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Published Apr. 22, 2019

If you have damaged your mountain bike wheels or have decided that you want an upgrade, it can be tricky to know where to start. Perhaps you want lighter wheels or wheels that have rims that will accommodate a tubeless tire. There are plenty of options and plenty of brands to choose from. These days, the trend is towards bigger but lighter wheels, and there is often a trade-off between the two, which comes down to personal preference.

By selecting the right wheels, you can get the ride that you want and the durability that you need. New mountain bike technology is emerging all the time, and the terminology can be confusing. To help you decide what sort of mountain bike wheels would suit you, here is a useful guide.

The Best Mountain Bike Wheels

These exceptionally light wheels weigh only 1565g and are made from full carbon fiber. They pass the EN standard quality test. They have a matte rim weave and fit a 23mm clincher rim width.

Quick release skewers and brake pads are included. They give a comfortable, smooth ride and come with a spacer for a Shimano 8, 9, 10 and 11 speed cassettes.

Key Features
  • Made from full carbon fiber
  • Spacer for Shimano cassette
  • Quick release skewers
Specification
  • Brand Superteam
  • Weight 8.4 pounds

This mountain bike wheel has been manufactured using the highest quality materials. Tests have shown it to be durable and lightweight. They are popular with riders all over the world. They have a bolt-on axle (3/8 26t) and a freewheel 6-7 loose bearing hub.

The wheel has aluminum alloy rims that are 26.5mm wide and they have 36 holes which make them both durable and strong. The wheel is suitable for light trails.    

Key Features
  • Durable and lightweight
  • Freewheel 6-7 loose bearing hub
  • Aluminum alloy rims
Specification
  • Brand Sta Tru
  • Model RWS2615AA
  • Weight 2.25 pounds

You can’t go wrong with this set of two rim wheels for mountain bikes. They are a combination of light materials and a quality finish, which makes them a popular choice for riders who are looking to upgrade. As an MTB addict, you’ll love these.

The sidewalls are CNC-machined to give you ultimate stopping power. Their strength is provided by 24 spokes backed up by three cross pieces. They are a limited edition product and available in black or white. These particular wheels are only compatible with rim brakes and cannot be used with disc brakes.

Key Features
  • Lightweight and quality finish
  • Sidewalls are CNC-machined
  • Three cross pieces so you won’t lack strength
  • 24 spokes
Specification
  • Brand Vuelta
  • Weight 31 pounds

This pair of 29er mountain bike wheels is compatible with disc brakes and come with an added bonus, which is a pair of RaceKing folding bead bike tires in size 29 X 2.2inch. They will fit just about all 29er mountain bikes and have excellent Shimano hubs that are both durable and smooth rolling.

They are in the double wall clincher style and the rims are made from aluminum which is strong yet light. They are matt black in color and have a valve hole. They are compatible with many Shimano speed cassettes but a spacer will be needed for a 7 cassette. The hub is made from an aluminum alloy and has ball bearings which are very smooth. The wheels are compatible with a 6 bolt disc brake. The hollow axle is made from Cr-mo steel and has alloy skewers. The rear spacing is 135mm whilst the front is 100mm.The wheels come with QR quick release skewers on the front and rear.

Key Features
  • Pair of 29er mountain bike wheels
  • Compatible with many Shimano speed cassettes
  • Hollow axle with alloy skewers
  • Compatible with a 6 Bolt disc brake
Specification
  • Brand Mavic
  • Weight 9 pounds

This replacement front wheel is made from high quality materials and is extremely durable. This brand is respected by experienced riders around the globe.

It is a STW ST1 rim with a single wall and 36h. The loose bearing hub is made from a lightweight alloy material and the axle is bolt on. The hub and the spokes are silver and the rim is also silver but the remainder is black. It comes with UCP spokes and an axle that is quick release.

Key Features
  • Made from high quality, durable materials 
  • Loose bearing hub
  • Quick release axle
  • Silver rim and spokes
Specification
  • Brand Sta Tru
  • Model FWS2615QRK
  • Weight 2 pounds

A replacement rear wheel with a good solid rim in black alloy. To fit it to your bike you bolt it on.

This steel rimmed wheel (in black) has a 5/6 speed hub which is freewheel and spokes made from 14G chrome. This is an inexpensive option as a wheel replacement and is compatible with disc brakes.

Key Features
  • Black alloy rim
  • Disc brake compatible
  • 5/6 speed hub
  • Spokes made from 14G chrome
Specification
  • Brand WheelMaster
  • Model 65046JB
  • Weight 3.6 pounds

A complete set of two mountain bike wheels that come with a Continental X-King MTB folding tire with dimensions 29 x 2.2 inches. The wheels have been hand-built and the spokes have been pre-extended using a pushing machine so they will not extend any more when the wheels are fitted. This ensures that the wheels stay true.

You can only use these wheels with WTB STP i25 disc brakes and they have a tubeless compatible system. On each wheel there are 32 spokes made from stainless steel. The front wheel has Novatec Hub with an alloy disc J-Hook and two bearings. The rear has a Novatec Hub also with two bearings. They are compatible with P.C.D, Shimano and Sram 9 10 11 Speed MTB cassettes.

Key Features
  • Complete set of two wheels with tires
  • Spokes are pre-extended so wheels stay true
  • Novatec Hubs front and rear
  • Compatible with some Shimano and Sram cassettes
Specification
  • Brand CyclingDeal
  • Weight 12.6 pounds

This is a high-quality rear wheel for a mountain bike that is size 20 inches and has an ACS Mag hub. The wheel has five thick spokes and an ACS 5-Spoke Mag rim model.

It will suit a 1 Speed Freewheel gear system and has a bolt-on 3/8 axle. The rims are in a stylish black. There is no sprocket.

Key Features
  • Five thick spokes
  • Free wheel gear system
  • ACS Mag hub
Specification
  • Brand ACS
  • Model 64278
  • Weight 2.2 pounds

These are 27.5 inch wheels that have disc brake rims and come with tires and tubes. The rim is made from aluminum and has double wall clincher They are in matt black and have Presta spokes.

There are 32 spokes on each wheel which have a brass CP finish. They are compatible with Shimano 7, 8, 9 and 10 speed cassettes but those using the 7 speed cassette will need a spacer. The hub is made from aluminum and has precision ball bearings. The wheels are compatible with disc brakes.

Key Features
  • 27.5 inch wheels
  • Disc brake rims
  • 32 spokes on each wheel
Specification
  • Brand Mavic
  • Weight 9 pounds

An affordable set of mountain bike wheels that have alloy rims and hubs and stainless steel spokes. These wheels are compatible with Shimano or Sram 8,9,10 speed cartridges. They are hand built and trued by hand.

These mtb wheels have ball bearing hubs and each wheel has 32 spokes.

Key Features
  • Ball bearing hubs
  • Trued by hand
  • 32 spokes
Specification
  • Brand Stars-Circle
  • Weight 8.4 pounds

Best Mountain Bike Wheels Buying Guide

What to Look for in Mountain Bike Wheels

There are many brands of mountain bike wheels available to buy. Here are the main things that you should look for.

  • Weight

In general, lighter wheels accelerate and decelerate faster and make climbing hills easier.

  • Spoke count and design

Wheels with more spokes are stronger but are heavier and can make bumps less comfortable. They are less likely to twist and are more durable.

  • Rim profile

Most mountain bike riders prefer wider rims. There is extra room for broader sidewalls which have more grip and are more comfortable. You also need to choose the right material, shape and depth for your riding requirements. Many rims are now tubeless.

  • Bearings and sealing

The bearing quality is important because it is linked to how smoothly the wheels spin. It is also important to get the best bearing casing specification and rubber seals. Cup and cone bearings will need more maintenance.

  • Compatibility

The wheel needs to be compatible with your gear cartridge and with your brakes.

mountain bike

When Should You Buy New MTB Wheels?

Assuming that your mountain bike came with wheels, you may be wondering why you would want to buy some new ones. Here are the main reasons why people buy new mountain bike wheels.

  • You want different size wheels

In recent years, mountain bikers have tended to prefer bigger wheels. Therefore, if you currently have 26 inch wheels, you may want to upgrade to some 29ers.

  • You want lighter wheels

Lighter material wheels are now more popular. If you upgrade your wheels, you will have to put less effort in. Carbon bike wheels are lighter.

  • You want a better hub

If you upgrade your wheels, you will get hubs with better bearings.

  • You want to switch to tubeless

Tubeless wheels significantly reduce the rotational weight and may give you a better ride over rough terrain.

  • You want a different rim profile

Have you switched from gentle cross country riding to aggressive all mountain riding? If this is the case, you may need to switch to a more robust rim with more spokes.

Types of MTB Wheels

When you are buying new mountain bike wheels, you will have to make a decision about the wheel size and the type of rim.

  • Wheel size

26 mountain bike wheels are the smallest and lightest option, offer great value and are quite stiff. Because they are so light and rigid, you can accelerate quickly and they are great for riding on twisting single-track trails that you want to travel along at speed. They also have great cornering ability and you can pair them with a narrow bar.

The 27.5 inch wheels (650b) offer a mid-range option and a wheel compromise. You get good performance in terms of speed, weight and handling. They are very light and give you snappy handling but also gives you great traction and the rolling characteristics of a bigger wheel.

The 29er wheelset (29 inch wheel) is the largest option for your mountain bike. It will feel slower to accelerate because of the large rim and longer spokes and it is heavier. You’ll have to put more effort in to get the wheels turning. Because of their large contact area with the ground, there is better traction. They are better at rolling over bumpy ground with roots and ruts and give you a smoother ride.

  • Type of rim

Mountain bike rims can be standard or tubeless. Standard rims are the traditional option and can be fitted in just a few minutes. The tire pressure affects how the ride feels and in tubed tires it needs to be a bit higher to prevent pinch punctures.

Tubeless tires are a bit more time consuming to fit and you need more equipment. Because there is no inner tube, you can ride on lower pressures which gives more traction and is more comfortable over rough ground. If you carry sealant with you, you can repair small punctures on the move.

Different Kinds of Spokes

Here are the main types of spokes for a bicycle wheel.

  • Straight-gauge spokes

These spokes are the same length all along and it is usually 14-gauge. They are most often used on heavier duty bikes including BMX and mountain bikes. They have quite a thick cross section and therefore give a stiffer ride.

  • Single-butted spokes

These are a bit thicker in the part closest to the hub which gives increased strength and stiffness for disc-brake wheels.

  • Double-butted spokes

Very lightweight spokes which are thinner in the middle to reduce weight and make the ride less stiff without losing strength. They are expensive and may be too thin for most mountain bikes.

  • Aero bladed spokes

These are flat and are only for time-trial bikes and road racing bikes.

  • Straight-pull spokes

There is no ‘j-bend’ at the hub end to eliminate weak spots.

mtb wheel

Best Mountain Bike Wheels FAQ:

Q: What is a hub flange?

The hub is the center of the wheel and connects the wheel to the bike. It must allow the wheel to rotate freely so that the bike can move. It is like a solid axle that is attached to the bike and has bearings that connect it to an outer shell into which the spokes of the wheel are fixed. The flange is a specific part of the hub shell. It is the part to which the wheel spokes are attached. It therefore has a number of spoke holes. Some hubs now have a flangeless design and have spokes that run through the hub shell. This gives a cleaner appearance and reduces the rotating mass.

Q: What is lacing?

Lacing describes the way that spokes are arranged between the hub and the rim of a wheel.  There are several ways in which spokes can be laced and here are the main ones.
Three-cross lacing: This is the most common style of lacing for 32 or 36 J-bend spokes. It is based on a three-cross pattern. Essentially, each of the spokes intersects three other spokes in between the junction with the hub and the rim. By crossing the spokes so many times, the torque exerted by pedaling and braking is transmitted appropriately from the hub to the rim.
Two-cross lacing: When you are trying to cut down on weight, it is common for wheels to have just 28 even only 24 straight-pull spokes. This type of spoke can usually be tightened to a greater tension than J-bend spokes. Because there are fewer spokes, a three-cross lacing approach is not possible so a two-cross design is used. Each spoke intersects with two other spokes.
Two-to-one lacing: Sometimes, the number of spokes on the non-driveside and the driveside of the front wheel are uneven. This is because on the front hub, the non-driveside flange is closer to the center of the hub. It, therefore, needs a higher tension in order to keep the wheel straight and on some wheels it has twice as many spokes as the driveside.
Mavic Isopulse lacing: On the rear wheel, the driveside flange is closest to the center and so these spokes are under greatest tension. Mavic’s wheels have radial spokes which are not crossed on the driveside. This gives a better spoke angle and consequently eases the load on the spokes on the driveside. The non-driveside spokes have a two-cross lace so that they can handle the torque exerted by braking and pedaling.

Q: Can I ride with a missing spoke?

Most spokes are very thin and when they are put under a lot of tension, they can break. Spokes support the weight of the rider and transfer forces to the rim so they play an important role. They also help to maintain the round shape of the wheel and keep it in a straight line. Spokes flex and make a tinging noise as you ride. Some riders never get a broken spoke whilst others have a few a year. It depends on how and where you ride your bike. You should check your spokes every time you get on your bike. When a spoke breaks, it’s paired spoke and all the spokes close to it will be vulnerable to breaking too because they will be under increased strain. Damaged spokes can cause punctures if they go into the outer wheel. A damaged spoke could also get caught in the other spokes and stop the wheel from turning which will make you fall off the bike! You can flick the spokes to find any that are broken. Some spokes do move around a lot and that does not necessarily mean that they are broken. Often, the spokes around them will be tight and this is done to keep the wheel true. If you hear a spoke break, stop cycling and have a look at it. You must stop it from waving around so find something to tape it to the spoke next to it. If possible, push your bike to a location where it can be repaired. However, this is often not possible and spokes have a habit of breaking when you are miles from help! In this case, continue your ride but do so carefully. The wheel is in danger of buckling so go slow and avoid all holes and bumps. If you hit a bump at speed, you are very likely to break more spokes and get thrown off the bike!

Q: Can I ride with a dented rim?

When you are mountain biking over rough ground, it is not uncommon to get a dented rim. This can be caused by rocks, tree stumps and potholes. If the impact was big enough to give you a pinch flat, it is likely to cause problems to your ride and will need to be repaired or replaced. If it was less severe, it is unlikely to cause ride problems but will certainly affect the braking. It is common to feel a pulse on the brake levers when the brake pads hit the area where the dent is. Sadly, this makes it more likely that you will get a blowout of the tire. Sometimes, a flat spot is created on the rim and so it is no longer perfectly round. If this happens, it is likely that you will need a replacement rim or wheel. The good news is that you can repair minor dents yourself and it takes just 10 minutes or so. You have to start by removing the damaged wheel and taking off the tire and the tube. Then, take a flat wrench (e.g. a cone wrench) and hold it lengthwise against the outside of the rim where the dent is located. Then use a small adjustable wrench (or you can use vise grips) to slowly work your way along the dent and pry the rim outwards towards the flat wrench. Don’t worry if you cannot get it perfectly smooth, you just need to reduce it in size enough for it to be unnoticeable when you are riding. Check to see if any spokes in the area are broken and if all is well, put the tire and tube back on.

Q: What is Boost?

Boost is a new type of axle platform that you now find on performance mountain bikes. They have the effect of adding 6mm width to the rear axle and 10mm width to the front axle. Because the axle is wider, the hub flange spacing can be increased and this, in turn, improves the bracing angles of the spokes. The overall effect is a stronger and stiffer wheel that is more efficient. Also, the bike feels more nimble and you will be able to climb more confidently. They also facilitate the fitting of plus size tires. mtb wheel set

Our Top Pick

Superteam Carbon Fiber Road Bike Wheels

Our top pick of the best mountain bike wheels is a set of light wheels made from full carbon fiber. These carbon road bike wheels pass the EN standard quality test and have a 23mm clincher rim width.

This carbon wheelset has quick release skewers and brake pads are included. They give a comfortable, smooth ride and come with a spacer for a Shimano 8, 9, 10 and 11 speed cassette.

Sources:

  1. Understand MTB Wheels with this back to basics guide – RedBull

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