Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Logan, UT
Bikes: one bike for every day of the week
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I'd like to meet someone that could tell the difference blindfolded but I'm sure I'd be hit and miss. And that's with a wheel fetish too. Rim technology has come a long way. Decades ago a Mavic Open Pro would've been considered a deep section rim because they hadn't yet worked out how to reliably and uniformly turn anything deeper into a nice concentric circle.
A lower profile rim with more spokes does absorb more road shock but this effect is trivial when compared with other items like the tire size and pressure, saddle, bar tape/grips, etc. I've felt a difference between my Cosmos and my Ksyrium Elites over time, but it took hundreds of rides before it became apparent that my hands and butt take the tiniest bit more abuse on the Ksyriums.
Better rims are double walled, have either single or double eyelets, machined sidewalls, and welded seams. This allows them to be as strong or stronger with 28 or fewer spokes than an old school, uneyeleted, single wall rim would be with 36 spokes in addition to providing slighly better braking. In my experience, the better rims are also a fraction of a millimeter more concentric and ever so slightly easier to achieve even spoke tensions with.
I read somewhere, I think it was in Bicycling Science but I could be wrong, that a single wall rim is often lighter and offers a better ride quality than a typical double wall rim. However, the extra spokes required cancels the weight savings and even with the extra spokes, the lateral stiffness and overall strength of the resulting wheel is not as good as that offered by better quality double wall rims.
As was stated before though, this effect is trivial when compared with other items like the tire size and pressure, saddle, bar tape/grips, etc.