Our number one question had always been "how many spokes do I need?" In recent years, that began to be supplanted by "which hubs should I get?" Now, "can I use 'x' tires with these?" is on a van der Poel-ian surge. Looked at another way, our first question asked when people ask which wheels are the best match for them these days is "what tires do you plan to use?" That gives us a rim range, which then informs the rest of the build.
Complicating this is that the distinctions aren't so distinct. We wouldn't recommend a RaceFace ARC25 for someone planning to do TTs with 23mm tires, but apart from the big and maybe obvious differences like that, it's grey scale and not black and white. While wider tires go best with appropriately wider rims, there's no rim we use that you couldn't use a 42mm tire on. Plenty of big hitters in gravel racing (picture that sentence being written five years ago...) use HED Belgium+ rims with tires that size. i25 (which is a nice coding for saying "25mm internal") rims were "too wide" for cross country mountain biking pretty recently.
That said, our job is to make recommendations and try to find the best fit for what you're after when you're starting with a new set of wheels. We realize that this gets confusing quickly, and if you're like me then you're at risk for serious shutdown when presented with info overload. So we made this graphically horrendous chart to help calm your palpitations.
Note that there is still a lot of overlap between categories here. Want to use Cafe Racers for CX? Go right ahead. Want to use HED Belgium+ for flat road racing? Tons of people do and you'd be zero percent wrong to join them.
Also note that as tires and uses move away from road, we spec a bit wider tire compared to rim width (or vice versa - a narrower rim per given tire width) because the tire helps protect the rim. If you bottom out on a rock and your tires are the same size as your rim, your rim is at risk. This is just less likely to happen on the road, and the aerodynamic intel says that there's gain to be made with narrow tires relative to rim width on road, so you're more likely to risk it there. Riding the Bonecrusher 500 Gravel Champs* with 28mm tires on All Road 38s? I wouldn't.
We've separated carbon and alloy options out in separate columns, both to help prevent your oncoming migraine and to give alloys their proper visibility. Alloy ain't dead yet.
A final note is that we clearly use and sell more rims than we've listed on the chart, but the chart represents the huge majority of what we sell. Maybe you've got a lust for something we don't show here? We've probably built it, it's just that we don't build that many of them. And orders within cells aren't necessarily organized by preference, they're just how I typed them.
This chart of course leaves out hubs and lacing, which remain important facets. The intent with this is to help you narrow things down. A lot of you have hub preferences already, or you can just give us a shout and we'll help you through the decision.