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Wheel Depth for Triathlon: A Comprehensive Guide

Wheel depth is a critical factor in triathlon cycling, influencing aerodynamics, bike handling, and overall performance.

With the plethora of wheel options available, choosing the right wheel depth can be daunting. This article delves into the intricacies of wheel depth, drawing insights from expert opinions and real-world experiences.

RELATED: Top Triathlon Wheels Reviewed: Find the Best Option for Your Race

Recommendations from Experts

  • Zipp: Josh Poertner from Zipp emphasizes the importance of assessing one’s bike handling skills. He suggests that no one should use a rear wheel shallower than a 404 (58mm depth). However, front wheel depth should be chosen based on confidence and conditions, typically starting at 45mm.
  • Cycling Weekly: Emphasizes the importance of aerodynamics over weight. They note that modern wheels are lighter and more aerodynamically optimized. The consensus is that a rim depth of 40-50mm is ideal for performance-focused riders, while 32mm is suitable for those who prioritize weight and handling.
  • HED: Tim Mulrooney from HED likens wheels to golf clubs, suggesting that different situations require different wheel depths. He emphasizes the importance of aerodynamics and weight in wheel selection.

Factors Influencing Wheel Depth Selection

  1. Course Profile: Not every wheelset suits every course. For hilly courses with significant elevation changes and technical descents, shallower wheels in the 30-65mm range are more appropriate. Conversely, for flat courses, deeper wheels or even disc wheels might be the ideal choice.
  2. Elevation and Turns: While elevation is a significant factor, the number and severity of turns on the course also play a role. Tight turns require frequent deceleration and acceleration, which can be challenging with heavier wheels.
  3. Wind Conditions: Windy conditions can make deeper wheels challenging, especially for lighter riders. The front wheel is particularly influential in such conditions. Heavier riders might still manage with a disc rear wheel, but it’s essential to consider crosswind speeds and adjust wheel depth accordingly.
  4. Rider’s Skill and Experience: A rider’s bike handling skills and experience with deep wheels play a crucial role. Those familiar with deeper wheels can handle side forces from crosswinds better. Training with deep wheels can significantly enhance this skill.
  5. Rider’s Physical Attributes: A rider’s height and weight influence the wheel choice. Lightweight riders are more affected by side winds, necessitating wheels with less surface area. In contrast, heavier riders can opt for deeper wheels.
  6. Speed Considerations: Faster riders experience more headwind and less crosswind, allowing them to use deeper rims. Slower riders, especially those averaging below 18 mph, might find deeper wheels more unstable due to increased crosswind effects.

The Evolution of Wheel Depth Choices

Historically, triathletes adhered to the “more is more” philosophy, often opting for 80mm wheels or even disc wheels irrespective of the race conditions. This approach was driven partly by the allure of the aesthetics and partly by misconceptions. However, as technology and understanding have evolved, so has the approach to wheel selection.


Choosing the right wheel depth is a balance of multiple factors, including the course profile, wind conditions, rider’s physical attributes, and experience. While deeper triathlon wheels offer aerodynamic advantages, they might not always be the best choice, especially in challenging conditions or for less experienced riders. It’s essential to assess the specific demands of the race and the rider’s capabilities to make an informed decision.

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