A wheelset is one of the integral parts of a bicycle, and, as the name suggests, contains the system of the wheels.
The question – “What is a wheelset?” – might seem straightforward, but it can be a little confusing because there are many different parts included within a wheelset. If you just buy a set of wheels, you wouldn’t necessarily consider all of them separately.
But, precisely what is a wheelset?
While the definition varies, a wheelset is typically considered to include the wheels’ rims, hubs, freehubs, spokes, nipples, and fastening mechanisms.
For more detail, in this article, we’ll give you a precise definition of wheelset meaning and let you know exactly what to look for in a wheelset depending on your riding style.
- What Is A Wheelset?
- Wheelset Meaning: The 6 Key Parts Of The Wheelset
- What Should You Look For In A Wheelset?
Let’s dive in!
What is a wheelset?
A wheelset, as you might expect, is a set of two wheels that provide an interface between the ground and the frame and allow for the bike to roll.
It is actually made up of many parts, rather than just two, but often you’ll just buy a complete wheelset, or even a complete bike, and not have to consider the separate parts within the definition of a wheelset.
The wheelset also provides the limiting factors on things like the maximum supportable weight of the bike and even the potential speed of the bike when freewheeling.
A wheelset is arguably going to make the single biggest difference to the feel of the ride on your bike, and the gap between a pro-standard and a cheap entry-level wheelset really is a gulf.
Note that, of course, this is by no means an exhaustive list, just some of the most common brands you’re likely to come across.
Wheelset Meaning: The 6 Key Parts Of The Wheelset
The rims of a wheelset are circular sections of material that lie between the spokes and the tires.
They serve many functions, but perhaps their primary purpose is they give a coherent circular shape to the wheel. Additionally, the rims need to be plenty strong as they are usually what provides the strength of the wheel (when combined with the spokes).
They also house the tires, and potentially the inner tubes or tubeless valves, depending on your setup.
Hubs are the central part of the wheel, providing the interface between the thru-axle and the spokes (and in turn the rims).
The hubs contain the bearings which allow the wheel to rotate freely without generating much friction that would slow you down.
Additionally, the hubs are indirectly connected to the rims through the spokes, which allows the wheel to spin as one object.
Considering the interface between the drivetrain and wheels, the pedals are rigidly connected to the chain, which is, again, rigidly connected to the cassette, which, in turn, is connected to the wheel.
So, when you’re not pedaling, how can the wheel be spinning without forcing the pedals into motion?
The freehub is the part responsible for this. It is part of your wheel that connects the cassette to the wheel itself.
It is essentially a mechanism that engages when you turn the pedals – forming a rigid connection between the wheel and the cassette, but disengages when you’re not, allowing the wheel to spin independently of the cassette.
The spokes are the thin tubules of material that connect the hubs to the rims.
There can be a range of the number of spokes in a given wheel, depending on the tensile strength of each individual spoke.
They are tightened to provide equal radial tension on the rim from all angles, which massively improves the strength of the rims themselves.
Though, this is a job that’s hard to get right, and unequally tensioned spokes will result in a buckled rim and inefficient riding.
The nipples are the parts that attach the spokes to the rims, and can be rotated to tighten or loosen this connection.
In order to tension a wheel, you need to equally rotate all of the nipples until the wheel spins true.
#6. Fastening Mechanism
The fastening mechanism is the part that secures the wheel to the frame while acting as an axle.
A quick-release skewer is the most common type of fastening mechanism, but thru axles are becoming increasingly popular when paired with disc brakes.
The fastening mechanism is in contact with the hubs via the bearings and allows the hub to spin freely over it while it remains static.
Parts Sometimes Considered Part Of A Wheelset
Depending on the wheelset meaning definition that you come across, some choose to include these parts and some don’t. For the sake of being diplomatic, we’ll define these too.
The tires are the circular section of rubber that provides the soft(er) interface between the rim and the ground.
Housed by the rim, the tires can be a variety of shapes and sizes, and, according to some, make one of the biggest differences of any part to your bike’s efficiency.
Different tires are often one of the key changes from discipline to discipline.
On one end of the spectrum, road tires are generally thinner and smoother, while MTB tires are usually much wider and with an aggressive tread pattern to provide grip on loose surfaces.
They also vary in type, with some tires being intended for use with a tubeless setup, and some tires intended for use exclusively with inner tubes. Tubular tires are also a popular option for competitive road racing.
If you’re not using a tubeless setup, then the inner tubes are the parts of the wheel that inflate and hold the air within the tire.
Surprisingly, the type of inner tube can actually make a big difference to your efficiency on the bike. The cheapest option is a butyl inner tube, which usually costs around $10, and does a perfectly good job of holding the air within the tire.
However, for around $20 per tube, latex inner tubes do a far better job of reducing the rolling resistance of the wheel as you move. Rolling resistance, provides the second largest resistive force to your riding, after aerodynamic drag.
So, for a relatively cheap upgrade, you can save yourself a few watts on your inner tubes by going for latex over butyl.
Inner tubes come with a valve fitted through which you can inflate them to the required pressure. So, how do you inflate a tubeless tire?
You need tubeless valves.
Tubeless valves fit directly into the rims and are constructed so as to create an airtight valve through which you can pump air directly into the tire, rather than using an inner tube.
- Interested in going tubeless? Check out our article Types Of Bike Tires Explained: Clincher Vs Tubular Vs Tubeless Tires here!
What should you look for in a wheelset?
So, now you know all about wheelsets, what qualities should you look out for in a new wheelset?
Well, like most things in the world of bike tech, it depends on what you’re after.
Different wheel qualities will affect your ride in different ways, and some such qualities will provide a greater advantage to some riders than others.
If you’re going purely for speed, then you’re best off looking for some deep-section aero wheels. These are specifically designed to allow the air to “cling” to the rims as you ride and so result in less drag than a box-section rim.
Drag, as previously mentioned, is the mortal enemy of the speed demon. Unless you’re climbing up a savage gradient, drag is by far the largest source of resistance to your motion.
You can minimize drag through your position on the bike, but still, a good proportion is due to the machine you’re riding. If you minimize the drag all over your bike, you will instantly notice a difference in your potential speed.
The wheels are a huge source of potential drag, so, if you want to go as fast as possible, get yourself some aero wheels!
If you’re keen on the hills, and like to burn your legs up on 30% gradients, then it’s best to get some extremely lightweight carbon wheels.
Being lighter, they simply require less force to counteract the force due to gravity when climbing, so, you’ll be able to ascend faster.
They are usually box-section rims, since in general, if you want light wheels, then you should be using as little material as possible. Of course, deep-section aero rims take a lot more material to make, so usually carry a slight weight penalty.
If you’re a bikepacker, or you want your bike to be as durable as possible, then it’s worth looking for wheels with high tensile strength.
Wheels are the most likely part of your bike to succumb to too much weight loaded on it, so, looking for some strong steel or carbon wheels is a smart thing to do if you like to bikepack long distances on uncertain terrain.