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Are Carbon Hoops Worth The Cost?

February 23, 2021 5 min read

-Written By Jonnie Vance

Ask any mechanic, “what’s the most impactful upgrade that I can make?” And they’ll tell you the wheels! A premium wheelset can significantly alter the performance and feel of any bike. More importantly, an upgrade in rim material can contribute considerable performance gains. 

Traditionally, rims are constructed of Aluminum. However, as technology progresses, riders are moving more towards carbon rims. As we have learned with many other bicycle components, carbon is just plain better in most cases. However, carbon comes at a cost though… Literally

Carbon is almost always more expensive than its alloy predecessor for various reasons. But you know the saying, you get what you pay for, and it couldn’t be any more true in the case of carbon hoops! 

Now let’s answer the real question, are carbon hoops WORTH the price?

Weight Savings

For starters, carbon rims are significantly lighter than aluminum rims. You don’t have to be much of a weight weenie for this difference in mass to be significant. For rims, it’s not so much about saving weight for the scale but more about reducing the initial inertia required to set the wheels in motion. We reduce inertia through weight savings within the rotational portions of the wheels which includes: rims, tires, & tubes!

Decreasing rotational weight is far more impactful than decreasing static weight. Standard theory suggests that reducing rotational weight is a 2:1 ratio when compared to static weight savings. You get double the weight saving effects through decreasing rotational weight vs. fixed weight. 

Lighter wheels offer improved acceleration efficiency from a standing start. They’re also more efficient around the track and aid in making the bike nimble. Lugging around heavy wheels will decrease efficiency and require more effort each lap to get them rolling. These effects compounded throughout a race weekend can take a toll on the athlete during the later laps. 

A typical pro-size alloy rim weighs anywhere from 325g to 400+g. In contrast, the Speedline RCR pro Carbon rim weighs just 290 grams! That’s a difference of 35 grams per rim when compared to the lightest set of alloy hoops! 70 grams may not seem like a lot of weight savings but remember the effects of rotational weight on acceleration. Any weight that we can save on the exterior portion of the wheels will positively impact acceleration efficiency. 

In BMX terms, Lighter wheels = better acceleration (which also) = better gates and first straight performance! In a sport so dependent on the outcome of the first 30ft, this advantage in itself solidifies carbon's competitive edge over its alloy competitor.

Increased Stiffness

It comes as no surprise that the addition of carbon rims produces a stiffer wheelset. Rigid rims make the bike more sensitive to the rider’s inputs. Pedaling and steering become more instantaneous as the wheels increase in rigidity. A set of stiff wheels can compound the acceleratory gains of light wheels through providing reduced latency of the first pedal! Similar to how carbon frames provide a more responsive power transfer through a stiffer bottom bracket region, carbon rims increase the responsiveness of the whole wheelset.

The added stiffness of carbon rims make the bike easier to accelerate, react quicker to rider inputs, and hold tighter lines through the corners. These effects can be confidence-inspiring, making you really trust the bike. As racers, feeling comfortable and trusting your equipment is bound to provide positive returns as we all ride better whenever we’re feeling confident on the bike!

Improved Aerodynamics?

Aerodynamics in itself is an extremely complex topic as well as very situationally dependent. However, in the case of carbon rims, there is a noticeable improvement in aerodynamic efficiency. While there's still a great degree of debate about how much aerodynamics impacts BMX racers, there is no doubt that the higher speeds brought about on the 8-meter hill require some level of aerodynamic consideration. 

Thanks to the carbon fiber material, carbon rims are built with a deeper mid section allowing the rims to better redirect and redistribute air as it travels around the bike. The higher efficiency of air displacement reduces the wheels’ drag, thus increasing the optimal top speed. While it may only be a marginal increase, it’s still an improvement nonetheless.

What It All Means

Simply put, carbon rims are just more efficient than alloy rims. It theoretically requires less force to go faster on a carbon rim through decreased rotational weight, higher rigidity, and minimized air drag.

So the real question isn’t as objective asare these rims worth this specific price? 

It’s really about, what do these performance upgrades mean to you?

Unfortunately I can’t objectively tell you if carbon rims are worth the price. It’s up to your personal judgment and what type of performance you are looking to get out of the bike. If you just need a bike to ride local gate practice, then no carbon rims aren’t really worth it for you. However, If you are an extremely competitive racer looking for any sort of edge that you can find, then with a resounding YES, carbon hoops are absolutely worth the investment!

At the end of the day, both alloy and carbon rims spin in a circle and allow you to have fun on your race bike. One set is more expensive with some additional performance upgrades while the other is cheaper and provides less performance. Either way, Elite Pro mains have been won on both carbon and alloy hoops. Upgrading to carbon rims will not make you faster overnight but they will make the bike more comfortable and perform better in most scenarios.

What I can tell you is that carbon rims are one of the most impactful upgrades that you can make to the bike. For all the reasons I mentioned here, there are few upgrades that yield the same amount of performance benefits as carbon rims. The price tag may seem a little high if you are unaware of what carbon rims do. But after learning about all of the performance benefits, it becomes a lot easier to over look the cost in favor of improved performance.

Yes, you can find alloy rims that are nearly as light as carbon rims. But what you won’t find is a set of alloy rims that can match carbon rims in both weight and stiffness. Carbon is just lighter and stronger than aluminum. The aluminum set may be light but it will have to sacrifice some rigidity to come close to carbon hoops. There's a reason more and more cycling products are being converted to carbon. Just like back in the day when we transitioned from steel to alloy.

If the mainstream carbon hoops are still out of your budget, then I suggest you look at the Speedline Slasher. These rims are specifically designed as an entry point into the carbon fiber rim game. At half the cost of the RCR, the Slashers are an excellent value to anyone looking to pick up their first set of carbon hoops. But the Slashers are no slouch in performance and continue to provide most of the benefits of the RCR.The only downfall is that the Slashers are marginally heavier than the RCR. The Slashers are a great way to test the carbon hype for yourself without breaking the bank. Plus we just stocked them in some wicked retro neon colors to match your most wild builds!