Ultimate Shimano Wheels Guide and Hierarchy: Road Bike Edition

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Shimano is the world-leading manufacturer of cycling components, renowned for producing high-quality bike parts and accessories.

Shimano wheelsets are no exception, with various options available to suit different riders and needs. The wheelsets are named in the same hierarchy as their groupsets, entailing a large range of different wheels that suit any price point.

However, given the variety of different options available, it can be difficult to identify the specific differences between each range.

So what is the best Shimano wheelset? And what upgrades are you paying for as you jump up the hierarchy?

In this article, we’ll answer all your questions about Shimano’s wheelsets, taking a look at their most recent wheels, from entry-level to flagship.

To get you up to speed, we’ll be covering:

  • What Is A Wheelset?
  • What Makes A Good Road Bike Wheelset?
  • Shimano Road Bike Wheelsets: The Hierarchy

Let’s dive in!

Shimano Wheels Guide: Title Image

What is a wheelset?

A wheelset on a bike refers to every component that makes up the pair of wheels. The components generally considered part of the wheelset are:

  • Hubs: These are the center of the wheels and are attached to the frame of the bike. The hubs contain the bearings that allow the wheels to spin smoothly.
  • Spokes: These are the thin rods that radiate out from the hub to the rim of the wheel. The spokes provide support and stability to the wheel.
  • Rims: These are the circular edges of the wheels that seat the tire and inner tube (if you’re not running tubeless). The rims are typically made of aluminum or carbon fiber and are designed to be lightweight and strong. If using rim brakes, the rim also includes the braking surface.

A wheelset is a crucial component of a bike, and it is important to choose the right one for your needs. Different wheelsets are designed for different purposes and excel at different things.

A cyclist on an orange road bike climbs a steep hill.

Shimano Road Bike Wheelsets: The Hierarchy

Shimano produces a vast range of different wheels to suit the riding style, compatibility, and budget of almost any roadie in search of a new wheelset.

Generally, each wheelset sits in a “range” that determines where it ranks in the Shimano wheels hierarchy.

Shimano produces far fewer entry-level wheelsets than they do groupsets. This is due to the relative omission of the “Claris” and “Sora” ranges that you’ll find in their groupset hierarchy.

From entry-level to flagship, here is the Shimano wheelset hierarchy.

Shimano RS100 Wheelset (Tiagra R4700 Series)

Shimano Wheelset: Tiagra RS100
Credit: Shimano

The only entry-level range available for Shimano wheelsets is Tiagra.

The Tiagra RS100 wheelset is designed for recreational and entry-level road riders and is intended to be a reliable and cost-effective option for those looking to upgrade their wheels.

The RS100 wheelset is only available in a rim brake, clincher setup. There are 20 spokes on the front wheel and 24 on the rear.

They also feature sealed cartridge bearing hubs and are crafted from lightweight and strong aluminum. They are exclusively available as low-profile rims at a depth of 24 mm.

The RS100 is compatible with 9, 10, and 11-speed groupsets, but requires an adaptor to fit an 11-speed cassette.

The total weight of the wheelset is 1647 grams, which is a little on the heavy side but certainly not excessively so.

The internal rim width of 17 mm is slightly narrower than many modern high-end wheelsets, but should comfortably fit 25 mm tires and even 28 mm without any significant issues.

Retailing at just $135, the Tiagra RS100 wheelset is a great budget option for a first wheelset upgrade for anyone new to cycling.

Shimano RS710 Wheelsets (105 R7100 Series)

Shimano Wheelset: 105 RS710
Credit: Shimano

Rising up the hierarchy, Shimano 105 wheelsets – identified by the RS710 tag – provide many more options to the rider in terms of rim profile, weight, and strength.

They are sorted by rim profile: the C32 and C46 ranges correspond to a rim height of 32 mm and 46 mm, respectively. Both are compatible with 11- and 12-speed cassettes.

Of course, the C46 range is slightly heavier at 1440g, compared to the C36’s 1330g. However, the aerodynamic benefits of a deeper rim section greatly outweigh the minor difference in weight.

Both wheelsets retail at around $1000, which is a huge increase in price from Tiagra – so what do you get for the extra cash?

Firstly, both wheelsets are high-tensile strength and lightweight carbon fiber. This accounts for the 200-300 g difference between this and the Tiagra RS100 wheelset.

Secondly, the deeper-section rims will save quite a few watts relative to the very low-profile 24 mm of the RS100. Additionally, for those looking for a slightly wider tire setup, the internal rim width of 21 mm will allow for wider tires with significantly less bulge.

These wheels were made for the Shimano 105 R7100 Di2 groupsets, so the options are tailored for this release. They are both only available as tubeless and, unfortunately for the rim-brake lovers out there, exclusively available as disc brake wheels.

However, don’t get too upset, as the older 105 R7000 series provides far more configuration options at a much lower price point.

Available in the older range is either a C24 or C30 aluminum wheelset, both clincher and tubeless, and compatible with either disc brakes or rim brakes.

These are significantly cheaper at around $400 for the set. However, they come with a substantial weight penalty, coming in at around 2020 g.

The difference in price and quality between the R7000 wheelsets and the R7100 wheelsets reflects the huge upgrades that were applied to Shimano’s newest 105 series, now becoming more like professional standard componentry.

Shimano Ultegra R8170 Wheelsets (8100 Series)

Shimano Wheelset: Ultegra 8170
Credit: Shimano

The newest release in Shimano’s Ultegra range of groupsets provides a distinct upgrade relative to the RS710 wheels.

The R8170 wheels are part of the R8100 series of components released in 2021. They are available in C36, C50, and C60 rim profiles, providing further aerodynamic gains that will save significant power relative to the 105 wheelsets.

They are compatible with 11- and 12-speed cassettes to suit the most recent releases in Shimano’s Ultegra groupsets. Each rim profile is reflected in its weight, with the 36, 50, and 60 mm rims weighing in at 1490, 1570, and 1650 g, respectively.

Like the 105 wheelsets, these wheels have an internal rim width of 21 mm, with a recommended tire width of 25 to 32 mm, allowing for less rolling resistance on imperfect asphalt.

All of these wheelsets are available exclusively in the disc brake and tubeless configuration. However, once again, if you’re after tubular or rim brake options, it’s worth looking at the older Ultegra R8000 range, and you’ll definitely save some cash too!

The newest R8170 wheelsets come with a hefty price tag of $1200. However, these are professional standard wheels and are some of the best wheelsets that you’ll find on the market.

Shimano Dura-Ace R9270 Wheelsets (R9200 Series)

Shimano Wheelset: Dura-Ace R9270
Credit: Shimano

The flagship range of Shimano wheelsets, R9200, dropped in 2021 and represents their top-of-the-line range of wheels, compatible with the current high-end standard of 12-speed cassettes.

The wheelsets are available with the same rim profile configurations as the Ultegra R8100, that is, C36, C50, and C60.

However, they do come with a weight saving. The range weighs 1350, 1460, and 1610 g, respectively.

One of the major differences between these wheels and the R8100 Ultegra wheels is the availability of options. The R9200 wheelsets are available as either rim or disc brake and tubeless or tubular.

Bizarrely, however, the differences largely end there. These wheelsets are remarkably similar, and in reality, a 50 g weight saving makes little difference on the road.

Arguably, the higher-quality carbon used to provide this weight difference will result in a stronger wheel, but at this price, any wheelset is going to be plenty strong to withstand normal use.

They will also set you back a further $800 at a retail price of $2000 for the pair. Considering the price difference is so vast, it’s difficult to justify the R9200 wheels over the R8100 for all but elite racers.

However, for those looking for the best of the best, with absolutely no compromise, these are the wheels for you!

Enjoyed this Shimano wheels guide? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Jack is an experienced cycling writer based in San Diego, California. Though he loves group rides on a road bike, his true passion is backcountry bikepacking trips. His greatest adventure so far has been cycling the length of the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, and the next bucket-list trip is already in the works. Jack has a collection of vintage steel racing bikes that he rides and painstakingly restores. The jewel in the crown is his Colnago Master X-Light.

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