Speed Tests: Zwift’s Fastest* Wheels for Climbing

Speed Tests: Zwift’s Fastest* Wheels for Climbing

Your choice of wheelset influences your Zwift speed significantly since it impacts both weight and aerodynamics. And Zwift’s release of the Drop Shop has given us access to lots of wheelsets: 39 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. Here’s a post summarizing some of our findings.

Want a look at the complete data?
Check out our Zwift Speed Test Charts for Wheels >

*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, 8.5% 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.

Your Winners

#1 & #2: Lightweight Meilenstein and Roval Alpinist CLX

Lightweight Meilenstein: Cannot be purchased, must be won via the Alpe prize wheel
Roval Alpinist CLX: 135,300 Drops to purchase, must be Level 32+

The Lightweight Meilenstein 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.

The new climbers from Roval were released in mid-2021, matching the Meilensteins climb time. Read more about the Alpinist CLX wheels >

Both wheelsets turn in essentially the same flat test times as well (we clocked the Lightweights at 0.5s faster over ~50 minutes), so your choice really comes down to preference and what’s in your garage.

#3: Zipp 353 NSW

255,600 Drops to purchase, must be Level 19+

Zipp released the IRL 353 NSWs in late April 2021, billing them as the lightest tubeless wheelset they’ve ever made! And they climb well, matching the ENVE SES 3.4s but performing a bit better on flat ground (hence us giving them the edge here).

#4: ENVE SES 3.4

191,700 Drops to purchase, must be Level 4+

Just 8 seconds behind the Meilensteins, these wheels come at a low price and level unlock.

#5: DT Swiss ARC 62

184,600 Drops to purchase, must be Level 6+

These hoops deliver strong climbing performance and solid aero performance, making them perhaps the best all-arounders yet. Read more about these hoops >

#6: Giant SLR0

191,800 Drops to purchase, must be Level 22+

Slightly lacking in aerodynamics compared to the top competition, they definitely have the light weight necessary to turn in a fast Alpe climb time.

#7: Zipp 454

284,000 Drops to purchase, must be Level 24+

These climb at the same speed as the Bora Ultra 50s below, but are faster on the flats so they get the edge in our rankings. Because you have to get to the Alpe before you can climb it! A solid all-around wheel, the Zipp 454s rank at the top of our combined percentile rankings (see bottom chart here).

#8: Zipp 404

149,200 Drops to purchase, must be Level 15+

The 404s perform very much like the 454s up the Alpe (just 1 second slower), but the 454s outperform them by a few seconds on flat/mixed courses. Then again, the 404s are much easier to obtain!

#9: Campagnolo Bora Ultra 50

262,700 Drops to purchase, must be Level 27+

These climb 1 second slower than the Bora Ultra 35s, but they vastly outperform the 35s on flat/mixed terrain so they made the cut. Plus, with a more aero wheel, you get to feel the wind in your hair on the way down!

#10: CADEX 36

257,400 Drops to purchase, must be Level 26+

These climb 1 second faster than the Campagnolo Bora Ultra 50 but are much slower on flat/mixed terrain, so we placed them here. They’re actually the third fastest wheelset on this list, but their aero performance is so bad that it’s hard to recommend them over much more aero wheelsets which are just 1s slower up the Alpe!

What’s the Time Gap?

Only 10 seconds separate the Meilensteins from the Bora Ultra 50’s up the Alpe at 300 watts with a 75kg rider on a Zwift Aero frame. The next wheels which climb decently well perform so poorly in flat races that they aren’t worth listing.

Again, your best Zwift race setup depends on our specific situation, so do your research and choose wisely. Feel free to sift through our detailed charts!

Share Your Thoughts

Hopefully the mountain goats found this post useful. Got questions or comments? Post below!


Changelog

  • September 19, 2021: changed the Meilensteins and Alpinist wheels to be tied for top slots based on fresh tests. Added CADEX 36 in #10 slot.
  • July 26, 2021: inserted the Roval Alpinist CLX wheels into the #1 slot.
  • Apr 22, 2021: inserted the new Zipp 353 NSWs into the 2nd slot.
  • Aug 11, 2020: inserted the new DT Swiss ARC 62s in the 3rd slot.
  • Nov 8, 2019: Moved Bora 50s down two slots to #6. Removed 7, 8, and 9 because their flat performance is so bad, and you can get better climbing wheelsets at lower levels and prices.

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

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ozun
ozun
1 year ago

So complicated to choose! I weigh 95 kg and have an FTP of around 350 watts. Therefore, on the flat I can follow almost any group (often fairly easily), but struggle on the climbs. For mixed routes, shall I go for light wheels and frame so that it helps me on the crucial moment of a race (for example, the original Watopia KOM) when I get dropped? Even if it meant higher efforts on the flat? Or the opposite, any advantage I get this way on hills will be wasted in the flat sections (even if I “hide” in the… Read more »

Rüdiger Reichow
Rüdiger Reichow
1 year ago
Reply to  ozun

Depending on the course. On flat courses you should even be able to break away (small group or alone), so a fast wheelset will definitly help. On mixed courses you need to avoid being dropped and go for a light one. In hilly routes it is obvious that a light wheelset must be chosen. But compared to your body weight a few hundred grams will not make a big difference :).

Carl J
Carl J
1 year ago

Slightly confused. In the wheel rankings, the 808s are ahead of the 454s, and I’m pretty sure that in previous posts (and before the garage) they were one of the best wheels to have. However here, they’re not mentioned.
Is it because they’re only better on a purely flat course, and the 454s are better with a mixed course?

Carl J
Carl J
1 year ago
Reply to  Carl J

Ignore. Wrong post

Rüdiger Reichow
Rüdiger Reichow
1 year ago

Hi,
currently going up the AdZ frequently doing Intervall workouts. Three of my longer workouts made me complete the AdZ but all in all three instances I received gloves…. is there any indication of percentage for the Lightweight Wheelset and the other items? I already own ENVE SES 3.4 (cheap to get) but the Lightweights would make me feel better :).
And as even in real life I do not use gloves I am quite upset to receive 3x gloves :(…

Steven Morrical
Steven Morrical
1 year ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

I got the Meilenstein’s on my 15th trip up the ADZ…I was so excited I turned around and went back up 🙂 However, I did not see a noticable difference in time or uphill speed from the Enve 3.4’s with same effort. As mentioned here, 8 seconds on the total climb is the difference between the two…still going to run them though….#marginal_gains.

Steven Morrical
Steven Morrical
1 year ago

Correction…only 5 seconds noted between the Enve 3.4’s and Meilenstein wheels.

Daniel
Daniel (@dkwinc)
1 year ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Got mine after 20th and almost want to give up as it’s only good for long steep climb event such as ADZ. I hope you can do a new comparison test on a more tough roller routes such as NYC Perimeter Park to see where else can we slower rider can make better use of this Meilenstein wheels. Btw, I could never hang with group A riders after the 2nd half of a 30 miles round. Cheers!

Dan Connelly
Dan Connelly
1 year ago
Reply to  Daniel

I think it’s fairly straight forward. Use an average based on the time (not distance) on the flats or descents, and the time on relatively steep climbs (8% or steeper). For gradual climbs, take a rough average based on how steep it is. So suppose I’m doing Bologna where I spend half the time on flats and half the climb on steep climb. Then I’d take the average of time savings on flats and steeps from these rankings. On the other hand, suppose I’m doing a route like the Watopia reverse Hilly. There I probably spend 2 minutes on steep… Read more »

Esteban
Esteban
8 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

I got mine on the 13th, as well. Lo and behold, next trip up, i got the wheels again. Now, it’s back to gloves though. lol

Víctor Del Corte Lora
Member
Víctor Del Corte Lora (@vcortelora)
1 year ago

I’ve been really lucky, then. I’ve got them on my second climb up the Alpe!

Daymon Shack
Daymon Shack
1 year ago

I got my Lightweights on the 5th time up AdZ. This attempt was a sub 60 minute effort so maybe this was a qualifier?

Mr. 2F
Mr. 2F
8 months ago
Reply to  Daymon Shack

If you made it up sub 60 you don’t need the lightweights! Leave em for us commoners! 😉

Ken
Ken
5 months ago
Reply to  Daymon Shack

No, sub-60 can’t be a qualifier because I got mine after my twelveth ride up the Alpe, which was close to 90 minutes, my third worst time! *LOL* (I was hunting for the Yeti rather than the Meilenstein on that ride)

Jim borrens
Jim borrens
1 year ago

How do I access these top 5 wheel sets? When I went to wheels to change my current set the top five were not offered. Thanks

Jim borrens
Jim borrens
1 year ago

Ps, I’m at level 43. Shouldn’t I be able to access at least one light wheel set?

Gabriel
Gabriel
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim borrens

I got the Lightweight wheelset at the 18x up the Alpe, but have heard of people going 25+

David Cook
David Cook
1 year ago

Zipp 202 didn’t make the cut for a climbing wheel?

stefano deriu
stefano deriu
8 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

So Eric, which combo do you suggest for a race “tour of fire and ice”.?
Tarmac pro as frame for sure , and then? i mean, with LW wheels i wille be able to keep the peloton on the first 10k? or better a more aero solutions as Dtswiss to keep the group ? thanks

Andrew
Andrew
11 months ago

The “Zipp 202” wheels show as the same star ratings (3* Aero, 4* Weight) as the “Enve SES 3.4” and with a better rating than the “Zipp 404”, yet the Zipp 202 wheels don’t make the list, is there a reason for that? Are the in-app star ratings not accurate when you actually put them to the test?

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