A wheel upgrade has long been said to be one of the best aftermarket purchases you can make to improve the overall ride quality of your mountain bike, and it’s a statement Bike Perfect totally agrees with! But, depending on your demands, riding discipline, riding style and even your stature, deciding the best upgrade option isn't always straightforward. The best mountain bike wheels can cost serious money, the good news is there’s a myriad of affordable wheelset options available regardless of the rim width, wheel size, weight and longevity stats you’re looking for, and this guide to the best budget MTB wheelsets outlines those that offer maximum performance with minimum outlay.
But what do you actually need to be looking for when choosing your next MTB wheelset? Jump to the bottom to see the things to consider when buying your next set of wheels or keep scrolling for Bike Perfect’s choice of best budget MTB wheelsets.
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Best budget MTB wheelsets
DT Swiss are renowned for making some of the best mountain bike wheels on the market and the E1900 uses filter down technology to make an enduro wheelset that far outperforms its supremely affordable price tag.
Sporting a 30mm inner rim diameter means all tires from 2.4in-2.6in widths pump up with a near-perfect tire profile. It comes fully tubeless-ready and we find the DT Swiss system to be one of the easiest and most reliable systems to work with.
Built around the DT Swiss 370 hub model means a standard 3 pawl spring engagement propels things forward. Whilst the system works great there is a brief lag before the engagement hits, however, it’s worth noting it can be upgraded to DT Swiss’ ratchet engagement system to further boost performance and general reliability – certainly something to keep in mind when service time comes around. The hubs are centre lock too, but the wheels are supplied with converters if you’re already running six-bolt rotors.
On the trail, the overall feel of the E1900’s perfectly balances stiffness and compliance whilst always remaining totally comfortable without showing the slightest sign of unwanted flex or vague trail tracking quirks. The E1900’s are one of the best performing enduro wheelsets available, regardless of the price.
If we rode the Race XC wide’s prior to looking at the price tag we wouldn’t believe this level of feel and performance was available for under £400. Fitting the XC Wide’s breaths life into your bike with its top dollar feel and agility boosting acceleration and control.
At a smidge over 1500g, the XC wide’s see a massive weight saving (probably around 500g!) over most original manufacture aluminum options. If you’re an XC racer, or just someone who loves enthusiastically hammering out the miles, the reduced weight advantages are massive. It’s not just the low weight that makes them so great either as the high quality and tautly built construction transfers power without any wind-up loss and with some compliance built into the rim, they always remain comfortable and predictably track aggressive off-camber lines with ease. This extra forgiveness makes them a great choice for hardtails too where any extra comfort is highly valued.
The freehub engagement is near-instant encouraging you to get on the pedals earlier and drive to that next crest earlier than ever before. We’ve been punishing these wheels far beyond their XC claims for months and with only one slight spoke tension adjustment needed we’re convinced they’re built to last.
Hope is a UK based brand who began making disc brakes and then hubs in the late 80’s. Ever since then its catalog has been expanding, full of UK manufactured mountain bike components, parts and accessories - wheels being one of the most popular.
The Fortus is Hope's latest wheel range and it's available in all three diameters with a whole host of rim width choices for each size. For the purpose of this guide we have selected the Fortus 26 as we feel this is the best Hope offering for most modern-day trail riders, Keeping the 23 for more XC focused athletes, the triple-walled 30mm option for heavy hitters or eMTB bike riders and the 35 for bikes with 2.6’’ or wider tires.
Hope state the 26mm width rim is best suited to tire widths of 2.25 to 2.5. Whilst this width works well with regular 2.3 tires, we can’t help but feel that as we get closer to 2.5 wide, tires begin to look a little and feel pinched once seated. The Fortus 30 would provide a better tire profile but due to its high weight, we find it hard to recommend unless you’re a heavier rider or prone to breaking wheels.
While the Hope designed rims are imported, all Fortus wheels are machine built here in the UK using double-butted spokes and winter withstanding brass nipples. At the center of all Fortus builds is Hope’s legendary Pro 4 hub. The Pro 4 hubs are not light, but with meticulous machining, extremely well sealed stainless cartridge bearings and easy tool-free servicing they’re certainly built to last and we’ve been hammering a set with little sympathy in one of our test eMTB for years and they’ve not shown the slightest hint of possible issues!
If you’re prone to smashing wheels and aren’t bothered about excess weight the Hope Fortus range is a bombproof option. The hubs are available in a range of 8 different anodized colors too, so if you’re focused on looking fancy Hope components are great for the bling factor.
Scrub is a small rider-owned fresh face to the mountain bike wheel scene, and after heaps of development, they have hit the market with a range of wheels that are said to be simple to work on but ultimately built to properly use. Considering it’s Scrubs first attempt, it’s something that they have got absolutely dialed in with the Alloy 30.
There’s something special about a fully hand-built wheel, and from the first few pedal strokes the high-quality components and physical attention to detail ooze through the 32 spoked wheels and project onto the trail. It’s quite possibly one of the best feeling hand-built wheels we’ve ever experienced, it’s amazing this level of quality can be felt at such a killer price point. On the trail, the Scrub’s feel continuously smooth, change direction instantly and spin with ease.
The 30mm internal diameter rims give a great tire profile for 2.4-2.5in rubber and the rim itself is yet to show any weakness even after several rim dinks that had us wincing. Built around own brand hubs that see fully sealed cartridge bearings and a 6 pawl freehub body that provides a swift enthusiastic freehub engagement.
The Alloy 30’s come pre-taped with valves already installed and are backed up with a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty and 5-year crash replacement support. If you’re not put off by the new brand presence this is a stellar option at a highly competitive price, and it’ll suit nearly all modern trail riders.
Humming like a swarm of riled up angry bees is Halo’s MT Supadrive rear hub and it’s 120 points of engagement so, if the noise of your rear hubs voice is important to you then you’ll love the Vortex wheelset. This amount of engagement and instant pick up means acceleration begins as soon as any form of pressure is placed through the cranks. This is great for powering out of berms or mid enduro race stage sprints, however, if your bike has pedal-kick back rich suspension characteristics this level of engagement will pronounce this effect even more, it’s no deal-breaker but certainly worth checking out.
Surrounding the hub is Halo’s super tough heat-treated 33mm internal width alloy rim. This proved to be super tough and resilient to dints, which isn’t surprising considering Halo’s dirt jumping heritage. The rim design is asymmetrical too meaning spoke tensions are equal on either side and to compensate for the difference in rim wall lengths Halo has changed the wall thickness on either side to make sure impact forces are balanced.
The complete Vortex package isn’t light, but it’s not heavy either and we think if you’re a hard-hitting rider who isn’t the most sympathetic with wheels it’s a great happy medium.
They’re available in boost and non-boost and the hub axles can be altered to work with any axle diameter, including quick release. So, if you want a wheelset that sounds ace, will last you a full season of aggressive racing at a smidge over £400 this is a solid option.
At just under £250 the Bontrager Line Comp 30 wheelset is by far the cheapest option here, but the low price doesn’t mean sub-par performance. By spending just over a couple of hundred quid you could massively improve your bikes on-trail performance.
The 29mm internal rim width is going to boost cornering traction, overall tire feel and allow you to reduce your tire pressure for even more control when comparing this additional rim width to most skinner entry-level wheels. The Bontrager’s increase the confidence to lean further into corners and generally attack harder. With tape and valves supplied it means you’re also opening the door to one of the most game-changing upgrades, just make sure your tires are tubeless compatible too.
Moving to the hubs sees the inclusion of a freehub body with 54 points of engagement so again this level of performance and forward propelling drive is going to feel night and day different to most laggy stock entry-level wheelsets - This acceleration drive is comparable to wheelsets that cost 3x as much as the Comp 30’s.
The only negative is these wheels are only supplied as standard with a Shimano HG style freehub body option, so SRAM XD users will have to fork out for an additional freehub body straight away, but if you talk with your local bike shop they may be able to strike you a deal.
Nukeproof is a brand with racing flowing through its veins and this hardcore ethos has transferred through to the brands Horizon wheelset, and whether it’s downhill or enduro Nukeproof state they’re ready to storm between the tape. To reach the desired levels of reliability and performance Nukeproof has produced its own 7-series aluminum blend for use in the 30mm wide rim, as well as giving the rear a thicker sidewall to further prevent dents or damage.
Something that will especially appeal to riders in bad weather climates is the choice to use hub bearings with high levels of poor weather sealing. The bearing seals feature a double lip design to make it harder for dirt and water to penetrate.
The Horizons are also one of the more comfortable enduro wheelsets we’ve tried, we suspect this could be down to the 28 straight-pull spokes per wheel providing more compliance.
As a result, the racing inspiration and longevity emphasis means the Horizons are great for people who may be enduro racing one weekend and hitting the uplift truck the next.
The Crest S1 is the latest in a long line of benchmark Stan’s XC wheels designed to be light enough to race but tough enough to rally. A 23mm internal width rim means XC tires between 2.1 and 2.3 blow up to a well-rounded and traction-enhancing shape without looking pinched like some other thinner rimmed alternatives. This close to perfect tire profile encourages the desire to push harder and longer and the tough yet light blend isn’t going to let you down when taking a poor line decision on race day.
Stans are the originators of tubeless and as a result, the rim shape of the Crest S1’s makes them an absolute breeze to set up as tires begin to stop leaking and seat within the first few strokes of the track pump. As with all Stans complete wheels, they come pre-taped so you just need to add valves and sealant.
Finishing off the speedy XC theme is Stans’ quick engaging and fast-rolling NEO hub system. Available in a vast range of standards means there’s a configuration to fit nearly every bike.
Ignoring the price, the Enduro Wides are a top-tier hard-charging mountain bike wheel. Taking note of the cost, it’s hard to believe such performance and genuinely outstanding ride quality is associated with such a low-price tag. These wheels outperform some other competitors’ wheels that cost an extra £500, so it goes without saying this relatively affordable upgrade is a ridiculously big step up from cheap OEM wheels.
Sporting a 33mm internal width rim means modern wider and grippier tires are supported well. They also come fully tubeless ready with the tape pre-applied and valves in the box. Included in the welcome pack is a spoke key and a few spare spokes, all of which amplify the bargain price and make them even more race-ready.
Hunt has learned a lot during the lengthy development process and as a result, both the front and rear wheels see a different spoke count. The front sees 32 in total to help save weight and add compliance whereas the rear uses a whopping 36 spokes to aid with strength and high load cornering forces. The spokes used are high-quality triple-butted numbers too which again improves overall quality.
Centrally the Enduro Wides feature Hunt’s hub combination with the rear seeing a speedy 3degree engagement to help with sprints and techy climbs. The hub axles are available in nearly every standard and width, including the RockShox torque cap end cap option if you’re looking for maximum front-wheel cornering stiffness.
On a whole, the Enduro Wides are everything you want and enduro ready wheel to be. But, if you think the Enduro outlook maybe a little overkill for you, make sure to check out Hunt's Trail Wide wheelset which features the same top-class ride in a lighter weight, more pedal-friendly package.
Shimano is a brand that certainly needs no introduction, and neither does its XT componentry line. But, unless you prefer the feel of skinner rims, are partial to the loose ball bearing hub design and run a Micro Spline cassette, there are better wheel options out there.
The 24mm internal rim is relatively skinny by today’s standards and as a result we wouldn’t suggest running a tire any wider than Shimano’s recommended 2.0in to 2.3in width range. Fitting a wider tire to a rim of this width makes the tire blow up very round and feel pinched on the rim.
What’s unique about Shimano is the decision to still use loose ball bearings inside the hub, as a result the hubs are easy to service yourself at home. They hold impressive pace on trail despite the weight too.
Due to the large branding and Micro Spline accepting freehub body the M8100’s will integrate well with a full XT drivetrain so, if you're looking for the full matching componentry line Shimano has you covered here.
How to buy the best budget MTB wheelset for your bike
Lightweight wheels - which are typically aimed at cross country and fast trail use - accelerate fast, stop quickly and due to their low overall weight climb efficiently. The flip side of these traits is the low overall weight and slimmer build tends to compromise strength when hammering down techy descents and they’re usually flexier when pushed hard compared to stouter trail/enduro options.
Trail/enduro wheelsets are best suited to bikes most people are riding around on today, so they need to be able to perform well across a broad range of terrain. This means they need to be light enough to climb OK but tough enough to tackle testing descents.
Striking the balance is hard and going either way on the spectrum can massively alter the on-trail performance – too heavy and your bike will feel sluggish and cumbersome, yet too light could make your bike feel twangy and vague.
10 years ago, nearly every mountain bike was rolling exclusively on 26in wheels, but now the choice is between ever more popular faster rolling, smoother 29in wheels or faster accelerating, flicky and playful 27.5in wheels. We’re also seeing more and more bikes using a mix of both wheel sizes to achieve specific handling characteristics - often referred to as a ‘mullet’ set-up. If you’re unsure about your current wheel size, then take a look at the numbers printed on the tire or hit up your manufacturer's spec sheet.
Hub spacing is also another factor you need to take into consideration when selecting a new wheelset. Most new bikes operate with Boost or even Super-Boost spacing, however, if your bike is a few years old there’s a possibility it could still be using narrower non-boost axle widths. These specs can be found in the bike’s specification list but if you’re unsure a local bike shop should be able to advise the correct dimensions. The frame spacing specs are as follows:
Non-Boost – 100mm front + 142mm rear
Boost – 110mm front + 148mm rear
Super-Boost- 110mm front + 157mm rear
Axle diameter is something that seems to have settled with 15mm at the front and 12mm at the rear, but it’s still something worth checking. Some bikes, especially entry-level hardtails may still use a traditional 9mm quick release system spaced at either 135mm or 141mm whereas downhill bikes are still using a 20mm bolt through in the fork.
Inner rim width
To both keep the weight low and mesh best with skinnier cross country/trail tires, lighter-weight wheels generally see a narrower rim profile too, typically around 19-25mm, so if you plan on running wider rubber these lightweight weight options probably are not what you require. If you and/or your bike require wider, more aggressive tires then a rim width of 26-35mm provides a predictable tire shape through the ranges of 2.4in to 2.6in modern rubber.
Whilst most brand's more expensive wheels feature a carbon rim it doesn’t mean you can’t get top-performing characteristics from aluminum. The weight difference often won’t be as much as you think either. In fact, good alloy wheels can actually outperform overly stiff or dead feeling carbon hoops and in the event of a failure replacing an alloy rim is a whole lot cheaper too.
32 or more spokes make for a stronger and stiffer wheel, whereas fewer spokes (28 or less) create a more forgiving and compliant ride. A wheel with more spokes will feel more direct and responsive under power but may cause premature rider fatigue and erratic ground tracing characteristics by being overly stiff. Plain gauge spokes are heavier and more dead feeling than butted (thicker at the ends, thinner in the middle) spokes and they’re often not as strong either, so go with a butted spoke wheel if possible.
The spoke nipples, which the spokes themselves thread into are usually made from brass or alloy. We prefer brass nipples as they don’t corrode or seize when ridden in prolonged wet conditions.
The freehub is the section of the rear hub that the cassette fits on to. Inside the freehub body is the mechanism that engages when you stamp on the cranks. The speed that the freehub engages in is often measured in degrees or points of engagement. More points of engagement will result in less cassette movement before it engages and starts driving you forward.
There are pros and cons for both laggy and super responsive engagements. If the freehub engages quicker, it allows for the power to be delivered earlier meaning you can get up to speed faster. The flip side of this is that, depending on your bike, a freehub with lots of engagement can increase pedal kickback. It’s also worth noting that due to the quicker engaging freehubs containing smaller parts with tighter tolerances, they can require more maintenance and especially on cheaper wheels and reduce the overall longevity.
Different drivetrain brands and models require a different freehub body fitting system to attach the cassette. Entry-level Shimano and SRAM systems us Shimano’s HG system, everything GX upwards from SRAM utilizes its XD driver system and Shimano's all-new 12 speed systems have made the switch to a new Micro Spline pattern. Just like before, if you’re unsure it’s worth looking at your bikes spec sheet or checking in with your local bike shop.
Every wheelset featured here is tubeless compatible and, in some cases, ever come pre-taped with tubeless valves installed. Running a tubeless set up means you can run lower tire pressures to increase traction and the sealant installed inside will actually seal small punctures and totally eliminate pinch flats associated with running inner tubes. If you’re yet to switch to a tubeless set up it’s something we highly recommend, and if your current setup isn’t tubeless compatible switching to something that lets you ditch the tubes is a big upgrade.