When buying a new bicycle or deciding to upgrade your existing bicycle wheelsets often take centre stage. This is because a quality wheelset can make a bicycle feel like a completely different machine.
The subject of this blogpost has been written about to death, but we’ll be looking at this question from the perspective of a commuter.


Carbon Fibre Wheels

They are lighter, come with bragging rights and everyone wants them! There are many lists and articles such as this cycling news article https://www.cyclingnews.com/features/best-road-bike-wheels/ on why carbon wheels are better, so we’ll focus on telling you why they usually aren’t our first choice for commuting:


Disadvantage number 1: Carbon bicycle wheels have a higher risk of theft

We all know that carbon wheelsets come with a hefty price tag coming in at over S$3300 https://www.sram.com/en/zipp/road/series/404. This is a set of wheels that you would want to take to race with rather than commute with unless you have a safe space to park your bicycle at the end of your commute such as your office.

Carbon wheelsets also tend to come equipped with quick release systems rather than bolted systems as they usually are engineered for racing and need to be able to be taken off quickly in the event of a flat tyre. This means that bicycle thieves can pop off your wheels literally with the flip of a lever.

The above factors taken together means that carbon wheels tend to decrease what we like to call the lockability of your bicycle in public spaces such as the bus stop or the train station. If you wish to lock your bike in public, you probably would have to get 2 sets of locks (one to lock your back wheel to the frame and another to lock your front wheel to the frame. This may potentially nullify all weight savings you would have made from opting for carbon wheels over alloy wheels

Disadvantage number 2: Carbon wheelsets typically means a bumpier ride

We all know that carbon wheels are faster because they are stiffer. The stiffness of your wheels allows for a better transfer of power from your pedal stroke into rolling speed. While theoretically this means that you’ll be able to complete your commute with lesser effort, this also means that you’re in for a bumpier ride. If you prize comfort on your daily commute, perhaps consider going with alloy wheels instead.


Alloy Wheels

Advantage no.1: A lower risk of theft

Aluminium wheelsets are typically cheaper making them a less likely target for theft. While they are slightly heavier, it is arguable that the lockability factor is a great trade off. Furthermore, aluminium wheels come in a variety of nutted and quick release options and we all know that nutted wheelsets are way easier to lock, making it a harder target for thieves ever so slightly. While here in Singapore, the theft rate is relatively low compared to the rest of the world, it doesn’t mean that bicycle theft does not happen. It’s best to always stay vigilant and not take the safety and low crime rate for granted.


Advantage no. 2: A smoother ride

A less stiff wheel also means that you will have a smoother ride out on the road. You’ll feel less of the vibrations from every nook, cranny and hump. If your commute consists of a stretch of road that is not particularly well maintained, you might want to consider aluminium wheels. The tradeoff of speed to comfort may well be worth it for many of us.


Advantage no.3: They work with Reelight Nova

It’s no secret that we love the Reelight Nova. In fact we love it so much that we bought a whole bunch to retail it to you guys! The Nova works based on a dynamo that draws power from the eddy currents generated by the rotation of the aluminium rims. This means that you’ll never have to worry about changing the batteries in your lights or charging your USB powered lights. They are truly the perfect companion for every bike commuter. Checkout: https://unspokin.com/collections/bicycles-lights-reelight/products/nova-dynamo-constant-front-light-for-basket

We aren’t saying that carbon wheels are bad and aluminium wheelsets are better. We are saying that you have to consider your needs and choose accordingly. For example, I ride carbon wheels to work everyday, but that’s because I have a secure space in my office to park my bicycle. I also use my bike with carbon wheels for short trips to the hawker centre where I don’t lock it up for more than 2 hours. If I’m going to the shopping centre for dinner and a movie, I’ll take my flying pigeon bicycle with an alloy wheelset that uses nuts on the axle rather than a quick release system.

April 19, 2022 — Douglas Koh

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