There are few sports that compare with mountain biking. The freedom of the trail, the incredible vistas, the massive challenges inherent in battling nature, and the sheer sense of adventure are just a few of the perks here. Of course, you need the right gear to tackle those trails, and while a good mountain bike is critical, the right mountain bike tires are even more important. We’ve done the legwork for you and assembled a list of the best mountain bike wheels so that you can spend less time shopping and more time riding. We’ll start off with a direct comparison of each wheel, and then move on to more detailed reviews, followed by a buying guide to make your decision that much simpler.
Table of Contents
The Best Mountain Bike Wheels
Mavic Rim 29er Mountain Bike Wheels with Disc Brake Shimano Hubs
Our top-rated mountain bike wheel is the Mavic Rim 29er. These wheels are designed for outstanding performance on the trail, and come with smooth-rolling Shimano M475 MTP AR hubs that are compatible with disc brakes. Note that only 6-bolt style rotors can be used. Perhaps most interestingly, these wheels actually come with a free set of Continental Race King tires, as well as tubes, so you get a full solution to your riding challenges. Mavic has designed these wheels to fit almost every 29-inch mountain bike on the market, as well. There are 32 spokes on both the front and rear wheel, and the wheel uses a Presta valve (not a Schrader valve).
Shimano Deore/Sun Disc MTB 29er Front Wheel
Another 29-inch wheel, the Shimano Deore/Sun Disc is an excellent option for your mountain biking enjoyment. Note that this is the front wheel only. It also has 32 spokes, and the front axle measures 9 x 100 mm. The hub is compatible with 6-bolt disc brake systems, and the rim’s aluminum construction saves weight while ensuring ample strength and durability. You’ll also find that the hub offers double contact seals to keep water, dust, and debris out. The sidewalls of the rim are brushed and compatible with rim braking systems, as well. Note that rim tape is not included.
Wheel Master 26-inch Alloy Mountain Disc Double Wall
One of the smaller mountain bike wheels on our list, this model from Wheel Master delivers aluminum alloy construction and is compatible with 8 to 10 speed cassettes. It also works with 6-bolt disc rotors, which means that it has a hollow tube axle, rather than a solid axle. The skewer that supports the axle is designed for quick release, as well. Note that this mountain bike wheel is not designed to work with 7-speed bikes, but a third-party adapter may work (not recommended by the manufacturer). Also note that this wheel is designed for mountain bikes, not for road bikes. The sprocket is sold separately, and this is the rear wheel only.
Shimano Mountain Bike ATB Wheels Disc Brake Black Wheel Set
The second mountain bike from Mavic to make our list, this one offers quite a few similarities to the 29er that took our top slot. Like the larger wheel, this one features alloy construction with clincher rims designed to work with Presta valves. It is compatible with disc brakes as well as with rim braking systems. You’ll find smooth rolling Shimano M475 hubs, 32 spokes front and rear, 3 cross nipple lacing, and compatibility with 7 through 10 speed cassettes. Note that this set of wheels comes with Continental Race King tires (free of charge).
Eagle Lightweight Carbon Fiber Clincher Wheelset in Black DT Swiss 240/Eagle 280 Hubs
The only carbon fiber wheelset to make our list, this pair from Eagle is designed to deliver outstanding performance, reduce weight, and deliver good durability even in demanding situations. It comes with a set of free Continental tires, as well. The wheel is toroidal in shape in order to offer better aerodynamics, and it weighs just 1374 grams. Note that this is a 60/60 wheelset. It is also designed for general use, rather than being specifically for mountain biking, which means you can use them on road bikes, too. The titanium bead along the rim helps ensure that you can air your tires up to a maximum of 180 psi (always inflate to tire manufacturer recommendations).
Vuelta Zerolite MTB Limited Edition 26” Hand Built MTB Wheelset
Want a completely unique set of wheels for your mountain bike? These are hand-built MTB wheels. This is a complete set for front and rear, and you’ll find 24h stainless black bladed spokes, as well as high-quality aluminum alloy construction. The set includes skewers, and is designed to work with rim brakes, not with disc brakes. Note that these wheels are compatible with 8 to 10 speed Shimano-style cassettes. Wheels are available in either black or white and are limited in quantity.
Mavic XA Elite Wheelset with Tires
This is a complete wheelset measuring 27.5 inches. It is tubeless, which reduces cost and hassle, and includes 24 spokes on the front and rear wheels. Spokes are double butted. Unlike the Vuelta wheelset above, this one is designed to work with 6-bolt rotors (disc brakes), and is made from machined aluminum. Note that both the front and rear are through axle designs. The wheels also come with tires already installed, and they also include the ITS 4 freewheel system.
ACS Mag 5-Spoke Rear Wheel
If you’re looking for something a little different for your bike, consider the ACS Z-Mag 5-spoke. This is only the rear wheel, and it uses a standard Schrader valve. At 20 inches, it is also the smallest wheel on our list. This clincher-style wheel is not compatible with disc brakes and can only be used with rim brakes. Note that this wheel does not come with the required single speed freewheel, nor does it come with a freewheel installation tool. Both of those must be ordered separately. Note that this wheel uses a 3/8-inch bolt-on axle and the only color available is black.
XLC Altus RM40/Alex X101 Rear Wheel
Another rear mountain bike wheel, the XLC Altus RM40/Alex X101 is a vision of machined aluminum beauty. With a quick release axle and steel spokes, you get ease of use and durability. It also measures 26 inches, so it’s a good fit for medium-sized mountain bikes. Note that this wheel is not compatible with disc brakes – only with rim brake systems. It does come with a Shimano HG/SRAM PG freehub, and features 36 spokes. There is a convenient wear indicator that tells you when it is time to replace your wheel, as well.
Weinmann/Shimano ZAC19 Rear Wheel 26” x 1.5 Black
This double-walled mountain bike wheel measures 26 inches and is made from machined aluminum painted black. This mountain biking wheel features stainless steel spokes. It is compatible with 8 and 9-speed cassettes, and offers a Shimano M430 hub with quick release. Note that this is the rear wheel only. It is not compatible with disc brakes and only works with rim brake systems.
As you can see, there’s a mountain bike wheel or mountain bike wheelset out there for just about anyone, whether you ride a large 29er or have a medium or smaller bike. Of course, there’s more to finding the right bike wheels than just having access to the top-rated models. If you have never had to buy wheels for a mountain bike before, it can be more than a little confusing. In our buying guide, we’ll help clarify what you need to know.
Finding the Best Mountain Bike Wheels: A Buying Guide
So, you’ve got a mountain bike, and you’ve ridden it to the point that you need to replace one or even both wheels. Where you do you start? Or, maybe you’ve purchased a bike for the first time, but you don’t like the wheels that came with it and you’re looking to buy a new set of mountain bike wheels. Again, if you’ve never been through the process before, it can be challenging to determine where you should start. We’ve created a handy buying guide that will help you determine which is the best mountain bike wheelset for your specific needs.
Perhaps the most important consideration you’re going to make when buying a new set of wheels for a mountain bike is the construction material. There are two primary options on the market today:
- Carbon Fiber: Carbon fiber is super light, super strong, and usually super expensive. You’ll notice from our list that there’s only one such option included. They are not that widely available, so finding a carbon fiber wheelset that will fit your bike may be challenging. There’s also the fact that you’re going to pay a great deal for most of them, unless you go with a budget-option, which means you’ll be sacrificing quality and that’s never a good option.
- Aluminum Alloy: Most of the replacement mountain bike wheels on the market are made from aluminum alloy. They are light, durable, and look good. The vast majority are painted, but make sure that you get a wheel or wheelset that is powder coated, rather than conventionally painted. The coating will last longer and stand up better to the abuse you’ll dish out on the trail.
Size is another important consideration. Here, we’re talking about diameter, not width (which we’ll discuss below). The taller the tire, the higher your ride height will be. Not to mention the fact that your bike is designed for a specific size (or size range) of wheels and tires. Ideally, you’ll go back with the same size wheels as what came on your bike from the manufacturer. Our comparison list of the best mountain bike wheels included size options for taller bikes, medium-sized bikes, and even shorter ones. Note that most mountain bikes use either a 26, 27.5, or a 29-inch wheel and the majority can only use a single size wheel.
When shopping for tires, remember this mantra – wider is better. The wider your tire is, the more grip you’re going to get on the trail. You also get better control on rough terrain. Wider tires inflated to a lower psi can also survive better on rugged trails, although you’ll sacrifice acceleration for that durability. When it comes to rim width, you need to check the manufacturer’s specifications for the frame and fork. In most cases, you cannot put a fat tire on a slim bike, but you can often put a slimmer tire/wheel onto a fatter frame.
Related: Best MTB Handlebars
Axle Material, Type, and Size
The axle is one of the most critical components of your mountain bike wheel and tire assembly. You want it to be strong and durable, which usually means going with steel over another type of metal. However, there are several different styles of axle on the market, including solid, bolt-on types, quick release, and tube/skewer styles, and more. You need to choose a wheel with a hub/axle assembly that will work with your bike. That usually means going back with what came on it from the manufacturer. You’ll also want to make sure that you have the right size. Older bikes often have smaller axles, while newer bikes have larger, beefier ones. There’s also the fact that different hubs (of which your axles are a part) are made for different purposes and in different widths.
Tubed or Tubeless?
Most bikes today, even mountain bikes, have tubed tires. That’s remained the same for a long time. However, things are beginning to change. There are a couple of tubeless options on our list, and many others on the wider market that you might consider. Which is better for your needs? It depends.
Tubeless tires offer quite a few benefits. For instance, they’re generally lighter than tubed tires and wheels. They also have a lower rolling resistance, meaning faster acceleration and higher top speeds, and they are harder to puncture. You can also use a tubeless wheel with a tubed tire, but you cannot use a rim designed only for use with innertubes with a tubeless tire.
We’ll keep this one short – some mountain bike wheels do not come with a freewheel. If that is the case, you’ll either need to reuse your old one or buy a separate one. We don’t recommend reusing freewheels, as they suffer from wear and tear just as much as any other part of the bike, and there is no guarantee that your current one will fit the new wheel/hub, either. Make sure that you buy a mountain bike wheel that comes with a new freewheel, or that the manufacturer makes a compatible version that can be ordered on its own.
As you noticed from our list of the best mountain bike wheels, some wheels are compatible with disc brakes, but others only work with rim brakes. Know what you need and buy accordingly. Additionally, most of the wheels we covered on our list were only compatible with 6-bolt rotors, so double-check that your rotors have the appropriate number of bolts before ordering one of those. The other main rotor style is called a center lock. As a note, fewer and fewer modern bikes are being made with rim brakes, so disc compatibility is becoming better.
The cassette type your hub accepts will determine how many speeds you have. None of the wheels on our list are able to offer more than about 10 speeds, and almost all are Shimano options. With that being said, there are wheel/hub assemblies on the market that can support 11 and 12-speed cassettes. Make sure you know what you need in terms of both hub and cassette, and buy accordingly.
Finding the best mountain bike wheels can be challenging, but there are plenty of options on the market to fit your riding style, your bike requirements, and your budget.
Brad grabbed up his first bike when he was a kid and never looked back. He is an avid BMX rider and mountain biker.