If you want to reduce some weight and get better acceleration, a new set of wheels is a great upgrade to make. Maybe you have a bent wheel and are looking for a new one to replace it? Knowing what to look for and finding the best mtb wheels can be tricky with all the different types available.
This article is designed to let you know what you need to consider when buying new mtb wheels. We have also chosen the best mtb wheels available to help you make a decision and get back on your bike, riding faster than before.
For more of our top mountain biking gear recommendations, check out the Best Mountain Bike Tires.
Quick Answer - The Best MTB Wheels
- Mavic XA Pro
- Shimano Deore/Sun Disc
- Race Face Turbine 30
- Mavic Crossmax Pro
- Shimano XTR
Comparison Table - Best Mountain Bike Wheels
|Mavic XA Pro||27.5”||Yes||$$$||4.0|
|Shimano Deore/Sun Disc||29.0”||No||$||4.0|
|Race Face Turbine 30||27.5”||Yes||$$$||5.0|
|Mavic Crossmax Pro||27.5”||Yes||$$$||5.0|
Reviews - The Best Wheels for MTB
Mavic XA Pro
BEST FOR: A LIGHT AND STRONG CARBON WHEEL
PROS: Light, strong
CONS: Price, narrower rim than comparable wheels
Shimano Deore/Sun Disc
BEST FOR: RIDERS WHO ARE WILLING TO SACRIFICE WEIGHT FOR RELIABILITY
PROS: Strong, reliable
Race Face Turbine 30
Mavic Crossmax Pro
BEST FOR: HARD TRAIL RIDING
PROS: Strong, light
BEST FOR: A GOOD LOOKING WHEELSET WITH THE ADVANTAGES OF BOTH CARBON AND ALLOY
PROS: Durable aluminum rim wrapped in carbon for rigidity
CONS: Get out of true faster than expected
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST MTB WHEELS
Different styles of mountain biking require wheels with different attributes. XC racers will want a lightweight wheelset, sacrificing strength in favor of speed.
Meanwhile, trail riders will need something stronger to cope with the stresses of being hammered through technical terrain. Enduro riders and downhill racers will need something even stronger and more durable.
Your frame and fork are almost most likely compatible with only one wheel size. The three wheel sizes for mountain bikes are 26″, 27.5″ (also known as 650b) and 29.” Some trials, dirt jump and children’s bikes will have 24″ wheels.
If you do not know what size wheel your bike takes, have a look at your tires. The wheel diameter followed by the tire width are printed on the side (e.g., 26×2.2).
Wider rims allow wider tires to be used. Wider rim and tire combinations have become popular in recent years for a couple of reasons.
First, the increased grip and bigger volume of wider tires allow riders to ride with more control through technical terrain and push harder in corners. On top of this, it has been proven that wider tires with lower pressure roll better over rough terrain, although they may be a bit slower to accelerate.
The internal rim width determines the maximum tire size you can use. For instance, 19mm allows up to 2.2-inch tires, 21mm up to 2.4 inches, and 23 mm for anything wider than 2.3 inches. There are also wider rims available for plus size tires and fat bikes.
Check what width tires your frame and fork is designed to take and purchase wheels designed for this size. You are unlikely to fit a wide downhill tire into a skinny XC frame and a plus size tire is not going in anything but a plus size bike. However, you can actually put slimmer tires in a plus size bike.
You have a choice of either alloy or carbon when it comes to rims. Alloy rims can be just as light as carbon at a fraction of the cost, whereas carbon rims are stiffer. A stiffer rim will give you more power transfer and precision when cornering at the price of a harsher ride feel.
Keep in mind that tubeless rims will only work with tubeless tires. Tubeless-ready rims can be sealed with special rim tape and mounted with tubeless tires or used with an inner tube. Non-tubeless rims can only be used with inner tubes.
Hubs are manufactured in two ways. Either they are forged and then machined or machined only. Forged hubs are generally stronger so a better decision.
Whether you choose loose or cartridge bearings do not make too much difference to the performance of the wheel. The sealing of the bearings is what counts, as this keeps out dirt, water and grime that wear out the bearings.
POINTS OF ENGAGEMENT
This refers to the number of pawls in the rear hub that engages with the freewheel when you pedal. The pawls are responsible for the clicking or buzzing noise that a rear wheel makes when you are not pedaling.
More pawls mean more points of engagement and faster pick up when you start pedaling. It would be wise to look for hubs with at least three or more.
If you want a super wide ratio 11- or 12-speed drivetrain, you need to make sure that the hub is compatible. Eleven- and 12-speed SRAM cassettes need to be mounted on a SRAM XD driver, whereas some Shimano cassettes can be mounted on regular hubs. Check their compatibility before you buy.
There are currently many axle widths in use. Rear hubs have gotten wider, going from 135mm to 142mm and even reaching the 148mm “Boost” size.
Downhill hubs are either 150mm or 157mm wide. There is also the standard quick release, or the 12mm or 15mm through axle size to think about.
Thankfully, many new wheels include interchangeable adapters. But, you will need to check what size your frame takes and what sizes your intended wheels are compatible with.
Front hubs come in 100mm or the 110mm “Boost” size, with the same variety of quick release and through axles. Make sure your new wheel is compatible with your fork.
If you use rim brakes, then you need to get wheels with compatible rims. Nearly all modern mountain bikes use disk brakes. The rotors will also mount onto the hubs. Check whether you need hubs with 6 bolt ISO standard or centerlock to match your current brakes.