What makes a god MTB wheel?

Forums Mountain Bike Forum What makes a god MTB wheel?


This topic contains 12 replies, has 10 voices, and was last updated by  rmap01 2 weeks, 2 days ago.

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    I was reading the “what confuses you about the MTB industry” thread and someone asked why all builds come with crappy wheels.  This makes me ask, what is a “good” wheel?  After many years away from the sport I recently got back into it after getting a Trek Fuel EX 7 29er for father’s day last year.  I have really been enjoying the bike and it is night and day better than my 14 yr old GT.  I am not really a gear geek and one component that really confuses me is wheels.  I hear they are one of the best/most noticeable upgrades I can make.  With that being said, what is a “good” aluminum wheel?  I’ve looked at Stan’s MK3 Flow and Crest, are those “good”?  What others should I be looking at?  Thanks.


    I suppose a good wheel depends on your priorities; I prefer a stiff, durable wheel, as I am a heavy and aggressive rider. A good aluminum wheel should be tough and relatively light, with a price low enough to justify the extra weight over a carbon wheel. Hubs are also a big deal, and in my experience pretty much all mid to high end aftermarket wheels have pretty good hubs. A new set of rims should also be tubeless compatible and have a width sufficient for the with of tire you prefer to run, the type of riding you do, etc.

    I had a pair of stan’s ztr arch ex wheels on my xc bike and they were quite good for the price, although I did flatten out a spot in the rear wheel as a result of me bing fat and riding the bike like it was tougher than it is. Between the Mk3 flow and crest I would go with the flow, and here’s why: just about every modern trail bike–like your fuel ex–should have rims 25mm or wider, and the flow is 29mm. This will allow you to run wider tires with proper support, which means more grip and more cush. Unless you’re riding mostly smooth, mellow trails and gravel roads, the crest will likely be too narrow to run a tire bigger than about 2.25 in or so.


    I was the one who asked that question so I’ll have a go. I realize I was generalizing and exaggerating a bit. First off I haven’t used every wheel on the market and I’m not a pro mechanic with extensive knowledge on hubs, rims and spoke tension. The reason I asked was because the OEM wheels on every bike I’ve owned have been terrible. Some bikes were cheap so that’s to be expected but last year I bought a nice $3000 Niner full suspension. The shop salesman who sold it recommended upgrading the wheels right away which was kind of a bummer. I see now what he meant. After riding blue trails with small rocks and roots, the wheels are very wobbly/out of true. That specific wheel set is about $300, not ultra high end but also not Walmart range cheap. I think wheels (and suspension if you have it) have tremendous effect on your bike’s performance and are not something you should compromise on. Having spent $3000 on a bike, I kinda feel like I shouldn’t have to spend another $700+ on new wheels.

    What makes a good wheel is really 100% subjective and does involve priorities, riding style, and whether you race or not. There seems to be a weight vs. durability compromise but like Head over Handlebars I prefer a wheel that’s heavier but can stand up to the harsh demands of trail riding. This as opposed to lightweight parts that make your bike feel great but will eventually break and need replacement. If I can find a wheel that can handle rough terrain like it’s nothing but also doesn’t cost more than my car, I’ll be happy.


    The response above saying what ever makes a wheel good is subjective, is very true.  Riding style, preferences in feel, cost, and probably the biggest thing… perception.  Having said that, to address the OP’s question, I’ll throw in my limited value two cents worth based on my experience.  Never had carbon rims, so can’t comment on material.  Never had a catastrophic hub failure, just varying degrees of life expectancy.  Bottom line there has been cost and expected life have gone hand in hand for me, but not by that much, to be honest.  Where I see the biggest difference, again based on my riding experience, is spoke design.  I have never had a spoke fail, and only one wheel go out of true, on wheels with straight pull spokes.  This has not been the case with J bend spokes, even on wheel-sets costing more that those with straight pull spokes.  See, like I said… limited value two cents worth…


    A good wheel is a reliable wheel. The recipe for a reliable wheel is simple: decent hubs, 32 double-butted spokes, laced 3x to a rim that suits your needs, topped off with brass — NOT alloy — nipples.

    You can’t go wrong with Hope hubs, DT Swiss Competition spokes, and a quality aluminum rim. Stan’s rims build up nicely, but they are softer than others so they dent easily. WTB makes good rims too. Their Frequency line is much tougher than Stan’s and builds as well. Just recently got a set of e.13 rims, super wide and impressively light for their size. Will be interesting to see how they go.


    Ah, Aaron beat me to some of the points!  ^^.  I agree with Nick that wheels are almost invariably the lowest quality component specced on mass-produced bikes in the budget price ranges. It makes sense that budget buyers are less discerning about hubs, rims, spokes, and wheel build quality than for example the frame, drivetrain, or cockpit.

    I build all my own wheels because I like having total control over what goes into the build. I use established brand-name hubs (Industry Nine, Hope, Chris King, DT Swiss, etc. and avoid Novatec/Powerway and their many knock-off re-branded brethren). You want a hub that won’t have busted pawls in a thousand miles and shot bearings. Hubs with made-in-Japan (not Taiwan or china) steel bearings are most reliable, I have even replaced with ceramic bearings in some of my hubs. For rims, if you’re using alloy, you want torsional stiffness so going lighter weight isn’t going to help in the long run, I’ve had great luck with Stans rims, but DT Swiss Alloy rims are great too. Name-brand carbon rims are almost unaffordable, but I’ve had awesome experiences with Light Bicycle and Speedsafe double-walled assymmetric hookless rims, lots of info on MTBR for these brands. I’ve had great luck using Pillar spokes in addition to DT Competition, prefer brass nipples over alloy in order to keep a true longer, but can’t overemphasize how important a good build is to overall quality. Sometimes I’m just not happy with what I could do and I’ll bring it in to my local bike shop and they’ll true and tension it nicely for a few bucks.


    I am very happy with the Raceface Aeffect R 30mm alluminum wheels that came with my Evil Insurgent. They are as light as some cheap carbon wheels, and I have no problem with the feel of aluminum. Haven’t ridden carbon enough to know if I would like it better, and figure as long as I don’t I won’t know what I’m missing.


    I’d throw alexrims in for some good aluminum rims. I’ve got the md25s on my bike and they’re a bit heavy, but quite tough. They’re on my hardtail and have held up to hard trail riding and light dh; with me at 220lbs they’ve taken quite a beating and never given me trouble.


    Thank you all for the advice and input.  Based on my level and type of riding it sounds like my options are:

    • Stan’s Arch
    • Stan’s Flow
    • WTB Frequency i29
    • Raceface Aeffect R 30mm

    Any other recommendations?  Has anyone tried the Bontrager Line Elite 30?  They seem to be in line price and weight with Stan’s.

    Just looking for the best bang for my buck option and after looking around a bit I started getting overwhelmed.  Sounds like a good builder and brass nipples are a must also.


    I don’t know how many times I have read the title, and the posts here, plus posted here and I just now read and realized what the title said..   🙂    My wheels are good, but not god.


    I have a set of Alexrims on my Felt road bike, and they’ve held up well…but they don’t get the abuse my mountain bikes do.

    Mavic Crossmax SL is a decent wheel. And Hope Hoops Pro 4 have been a decent wheel on a hardtail of mine.


    I think it completely depends on your style of riding and where you ride.  (also how heavy are you)  A friend of mine, 250lb + did bend my WTB’s on a rocky single track.

    I have Carbon Enve’s on my Cross Country Bike, DT Swiss 483 on my Enduro, and have had WTB’s and DTS on other bikes.  The only thing that let me down was the tires, which are just as important.  If you go tubeless, the rim is important on how well they seal.  I use 2.35 Hans Dampf on the front, and racing 2.2 Ralphs on the rear of my 29r.  Kenda and Continental make some nice tires as well.

    That being said, I don’t notice any serious difference unless the rims don’t seal, other than weight.  Weight is only important on my cross country bike when I am racing…..and I am not a serious racer.

    Long and short, I wouldn’t waste your money unless you have issues.


    I upgraded from a stock set of Easton wheels to the Arch MK3.  Huge difference for me based on my riding style/preference.  I ride a mix of trails (hardpack, roots, rocks, sandy) but mostly with some flow (I like fast up/faster down). I’ll take on up to 3ft drops. I’ve got about 1k miles on these wheels so far and they are still true.  When I think wheels I also think about tires as they go hand-in-hand and have a significant impact on your riding.  After experimenting with a number of different setups I’m really diggin’ the Maxxis Minion up front with a HR II (tubeless setup) in the back.

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