Mavic originated the complete ‘wheel system’ concept back in the late nineties and the iconic French company is still creating distinctive designs now. The CrossMax XL S is its top alloy all-round MTB wheelset designed almost from scratch to answer previous questions. They’re designed to be long-term tough with an excellent tubeless seal, durability boosting tech, and a bright and lively ride feel. They’re available with custom decals, but the slow freehub pick-up will divide opinion and even at a new lower-cost they’re pricey for alloy.
Once you've finished with this review, you may wish to have a gander at our guide to the best mountain bike wheels too.
Design, specification and aesthetics
Mavic started making bike rims 130 years ago and it's been refining its FORE tubeless rims for over 20 years. The key element is a solid rim bed which removes the need for potentially leaky or lever damageable tape over spoke holes. The center trough in the bed is narrow though and because the topside is sealed spokes have to be threaded directly into the rim. Mavic machine the rim after extrusion to remove excess material weight between the spokes but the rounded ‘ISM 4D’ reinforcement lumps around the spoke heads are much smaller and discreet than they were on older CrossMax designs. The CrossMax XLs use bladed steel spokes rather than the unique fat alloy ‘Zicral’ spokes that were Mavic’s premium wheel signature too. That makes them less striking aesthetically but all spokes are now the same length so a spare works anywhere. They get a ‘Black Shield’ (paint over anodizing) finish to hide scratches and you can swap the reflective logo stickers for custom bi-color logos from Silk graphics for £30.
The all-new ‘Infinity’ hubs have slotted flanges that the butt end of the spokes hook into and they come with labyrinth sealed, spring washer pre-loaded QRM bearings that we’ve had excellent longevity from in previous tests. The over-sized axles are thick-walled for strength and stiffness and Mavic uses oversized ball bearings for extra smoothness and durability in these days of bigger cassettes and much higher torque.
Freehub options cover new and old SRAM and Shimano. Mavic has recently adopted a double ratchet ring style ‘Instant Drive 360’ driver and the CrossMax XL S comes with a 24-click pairing as standard. That means a 15-degree maximum engagement lag which is far from ‘Instant’ but you can swap to a driver with a 9-degree engagement if you want a faster catch. Mavic is rightly keen to point out that when the hubs do engage the load is shared across all the engagement points, not just a handful of tiny sprung pawls either. In its view the gains they get in consistent connection and long-term durability are worth the pre-pedal pause too.
RockShox syncing ‘Torque Cap’ and QR skewer adapters are also available and you can choose either Centerlock spine or 6-bolt disc rotor formats. Make sure you hang onto the black tire levers that come with the wheels though as they have the bearing pre-load adjuster and spoke tightening tools built into them. Keep the spare spokes provided safe too as they’re not the easiest things to find ‘in the wild’. The wheels are only available in 29in diameter as well so you’re out of luck if you ride 27.5in or want to go mullet and there’s no Super Boost option either.
Recommended ‘system weight’ is also 30kg lighter than the carbon rimmed CrossMax XL wheels at 120kg, but that’s on par with most other wheels. The two-year standard wear and tear warranty can be extended a year when you buy too.
The first step with test riding any wheel is getting the tires on and while most brands I tried were easy to get onto the rim and inflate, the narrow center trough slowed initial ‘grab and seal’. Once they’ve popped into the outer gutters the seal is rock-solid though and we had zero issues with burping or sealant leak while riding. Mavic has stopped pushing its ‘racer feedback’ narrower rim agenda too, so your favorite tires will shape and size up how you’re used to. Leave some extra time and thumb power if you’re switching tires as it’s hard to unseat even with the tire fully deflated.
The tight, two-cross lacing of the 24 spokes gives the CrossMax XL S a distinctively lively and responsive character in terms of handling. That’s quite a contrast to increasingly damped feeling wheels from other brands and if you like your bike to feel poppy and playful you’ll really enjoy it. While it’s very hard to verify they also seemed to roll faster than other wheels on the same tires/pressures which could be down to the bearings, freehub, high energy wheel design, or a combination of several elements. I haven’t suffered any rim dings despite regular thumping impacts and if I did then alloy bends back while carbon doesn’t. You might want to drop tire pressures slightly or add a click of suspension rebound to tame them slightly on really rowdy trails.
While the near 1,900g weight isn’t remarkable, the Fore and ISM tech means the rims themselves are relatively light, and the low spoke count keeps the rotating mass down too. That means a quicker, livelier acceleration feel – particularly from slow speeds – once the freewheel has engaged. It can be an obvious gap before the freehub catches up with the cranks though especially if you’re coming off wheels with a three or four times faster pick up (which isn’t uncommon). On the plus side that potentially gives more free wheel movement before the pedals pull back if you’re running a bike with an obvious amount of anti-squat. That can be the difference between choking on a rock or root slap or coasting through so while it’s fashionable to go for a freehub with a truly instant pick up fizz it might not actually suit your bike/riding. I’ve had zero longevity issues with the gravel wheel we’ve been using that shares the same system too, but that’s a very shallow data set to put much stall in. I’ve got years of MTB tandem use on the bearings though so I know they last super well.
After recent struggles at a corporate level it’s great to see a classic brand like Mavic back in the game with a lively, tenaciously tubeless ‘bike brightening’ trail wheel like the CrossMax XL S. While slow freehub pick-up will probably irritate more people than please, it should let the Mavic's reap significant long term durability gains, especially for powerful, aggressive riders. It’s interesting to see they’re not even bothering to offer a 27.5in wheel option though and despite recent price drops, they’re still on the expensive side.
Tech Specs: Mavic CrossMax XL S
- Price: £720 / €790 (not currently available in the US)
- Size: 29-inch, Boost
- Weight: 875g front, 1005g rear 1.88kg pair
- Options: Splined, XD or MicroSpline freehub. 6-bolt or Centerlock. Torque Cap front or QR Boost either end adapters. Colored decals.