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Budget vs. Premium Road Wheels: What’s the Difference?

Difference Between Budget and Premium Road Bike Wheels

Buying a new set of wheels is a guaranteed way to increase your bike speed and performance. But the big question remains how much does it cost to get a tangible benefit from a new set of wheels. Well in this article, I am going to demonstrate exactly what a bit of extra spending gets you. I’m also going to compare a high-end set of wheels to a low-end set of wheels.

Budget Wheels: DT Swiss PR 1600

DT Swiss PR 1600
Rim Material: Aluminium
Brake: Rim brake
Freehub: Rim Material: Aluminium
Hub Axle Type: 130x5mm QR
Hub Type: DT350
Spokes: DT Aero Comp Wide straight-pull

Wheels that cost less than £500 are considered low-end or budget-friendly wheels. A good example of budget wheels is the DT Swiss PR 1600 SPLINE. These are brilliant wheels an entry-level price point costing £495. They’re typically found on bikes between £1,000 and £1,500.

The Pros: Budget-friendly, great performance, durability, built quality, looks good

The Cons: Rim brakes

See the DT Swiss PR 1600

Premium Wheels: DT Swiss PRC 1400

DT Swiss PRC 1400
Rim Material: Carbon
Brake: Rim brake
Freehub: Ratchet System 18, Shimano 11-speed
Hub Axle Type: 5x130mm QR
Hub Type: DT240
Spokes: DT Aero Comp Wide straight-pull

Premium wheels, on the other hand, are a lot more expensive. A good example of a premium wheelset is the DT Swiss PRC 1400 SPLINE. Now, these are a much higher-end set of wheels and they are typically more performance orientated. They cost £1,675. There’s just over a thousand pounds in it and I’m going to show you what that gets you. All the products in this article are available to buy on a place where you can buy online while still supporting local bike shops.

The Pros: Great stability, excellent braking, quality components

The Cons: Not the ultimate in aero performance, more expensive

See the DT Swiss PRC 1400

The Real Differences

Below are key things that make premium road wheels different from budget wheels.

Wheel Rims

The difference in price points is immediately obvious in the rim depth and the rim design. On a value set of wheels, you will typically have a shallow rim usually anywhere between 21 and 32 mils. It’ll also be made out of aluminium and you’ll often hear value wheelsets described as super-durable or training wheels and that’s because they’re wheels that you can ride whatever the weather, whatever the conditions and you know that they’ll be fine.

The difference is when you start spending more money, the materials become more sophisticated. The more money you spend, you’ll start getting carbon fibre rims that have loads of benefits. You know they’re stiffer and lighter than aluminium wheels. You’ll also be able to get more sophisticated shaping, which gives you loads of benefits when you’re riding along on the flat, more of your power is transferred into going forward. It rolls better and it rolls for longer so it’s far more efficient. Also, the more money you spend the greater the focus on aerodynamics. This is to reduce wheels’ drag through the air and that is something that more expensive wheels will have a much greater focus on. It’s making them faster and more efficient.


There are two different braking systems in the cycling world; disc brakes and rim brakes. Getting the right one for you is important.

It’s kind of irrelevant at a lower budget point or a higher budget point because the braking is consistent. After all, it all comes through a rotor or the calliper. The real difference you’ll find is in rim braking. You would find an aluminium braking track around the rim. Aluminium braking is great in all conditions. It offers consistent stopping but it lacks the immediacy of carbon braking.

Carbon braking, on the other hand, is quite sophisticated and it’s able to withstand high heat and. It can also stop you very quickly but it does not perform as well in the wet. This harked back to the age-old saying that you would ride your super-durable aluminium wheels in the winter when it’s really bad and you would ride your deep-section carbon wheels in the summer when the weather is better.

If you ride disc brakes, you don’t have that problem and you can ride whichever you want all year round because it doesn’t matter rain or shine, the performance is always going to be the same.


When we talk about hubs and freehubs, we’re talking about the system in the wheel which transfers the power from your legs to the rear wheel which drives the bike along. If you turn a hub, it clicks. That is what we call an angle of engagement. The hub that clicks when you turn it is because it has a 20-degree angle of engagement whereas if you get the more expensive wheel, it still does that clicking but it’s much harder. There is no real room to turn it back and that’s because it has a smaller angle of engagement only 10-degrees.

So what exactly you’re getting when you spend more money? You’re getting more teeth in the freehub body which gives it a faster engagement time which makes a wheel more responsive. This is why performance-orientated people like the hub which engages quickly because it’s more responsive and it drives that bike faster than the one with a larger angle of engagement.

It’s worth noting that when a hub has a larger angle of engagement, it’s not just cost-saving, it’s more durable.


Finally, the more money you spend the more sophisticated the spokes on a wheel. As your price increases, you’re more likely to get flutter spokes that are lighter or bladed. They’re more aerodynamic and it’s more likely that the nipples on the end of the spokes will be inside the rim. Again, that’s more aerodynamic because it just keeps them out of the wind and reduces drag.


To summarise, the more money you spend on a wheel the more performance orientated it becomes. It’s reflected in the rim design, the material that the wheel is made out of, and the sophistication of the hub. But that’s not to say that a budget set of wheels aren’t as good. They have a much greater focus on reliability and durability so it just depends on the type of riding you are and what you want from your set of wheels.

Budget vs. Premium Road Wheels: What’s the Difference?