How to choose the right wheelset for the task at hand (Part 3)

In Part 1 of this series, I talked more about the rider than the wheelsets. Then in Part 2, Dave talked about the special considerations big dudes need to make in choosing a wheelset. Now it's Part 3, where I promised I'd list my top 3 wheelset picks for different types of events. So that's what I'll do.

First though, a word about who these picks are for. If you read Part 1, then you know everything I wrote here is wholly irrelevant without some context of the rider's strengths and weaknesses. If I recommend a set of RFSC 58/85s for a flat road race, and you're 127 pounds soaking wet and have no intention of being out in the wind at the head of affairs, maybe some 38mm tubulars would be better for you. Conditions also matter - the windier it is, the shallower you go. Wind velocity trumps any recommendations here and in Part 1, as you're not likely to win off the front by getting blown into the ditch. 

So I'm aiming here at the middle of the bell curve. Apply your own filters based on your size and riding style, and temper my recommendations accordingly. Now, onto the recommendations, to be followed immediately by mass outrage and dissension in the comments. 

Technical Crit:

  1. RFSW 50: RFSWs are tubulars (RFSCs are clinchers), and 50 is the depth in mm. They're deep enough to offer some aero advantage and at under 1400g spin up plenty fast. But plenty of wheelsets are comparable, so why are the RFSW 50s the best? Two reasons: 1) They're tubulars, which gives them improved traction and road feel over clinchers, and 2) They're tubulars, and as such are $100 less expensive than our carbon clinchers. You're going to stack it up in a crit like this at some point - replacing one of these rims won't set you back as much as replacing your carbon clinchers. 
  2. FSW 23: These are our alloy clinchers, with almost zero aero profile but a 23mm wide rim bed. You'll spend most of a technical crit in the shelter of the pack, so the aero advantage of deeper rims is somewhat neutralized. But the 23mm width of the FSW 23s adds noticeably to cornering grip (especially with some high TPI racing rubber), allowing you to take energy-saving lines and corner with more confidence and free speed. And yes, you'll still crash but these are only $485 a pair.
  3. RFSC 58: I know I just said you'd be in the shelter of the pack most of the race, but when you're not you'll appreciate a little slipperiness in your hoops. The RFSC 58s give you an edge closing gaps in front of you and opening some of your own, should you choose to race like that. And even though they're deeper than the RFSW 50s and clinchers instead of tubulars, they're only 1480g - same as the FSW 23s. The more time you spend on your own in a crit, the less likely you are to crash. Go off the front with the RFSC 58s and you'll be plenty safe.

Hilly Road Race:

  1. RFSW 38: These are only available by pre-order, so the only way to get them is to spend $100 less. These are our lightest wheels, at 1270g (opt for the C-4 hubs to bring them down to 1220g). At 38mm they're not actually aero. Rather, that rim depth lets most riders get away with 20 spokes up front, which slows a wheel down less than the 24 or 28 necessary in shallower rims. The tubular rim contributes to the lighter weight, and they also get the nod because what goes up comes down - tubulars resist heat buildup better than carbon clinchers. 
  2. RFSW 50: The 50s are about 100g heavier than the 38s, but help out in the sections of the course that don't point up. If you can make it over the finishing climb off the front on these and have 6k of moderate descent to the finish, you'll appreciate the extra 12mm.
  3. RFSC 38: It's a toss up between these and the FSW 23s. The RFSC 38s are 100g lighter, about the same weight as the RFSW 50s. Just make sure you're not riding the brakes on the descents, which is more of an issue in neutralized rollouts than in the race itself.  

Office Park Circuit / Flat Road Race:

  1. RFSW/RFSC 58/85: This is the mullet of wheelsets - 58mm worth of aero business up front, and 85mm worth of power transfer party in the back. In races characterized by mild to absent hills and sweeping gentle corners, the speeds are more constant. Technical crits require a lot of changes in speed but these races ask for all the speed you can muster, and hang onto. Either the RFSW or RFSC 58/85 help you do that. (You can order these wheels under the RFSC 85 or RFSW 85 pages in the store - you'll see an option for 58/85 asymmetric pair.)
  2. RFSC 58: Curiously, I think the carbon clinchers are a better choice here than the tubulars of the same depth. If you're not changing speed - trying instead to hang onto what you've got - I actually prefer the extra weight in the carbon clincher rims. I find they maintain their speed a little better, like the flywheel of the spin bike. And if the office park is actually an industrial park with a chewed up road surface, a clincher flat will be less expensive to repair than a tubular flat. 
  3. RFSW 50: It's just a workhouse of a racing wheelset. There's really no event it's not suitable for in some way. Maybe it's not the best choice, but it's always a good one.

Time Trial / Triathlon:

  1. RFSW / RFSC 85: Go deep or go home. Or rather, go deep, stop at the podium, then go home. The 85s are unremarkable around 20mph, and their added weight even makes them sluggish around 18mph. But get them up to 25mph and they not only want to stay there - they make kicking it up to 28mph an invitation you're happy to accept. Everything about these wheels - the look, the feel, the sound - makes you want to just kill it. 
  2. RFSC 58: But sometimes you don't want to kill it, like in the bike leg of a triathlon when you're still looking at a long run afterwards. If your ideal speed isn't as hot as the 85s are asking, the 58s provide an aero boost at lower engagement speeds. Plus at 1480g they're as light as most alloy climbing wheels, helping to flatten the hills. 
  3. RFSW 50: Maybe you're not a TT specialist, but have one or two on your calendar, either by themselves or as part of stage races you'd like to vie for. Buying a specialty wheelset to use twice a season is dumb, even at our prices. If you've got 50s, roll them in your TT or tri. You'll give up some time but - depending on your age and how you invest the money you save - might get to retire 6 months to a year earlier, devoting an extra 40 hours per week to training. Exact your revenge at Masters Natz in a few decades. 

Gran Fondo or Century:

  1. RFSW 38: Wait - wha? A tubular as the top recommendation for a gran fondo or century? Absolutely, and here's why. First, those events are usually well-supported. If you puncture someone's got your back anyway (and if not, throw some Vittoria Pit Stop in your pocket - you're rolling in 60 seconds). Second, these are long honkin days in the saddle. You'll appreciate the extra comfort and road feel of a nice set of high TPI tubulars. Third, these events - particularly gran fondos - cover some pretty extreme terrain. The 38s are ideal for hilly and even mountainous road races, which is what these courses simulate. And fourth, these events are partly about the ride, and mostly about an immersive experience. Some people travel across the country (and even to Europe) to ride these events. If any event asks for the ideal wheelset to optimize the riding experience, it's a gran fondo. 
  2. RFSW 50: You know why by now.
  3. FSW 23: Lots of our customers ask us if the RFSC 38s would be ideal for an epic mountainous gran fondo and we advise them against it. They're light for the climbs but the braking required on the descents at speeds below race pace in groups of people of varied abilities can damage the braking surface of carbon clinchers (not just ours, by the way - we're just one of the only companies to talk about it). With the FSW 23s, you give up 100g over the RFSC 38s, but you get 23mm wide of supple cornering goodness. Maybe you're not the fastest up the climb, but you're going to laughing like a hyena carving through those hairpin descents. Worry about bugs in your teeth, not your brake track.

Wednesday Night Worlds:


  1. RFSC 38: We bill our 38mm carbon clinchers as a do-it-all wheelset, so why is it that it isn't until now that they're on top of the podium of picks? This catalog has focused on events, and while the RFSC 38s are suitable for almost anything, they're not the absolute best choice for any of them. But that's assuming that you're buying different wheels for every event, which most people don't do. In fact, the RFSC 38s are our most popular wheelset because of all the non-event activity they get. Many of our customers use them as their daily drivers. But if you do reserve them for race day, work them into your fast group ride rotation as well. You'll want to be familiar with the different brake feel of the carbon, see how they roll a little more quickly in the draft of a pack, and test the stiffness in hard jumps, so you're not surprised by their characteristics on game day. Oh, and they're fast. Yeah, I know group rides aren't races. Until they are, and then you can't help yourself and want to win.
  2. RFSW 50: If you own the 50s, you probably bought them as your game day hoops. That's great, but they're just too much fun to limit to competition. Throw a can of Pit Stop in your pocket and take them out for Wednesday Worlds. You can tell yourself that you want to get used to the braking or road feel or whatever, but the truth is that you spent good money on carbon wheels so you ought to use them. We're OK with that truth, and when you drop the pack with 5k to the town line sprint, you'll be OK with it too.
  3. FSW 23: Alloy wheels are simple, elegant, durable and plenty fast. And after all, it's a training ride. If you can match pulls with guys on deep carbon, you'll be ready come game day.




Back to blog


So my plan of FSWs, RFSC38s and RFSC58s should cover near everything I need…now if only you guys would sponsor me…. :)


Where's the CX section???


Rick when a highway overpass counts as a mountain the rules are a little different. Have fun.

Dave Kirkpatrick

Here in Florida, with the Miami Gran Fondo on Nov 20th, I'll be sporting the 58 clinchers and even though they wen't mentioned as a Gran Fondo choice, I'll keep 'er front and center and make you proud.




Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.