FLO Cycling – How to Pick Wheels for a Century

It’s no wonder completing a century is a common goal for a number of cyclists.  Riding 100 miles in one event is a big accomplishment.

A good friend who is a century rider and seven time finisher of Lotoja, says that anything can happen over 100 miles, and he’s absolutely right.  Being prepared for the day is very important.  Part of being prepared is making sure you pick the right wheels.  If you are a century competitor, and need help picking wheels for your big day, this article is for you.  
To make things easier, I like to select the front wheel and rear wheel individually.  First we’ll take a quick detour to talk about aerodynamics, and then we’ll talk about wheel selection.

A Quick Detour
Traditionally, many cyclists choose shallower wheels than your typical triathlete.  I believe this occurs for a few reasons.  First, it’s a common belief that rotational weight matters for a road cyclist especially when sprinting in a crit.  While it’s a factor, it is a very small factor when compared to aerodynamic drag.  Tom Anhalt, wrote a great article on this topic and I suggest that you read it if you have time.  In Tom’s example, when comparing weight and aerodynamics in a sprint, aerodynamics is more important by a factor of 49 times.
The second reason many cyclists choose a shallower wheel has to do with drafting.  Many cyclists believe that when they are drafting aerodynamics are not important.  As a result they instead focus on the weight of their wheels.  The fact is, aerodynamics still matter even when drafting.  Specialized conducted a wind tunnel study showing the power savings of an athlete who was drafting vs. not drafting.  When the non-drafting athlete moved from the hoods to the drops, they experienced a power savings of 13%.  However, when the drafting athlete moved from the hoods to the drops, they experienced a power savings of 19%, showing that a more aerodynamic position had a greater effect on overall power when drafting.  
Finally, I think people think a road bike should look a certain way.  I myself am guilty of thinking that a road bike with a 45-60mm wheel looks great, but looks do not make up time.
Picking your Front Wheel for a Century
In a century you can find yourself riding in a group or heading down the open road solo.  Each situation presents a unique scenario.  Let’s look at riding in a group first.
Riding in a Group
While aerodynamics are important for all riders in a group, those up front benefit most from a more aerodynamic bike and position.  Group riding normally takes one of two forms.  You are either in a pack of two or more riders in width, or a single file pace line.  In the pack you are normally shielded from crosswinds. In a single file pace line, you can still experience crosswind.  
Riding Solo
Riding solo in a century is essentially the same thing as riding up front in a group.  Aerodynamics becomes very important but you can be more vulnerable to crosswinds.
Taking the above into consideration, you can see that you can have a mix of riding scenarios in a century.  Aerodynamics is definitely important but so is maintaining stability.  Ultimately, you want the deepest wheel you can handle when riding in a century.  For most people, the front FLO 60 makes the best front wheel for a century.  The front FLO 60 is very aero and handles very well in crosswinds.  To date we have shipped 3,500 front FLO 60s, and no one has told us that they’ve felt uncomfortable riding one.  With the front FLO 60 you get a huge aero benefit while being able to confidently control your bike. 

The front FLO 90 is a great wheel, but for most people there are times when it can be too challenging to handle in high wind conditions.  If you were able to have two front wheels, then having a front FLO 90 for the right wind conditions makes a lot of sense.  
A front FLO 30 makes a great front wheel for light riders or people who hate any type of wind.  Female riders often choose a front FLO 60 but some prefer the front FLO 30 because of their size.  
Picking your Rear Wheel for a Century
In many ways, a century is similar to a triathlon.  Once you get up to speed you typically stay there.  You may meet up and work with groups along the way, but you still maintain a pretty constant speed.  For this reason, we feel you should pick the deepest rear wheel you can handle.  The biggest difference between the front and rear wheel is that the rear wheel does not have a steering axis.  Instead, the rear wheel is fixed in the rear triangle of the bike.  As a result, your rear wheel will not be affected by the wind like the front wheel.  Instead of a twist, you will experience more of a push feeling.  While any unplanned movement from wind can be unpleasant, a push is a lot friendlier than a twisting of the handle bars.  It’s also known that having a deeper rear wheel in relation to your front wheel moves your center of pressure towards the rear end of your bike.  This shift in the center of pressure increases your stability in windy conditions and is the reason you’ll almost never see a rider using a deeper front wheel than rear wheel.  In the end, you can choose a deep rear wheel without sacrificing stability.  Since deeper wheels are faster, this is a good thing.  

For someone competing in centuries, we feel the best wheel is the rear FLO 90.  It’s an easy wheel to handle for most people and is the fastest non disc wheel we make.  
For lighter riders or female riders, the FLO 60 is a great option.  It is still a very fast wheel, and experiences a little less of a push in a cross wind than the rear FLO 90.  
The FLO 30 also makes a great choice for people competing in centuries.  It has a full toroidal profile which makes it very fast for a 30mm wheel, and it is our most budget friendly option.  If you rode a century on a set of FLO 30s, I wouldn’t consider it a bad choice.  
If you have any questions about wheel selection please feel free to contact us in the link at the top of the page.  

Take care,

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