Mavic CrossMax SL wheelset review – a genuine MTB classic gets a revival

Mavic’s CrossMax was the first complete MTB wheelset and a genuine game-changer. How does its namesake compare 20 years later?

Mavic CrossMax SL
(Image: © GuyKesTV)

BikePerfect Verdict

Classic name at a reasonable price, but skinny rim, slow engagement and high weight make it seem outdated.

Pros

  • +

    Sealed bed tubeless rim

  • +

    Customised sticker options

  • +

    6 bolt or Centerlock

  • +

    Same length spokes with spares included

Cons

  • -

    Heavy for XC

  • -

    Skinny rim neck

  • -

    Slow engagement

  • -

    End caps pop off easily

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Mavic’s original CrossMax was the first complete MTB wheelset and a must-have for startline kudos at the turn of the century. The new SL is a good looking 29er wheel for riders running narrower tires and it’s got some survival bonuses built in too. It’s not as light or as wide where it matters as claimed though and Instant Drive 360 isn’t instant.   

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Mavic CrossMax SL

(Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Design and specifications

Mavic’s Fore rims have been a tubeless win for decades, using a solid rim bed for zero danger of ripped tape or otherwise leaky bed. It also saves 30g per rim but the SLs don’t get the extra ISM4D rim machining of the £775 CrossMax SL S rims. The 24 steel bladed spokes thread into unique captured nipples in the lower bed so keep the supplied tire levers which contain the spoke key cutouts safe. The spokes themselves are the same both sides, front and rear for easy replacement though, and you get four spares included with the wheels. You can also order custom Slik Graphics decals (£25) to match your rims to your bike.

The spokes slot into chunky, low flange hubs that come in traditional 6 bolt or Centerlock splined verions. Mavic’s well proven QRM bearings should mean a long, high mileage lifespan and the Insta Drive 360 has given me no problems on several wheel sets I’ve hammered. As much as Mavic complain whenever I say it, a ten degree maximum gap between pickup is far from instant compared to the fastest in category. And the press fit hub end caps can pop off easily when the wheels are out of the bike too which is a real Achilles heel.

Mavic CrossMax SL

(Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Performance

Mavic was one of the first brands to really push tubeless technology and the sealed bed and supplied valves of the CrossMax SL makes them easy to set up with just a track pump. While Mavic claims the rims are 25mm wide, I measured them at nearer 23.5mm wide with my callipers. That means tires over 2.3in are going to have a bouncy but less stable ‘light bulb’ profile compared to broader wheels. I did squeeze 2.4in rubber onto them without it feeling too wobbly, but again Mavic is being optimistic with its 3.0in tire compatibility claims. 

Optional oversized Torque Cap inserts will stiffen up connection to RockShox SID forks and the spokes are tightly strung too. Combined with the tire character that means you’re definitely getting a sharper, brighter feel with more pop and skip than wider wheels. That’ll suit the vibe of old-skool racers attracted to that classic Mavic logo, but these definitely aren’t downcountry/backcountry bombers. The slow engagement speed and high weight puts them well behind cheaper wheels, such as Hunt’s £101 cheaper, 290g lighter Race XC Wide, out of corners and up climbs.

Mavic CrossMax SL

(Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Verdict

Durable, easy to set up tubeless and with a lively narrow tire ride feel, the latest CrossMax SL definitely continue the character of the originals. Custom decal options and supplied spare spokes are a nice touch. High weight for an XC wheelset with relatively narrow rims and slow engagement put them off the pace in terms of acceleration and altitude gain. The easy to lose end caps are a pain in the workshop too.

Tech Specs: Mavic CrossMax SL 

  • Price: $1099 / £500 / €550
  • Sizes: 29er Boost only
  • Options: 6 bolt, Centerlock, SRAM XD, Shimano HG or MicroSpline, Torque Cap front
  • Width: 23.5 / 27.5mm
  • Weight: 836 + 976 = 1812g

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg