A good quality set of wheels will go a long way to giving your bike a lively and responsive ride, but performance isn't the whole story. It’s important also to consider durability and all-weather performance since (unfortunately) we’re susceptible to the delights of mother nature at any given moment, even in the height of summer.
Pay careful consideration to the type of wheel. Clinchers, which use a standard tyre and inner tube set-up, are used by the masses for their acceptable performance, reasonable price and ease of maintenance (especially if you puncture during a ride). Tubular tyres, on the other hand, which are glued to the rim, are more commonly used by racing cyclists looking for superior performance and 'feel', and those less troubled by a flat tyre (typically those with mechanical support).
Although less aerodynamic than a deep section rim, a traditional low profile wheel will offer predictable handling especially when it is windy, and can be lighter and so better for hilly rides. The extra material used in deep section rims can make them heavier and so additional effort can be demanded to gain the momentum required to bring the aerodynamic advantages in to play.
Lighter carbon rims, however, typically with shallow profiles, can really help make your bike feel like it’s alive, with every input from the pedals carrying you forward, although they aren’t without compromise as braking can deteriorate in wet conditions, so it’s important understand the advantages and limitations of each.
I hope this gives you a few pointers on what to look for when buying your first road bike. Although it can seem like a lot of things to consider, it really is quite simple. The luxury for today's new cyclist is that even entry-level bikes offer great performance and a good quality bike shop will be able to assist in making sure you get the best bike for your needs and hard earned money.
If you need any further help, then please feel free to give me a nod @cottydale
on Twitter and I’ll do my best to help.
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