Wide rims and really wide rims

We often turn popular questions into posts and so it is today. With the still-advancing popularity of wider tires, how does one choose between the merely wide (GOAT, Cafe Racer, RCG, Belgium R, etc) and the really wide (All Road 35, All Road 50, Belgium G, etc)? As always, it starts with your tires, and your choice set of tires starts with your bike. 

These All Roads are going on a Santa Cruz Stigmata and likely won't see anything narrower than a 38mm tire

A whole lot of road bikes now have clearance for up to 32mm tires. With the design freedom afforded by disc brakes and market demand for it, it's basically mandatory. Even bikes like the Specialized Tarmac - dedicated road race bikes - now fit 32s almost as a rule. There are a whole ton of things driving this preference, and we don't have to go into all of them here, but in reality 28s play a role close to what we thought of as the 23 position 10 or 12 years ago - "actual road race tires" - while 32s are more what 25s used to be - slightly wider than actual road race tires, a little more forgiving of road surfaces, a little more comfortable, etc. This isn't to say that everyone is on board this trend, there are plenty of holdouts on 23s and 25s, and there are certainly tons of people with bikes that limit them to those sizes. Those people have an easier time since their tires dictate that the narrower series rims will best fit their needs.

Taking a "new school" dedicated road bike that accepts 32s, which rim width is right for you? Those looking to absolutely optimize aerodynamics might opt or the All Road 50 with 28s, as the tire sets up slightly narrower than the rim's 32.5mm outer width. This is known to be somewhat of a speed-optimized setup, as the rim/tire profile works well aerodynamically. This is, however, true within the realm of marginal differences. The trade-offs are a harsher ride as the tire's sidewalls become vertical and stop contributing a significant suspension element, and the loss of the tire protecting the rim in event of falling into a road seam or crashing into a sharp pothole. These issues certainly aren't epidemic, but they happen. 

I've recently worn out a pair of Schwalbe One 28s on Cafe Racers. They lasted a long time and I absolutely loved using them with pressure in the low to mid 60s (I'm high 160s body weight). The tires measured 31mm wide at their retirement, which means that after their initial stretch out, they didn't grow. For most of the people reading this, this is a great setup. Any deficiencies that I had in riding with others were far more to due with my lack of hard training and a million aero sins that my bike and I commit on the regular (but mostly the lack of hard training). No matter the road surface I found this combo comfortable and I felt confident even on Vermont's notorious Class 4 roads. I generally consider most of our audience to be more in this camp, but the point of sharing out experience and knowledge is to help people decide and make their best personal decision.

As you get wider and dip into the really dedicated wide stuff, then the All Roads come into their own. If you're planning. set of wheels that will only ever see 35s or 38s on up, then that's really a layup for All Roads. The narrower suite of rims will still work well very well for you (I use a set of RCGs with Schwalbe G-One Speed 38s as my go-to gravel tire and they're fantastic), but that's the heart of what the All Road series and the HED Belgium G do best. 

For the one bike/two sets of wheels setup, it's super easy. Had I not already had the Cafe Racer/RCG combo, my one bike/two sets of wheels solution would be Cafe Racers and All Road 35s. Simple decision, perfect for both use cases. 

This one was easy to write, as I have written some minor variant of it dozens of times, and truth be told it will wind up as a link in a ton of emails going forward, I'm sure. 

There is still a ton of great riding to be done this season, and we can still get a very nice range of wheels to you in time to take advantage of it. 

 


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