Best mountain bike wheels in 2020 | Mountain bike wheelsets tried and tested by our experts

Our pick of the best trail-tested wheelsets and what to know before you buy

Mountain bike wheels

Finding the best mountain bike wheelset can be a tricky job because wheels are arguably one of the most critical upgrades you can make to your mountain bike.

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Wheel weight, rim width and stiffness can all affect how your bike handles – for better and, sometimes, for worse.

A new wheelset can also be the most expensive upgrade you’ll make.

We’ve spent hours rigorously testing a whole host of different mountain bike wheelsets from different manufacturers to find out which ones perform the best while being fantastic value for money.

If you’re on the hunt for a new set of hoops hopefully this list of our top picks will guide your purchase.

Best mountain bike wheelsets, as rated by our expert testers

  • DT Swiss E 1900 Spline 30: £345
  • Mavic Deemaax Pro Sam Hill: £900
  • Nukeproof Horizon: £350 £40 for SRAM XD driver
  • DT Swiss EX 1501 Spline One 30: £850
  • DT Swiss EXC 1200 Spline 29: £1,900
  • Formula Linea 3: £780
  • Hunt Enduro Wide: £359

DT Swiss E 1900 Spline 30

5.0 out of 5 star rating
DT Swiss E 1900 Spline 30
The DT Swiss E 1900 Spline 30 scored five stars!
Georgina Hinton
  • Best-suited to enduro riding
  • Both the hub and rim are reliable
  • Exceptional comfort over rough terrain
  • Not the lightest, but light for the price

As a popular OEM (original equipment manufacturer) choice, thanks to its performance and price, the E 1900 has proven to be a tough, reliable and comfortable set of wheels.

The hubs are centerlock but the wheels are supplied with adaptors should you want or need to run six-bolt disc rotors.

The freehub has 24 points of engagement, which can create feelings of pedal-input lag under very specific circumstances. However, most of the time, out on the trail, this proved to not be a problem.

They come pre-taped for tubeless-ready compatibility and the rim beds are 29.8mm wide.

The E 1900 wheelset proved to be very comfortable and didn’t squirm or flex, creating no strange quirks or noises when pushed hard.

Mavic Deemax Pro Sam Hill

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Mavic Deemax Pro Sam Hill
The Deemax Pro features a slightly narrower-than-most 28mm internal width.
Georgina Hinton
  • Best-suited to enduro or all-mountain riding, but can be used for trail riding, too
  • Fantastic at smoothing out trail chatter
  • Real UST tubeless means no rim tape
  • A bit weighty for the price and narrower than most rims on the market

Although we tested the limited-edition Sam Hill Deemax Pro, these wheels are identical to the normal Deemax Pro, except for the graphics. They’ve got a 28mm internal rim width and have Mavic’s UST tubeless rim with a solid rim bed.

This means they’ve got Mavic’s own spoke nipples that thread into the rim externally (rather than in the rim bed). Spokes are custom Mavic ones, too, and six are included with the wheels.

We found the 28mm internal width to be a good compromise for most tyre widths, especially if you’re planning on using 2.4in or 2.5in tyres.

The wheels were exceptionally comfortable during the testing period and impressed us. The freehub also engaged quickly and was quiet when freewheeling.

Nukeproof Horizon

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike wheels
Nukeproof’s Horizon wheels come in both 27.5in and 29in variants.
Georgina Hinton
  • Best-suited to enduro or all-mountain riding
  • Great value, exceptional ride quality, tough
  • Quick freehub engagement
  • SRAM’s XD driver costs extra and some tubeless tyres were hard to inflate

The 42-point engagement hubs – that have been redesigned since the first iteration to fix issues we highlighted – engage plenty quick enough and create a loud buzzing sound when you’re freewheeling.

The Nukeproof-branded WTB rims have a 29mm internal width and resisted dents well. They didn’t need truing during our test period. They also proved to be comfortable wheels on the trail and we experienced less hand pain compared to Hunt’s Enduro Wide wheels that were tested at the same time.

Although they aren’t the lightest on the market, their performance to value ratio is top-notch, making it tricky to tell the difference between the Horizon wheels and a set that cost double the cash.

DT Swiss EX 1501 Spline One 30

4.0 out of 5 star rating
  • £850
Best mountain bike wheels
The EX 1501 is DT Swiss’s top-end alloy wheelset for enduro riding.
Georgina Hinton
  • Best-suited to enduro or all-mountain riding
  • Tough and resilient rims
  • Good ride-feel and light enough to compete with carbon hoops
  • Hard to justify extra cash over DT’s own E 1900 wheels

As one of DT’s top alloy wheels designed for enduro, these are a popular option regularly specced on more expensive all-mountain and enduro bikes by a lot of manufacturers.

Because they’re a popular OEM wheelset, we’ve managed to test several sets of the EX 1501 and have always been happy with their performance.

Although the 10-degree, 36-point engagement ratchet freehub isn’t the quickest to transfer power into forward motion, the wheels are light enough for this to not be a problem.

Ride quality is good but we couldn’t notice any significant performance improvements over the five-star scoring and less expensive E 1900.

DT Swiss EXC 1200 Spline

4.0 out of 5 star rating
  • £1,900
Best mountain bike wheels
DT Swiss’s EXC 1200 wheelset is designed to be tough enough for enduro racing and weighs just over 1,700g in 29in.
Immediate Media
  • Best-suited to enduro or all-mountain riding
  • Quick-engaging hub and feel good over rough terrain
  • Fairly expensive

With a 30mm internal rim width and 180-level hubs with the reputable Ratchet System freewheel, these are DT’s 29in enduro wheelset.

They use bladed, straight-pull spokes and weigh 1,893g when set up tubeless with rim tape and valves.

We found them to be compliant enough to not generate any unwanted hand pain on long descents and they retained crucial stiffness to give plenty of steering accuracy.

Formula Linea 3

4.0 out of 5 star rating
  • £780
Best mountain bike wheels
At 1,870g these are comparable in weight to some similarly intentioned carbon wheels.
Georgina Hinton

 

  • Best-suited to enduro or all-mountain riding. For XC/trail wheels from Formula check out the Linea 2 and for downhill the Linea G
  • Light enough to compete with carbon wheels
  • Feel great on the trail and have fast pickup, low-friction hubs
  • Can be noisy when ridden hard

Clever bearing placement on the hubs means their skinny looks are deceiving. They’re easy to dismantle and have 60 points of engagement. As a bonus, they spin particularly well when freewheeling.

They’re built with straight-pull spokes that don’t contact where they cross one another which means that when ridden hard, the spokes do make a ringing noise as they flex around.

We found ride comfort to be similar to most other alloy wheels and more comfortable than a lot of carbon hoops on offer.

Hunt Enduro Wide

4.0 out of 5 star rating
  • £359
Best mountain bike wheels
Hunt wheels come pre-taped with four spare spokes.
Georgina Hinton
  • Best-suited to enduro or all-mountain riding
  • Wide rim bed is well-suited to wider tyres
  • Fast-engaging freehub helps swift power transfer
  • Not as compliant as Nukeproof’s Horizon or DT Swiss’s E 1900

Even though they’re sold with four spare spokes and a spoke key, the Hunt Enduro wheels are built to last. The 36-spoke rear wheel is stiff and can handle a lot of abuse, while the 32-spoke front wheel is a little more compliant.

The freehub has 120 points of engagement and makes that satisfying buzz when you’re freewheeling. Because the rims are 33mm wide, they’re best suited to wider tyres – such as 2.8in – and can square off the profile of skinner rubber.

We did find the wheels to be pretty stiff but this seemed to be the compromise for an exceptionally tough set of hoops.

Also consider

If you’re in the market for a mountain bike wheelset these are all worth considering, too.

Hope Fortus 26 Pro 4

3.5 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike wheels
As the name suggests, these use a relatively narrow 26mm internal-width alloy rim.
Georgina Hinton
  • Best-suited to enduro riding
  • Backed up by Hope’s legendary customer service
  • Great hub with snappy engagement laced to strong rims
  • Let down by narrow 26mm internal rim width if you prefer tyres wider than 2.4in
  • Read the full Hope Fortus 26 Pro 4 wheelset review

Hunt All-Mountain Carbon H_Impact

3.5 out of 5 star rating
  • £789
Best mountain bike wheels
After three months of testing, we’ve had no issues.
Russell Burton

Newmen EVOLUTION SL A.30

3.5 out of 5 star rating
  • £638
Best mountain bike wheels
Unlike most alloy rims, these use a hookless bead.
Georgina Hinton
  • Best-suited to enduro riding
  • Impressively tough rims withstood plenty of abuse
  • Hubs look well designed and built to last
  • Wheelset is light compared to other alloy offerings
  • The hubs were draggy, and hard pedalling caused the spokes to make noise
  • Read the full Newmen EVOLUTION SL A.30 wheelset review

Spank Tuned 350 Vibrocore 28h

3.5 out of 5 star rating

£620

Best mountain bike wheels
Spank’s Tuned 350 Vibrocore 28h wheels have tough rims for enduro duties.
Georgina Hinton
  • Best-suited to enduro riding
  • Tough rims took a lot of abuse without sustaining any damage
  • Their unique selling point – Vibrocore – didn’t improve the ride, instead making the wheels less comfortable
  • Heavier than we’d have liked
  • Read the full Spank Tuned 350 Vibrocore 28h wheelset review

Zipp 3Zero Moto

3.5 out of 5 star rating
Best mountain bike wheels
Zipp’s 3Zero Moto 29er wheelset has compliant design for tough terrain.
Georgina Hinton
  • Best-suited to enduro, all-mountain or trail riding
  • The compliant design takes the harshness out of big hits and reduces the risk of punctures
  • Heavy considering the price and the in-built flex caused a spoke to poke a hole through the rim tape
  • Read the full Zipp 3Zero Moto wheelset review

Mountain bike wheels buyer’s guide

Rider considerations

The first thing you should consider when buying a new set of wheels is what sort of rider you are. If you’re a cross-country racer looking for all-out speed then a wheel’s weight is going to be your primary concern over its strength.

Trail and all-mountain riders will want to balance strength and weight, looking for the perfect compromise for their individual riding styles.

Gravity-focused riders, enduro or downhill, should look at prioritising strength over weight, although generally speaking the more you spend the lighter and stronger wheels should be.

Also consider how hard you ride. If you’re a heavier or more aggressive rider, you should shy away from lightweight wheels and look for a sturdy set with a higher spoke count – most likely 32 spokes laced in the three-cross pattern.

If you’re a lightweight rider or if you use a lot of finesse on the trail, you can probably get away with running a lighter weight wheelset or one with fewer spokes.

Axle standards

Best mountain bike wheels
This rear hub has interchangeable end caps for quick release, 12×142 thru-axles and Boost 12×148 thru-axles.
SRAM

Over the past five years, axles have transitioned from decades-old quick-releases to thru-axles, which offer a stiffer, more secure interface. There are several thru-axle standards to be aware of.

The 100x15mm front and 142x12mm rear thru-axles were common a few years ago, but the desire to increase wheel stiffness has led manufacturers to move to the wider ‘Boost’ axle spacing, which uses a 110x15mm front axle with a 148x12mm rear thru-axle.

If you’re buying a high-end mountain bike, these days, nearly all of them will feature Boost axle spacing.

More recently, ‘Super Boost’ spacing, found on a growing number of bikes, is becoming more common. This standard increases the axle width further, in theory to improve stiffness once more.

What is Boost and Super Boost hub spacing?

Hub spacing refers to the distance between the two ends of the hub’s axle or the gap between the inside of the dropouts on your frame or fork.

Bikes and hubs with standard Boost spacing measure 148mm wide. This means the hub flanges are further apart compared to a standard 142mm axle hub.

Wider hub flanges cause the wheel’s spokes to be braced from a wider angle, too. This increase in angle leads to stronger wheels.

Super Boost hubs are 157mm wide, and just like normal Boost spacing the increase in width is seen with wider-still hub flanges improving strength further.

Before purchasing a new wheelset, make sure it uses the same axle type and width as your frame.

You might also want to consider looking for a hub that can be changed to a different axle size should you change your frame but want to keep your wheels at a later date.

Carbon or alloy rims?

Best mountain bike wheels
Zipp’s first MTB wheelset brings an unusual approach to carbon wheels.
Dan Hearn/SRAM

Increasingly, high-end wheelsets are built around carbon fibre rims. Compared to aluminium, carbon rims can be as stiff or stiffer at a lower weight. That’s not to say you should completely write-off aluminium rims, though.

If you’re not concerned with ultimate weight savings or ultimate stiffness, but are looking to upgrade to a higher performance wheelset with an affordable price, then there are many quality aluminium wheelsets to choose from.

Aluminium rims are more likely to be dented or dinged in an impact before they crack or fail entirely. Carbon rims, however, are less likely to show signs of damage until they fail completely.

Rim width

Best mountain bike wheels
These tough rims have an internal width of 30mm.
Georgina Hinton

Rim width has increased for both road and mountain bikes. The critical dimension to keep in mind is the internal width.

This distance determines the shape of your tyres. For a given tyre, a wider rim will increase tyre volume and give the tyre a flatter, squared-off profile. A narrower rim will decrease tyre volume and give the tyre a rounder profile.

Wider rims can also increase tyre stability, which can make your bike feel more predictable through corners. At the same time, tyres are designed with specific rim widths in mind. Going too wide can cause the knobs on the sides of a tyre to sit too high, resulting in less grip through turns.

Pairing rim and tyre width is a key consideration – especially with so many tyre widths to choose from. Here are some rough guidelines to get you started:

  • 2–2.25in tyres = 23–25mm rim widths
  • 2.25–2.4in tyres  = 25–30mm rim widths
  • 2.4–2.6in tyres = 30–35mm rim widths
  • 2.6–3in tyres = 35–40mm rim widths

If you have a favourite tyre width and tread pattern, keep in mind which rim width you want to pair it with when buying a new wheelset.

Tubeless or tubes?

Best mountain bike wheels
Tubeless setup has become much easier with the introduction of products like the Airshot.
David Caudery

The debate over whether to run inner tubes or to rely on a tyre containing only sealant boils down to personal preference.

Inner tubes are affordable and easy to replace without much fuss (or mess), but they’re also prone to punctures and generally require the rider to run higher pressures.

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Tubeless systems are lighter and have the added benefit of being able to self-seal some small punctures. Tubeless tyres are more expensive and if you do get a flat, you’ll have to deal with a bit of a mess.

Equally, if you rip the tyre’s carcass beyond repair you’ll need to dispose of your tyre or use an inner tube anyway.

However you choose to roll, nearly all modern mountain bike wheelsets are tubeless-compatible.

Engagement speed

Best mountain bike wheels
Freehubs usually engage using small spring-loaded pawls that push into a groove to ‘grip’.
David Rome / Immediate Media

One often overlooked wheel feature is how fast the freehub engages.

This speed is actually a measure of the distance your crank travels before the pawls inside the freehub engage the teeth of the drive ring to propel you forward. It is most often discussed in terms of ‘points of engagement’ or ‘degrees of engagement’. More points will result in fewer degrees and a faster freehub.

You can figure out the degrees of engagement by dividing the points of engagement by 360. For example, a hub with 36 points of engagement will have 10 degrees of free play. Another hub with 120 points of engagement will have three degrees of movement until it engages.

The differences in engagement speed is noticeable on the trail. In general, a faster freehub is better for pedalling. A hub with a high number of points of engagement will allow you to get back up to speed quickly after coasting with less lag.

It can make it easier to ‘ratchet’ up technical climbs – a technique where the rider takes a half or quarter pedal stroke in situations where there might not be enough time, or pedal clearance, for a complete stroke.

Engagement can also be a matter of diminishing returns once you reach a certain point. Additionally, the tighter tolerances of fast-engaging freehubs can require more maintenance because they’re less tolerant of contamination. They also tend to be louder and can have more drag, although this isn’t always the case.

Hub and wheel manufacturer DT Swiss recently speculated that a higher number of engagement points on a mountain bike hub can actually increase pedal kickback (depending on the bike’s suspension kinematics). It suggested a hub with 36 points of engagement, and therefore 10 degrees of free play, is the best compromise.