all at the outer part of the wheel which gives it a much lower moment of inertia (I’ll let Danny explain that one). The best carbon wheels can weigh almost 40% less and, as we all know, lighter is faster.
Carbon is More Aerodynamic
Since engineers can be more creative with carbon, they can be made more aerodynamic. In addition, they can be made with deeper rims and still be lighter than the standard aluminum rim. Now the deeper rims can be a disadvantage in crosswinds, especially for a smaller, lighter rider, but typically they are still much faster overall. I was almost blown off the road yesterday by a tractor trailer truck and I’m not light (maybe a light heavyweight).
Carbon Provides a Smoother, More Rigid Ride
Carbon can be made with less flex (which is how much the rim moves up and down and side to side), but still absorbs road vibration. This not only makes them faster, but provides a smoother ride.
Aluminum has Better Braking Performance with Rim Brakes
If you have disc brakes, that’s it, it’s all good except for the price. However if you have rim brakes, aluminum wheels have better braking performance and will dissipate the heat better. Also carbon wheels have been known to delaminate and/or wear down due to excessive braking.
The following article and video have more information about the differences. Also the Brits spell aluminum “aluminium” and they pronounce it “al-loo-MIN-ee-um” in case you wondering, “What the heck is he saying?”
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