Your choice of wheelset influences your Zwift speed significantly since it impacts both weight and aerodynamics. And Zwift’s recent release of the Drop Shop has given us access to lots of wheelsets: 26 now, with more on the way!
Wheel choice for flat/mixed courses has already been discussed. What about climbing? When aerodynamics matter less and weight matters more, which wheelset should you choose?
We’ve been hard at work in our lab testing wheels and frames, and this is the fourth in a series of posts giving you some solid, data-driven answers. Read more speed tests here >
*First, a Disclaimer
The “which bike frame or wheelset is fastest” question isn’t as easy to answer as you might think. Each piece of equipment has unique weight and aerodynamic (CdA) values, making them perform in ways that mirror outdoor physics. Lighter items perform better on climbs, while more aerodynamic items perform better on the flats. Differences between options will also be magnified or minimized by your own power levels, drafting abilities, and more.
Your best Zwift setup, more than ever, depends on your specific situation.
About the Results
Below you will find the 9 fastest wheelsets for longer, steeper climbs. This would include big Zwift mountains like Alpe du Zwift, the Epic KOM, or Innsbruck’s KOM. This isn’t an exact science, but we’re pretty confident in our findings thus far.
This list is based on our recent speed tests of 100+ rides up Alpe du Zwift, a 12.2km, 8% monster of a climb. We tested all wheelsets using the same power levels, rider weight, and bike frame. This made it easy to spot which wheelsets performed best. We then ranked those wheelsets based on their climbing performance, using their flat/mixed course performance as a secondary factor when needed.
#1: Lightweight Meilenstein
Cannot be purchased, must be won via the Alpe prize wheel
These wheels are super-premium IRL, and their price reflects that. Luckily for us, we can get them free by just riding up the Alpe! Problem is, it may take one try… or 25. Nobody really knows how often the spinner lands on the Meilensteins, but they’re definitely a prize worth winning.
#2: ENVE SES 3.4
191,700 Drops to purchase, must be Level 4+
These wheels arrived with the Drop Shop, and they’re excellent climbers indeed, at a low price and level unlock. The 3.4’s turn in nearly the same Alpe times as the Overachieve SLR 0, but they outperform the SLR0 on flat/mixed courses so we gave them the nod.
#3: Overachieve SLR0
191,800 Drops to purchase, must be Level 22+
Another new wheelset, these are actually made by Giant IRL. Slightly lacking in aerodynamics compared to the top competition, they definitely have the light weight necessary to turn in a fast Alpe climb time.
#4: Bora Ultra 50
262,700 Drops to purchase, must be Level 27+
These actually climb just slightly slower than the Bora Ultra 35’s, but they vastly outperform the 35’s on flat/mixed terrain so we ranked them higher because you have to get to the Alpe before you can climb. Plus you want to feel the wind in your hair on the way down!
#5: Zipp 454
284,000 Drops to purchase, must be Level 24+
Same story as the Bora Ultra 50’s. These climb slightly slower than the Bora Ultra 35’s, but vastly outperform them on flat/mixed terrain. A solid all-around wheel.
#6: Zipp 404
149,200 Drops to purchase, must be Level 15+
The 404’s perform very much like the 454’s up the Alpe, but the 454’s outperform them on flat/mixed courses. Then again, the 404’s are much easier to obtain!
#7: Bora Ultra 35
248,500 Drops to purchase, must be Level 33+
These wheels perform decently well up the Alpe, but their performance on flat/mixed courses is rather dismal. Definitely a “pure climbing” wheelset like the Zipp 202 and ENVE SES 2.2.
TIE: #8/#9: Zipp 202/ENVE SES 2.2
Zipp 202: 149,200 Drops to purchase, must be Level 11+
ENVE SES 2.2: 191.700 Drops to purchase, must be Level 17+
Formerly the king of the climbing wheelset hill, the diminutive Zipp 202’s have dropped to the “bottom of the top” due to their lackluster aerodynamics and slightly slower performance up the Alpe. Still a decent climbing wheelset, and one of the easiest to obtain.
The ENVE SES 2.2 wheelset consistently matches the Zipp 202 in terms of performance, so we included it in the list even though it’s a bit harder to obtain than the 202’s.
What’s the Time Gap?
Only 9 seconds separate the Meilensteins from the Zipp 202s up the Alpe at 300 watts with a 75kg rider on a Zwift Aero frame. The next wheels are 2+ seconds behind, so we opted to not include them in the above list even though they far outperform climbing-specific wheels on flat/mixed courses.
Again, your best Zwift race setup depends on our specific situation, so do your research and choose wisely. Feel free to sift through our raw data at your leisure!
Coming Soon: Climbing Frames
Watch for upcoming posts discussing the best TT and road frames for extended and steeper climbs. These are very different lists than our already-posted 3 Fastest* TT Bikes and 9 Fastest* Bike Frames, which targeted performance on flat and mixed courses.
Share Your Thoughts
Hopefully, you mountain goats found this post useful. Got questions or comments? Post below!