Bicycle wheels, of course, are asked to do quite a bit. To roll well, first and foremost. But also to not weigh much even though a rider and bike may put 100 pounds or more on each wheel, in a contact area of little more than a square inch or two, with much higher pressures when you hit a bump or a rock. So, yeah, big guys will tend to beat wheels down faster or more frequently than little guys.
Maybe a little obviously, what you should look for" are wheels that can stand up to abuse. On the high end, I wouldnt hesitate to suggest a pair of Mavic Ksyrium Elite 700s ($619; www.mavic.com). Even though they have a spoke count of only 18 in front and 20 in back, theyre exceptionally sturdy. The only caveat is you have to be careful not to nick the semi-flat spokes, as they can then be vulnerable to breakage.
That said, you can spend less and get what you need. I think, for instance, that a well-built pair of Mavic Open Pro wheels with 36 spokes front and back is as close to a lifetime install as you can get. And theyre quite reasonablearound $250, depending on a couple of options, from Colorado Cyclist (www.coloradocyclist.com), and thats with excellent Shimano Ultegra hubs. I have a ten-year-old wheel on one bike, an Open Pro built by Colorado, that has never even needed to be trued.
Alternatively, you can look into wheels that are simply intended for heavier use. Suns Rhyno Lite 700c (www.sun-ringle.com), for instance, is a wheel that is sized for road use and that is based on Suns super-tough Rhyno Lite mountain-bike wheelswheels that perhaps youve used. Theyre about $40 each, a bit less than unbuilt Open Pros, so depending on hubs and other options, youd be looking at $200 to $300 for hand-built wheels. Theyre somewhat heavy, but plenty rugged.
Once you have wheels in hand, it always pays to have them professionally trued and re-tensioned once a year or so, just to ensure that they dont start getting wobbly on you. But a good pair of wheels should provide many years of reliable service.
Check out this years more than 400 must-have gear items, including a comprehensive biking section, in the 2006 Buyers Guide.