Carbon wheels have increasingly become the standard in all disciplines of cycling. Lighter and stiffer than aluminum, carbon fiber wheels optimize power transfer for quicker acceleration that’s especially noticeable in sprints and sudden bursts of speed.
Vibration damping properties also result in better overall bike handling; a smoother ride and a more nimble feel makes it easy to maneuver the bike. The only downside? Cost.
If you’re going to make any upgrade to your bike, a carbon wheelset is typically one of the first things a mechanic will recommend. Conveniently, it’s also the second priciest piece of your bike, after the frame (sometimes more). It’s not unheard of to spend well over $1,000 per wheel for a quality set of carbon wheels.
But what if carbon wheels didn’t have to break the bank? Xiamen-based Elitewheels is proving that you don’t have to sacrifice performance for a lower price on carbon wheels.
Ten years ago, carbon wheel manufacturing was still fairly new to China. Other countries in Asia had largely cornered the market on carbon wheel production, and it wasn’t until the late 2000s that Chinese factories started operations.
Riding that wave, Tony Tong and Jack Chen founded Elitewheels in 2015, initially manufacturing wheels for other brands. Two years later, they realized they could design and manufacture their own wheels, building a higher quality product at a more accessible price point. Many North American brands manufacture their wheels in China, but very few brands are actually based there.
Elitewheels is one of the few brands in the world that center the entire production process in-house, from design to manufacturing. This allows them to implement an exhaustive R&D process in-house, which results in a higher quality product through a more efficient process. Cutting out the middleman and selling wheels direct to the consumer means the customer gets a higher value at a lower price. A win-win for everyone.
The Drive Series
But affordability doesn’t mean a drop in performance. The Drive series is a great example of that, raced by five UCI Continental teams.
Drive wheelsets, available in three different gravel models and eight different road wheelsets, utilize the brand’s in-house UNI carbon fiber as well as aero bladed carbon spokes, resulting in a stiff, light, and strong wheelset. Drive series wheels are some of the lightest in their category, and what stands out to most people first is the weight; the Drive 50D weighs only 1300 grams for the pair, while the 40V rim brake and 40D disc brake wheelsets weigh 1255 grams and 1260 grams respectively.
“In order to cut costs, most [manufacturers] use carbon fiber from mainland China rather than from Japan,” says Elitwheels Brand Manager, Patrick Clark. “We use genuine Japanese T700 and T800 carbon fiber, which provides a higher strength to weight ratio.”
Clark adds that Drive series wheels manage to be stiffer than similar depth wheels because of the in-house manufactured carbon fiber prepreg, carbon spokes, and high hub flanges. “It’s especially noticeable when sprinting,” he continues. “While no wheel can be the best in every aspect, our aim is to create something that has the best balance for not only our sponsored pro riders, but also amateurs.”
Clark, who was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, now lives in Xiamen, China where Elitewheels is based. As a passionate cyclist and native English speaker working directly with the team in China, Clark has been able to help bring Elitewheels’ technology to the international market.
“Our goal is to have the wheels raced at the highest level in WorldTour races — to not just match, but to drive innovation in wheel tech — and to offer excellent service to those riding the wheels around the world,” he says.
Building wheels for the pros, but providing access to the masses, is no easy feat — but it’s one that Elitewheels is dedicated to proving possible.
Shop Black Friday Sale
If you’re curious about carbon wheels but have yet to pull the trigger, Black Friday sales this fall could be a good time to test the waters. From November 20th through the 30th, they’ll be offering a significant discount, at 16-18% off. Each wheelset comes with free shipping, a 3-year warranty, and crash replacement.