I have always been a believer in quality wheels on bikes and has mainly been on my Mountain bike experience.
But I now have road bikes. First bike I got was an OCR3 with The stock Giant wheels. Formula hubs and Alex rims. 6 months in and I went down a hill. Freewheeling and got a top speed of 30 mph.On the MTB with Hand built wheels and knobblies- I get 37mph. No wonder I felt that this road riding was not for me. Chatted to the LBS and £120 later and I had a pair of Handbuilt 36 spoke Mavic CXP33 rims and 105 hubs that transformed the Road bike. It now started to work. I also got new tyres and they were Michelin Pro Race 2's so perhaps they had some factor in the performance of these new wheels. So I was now back to my Original thoughts of Hand built wheels being better.
Then I got the Boreas and this has Ultegra Wheels. Not an ultra expensive wheel but a bit of Bling comes in with them being lighter and 20 spoke front and 24 rear. I wore the Tyres out very quick and got the PR2's fitted on them. Then the TCR and I changed the Giant IOU 555 wheels for Mavic Aksiums straight away. Only a budget wheel but Mentally I did not want any Inhouse wheel on the bike. Only used them once- couldn't fault them but they are on the wall of the bikeshed as spare wheels. The TCR got the Ultegra's fitted.
Now over the last month- I have been trying out the Ultegras and Hand builts on both bikes. Checking out pressures and Same hill and rolling speed down a hill. There is little difference between the wheels- but the Ultegras are a fraction faster and the Hand builts do offer a bit of comfort on rougher roads. Tyre pressure and I always run higher than Manufacturers Limits. The PR2's have a limit of 116psi but I have gone from 95 to 140 in checking out comfort and speed. On the comfort side- 140 is not a problem but On the TCR- The ultegras at 140 psi is not the combination to use. The front wheel has a tendency to bounce a bit. The hand builts at 120 is comfortable and rolls well. But back to boreas. Those Ultegra wheels work. 140 or 120 is not much difference on comfort but at 140- there is an increase in speed- freewheeling down my test hill. On both bikes and with both sets of wheels- below 110 and there is an increase in drag.
For my own preference- I would ride Boreas with the Ultegras at 140 psi and that is what I used last Sunday on the ride I did. Lots of other riders out there on decent bikes- and The motor may not have been good enough to stay with them up the hills. But on the flat I was comfortable and freewheelong down the Hills I noticed one startling fact. I was faster. The ultimate test came at the end of the ride where there is a 10% downhill for about 1 mile. I had been riding on the flat with 5 other roadies and they all had good bikes. Top of the hill and we did not exactly go for it- but it was a Smooth Tarmac downhill with No cars on it as the road was closed for the bike ride. We all got into the tuck position and were together at 40 mph. halfway down. Then I gradually pulled a lead on them. Got to the bottom and it was anchors on and I heard at least one tyre squeel as it locked up and plenty of brake noise. That was fun. Then came the question- "What speed did you get"? I had got to 48.5- 2 mph faster than one other and the other 4 had not got above 40 mph. The 46.5 bike had Mavic Krysiums- and the other 4 had the Stock wheels as fitted to the bikes. Two of them had Aksiums- one had Renolds of some type and the other had Cheap wheels. The 4 slower riders all said the same thing- It must be the quality of the wheels- Except the Krysium owner- Her wheels cost 3 times as much as Mine and she said it must be something else. Then I let it slip that these "Stock" Ultegras had been tweaked by my wheel builder before I got the bike. That was where the Secret of my speed came from- and they all agreed it must be so. Looking at tyres and 2 of us were on PR2's- one on PR3's and the others were on Continental 4000s so equivalent tyres again.
Now the other comment that was made- Was "You have got an Aluminim bike" They could not believe that a Heavy aluminium bike had beat their Carbon Fibre frames. I did let them Know that I hace a TCR C and they were aghast that I had not ridden it on this ride. "Its so much more forgiving- it handles better and it is lighter." Wrong on all accounts- Remember this is a top of the range Aluminium frame and is Hand built in Denmark.
So if you are looking to improve your bikes performance- first place to look is the wheels. Even if you cannot afford new wheels- Get your "Stock" wheels into a good wheel builder and get him to Retension and True the wheels. And if you can afford a new set of wheels- but they have been Machine built- Then get him to work his little bit of magic into them again. Then if you are as slow as me up the hills- When it comes to where gravity takes over- You will have an advantage that is hard to beat.