Blog: can a wheel upgrade transform a frameset?

The best thing about this job has been the opportunity to indulge my rampant upgrading tendencies without having been asked to move into the shed permanently by Mrs. PL.

One of the (few) downsides to getting to test so many varied and wonderful new bikes is the constant battle of trying to find one that fits like my own steed.  Minor adjustments such as stem length can be made, of course, but the constant need to get in the miles means overly narrow bars, different saddles and all sorts of frame geometry. Now I know that your sympathy will be running low at this point reader so I will cut to the chase.

RCUK’s trusty Kinesis Racelight TK3 has been running a host of different wheels recently, including Airstreeem’s full carbon Aero 50 hoops

We run a ‘test rig’ to provide a constant in our evaluation of various components, including wheels. For a little while this task has been performed by the fine Kinesis Racelight TK3: a bike that at first I proclaimed a nice winter steed, but having prised from the Ed has grown to be a real favourite. Many rides have been accompanied by the thought that no one in the real world requires a groupset that outperforms Shimano 105. It’s nice that some do, of course, but is that extra performance necessary for  mortals outside of the WorldTour peloton? I would argue not.

One area in which I have always suffered a weakness for chintzy upgrade possibilities is the wheelset. With this in mind, and the never ending supply of first-rate hoops arriving at RCUK Towers,  the Kinesis arguably been ‘over wheeled’ in recent months with hoops such as the recently tested 1260g Spada Stiletto and the Bontrager Aelous 3 carbon clinchers. The latter in particular has upset my espoused philosophy for a balanced build, with an even spread of frame, groupset and wheel talents. The  Aelous 3s command nearly four times the price of the frameset, a faintly ridiculous fact that I am choosing to ignore.

So can expensive wheels transform a more modest chassis? Recent experience would suggest yes. Bontrager’s carbon hoops have certainly lit up the TK3, revealing its not-all-that-hidden potential as a proper little crit warrior; one let down only by my own shortcomings. The lightweight Spada Stilettos, an aluminium hoop, produced a similar effect. The common factor, then, is the ability of a high-quality wheelset to do justice to a frameset, and to usher forth its true abilities. The pros and cons of carbon wheelsets concern aero performance, and price and braking performance, in that order, but aluminium hoops, in the opinion of this tester at least, are not to be disregarded as yesterday’s technology.

A final attempt at justification for your next ‘essential’ wheel investment: hoops can also be transferred to your next frame upgrade, for there is always a pending frame upgrade…just don’t tell Mrs. PL.

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