A mountain bike has different components and each of these components play a key role in determining how your ride will be, but perhaps one of the most important components is the mountain bike wheels.
The ideal mountain bike wheelset will be determined by a number of factors not just one.
You have to understand how each element contributes to making the wheelset perfect as it is the only you will get to purchase the best mountain bike wheelset for the money.
The choice of the best mountain bike wheels will only become harder due to the numerous brands that are in the market with each claiming to be better than the other. These factors will help you make a better choice:
- Wheel Size
- Carbon vs. Alloy Rims
- Axle Standards
- Tubes or Tubeless
- Rim Width
- Pre-Built Wheels or Self Spec?
- Our Top Picks for the Best Budget MTB Wheels
Perhaps the most important feature; wheel size will determine the actual size that will fit your mountain bike. Nowadays, there are 3 prominent wheel sizes 26”, 27.5” and 29”. A keen look at your tires will reveal the wheel size that the replacement should be.
Over the years mountain biking has experienced several changes to the wheel size, however, the original 26” wheels still rock even today. They are a favorite choice for many mountain bikers due to their strength and rigidity which can be attributed to the shorter spokes. 26 inch mountain bike wheelset include a couple of options such as full wet spikes, superlight XC semi-slicks and DH models. Spares for these wheels are still in plenty.
Lying somewhere in the middle, the 27.5” wheelset combines an array of attributes borrowed from the 29” wheel and the 26” wheel. If your frame can accommodate more than just 27.5” wheels, you can try out the fatter 27.5”/650b wheel size. The 27.5”/650b wheel not only delivers a wider tire but also increases the outer diameter to match that of a standard 29er tire, which is ideal for riding for rough single tracks.
Often known as 29ers, 29” wheels have the same diameter as the good old 700c road wheels. They exhibit unparalleled climbing characteristics, which makes them the preferred option for riders looking to indulge in a cross country experience. The larger wheel diameter comes at an added advantage as it is less likely to be affected by dips and bumps in mountain bike trails.
Other than the 29er wheels there is also another size, which is the 29+ size. However, not all 29er bikes have the space to accommodate the leviathan wheels. If your bike can accommodate the 29+ wheel size then be ready to enjoy an experience close to that of a fatbike.
Carbon vs. Alloy Rims
Carbon rims are a common feature on high end wheelsets while the aluminum alloy rims are commonly found on budget wheelsets.
Carbon rims tend to be stiffer and lighter compared to alloy rims. The stiffer the rims the better. If you have ever ridden carbon wheels you will agree with me that the ride feels supple, smooth and the precision is simply impeccable.
Although carbon rims to have the upper hand in this case, alloy rims have a better pricing at a near perfect performance. Sporting alloy rims will simply mean that you are sacrificing on features such as ultimate stiffness and lightness but other than that your ride should be just fine.
The last several years has seen axles transition from the quick-release axles to the more secure thru-axles.
A few years ago, the most common axles were 100x15mm for the front axle and 142x12mm for the rear thru-axle. However, the desire to improve wheel stiffness has prompted manufacturers to lean towards the wider axle spacing which entails a 1100x15mm for the front axle and 148x12mm for the rear thru-axle.
Most high end mountain bikes will have the boost axle spacing however if you are not a fan you will find just the right axle standard for you.
Tubes or Tubeless
The debate on whether tubeless systems are better than tube systems is not over and the end does not seem to be near. In such a case it all boils down to your personal preference.
However, you can also look at the upsides and downsides of each before making a decision. For example, tubeless system have proven to be lighter and come with the added benefit of self-sealing especially the tiny punctures. The downside is that they are a little bit expensive and messy when dealing with a flat. On the other hand, inner tubes tend to be easy to replace and affordable. The downside is that they are prone to punctures.
All in all tubeless wheels seem to have an upper hand over inner tubes as they allow for an enhanced grip and a drastic reduction in punctures. If you are serious mountain biker, you could really use tubeless wheels.
The last few years has seen a drastic increase in rim width for both mountain and road bikes. The internal width is perhaps the most critical dimension as it will go a long way in determining the shape of the tires.
A narrow rim decreases the tire volume thus giving it a rounder profile while a wider rim increases the tire volume thus giving the tire a flatter and squared-off profile.
Wider rims are said to increase tire stability thus making your mountain bike feel more predictable even through corners. However, it is advisable to pair your bike with specific rim widths as large variations in rim width can result in unwanted situations such as less grip through turns.
Pre-Built Wheels or Self Spec?
The classic wheel upgrade used to involve ordering all the parts of your preferred wheel separately after which they were delivered to your home and crafted specifically for you. The method always did the trick but nowadays prebuilt wheels seem to be better as they as they are perfectly built with all the components designed to work perfectly.
As always, your budget is one of the key determinates of the type of wheelset you get. Some companies will even go the extra mile and offer replacement or repair policies at no cost. However, for you to get such after sale services you might want to spend a little bit more than you are used to.
Our Top Picks for the Best Budget MTB Wheels
Vuelta Zerolite 26 inch Mountain Bike Wheelset
Not only does these pair of wheels have an impeccable rating but the pricing is also mindboggling. For less than $100, yes! You read that right less than a $100 dollars, the Vuelta Zerolite display a performance and functionality close to that of Mavic wheels. The deal does not get any better than that.
The Vuelta Zerolite are some of the most versatile 26 inch mountain bike wheelset as they are ideal for both trails and pavements. With such versatility you are sure to conquer both mountain bike trails and road bike trails since the wheels do not confine you to specific surfaces. Besides, the wheel size makes it easy for you to control your moves and maneuvers even in tight places.
Other than having the smallest wheel size, the 26 inch mountain bike wheelset has CNC-machined sidewalls that allow for an improved stopping power. For optimum stopping power, you can incorporate the use of disc brakes which when combined with the 3-cross lacing and 24 spokes (front and rear) you get an extremely strong pair of wheels.
Being small makes for a rather lightweight frame, which mean that you not be in a position to maintain control of your bike but you will also enjoy a smooth ride. When it comes to design, the Vuelta Zerolite are compatible with top quality tires and are offered in two distinctive colors black and white.
- 26” Mountain Bike Wheels
- 0mm plain gauge spokes
- 26mm medium-V rim
- 8/9/10 cassette compatibility (7-speed with spacer)
Sun Ringle Rhyno Lite
Are you looking for an affordable 29” mountain bike wheelset that is compatible with both rim and disc brakes? Look no more, for Sun Ringle Rhyno Lite is just the perfect wheelset for you.
The Sun Ringle Mountain bike wheelset is one of the best 29er wheelset for the money as they are not affordable but they can also withstand rigorous use even from the worst abusers.
The versatility of the Sun Ringle Rhyno Lite is unrivaled as they are compatible with most 29 inch bikes and the brake system doesn’t prove to be much of an obstacle. They certainly can’t claim the price of the lightest wheels but their durability is unmatched. They will probably outlast your frame.
The Sun Ringle Rhyno Lite Wheels feature a lightweight aluminum body combined with steel axles to deliver impeccable strength and resilience. The addition of Borazon polished ball races allows for high sleek rolling performance and high precision durability no matter the terrain you choose to conquer.
For easy maintenance of the ball bearings, Shimano has included double contact sealing that shuts out water, mud, dirt and dust from coming into contact with the bearings thus increasing their durability.
- Advanced Brake Track for controlled stopping power
- Stainless steel spokes
- Nickel brass plates eyelets
- 8/9-speed compatible
- 6000 series aluminum construction
- Lightweight aluminum skewer
WTB STP i25 29” MTB Wheelset
If you are a big fan of hand crafted items then the WTB STP i25 Wheelset may be just right pick for you. The mountain bike wheelset 29 is hand-built although not fully since the spokes are extended fully by use of a pushing machine. This means that the spokes cannot extend further even a few rigorous rides.
The WTB STP mountain bike wheels are ideal for cross country and mountain trails. The rim is made of alloy which makes it a little bit heavy as its weight stands at 9.77lbs.
- 29” x 2.2
- Disc brake compatibility is 6 bolts disc
- The rim size is 25-559
- Rear hub D482TSBT
- Shimano 8,9,10 and 11 speed compatible
- Internal rim width is 25mm
- Kenda 1.9/2.3 FV48 (Inner Tube)
- Front Hub D481SBT
Mavic Rim 29er Mountain Bike Wheels
Although Mavic wheels are not cheap they certainly have a lot to offer. The Mavic Rim 29er MTB wheels have been designed to offer a smooth but aggressive ride.
The inclusion of a responsive rim design allows the wheels to adapt to different surfaces. This design also allows the wheels to take a beating even after taking a ride through rough terrains. They are tough, strong and durable. They will hold up well on sand, roots, hard pack and rocky terrain.
The Mavic 29er Wheels are compatible with almost all 29er Mountain bikes. They are equipped with smooth running but durable Shimano hubs. To make the deal even better, you get a free pair of Race King 180TPI 29 x 2.2inch tires. These are top rated tires and a pair goes for close to $80.
- Aluminum Alloy Hub with smooth ball bearings
- 6061 T6 Aluminum black finish
- 29er Presta Valve tubes
- Front & rear quick release skewers
- 135nn rear and 100mm front axle spacing
- 7,8,9 and 10 speed cassettes (7-speed with spacer)
- Spokes count is 32 for the rear and 32 for the front wheel
- Double wall clincher
- 6061 T6 Aluminum Rim Material
- Disc brake is 6 bolt compatible
Sta- Tru STW 26” Mountain Bike Wheel
The Sta-Tru MTB wheel features a sleek design with durability like no other. It’s made from materials that have undergone rigorous testing to ensure that the wheel can withstand heavy use and rough terrain. This means that even after several months of rough terrain, your mountain bike wheels will look as good as new.
The use of silver as the main color makes it easy for you to match the wheels with any coloration. In addition to that, the alloy rims have 36 holes which are designed to not only increase durability but also increase strength. The wheel is also lightweight and stands at 26” with a thickness of 1.5”.
To ensure that the enviable sleekness lasts for longer, the UCP spokes are designed to be corrosion resistant. The wheel also has a 26.5mm silver rim, silver spokes and a sliver hub. The 26.5mm alloy rim is ideal for Casual Mountain biking; however, it may not be the ideal mtb wheel for advanced mountain terrains.
- Quick release axle
- 36 hole hub
- 297mm cup spoke
- Bolt on axle system
Shimano MT15 29er Wheelset
Since Shimano is a renowned brand we decided to check out one of their top rated mountain bike wheels. Among the top was the Shimano MT15 29er Mountain Bike Wheels whose features are similar to that of the Mavic 29er Mountain Bike Wheels.
The Shimano wheels are designed to be comfortable and rigid such a way that you can accelerate and also turn corners without much fuss. The wheels have a double wall clincher and a 6061 T6 Aluminum rim material.
Unlike some of the low range mountain bike wheels, the hub bearings of Shimano Wheels are corrosion resistant which not only increases durability but also reduces services intervals.
Just like with the Mavic 29er Mountain bike wheels, you will also get a pair of Continental Race King Tires (29 x 2.2 inch). Other than the free tires, you will also get the Pure Grip compound and pre-installed 29er Presta Valve tubes.
- Standard front & rear Shimano quick release skewers
- Stainless flat blade spokes
- 28 rear and front spokes
- Shimano 7,8,9,10 & 11 speed cassettes (7-speed with spacer)
- Smooth ball bearings
- 2 Cross Nipple Lacing
- Compatible with disc brake centerlock
- 135mm rear spacing and 100mm front spacing