SHOOTOUT: THE THREE BEST ALLOY WHEELS WITH CARBON WARRANTIES GO HEAD TO HEAD

Three aluminum mountain bike wheels so good you might be crazy to spend more.

VALUE MOUNTAIN BIKE WHEEL SHOOTOUT 

One of the benefits of buying expensive carbon wheels is the generous warranty policy that typically comes with them. If you break a rim, most high-end carbon wheel brands will replace them free of charge. What if we told you that there are also affordable aluminum wheels that come with the same warranty? Well, it’s true. Ibis, Race Face and Reserve have aluminum wheels with the same warranty replacement program as their carbon counterparts. Sure, they weigh a little more and don’t share the same ride feel, but from a value standpoint, these wheels are tough to beat.

 

MEET THE CONTENDERS:

 

IBIS BLACKBIRD SEND
We gave the Blackbird Send wheels a glowing review and Editors’ Choice award last year because they’re great wheels. Their asymmetric Send rim design is specifically engineered to eliminate pinch flats. Ibis gives the bead walls a hollow-box-section profile to remove the sharp edges and create a broad contact point where impacts tend to pinch flat a tire. The rims have an internal width of 35mm, which Ibis says is ideal for tires between 2.3 and 2.8 inches in width. Their section height is low at just 18mm, and they only come in a 32-spoke-hole configuration.

The Blackbird Send complete wheels come standard with the Send 1 rim in front and heavier-duty Send 2 in back. They are laced three-cross with Sapim D-Light J-bend spokes to Ibis’ own logo-branded Boost-width hubs. They feature a 36-tooth, four-pawl freehub system with 10 degrees of engagement and Microspline- or XD-compatible bodies. There are four enduro-branded bearings inside and a six-bolt brake rotor interface on the outside. For more details check out our long term review here.

 

RACE FACE TURBINE
Race Face says the new Turbine wheel is the result of optimizing the Enduro World Series-winning Turbine R wheel for even greater strength and vertical compliance. The rim’s Anvil Edge is a wider rim edge designed to disperse the energy of a pinch flat across a broader, flatter surface, reducing sidewall tears and extending the life of the tires. The rims have a 30mm inner width and are made with distinct asymmetric cross-sectional shapes, the front wheel is designed to provide additional compliance for a smoother ride, while the back wheel prioritizes strength and durability. Race Face utilizes its Vault hubs with 3-degree engagement, large-diameter 6902 bearings and low-drag labyrinth seals. They are laced 3X with 28 2.0/1.65/2.0 butted straight-pull spokes. For more details check out our first look writeup here.

 

RESERVE 30 SL AL
According to Reserve, they designed and developed their aluminum wheels to rival the performance of their carbon models. Their aluminum rims feature a 30mm inner width, 22mm depth, an asymmetric design, and are offered in HD and SL versions. Reserve claims an 80-gram difference in rim weight between rims in a 29-inch size. They are built with DT Swiss 350 hubs front and rear with 28 double-butted spokes in a 3x pattern. The rear hub features DT’s proven Ratchet System 36 SL, offering 10 degrees of engagement. These wheels also come standard with Reserve’s Fillmore valve stems with their high-flow, anti-clog design. For more details check out our first look story here.

HOW THEY COMPARE:

RIDE FEEL
Out on the trial, all three of these wheels perform well. They are laterally stiff enough to feel accurate and predictable under hard cornering, but not so rigid that they feel chattery in the rocks and on braking bumps. Reserve’s wheels and the Race Face have a similar feel in that they are the most compliant of the three and do a good job of quieting the ride—not as good as carbon, but above average for aluminum wheels. The Ibis wheels have the most unique ride feel. They are stiffer feeling overall and transmit more trail back to the rider than the other two. They are also 3mm wider, giving the tire a flatter profile and a less bulbous tire shape, likely contributing to this feel. They also accelerate a touch slower than the other two.

Given our history with house-branded hubs over the years, we were skeptical about the Ibis units; however, they have been very reliable.

HUB PERFORMANCE
Quick-grabbing freehub fans loved the Race Face’s 3 degrees of engagement. Compared to the other two’s 10 degrees, these wheels felt considerably more responsive at the pedals. Sound-wise, riders found the Ibis wheels the loudest, followed by the Reserve and Race Face being the most quiet, especially when newer. With time they get louder as lube gets distributed and closer to the Reserve’s sound but higher pitched. For reference, none of them are as loud as the Industry Nine Hydra. Reserve and Race Face’s hubs feature tool-free end-cap and freehub swaps, while Ibis’ end caps thread onto the axle but are easy to swap, too

Tool-free end cap and freehub swaps make things easy, but you have to watch for a small washer that can stick to the freehub’s inner bearing or stay on the axle.

WEIGHT
Hitting our scales at 1,902 grams for the pair, Reserve’s wheels come in as the lightest of the three, with Race Face’s a close second at a mere 15 grams more. Ibis’ wheels are significantly heavier than the other two at 2,095 grams per pair.

DT’s 350 hub design has proven itself to be reliable and simple to service.

PRICE
Ibis wins the price war with a crazy-low cost of just $525. It’s hard to believe that they can offer such a robust wheel with a replacement warranty at such a cost, but they do. Reserve comes in next at $699, and Race Face $100 more at $799.

DURABILITY
We are seriously impressed by the overall durability of all three wheels. None of them skipped a beat during our testing or let us down in any way. We collectively have the most time on the Ibis wheels mostly because they have been around for the longest. We are still beating on our original test wheels from last year. The biggest issue we faced was peeling rim tape from so many tire changes. The other two brands seem to use a thicker and more durable rim tape. We have smashed the Ibis wheels hard, including a couple of days at Angel Fire, New Mexico’s bike park, which is notorious for blowing up wheels—and they came away unscathed and true.

The Reserves took a beating, yet they remained straight and round. The rear rim took a rock hit to the outer top edge of the rim between the spokes, creating a deep gouge and small dent—none of which affected the performance or integrity of the wheel. Race Face’s wheels also took a beating and begged for more. These are three seriously tough wheels.

All three wheels, durability-wise, seemed to perform similarly, even though they had radically different rim designs. The Ibis rim has a fat 4.4mm-wide bead wall, the widest of the three. Race Face came in next with its Anvil Edge measuring 2.6mm wide. The Reserve is really thin by today’s standards at just 1.6mm wide. In spite of the variable bead-wall widths, we didn’t notice a significant difference in pinch flats between the three. This was likely due to the use of heavy-duty reinforced tires throughout most of our testing.

The Ibis and Race Face wheels are eMTB approved; however, the Reserve 30 SL AL is not, but the heavier HD version is. None of these three wheels have a rider weight limit.

All three rims feature asymmetric spoke beds, but only the Race Face’s rim bed (center) is symmetric. Ibis’ recess (bottom) is radically offset, making tire removal and installation easy on that side of the rim and difficult on the other.

 

WARRANTY
Race Face’s wheels are coverred by its lifetime warranty, inclusive of crashes for the original owner. If you crash and destroy a wheel, the warranty applies. The warranty covers all product failures related to riding, inclusive of crashes. If you dent or flat spot your Turbine rim and your tire no longer holds air, the warranty applies. Seam separation and/or cracks at the spoke hole are also covered. Hub wear, such as bearings or freewheels, are covered by a two-year limited warranty. All non-bearing hub issues, including crash damage, are covered.

Reserve’s warranty covers dented rims, paint chipping, holding or not holding air, seam separation and cracks at the spoke holes. A dented rim with no paint chipping and holding air is considered a crash replacement, and a rim will be soldt a discount. The lifetime warranty is for the original owner. Reserve typically ships out complete wheels as a first option, with rims and a service credit provided as a second option. Hubs are covered by the manufacturer’s specific warranty; in this case, DT Swiss’s two-year warranty.

Ibis rims are covered by a seven-year warranty, just like the carbon rims. If you damage them to the extent that the rim will no longer hold a tubeless seal, they will send you a new rim. The hubs are backed by a two-year warranty.

 

SMALL DETAILS
It’s often the small details that can make all the difference in choosing between similar items and, in the case of these wheels, it matters. A cool bonus on Race Face’s wheels is how that includes four spokes per wheel. They are standard-issue straight-pull spokes that good shops should have, but it’s better to have them on hand. All three wheels are taped and include valve stems,but Reserve includes its incredible Fillmore valve stems. After using them all, these are near or at the top of our favorite list. Not only do they resist clogging with sealant, but they also flow air like a valve stem with the core removed. Every time we pump one up, the lack of effort at the handle makes us smile.

All three wheels come with tubeless valve stems, but Reserve’s Fillmore is one of the best valve stems on the market.

 

STYLE POINTS
Looks are highly subjective, but an incredibly important factor when choosing anything like a wheel. Test riders universally preferred the looks of Reserve’s rim shape, color and finish. They looked the most like carbon, and we like the lack of flashy logos. The small hubs look clean, too. The Race Face comes in next with a nice overall look, but some were put off by the large decals. These decals are removable, so keep that in mind. The large Vault hubs look bulky to some. Coming in last place in MBA’s wheel beauty contest is Ibis. The rims are wide and ultra-low profile, giving an untraditional look that put off a lot of riders. We like the classy graphics, but don’t love the rim’s shape and how it looks on the bike.

WHAT WE REALLY THINK

The bottom line is that we would be happy to have any of these three wheels on our bikes. With their weight and performance that’s not far off of carbon models and the exact same warranty, it almost seems silly to buy anything else. None of these wheels are losers, but there can only be one shootout winner. The Ibis wheels rock the value with a seemingly impossible low price and incredible durability. Test riders had a hard time picking between the Race Face and Reserve wheels for the top spot, but everyone felt the most comfortable with Reserve’s DT Swiss 350 hubs and loved the overall look of the wheels. Its awesome Fillmore valve stems and lower price were enough to sway most test riders, making Reserve’s 30 SL AL wheel the winner of our value aluminum-wheel shootout.

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