A fresh set of the best mountain bike wheels will improve the way your bike reacts to different terrain and obstacles based on such factors as weight, stiffness and rim width. These variables continually shift depending on the mountain bike discipline — which means you’ll typically find a huge disparity in terms of weight and dimensions across the spectrum. There’s no one-wheel-fits-all scenario here.
We’ve broken down the various mountain bike disciplines into three distinct wheel categories: cross-country, trail/enduro, and downhill, and we've selected the best options available in each class based on price and performance. We have also put together a guide with everything you need to know when choosing new mountain bike wheels.
Scroll down to see Bike Perfect's roundup of the best mountain bike wheels available to buy.
The best mountain bike wheels for cross-country
Reserve's new 28XC wheelset caters for cross-country racers and downcountry riders looking for a lightweight, snappy wheel. The 28XC brings a tangible benefit in control by damping vibrations and making sense of choppy terrain bringing quietness and calmness.
The wheels may not be the lightest, but their weight is extremely respectable. The lightest option weighs in at a race-ready 1,367g while the cheaper DT Swiss 350-hubbed wheelset still only adds on 183g with a saving of $600.
Reserve gives the option of speccing three different DT Swiss hub options, the 250, 240 or 180. As always, DT hubs offer excellent durability and simple tool-free servicing. The rims and hubs are also backed up by a superb warranty so you can ride hard mile after mile.
These custom carbon gravel and XC wheels are hand-built in Yorkshire, England. Weighing just 1,350g for the pair, they're incredibly lightweight, yet surprisingly robust. Since they're a custom build, you can choose to have them exactly how you want, with a tougher bikepacking version also available.
Choose between 650b or 29er rims, 24 or 28 holes, J-bend or straight-pull spokes, and Centerlock or 6-bolt disc hubs. You can decide the spoke count, the freehub, opt for boost spacing and choose custom colors for the nipples and decals. Finally, you can add on optional tubeless valves.
Whatever you opt for, the super light weight of these wheels will give your ride an instant boost in acceleration, while the freehub's fast engagement help pedal strokes feel responsive. After several months of punishing them off-road, exposing them to cobbles, mud and grit, they held up exceptionally well with no issues.
Hunt's XC Wide wheelset is aimed at cross-country riders who want to get rowdy on the downhills. As a new breed of slacker 100 to 130mm travel downcountry bikes become more popular, riders are beginning to look for wheels that are not only spritely on the climbs but have a wider and more robust rim profile that can handle increasingly challenging terrain.
For their low price, HUNT seems to offer an almost complete wheel package. Durable 6061 T6 alloy rims give superb support to tires between 2.1- and 2.5-in to maximize traction when climbing and in corners. The hubs have a snappy five-degree engagement and are available in boost or standard spacing. It might not be the lightest wheelset but for a bit more money, Hunt sells a Race version that proves alloy isn't dead, weighing in at a claimed 1,517g.
Crankbrothers has tuned its Synthesis wheelset to achieve a difference in ride quality and lateral flexibility between the front and rear by using different rim profiles and spoke counts.
The Synthesis front wheel only has 28 spokes, while the rear is laced with 32. Internal rim widths differ too: they are wider at the front than the rear. Crankbrothers believes that a front wheel should be more forgiving, as it is responsible for turning the bike and experiences severe terrain deflections that could ruin steering feedback dynamics.
Crankbrothers offers three different alloy Synthesis wheelsets, with its front/rear-specific build. The brand’s Synthesis XCT is a lightweight 29-inch option, featuring a 24.5mm internal diameter rear wheel and 26.5mm internal diameter front, the total weight of which tallies 1,554g.
Stan’s NoTubes Crest CB7 is the company’s new flagship lightweight carbon rim. Available as a 29er option only, the CB7s are threaded to Neo hubs with Sapim Force spokes and brass Securelock nipples that supply stiff and flex-free performance.
The hubs feature a Durasync six-pawl freehub with 10-degree engagement, and triple freehub bearings to better distribute axle load and torque delivery. Compared to other wheelsets in the segment, the CB7s utilize a 23mm internal rim width, which is notably shy of the 30mm width we are beginning to see from other brands.
Like all of the company’s wheelsets, the Crest CB7 is available in multiple configurations to fit practically every axle and cassette type and is backed by a five-year warranty and lifetime crash replacement guarantee.
Manufactured with feedback from professional riders such as Nino Schurter, Mathias Flückiger and Kate Courtney, it's no surprise that the XRC 1200 Spline is such an impressive wheelset. The wheelset's stiffness makes handling super sharp and drives the bike forwards under hard pedaling.
Quality DT Swiss 180 hubs are superbly reliable and spin effortlessly on SINC ceramic bearings. Owing to the rim's stiffness, DT Swiss has been able to use its DT Aerolite and DT Aero Comp straight-pull spokes.
DT Swiss has two rim options for the XRC 1200 Spline. A 30mm version is tailored for those wanting better support for a chunky tire platform, and the 25mm width is suited for traditional whippety racing types and the gravel curious who are interested in a crossover wheelset.
The best trail/enduro mountain bike wheels
These carbon wheels from Syntace are great value for money, offering standout, responsive and hyper-accurate performance for a fair price. The build quality is exceptional, with a triple sealing and reinforced freehub and bearings for extra durability.
They're available in 26-, 27.5- and 29-inch diameters with a choice of 28, 33 or 40mm internal rim widths. Pair these with rubber between 2.3- and 2.6-inches for an incredibly stable and supple ride feel. The carbon rims use various composite weaves, including cross-ply in the sidewalls for damage control.
It's no surprise seeing this kind of performance from Syntace, which was one of the first wheel brands to produce extra-wide rims. Pioneering fat tires for extra-stability, the brand offers 80 wheel choices when you count all the different options available. It's fair to say it knows a thing or two.
Wheel manufacturers are now understanding that despite a stiff wheel giving sharp cornering and acceleration, building compliance into a wheel allows better grip and control as the wheel can deform over rough terrain.
No manufacturer takes the concept of wheel compliance further than Zipp which has entered the mountain bike market for the first time with its 3Zero Moto wheelset. Inspired by the single wall rim designs in motocross, the 3Zero features a 30mm internal width and can be purchased as single wheels or as a wheelset, in both cases built around Zipp's ZM1 hubs with standard splined SRAM/Shimano or SRAM XD freehubs.
Wheelsets come as boost only in both 27.5- or 29-inch formats. If you purchase the complete wheelset Zipp includes Tyrewiz pressure gauges to make sure you're always at the preferred PSI for optimal grip.
Crankbrothers has dubbed the Synthesis Enduro 11 wheels as ‘mountain biking's first tuned carbon wheel system for enduro riding and racing’ — a bold claim. But both wheels have been tuned with different spoke counts, tensions and rim widths to deal with the varying loads encountered at each corner.
Like most of the players in this segment, the wheels feature a shallow carbon rim with reinforced rim walls and spoke eyelets for the high-impact demands of enduro-style riding.
The front end is notably compliant and grippy allowing you to dig it into a corner with assurance while the thinner and stiffer rear wheel delivers immediate power transfer thanks to the Synthesis 11 hub complete with Industry Nine Hydra internals.
The rims are designed to partner best with 2.4-inch to 2.6-inch tires for added levels of compliance and grip but at $2,399/£1,923, some may find the sticker price hard to swallow.
Available in both 650b and 29-inch guises, the 315 wheelset can be purchased as a complete build or customized using various components and colorful anodized spokes. It all looks very impressive.
The carbon hoops, manufactured with the support of Reynolds Cycling, employ a hookless system for impact resistance, a 31mm internal rim width and have a limited lifetime warranty for peace of mind. The rim is designed to accommodate 2.3- to 2.8-inch tires
Depending on your weight and riding style, the Industry Nine Enduro wheels are available in 27.5-inch or 29er iterations and with 24 or 32 spoke designs. A big drawcard with these particular wheels is the Hydra freehub — offering 690 points of engagement, power delivery is immediate.
Halo has been making bombproof wheels for decades and its Vortex wheels have been designed to survive anything that an EWS course is likely to throw up.
The rim, built from 6061 T-10 heat-treated aluminum alloy, measures a massive 33mm internally. This gives large tires superb support allowing low pressures for maximum grip. Halo recommends tires between 2.35- and 2.8in although we found it's better to go bigger as some 2.35in tires may struggle to give their intended cornering support on such a wide platform.
Despite being on the heavier side, the Halo hubs spin quickly with little effort. A SupaDrive rear hub features a 120-point pick-up for instant input from the pedals to make the most of quick crank turns between corners. When freewheeling, the hub generates a pleasing buzz that enhances the feeling of speed without being obnoxious. Halo's hubs come in most spacing and cassette configurations, plus Halo ships the wheels factory taped and ready for a super-easy tubeless setup.
The DT Swiss E1900 Spline wheelset is an impressive upgrade for those looking to add more stiffness and precision to their riding at a price point that won’t break the bank.
Despite the aluminum construction, the E1900s offer a good meld of stiffness and response thanks to the three-cross straight-pull spokes and proven DT Swiss 370 hubs. At 1,998g, they may not be the lightest option around but they’re hardy and able to accommodate riders of up to 130kg.
With a 30mm internal rim width and Boost hub spacing available across the range, the E1900 Spline wheelset is easily DT’s best-kept secret.
Best downhill mountain bike wheels
Santa Cruz’s Reserve DH 29er wheels are downhill-specific carbon hoops designed to withstand the abuse and impacts of modern downhill courses.
The company has after all forged a name in the industry for pushing the boundaries and debunking the myths associated with carbon fiber, most notably on its bicycle frames.
Available in two wheel sizes, three hub choices and several rim widths, the Reserve 29er wheels are built with J-bend spokes with external secure-lock nipples for better consistency in terms of strength and durability — both front and rear wheels use a 28h spoke pattern.
Despite its downhill bent, the Reserve DH rim profile features a combination of stiffness and compliance. Add to that an asymmetric rim design and offset drilling pattern, both of which promote an even spoke tension, and the Reserve might just be the most balanced carbon downhill wheel ever made.
Developed in conjunction with WTB, Nukeproof’s Horizon wheelset is a hardy and durable option for enduro and downhill riders.
Naturally, the Horizons are tough as nails, featuring CNC 7075 aluminum hubs (with 84 points of engagement) laced with 28 Sandvik 302t double-butted spokes and brass nipples. At 2,095g, they might not be the lightest wheels around but the upshot of the added heft is resilience in spades.
The 29mm internal width allows for an array of tire options to be fitted — Nukeproof recommends 2.8in rubber on 650b wheels and 2.6in on 29er options.
The Hope Fortus 30 is one of the most affordable downhill wheel options currently on the market. Like its chief adversary, the Nukeproof Horizon, it’s built from aluminum and threaded to Hope Pro 4 hubs with Sapim Race stainless steel double-butted spokes and brass nipples.
While these additions have significantly strengthened and stiffened the wheel - at both the front and rear end - they’ve also pushed up the weight to 2,435g (set of 29er wheels), which is notably heavier than other wheelsets of the same price point and ilk.
As their name references, the Fortus 30 wheels have an internal rim width of 30mm ensuring the tire is the perfect shape to give riders optimum grip in high-speed cornering situations.
Best mountain bike wheels: what you need to know
Which wheelset is best for you is largely based on your physique and the type of riding you prefer. As a rule, heavier riders should stay away from lightweight carbon hoops and rather opt for something a little beefier with a higher spoke count for added strength. Lighter riders can get away with using something a little more feathery, but even cross-country mountain biking has started to get more technical over the past few years, and wheel choice has become more important than ever before.
From the hubs and spokes to the rim itself, wheels take a significant amount of abuse out on the trail, and you should always consider choosing reliability over weight savings — after all, a wheelset is a long-term investment and should never be a cost-cutting exercise.
Before splurging on a new set of mountain bike wheels, it’s worth looking into the anatomy of the wheel and dissecting the various components that make the wheel spin to gain an understanding of how things work.
Back in the early days of mountain biking, the industry standard was the 26-inch wheel. And while the smaller size made for nimble handling - particularly on technical switchbacks and tighter terrain - the trade-off was less straight-line speed, compliance and traction. The birth of the 29er or 29-inch wheel heralded a new dawn for all forms of mountain biking, the larger circumference improving such attributes as rolling speed, grip and overall compliance, thanks to the large-volume tires. The 29er has become the staple choice among cross-country and marathon riders and has now made its way into the world of downhill and enduro racing, too. But not everybody is sold on the larger-is-better concept — enter the 27.5-inch or 650b wheel which represents a happy medium between both extremes, combining the grip and roll of the 29er with the weight advantage of the 26er.
Mountain bike wheels are manufactured from either carbon fiber or aluminum, both of which have their own pros and cons. Carbon wheels are stiff, light, strong and also absorb trail buzz to a certain extent but they’re expensive. Aluminum on the other hand is a lot cheaper and, while it also delivers a fairly decent amount of stiffness and performance, rims are prone to flex and dents but can be trued and repaired — carbon not so much.
Rim width has become a hotly debated topic over the years in all forms of cycling, owing to the lower rolling resistance and better grip offered by fitting larger-volume mountain bike tires. The important factor to note here is internal rim width which dictates what tires you can safely use — as a rule of thumb, the wider the rim, the greater the tire volume and contact patch with the trail. Rim widths differ vastly between cross-country, downhill and enduro wheels with profiles ranging from 23mm to 35mm.
Not only has the introduction of the best tubeless tire sealant to mountain bike tires reduced the prevalence of pinch flats and punctures, but it’s also improved compliance, traction and speed on the trail. Most wheels are tubeless compatible and come standard with pre-fitted rim tape and valves. While adding tire sealant will fill small holes caused by thorns, sticks and sharp rocks — you may need to carry a tire plug and CO2 canister to fix larger holes.
In a nutshell, spokes connect the hub to the rim and give the wheel its strength and shape. Spoke counts can differ between the front and rear wheel and the latter often employs more spokes for added strength and stiffness. Lacing patterns also vary and have different properties — some wheels are laced with two-cross straight-pull spokes for weight reduction (cross-country) while others employ three-cross-lacing patterns for better strength and torque efficacy (downhill/enduro). Spokes are made from either steel or aluminum and sometimes even carbon fiber.
Hubs and axles
The best mountain bike hubs are constructed from aluminum or carbon composite. While the front hub is simple in function, the rear is more complex in design, featuring a freehub body onto which the cassette attaches. It also houses the intricate spring-loaded ratchet-and-pawl mechanism which enables the wheel to spin when freewheeling and engage the transmission when pedaling. Bigger pawls will deal better with more torque (downhill/enduro) while on the opposite end finer pawls will result in a faster engagement and better power delivery (cross-country).
Some freehubs, like those from DT Swiss and Chris King use a ratchet system rather than pawls, which provides more simultaneous points of engagement.
The need to continually improve front- and rear-end stiffness has led to the introduction of thicker, more stable thru-axles that bolt directly into the fork and drop-outs. Most newer bikes offer wider ‘Boost’ axle spacing, which uses a 110x15mm front axle with a 148x12mm rear thru-axle for added levels of stiffness.