The best mountain bike wheels provide a massive improvement over stock wheelsets as they shed weight, up the stiffness game and increase durability, all the while offering noticeable benefits to your bike's handling. If you're looking to make one of the biggest upgrades you can, here's our curation of the best wheels we've tested.
There are a number of things you must consider before upgrading your mountain bike wheels. The first question to be answered is, '650b, 29-inch or mixed?'This is easily answered by checking what your bike is currently equipped with and matching the configuration. However, if your bike is compatible with either wheel standard, you could choose a mixed wheelset or even 650b but this will likely require the adjustment of a flipchip. It must be noted that not all bikes are designed to accept wheel sizes that differ in circumference.
You'll also need to check your hub spacing. Most mountain bikes use Boost spacing which is a 148mm wide hub with a 12mm axle at the rear and a 110mm wide hub at the front with a 15mm axle. Super Boost is a wider hub spacing measuring 157mm in width but this isn't as commonly used. Oh, and to mesh with your current cassette, you'll need to pick a wheelset with the correct freehub body. There are HG, Microspline, and XD standards with HG working for SRAM, Shimano and other cassettes, Microspline working primarily with Shimano cassettes and XD and XDR working with SRAM. There is some interchangeability here depending on which brand you're sourcing your cassette from. Here, pick the freehub you're currently running unless you're changing drivetrain brand.
The final check is the rotor mounting interface. Here, there are two options, six-bolt and Centrelock. The former uses six bolts to fit the rotor to the hub, the latter uses a lockring. The pros of the six-bolt mount are that it's cheaper and it doesn't require special tools. However, Centrelock is more secure and will keep the rotor in place even when loose, so you can still brake to a degree but it does need a Shimano BB tool to fix or remove the rotor.
With the compatibility things out of the way, we can now look at internal rim width which affects your tyre's profile when it's seated to the rim. The wider the profile, the wider tyres it can accommodate and the squarer a tyre will sit on the rim. This boosts grip and tyre support at the expense of rolling resistance due to the fact that there's a larger contact patch on the ground. The opposite occurs with a narrower rim profile where these suit narrower tyres better which will roll faster as there's a smaller contact patch as a result of the tyre sitting rounder on the rim.
Hub engagement is something to consider, too, especially when you start to lay serious money down. Higher engagement hubs lock faster when pedalling so the more points of engagement, the better. They are found on pricier wheelsets, however, and fast engagement is a make-or-break feature. Then there are spokes, with J-bend being readily available and straight-pull being slightly more scarce. The latter is often lighter, and stiffer and a wheelset with straight-pull spokes won't need truing as regularly.
Best mountain bike wheels 2023
2023Reynolds Blacklabel 309 Enduro Pro hero.jpg, by Liam Mercer
It's certainly not cheap but Reynold's latest Blacklabel 309 Enduro Pro wheelset deserves a spot in the best mountain bike wheels as it poses a serious upgrade to any heavy-hitting mountain bike. This wheel's build revolves around lightweight, durability and a stiffness/flex blend that makes a real difference out on the trail, increasing grip and all-out confidence.
To do so, these carbon-fibre wheels rotate around Industry Nine's impressive Hydra hubs with a whopping 0.52-degree engagement and the rims benefit from Reynolds' Impact Dispursing Matrix tech.
While pitched at the upper end of the price scale, the upgrade is a serious investment so if you would like to learn more head over to our Reynolds Blacklabel 309 Enduro Pro review.
Levati_XC32_Main.jpg, by Matthew Page
As suggested by its name, the XC32 is Levati's cross-country wheelset and it impressed due to its low weight and great performance. These wheels are built using T700 carbon fibre with an internal width of 27mm.
The brand has really chased those weight savings, choosing bladed straight pull stainless steel spokes with alloy nipples and a Centrelock rotor interface. Even though the hubs are unbranded, the freehub gets 54 points of engagement and uses a six-pawl mechanism with simultaneous pawl engagement. We weighed this wheelset to be 1,340g.
As for performance, acceleration is excellent thanks to the low weight and freehub engagement whereas the internal width made for a great platform for wider XC tyres. They proved to be stiff and generally fast too.
If a new cross-country wheelset is what you're looking for, have a look at our detailed Levati XC32 wheelset review.
Wheel brand, Hunt, is renowned for its great performing wheels at a more than palatable price and the very same goes for its Trail Wide V2 wheelset. It utilises a pair of alloy rims with a 30mm internal width and there are 28 triple-butted PSR-reinforced Pillar spokes on each wheel.
The Trail Wide V2s then use Hunt's RapidEngage freehub with a five-degree engagement which is great to see on a wheelset of this price.
This wheelset scored an impressive five stars for its performance which pits it up against wheels far above its asking price. Freehub pickup is excellent and there's a useful level of compliance, which makes for a comfy time when descending. Tyre support is great and the rims are durable enough, though they're not the lightest in the world but at the price, who's to complain?
To find out why this wheelset scored so highly, check out our Hunt Trail Wide V2 wheelset review.
£190 - £320
Halo Vapour 35 Stealth 29″ Wheelset review 2022 0.jpeg, by Jim Clarkson
The Vapour 35 is Halo's light, trail-focused wheelset that's more than capable of taking on burlier terrain. It looks great with its stealthy graphics and gloss finish, which wraps up a great performing pair of wheels.
These alloy rims sit laced to Halo's MTC Supadrive and MTC Front hubs with stainless steel double-butted ED-coated spokes with black brass nipples. There are 32 spokes at each wheel. The Vapour 35 feels taught but not overly harsh over lumpy terrain and they pick up acceleration efficiently. They pack the durability expected of a Halo product, fending off all kinds of damage through the rocky terrain they were tested through.
We did find it difficult to push the axle through the front hub, however as the hub's end caps didn't align properly. But if a mega durable wheelset tickles your fancy, our Halo Vapour 35 MTC wheelset review is worth a gander.
2022 dt swiss m 1900 spline 29 wheelset hero.jpg, by Liam Mercer
The Dt Swiss M 1900 SPLINE is a comparatively inexpensive wheelset that gets all of the good stuff that DT Swiss is known for but in a more budget-friendly package.
Importantly, that means that this wheelset gets the Ratchet LN freehub which uses DT's famed star ratchet system offering 18 teeth. If that's not enough, it's easily upgradable to offer 54 teeth, for a speedier engagement. Aside from the freehub, this is a cracking wheelset that has accommodated all kinds of tyres and even tyre inserts without breaking a sweat. Durability is great too with the bearings holding up over six months of abuse.
In our DT Swiss M 1900 SPLINE wheelset review, we struggled to find anything to complain about and lauded it for its stiffness, strength and reliability.
Although only available as a rim, WTB's first tip into carbon wheels is one that hasn't gone unnoticed. Where the brand hasn't used the carbon to shed weight, it's used the material to create one of the strongest and most durable rims around with the only real downside being that it's not available in 650b.
This rim gets a 30mm internal width and a boatload of cool tech, including reinforced spoke beds, angle spoke holes and an asymmetric design. There's also WTB's solid strip system which acts as a second layer of tubeless tape that seals off the spoke holes, resulting in a smooth finish and a seal in case of a snapped spoke.
On the trail, the CZR i30 held up, taking the brunt of the worst a trail can throw at it, coming out only with minor scratches. Drive feels direct and stiffness is great under cornering loads. However, we felt that these got a little harsh over mid-sized high-frequency impacts.
All the details are covered in our in-depth WTB CZR i30 rim review.
Crankbrothers Synthesis 27.5 alloy wheels-1.jpg, by Rachael Gurney
Crankbrothers' Synthesis wheelset pushes wheelset design a little further as each wheel is tuned towards its specific use. So the front gets a wider rim to increase grip in the turns and fewer spokes, to encourage a little more compliance. The rear rim is narrower to better support a narrower tyre and boost rolling efficiency and offers a sharpened tyre edge for better grip at the rear of the bike. There are more spokes here too to create a stiffer wheel.
In practice, this resulted in a great quality wheelset with tangible results. Its ride quality is reliable and impressively damped which comes in handy throughout its application in mountain biking. They stack up well against their carbon counterparts too, although they're not quite as precise.
For more, head over to our Crankbrothers Synthesis Enduro i9 Alloy wheelset review.
How to choose the best MTB wheels
With so many different wheels on the market, picking your next set of wheels can be quite an ordeal, especially as many different cycling genres are beginning to use similar tech. If you ride cross-country, you'll be looking for a lightweight and stiff wheelset. XC wheels typically use fewer spokes to shed weight and as they are getting wider, their internal widths sit around the 28mm measurement.
Trail and enduro wheelsets are all about strength, as they share most of the same tech apart from that which is focussed towards durability. Trail wheels lean more towards a lighter weight figure, although not as light as XC wheelsets where enduro wheels are heavier while blending a lightish weight construction with a more durable build. On trail and enduro wheels, 30mm internal widths are commonplace as they support wider tyres more effectively.
Downhill wheelsets are all about strength at the expense of weight. As downhill riders rattle down some of the gnarliest courses known to man, they need a wheelset they can rely on to get them down that hill.
Picking your next wheelset is choosing a blend of these aspects. It's important not to go too strong as they'll be super heavy and impact your bike's ride, although it's equally as important not to pick a wheelset that's too light, as it likely won't be durable enough for your riding. However, many wheelsets on the market provide excellent durability, just don't go riding downhill on an XC wheelset expecting them to survive.
Do MTB wheels make a difference?
Absolutely. There are a lot of factors in the build of a mountain bike wheelset, all of which can make big differences in how your bike rides and the longevity of that wheelset.
Cheap or stock wheels will have slow freehub engagement. They'll be heavy and made out of sub-par materials, so they can be easily damaged which is far from ideal in mountain biking. Better wheels can also help to better seat tubeless tyres.
Is it worth upgrading MTB wheels?
Upgrading your wheels is the best bang-for-buck upgrade anyone can make. Upgrading your mountain bike wheelset can completely revamp how your bike rides as a stiffer wheel can boost confidence under heavy compression loads and help your bike feel more direct when tackling techy terrain. A wider or narrower rim width can increase grip or decrease rolling resistance and generally, better wheels will come with better bearings, improving longevity.
Are carbon-fibre wheels worth it?
Carbon-fibre wheels pose definite advantages over alloy but alloy wheels aren't without their own benefits. Carbon fibre can create a stronger wheel with less of a weight penalty but importantly, a brand can design compliance and stiffness into a carbon fibre rim with greater control. These wheels result in a more direct handling character and they respond to pedalling input much more responsively.
However, alloy wheels are cheaper and they provide excellent performance for the cash. Alloy can also bend under impact and, when that happens, it is more likely to hold a seal, meaning you can keep riding that rim. Carbon is more likely to crack, thus breaking its seal, so you'll have a potential hike back home. And because of alloy's propensity to bend once you get home, you can bend it back into shape – within reason.
What is the most popular MTB wheel size?
The wheelsize debate is the biggest can of worms in the mountain biking space and it's a subject that changes with the times. In 2023, the 29-inch wheel is prevalent, finding its way onto most cross country, trail, enduro and even downhill mountain bikes with 26-inch all but dead and 650b staking its claim on small frame sizes.
However, the mullet or mixed wheel size is gaining popularity as it pairs the best of a 29-inch front wheel and a 650b wheel at the rea