The Ultimate Wheel Buyer’s Guide

The Ultimate Wheel Buyer’s Guide

Make an Upgrade That Matters

Wheels are one of the most important components on a bike and can make a big difference in how a bike rides. We know this from years of dealing with curmudgeonly bike mechanics who carefully laced and tensioned the spokes of the wheels that carried riders down the sides of mountains in the early days. Fortunately, now there are many more choices than simply going to the shop to have your wheels laced from custom parts.

What many riders don’t realize is that the factory-built wheels are not typically built by machines. Instead, they are hand-laced and tensioned by the experts who live and breathe wheel-building. These are the guys who use old spokes to stir their coffee and calibrate their spoke tension meters before they make their breakfast every morning. These are a few of our favorite wheels that we’ve been using on the trails this past year.

RIDEFAST HOTLINE 27.5

Wheels_RideFastRidefast is the new kid on the block, bringing two generations of wheel-building to the table. Ridefast is aimed at the racing market and offers lightweight and efficient wheels at a reduced price.

Tech info:

The Hotline is Ridefast’s burly enduro and all-mountain wheel that is available in 27.5- or 29-inch diameters and Boost spacing. The rims and hubs are hand- built with straight-pull spokes in a 3x pattern to maintain strength and stiffness. Ridefast uses a hookless carbon rim, adding to the overall strength of the wheel. The Hotlines come with a two-year warranty and ship with tubeless valves and tape installed.

On the trail:

We started the Hotlines off by racing the TDS in northern California. The TDS is home to some burly rock gardens and sloppy mud. To our surprise, the Hotlines came out of the race true and rolling smoothly, despite the harsh conditions. We rode a few enduro races and even a few days on Mammoth Mountain, pushing the Hotlines as hard as we could.

During our testing, the Hotlines stayed true and the hub bearings stayed smooth. By the end of our testing, there was plenty of visible wear and tear on the rims from rock strikes and other trail debris, but the Hotlines proved to be up to the challenge.

Rim material: Hookless carbon
Internal rim width: 30mm
Spoke count: 28-hole
Price: $1,250
Weight: 1,650 grams

SPEED TUNED EXILE 29

Wheels_SpeedSpeed Tuned is probably not a name you’re very familiar with, but its parent company, Sta-Tru, has been lacing wheels for a few generations now. Speed Tuned takes advantage of years of wheel-building experience and offers a deep line of wheels at a very competitive price. The Exile is its all-around set of hoops and comes in 27.5- or 29-inch diameters and just about every axle standard.

Wheels_Speed-2Rim material: Hookless carbon
Internal rim width: 29mm
Spoke count: 32-hole
Price: $1,100
Weight: 1,740 grams

EASTON HEIST 24 29ER

Wheels_EastonEaston released a completely new lineup of Heist wheels with various rim widths for different riding styles. The Heist is available in 24-, 27- or 30-millimeter internal rim widths and 27.5- or 29-inch diameters. The aluminum rims are built up on Easton X5 hubs that only come in a six-bolt interface.

Rim material: Aluminum
Internal rim width: 24mm
Spoke count: 28-hole
Price: $700
Weight: 1,730 grams

INDUSTRY NINE ENDURO 27.5

Wheels_i9Industry Nine has become a brand favorite among riders. Its popular Torch hubs have even made their way into other companies’ wheelsets. The Enduro is a new wheel focusing on budget-conscious riders. These wheels are suited for burlier enduro riding and are available in 27.5- and 29-inch diameters with Boost and standard spacing options. Industry Nine uses steel spokes to add to the strength of the wheel.

Rim material: Aluminum
Internal rim width: 30.5mm
Spoke count: 28-hole
Price: $865
Weight: 1,750 grams

MAVIC CROSSMAX PRO CARBON 29ER

Cross-country racers are always looking for that extra edge to set them apart from the rest of the pack. The legendary Crossmax Pro Carbon is Mavic’s latest XC weapon built on new hookless carbon rims that are UST ready. Mavic uses its patented ITS-4 system in the hubs and offers standard and Boost spacing. The Crossmax comes in 27.5- or 29-inch diameters and is best suited for tire widths of 2.1–2.25 inches.

Wheels_Mavic-2Rim material: Hookless carbon
Internal rim width: 23mm
Spoke count: 24-hole
Price: $2000
Weight: 1,510 grams

DT SWISS EX 1501 27.5

Wheels_DT-SwissDT Swiss might be one the most recognizable names when it comes to wheels. The Swiss wheel builder has helped riders like Nino Schurter win countless races, along with giving riders sturdy hoops for all types of riding. The EX 1501 is an enduro wheel built on a light- weight platform. This wheel comes in 27.5 or 29 inches, along with two different rim widths (25 or 30 millimeters).

Rim material: Aluminum
Internal rim width: 30mm
Spoke count: 28-hole
Price: $1,300

SPANK OOZY TRAIL 345 BOOST 27.5

Wheels_SpankSpank is a brand that is dedicated to all-out shredding. The Oozy was built with all-around trail riding in mind and uses an aluminum rim with an internal width of 30 millimeters. These rims are built up on Spank’s Trail Boost hubs and are available in 27.5- or 29-inch diameters.

Rim material: Aluminum
Internal rim width: 30mm
Spoke count: 32-hole
Price: $650
Weight: 2,020 grams

STAN’S ARCH MK3 29ER

Wheels_Stan_sThe grandfathers of tubeless technology have been producing wheels to go with their sealants for years. Stan’s not only designs and produces its own rims but high-performance hubs as well. The Arch and Crest have been at the heart of Stan’s lineup of hoops, and the new MK3 is a modern take on a classic.

Tech info:

The MK3 is a wider rim for enduro racing and general burly riding. Stan’s designed the rim with an internal rim width of 26 millimeters and an external width of 29.3 millimeters. These wheels come in a 28- or 32-hole configuration and will run tires up to 2.5 inches in width. Stan’s makes the MK3 in almost every hub option, from Boost to Lefty, and they retail for $680.

On the trail:

Stan’s is now giving riders the ability to customize their wheels with rim decals and even spoke nipple colors. We did the custom process and were surprised at how straightforward it was. The MK3s went through a minor wear-in process with spoke tensions loosening. We trued the wheels after a few rides and didn’t have any issues for the remainder of our testing.
The Neo hub gave us quick engagement and rolled smoothly. The MK3s did flex some, giving our test riders a more forgiving ride than other wider rims we have ridden. Some of our test riders would have liked a slightly wider rim, but for all-round riding, this is a wheel we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

Rim material: Aluminum
Internal rim width: 26mm
Spoke count: 28- or 32-hole
Price: $680
Weight: 1,770 grams

REYNOLDS 27.5 TRAIL

Wheels_ReynoldsReynolds is high on the list of “dream wheels” and has expanded its overall lineup from cross-country race wheels to plus-size trail rippers. The 27.5 Trail wheel sits in the middle for general trail riding or longer endurance rides. This Reynolds carbon rim is built up on Reynolds hubs made by Industry Nine. The Trail is available in 27.5- and 29-inch diameters, along with Boost spacing.

Wheels_Reynolds-2Rim material: Hookless carbon
Internal rim width: 25mm
Spoke count: 28-hole
Price: $2,500
Weight: 1,570 grams

SHIMANO XT TRAIL 27.5

Wheels_XTShimano XT has been a go-to workhorse for many mountain bikers for years, and the wheels are just another example of Shimano’s sturdy components. The XT Trail wheels are available in 29- and 27.5-inch diameters with 15×100 and 12×142 axle options. The XT hubs come in Centerlock and are 11-speed compatible.

Wheels_XT-2Rim material: Aluminum
Internal rim width: 27.9mm
Spoke count: 28-hole
Price: $554
Weight: 1,900 grams

SRAM ROAM 60 27.5

Wheels_RoamSRAM is best known for it drivetrains, but has an impressive lineup of wheels. The Roam 60 is an all-mountain enduro wheelset built for burly riding in a lightweight package.

Tech info:

SRAM offers these in standard and Boost spacing, along with 27.5- or 29-inch diameters. When paired with RockShox forks, the Roam wheels can be adapted to use the Torque caps as well. The Roam has an asymmetrical hookless carbon rim with an internal width of 30 millimeters. These rims use 24 spokes on a set of SRAM hubs and have a retail price of $900–$1,230 per wheel.

On the trail:

The hookless rims are pretty easy to seat tires onto and have a very loud, assuring pop. We spent plenty of time on the Roams on everything from groomed jump trails to gnarly enduro terrain. The wide, 30-millimeter rim gave our 2.35-inch-wide tires a robust profile that improved the footprint of the tire on the trail, ensuring better traction.

Our test riders were amazed at how stiff the Roams were, but they did have a little compliance, so they didn’t make the ride too harsh. Over the course of our testing the Roams proved to be sturdy. They did not need to be trued, and we didn’t experience any broken spokes. The stock SRAM hubs offered us quick engagement and rolled quickly, giving our test riders a good level of efficiency.

Rim material: Hookless carbon
Internal rim width: 30mm
Spoke count: 24-hole
Price: $900–$1230
Weight: 1,625 grams

WTB CI31 27.5

Wheels_WTBWilderness Trail Bikes has been working hard behind the scenes lately to offer fresh saddles, tires and rims. The Ci31 is Wilderness Trail Bikes’ latest creation for trail and enduro riding, designed with heavy input from beasts like Mark Weir and Jason Moeschler.

Tech info:

The Ci31 was developed as a do-it-all rim that leans heavily towards all-mountain and enduro. This carbon rim has an internal diameter of 31 millimeters and is built in 27.5- and 29-inch diameters. WTB offers the Ci31 as a rim only, so for testing we had our rims laced up on a pair of White Industries XMR hubs. The XMR hubs are Boost compatible and use a titanium freehub body. The Ci31 rims retail for $600 apiece and can be found online or at your local shop.

On the trail:

We mounted our hoops up with a 2.3 Breakout rear tire and 2.5 Convict in the front. Given the robust rim, we wouldn’t run anything narrower than a 2.3 tire. First-ride impressions proved it was an incredibly stiff wheel that was very responsive when pushed hard out of the saddle. The 31-millimeter rim gave the 2.5-inch front tire a generous footprint and plenty of traction through various types of terrain.

The White Industries hubs gave us instant engagement, and the rear hub rolled with an assuring hum. A couple of our test riders felt that the Ci31 was a little too stiff on rougher terrain, but most of our riders preferred the extra stiffness. The Ci31s stayed true during our testing, and the XMR hub bearings stayed snug.

Rim material: Carbon
Internal rim width: 31mm
Spoke count: 32-hole
Price: $600 (rim only)
Weight: 455 grams (rim only)

BOYD KANUGA 27.5

Wheels_BoydIn the world of road biking, Boyd has made a name for itself by offering quality, hand-built hoops at a reduced price. The Kanuga is Boyd’s first foray into mountain biking. It is an all-purpose set of rims that will handle anything from cross-country to enduro. The Kanuga uses Boyd’s Quest hubs and is available in 27.5- or 29-inch diameters with Boost spacing. For a slight upcharge, riders can opt to get the Kanuga built on White Industry hubs.

Rim material: Aluminum
Internal rim width: 25mm
Spoke count: 28- or 32-hole
Weight: 400 grams (rim)
Price: $750

FULCRUM RED PASSION 3 29ER

Fulcrum is known for its high-end road wheels and parent company Campagnolo. In recent years Fulcrum has been expanding into the mountain bike world with new hoops, such as the Red Passion. The Red Passion leans more towards cross-country riding, with a lighter build and narrower rim design. These hoops have an asymmetric design and are available in non-Boost hub widths, but with the option of adapters to go wider.

Rim material: Aluminum
Internal rim width: 21mm
Spoke count: 28-hole
Price: $575
Weight: 1,500 grams

ENVE M60 HV 27.5

Wheels_ENVEIf there is one wheel company that needs little introduction, it’s probably Enve. This Utah-based hoop builder has been making its wheels in-house since 2007. Enve is known for its carbon manufacturing prowess and overall high quality. The M60 HV is a modern trail/enduro wheel built on DT Swiss or Chris King hubs in 29-inch or 27.5-inch diameters. The HV rim is built around 2.3–2.4-inch tire widths.

Wheels_ENVE-2
Rim material: Carbon
Internal rim width: 26mm
Spoke count: 32-hole
Price: $2,800
Weight: 1,560 grams

BONTRAGER KOVEE XXX BOOST 29ER

Wheels_BontragerBontrager wheels have flown under the radar a bit as a quality aftermarket option for riders. This last spring Bontrager announced a completely new lineup of Kovee wheels. We spent plenty of time on our local cross-country trails, pushing the limits of the Kovees to see how they would hold up. World Cup racers such as Emily Batty have been reaching the podium aboard the Kovees, establishing a solid reputation for the stout carbon hoops.

Tech info:

The Kovees don’t waste any time with technologies of the past. Bontrager designed these wheels with only Boost spacing
laced up on DT Swiss 240 hubs. The inner rim width measures 29 millimeters, with a very sturdy 34-millimeter external width to increase the tire footprint and traction with lower tire pressures. The rims use Bontrager’s OCLV carbon to keep the wheel responsive but compliant as well.

On the trail:

Out of the box the Kovees look more like a burly trail or enduro wheel with the 34-millimeter carbon rim. We ran a pair of Maxxis Ikon 29×2.2-inch tires for the duration of our testing. This width complemented the rim shape very well, giving our test riders plenty of traction with various tire pressures. At first our test riders were surprised at how responsive the wheels were. Out of the saddle the rims were stiff, and the DT Swiss hubs rolled with little to no friction. During the course of our testing the wheels stayed true and required no maintenance.

Some of our test riders thought the rims might be a little too wide for any tires narrower than 2.2 inches. After a few rides with a set of 2.1 WTB Nano tires, we found that even the slightly skinnier tires felt comfortable on the beefier rims. If the XXX version is a little too steep price-wise, Bontrager does offer the Kovee Pro at a greatly reduced price.

Rim material: OCLV carbon
Internal rim width: 29mm
Spoke count: 28-hole
Price: $1,050–$1,200
Weight: 1,550 grams


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