The Shimano WH line of road bikes wheelsets is a timeless classic.
The WH500 and subsequent WH-R501A models from Shimano are entry-level wheelsets that offer a cost-effective option for riders who want a basic training wheelet. A pair of WH-501 or R500 wheels will set you back about $230. However, they are easily found for as low as $200. They are comparable in price to Mavic’s Aksium wheelset. Low-end is relative as these wheelsets are suitable for most riders. The WH-R500 is part of Shimano’s Shimano line. It sits below Ultegra WH-6700 aluminum wheelset, which retails at nearly twice the cost of the R500. The R500 and R501 will be nearly twice the price of the carbon-rimmed RS81 wheelsets in the Road Sport
series. Although the difference was once much greater, prices have changed over time.
The R500 has aluminum rims, steel wheels, and a freehub body. It also features an aluminum freehub shell. This freehub can be used with 8-, 9 and 10-speed cassettes. Round stainless steel spokes are laced with a 20-spoke, radial pattern at the front and a 24-spoke cross pattern at the rear. The set weighs 1884g. This is nearly 230g more than the 6700, and almost 150g more than the Mavic Aksium.
The R500 and R501, despite their economy status, at least make an effort to look nice. The rims have a two-tone anodized look, while the spokes and hubs are in basic black. Although the rim profile is simple and elegant, it’s not very aero due to its 24mm height. Many new bikes include the R500 and R501 standard features. These are mainly from Giant, but some also come from other brands. These bikes are compatible with the entry level road bike market, which are bikes made by reliable companies with quality components. They are also the starting point for their respective lineups.
Although the R500 isn’t fast, it does have a lot of weight. Its focus is to provide a sturdy, affordable set of wheels that can be used as a starter set for an entry-level bike, or as everyday wheels that you can use while your lightweight wheels can be saved for when they are really needed. These rims are great for commuters and can also be used as a training wheel. Although the aluminum and steel construction is basic and the round spokes are not the best, our experience has shown that the R500 wheels can withstand thousands of miles under moderately-sized riders. The R501 is the latest version. We expect the same from it.
Road Test WH500
It is no surprise that riders are most unhappy with the weight of these wheels. They are not fast and don’t have race-level responsiveness. However, it is unreasonable to expect a wheel of this quality to provide impressive acceleration. The R500, however, serves as a basic training set. The wheels are durable enough to withstand the punishment of rough roads and aggressive riding. Riders have reported that they also hold up to the abuse.
Despite being less expensive, the Shimano RS-81 is still a strong spoke design.
These wheels don’t suit heavy riders due to their low spoke count. However, riders close to 200 lbs report that they can put many miles on the R500 and R501 without any problems. Broken spokes or wheels going out-of-true are not a problem.
The R500 had one complaint: the plastic rim tape Shimano used. Flats could sometimes be caused by the thin tape and the sharp edges of spoke holes. The problem can be solved by replacing the plastic tape with stronger cloth tape. However, this might not be possible for everyone. This might be a job that is best left to the professionals.
The R501 is a very common wheelet on the market and its prices are usually competitive. Assuming you don’t need a Zipp, we recommend keeping your costs low. We found it at Jenson USA for $250-300 range. Overall, it’s not too expensive for an all-around wheel. As you can see in the “alternatives”, it is not an outlier either.
Closeouts may be available at a lower price, but the R500 can still be purchased used for less than $100. We prefer Jenson’s trustworthiness, and REI’s return policy for our money.
Alternatives to the R500 or R501 include a similar training wheelet, or an upgrade to lighter, faster, and more race-ready wheelsets.
* Mavic Aksium.This wheelset is lighter and more aerodynamic than the R500. It also features bladed spokes, similar rim profiles to the R500. Although it is listed at $20 more, its lighter weight and 20-spoke lacing mean that it may not be as durable for heavy riders as the R500. We are still impressed by the Aksium’s positive reviews. You can find it on Amazon.
* Shimano W-RX-31. You will pay a little more for it; the RS20 and its new version, RS21, are more expensive than the R500. (Amazon)
* Fulcrum Racing 5 This entry-level Fulcrum wheelset costs more than the R500, with retail prices hovering between $350 to $400. This entry-level Fulcrum wheelet is more expensive than the R500 due to reports of excessive rim flex and poor weld quality, particularly under heavy riders.
You can also build your own wheelset. This is great if gear-crazy or if you don’t have the tools. But it can also be frustrating if you want to learn how to use new wheelsets. Start with a hub like the Swiss 350 and build from there.
Although the R500/R501 wheelsets are simple, it is a great value for money. A training wheelset should be able to withstand the kinds of conditions you wouldn’t want your racing wheels to. The R500/R501 seems to meet that expectation, especially considering their low price. The R500 is strong and reliable, but a little slow. It delivers acceptable performance in non-competitive settings.
We recommend the who use a winter bike trainer. It can help you save time by having a sturdy wheel to use whenever you are on the trainer.
This video shows the Shimano 501 in action from Western Bikeworks Portland, OR.
Avoid cheap Chinese wheels, which have been flooding online shops for the past few years. They are not durable. For the best performance, stick with trusted names such as Shimano and Mavic