The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Mountain Bike Wheels

Monday March 4, 2019

Over the course of several months in the late summer and fall, our team of professional mountain bike testers rode each set of wheels in this review for hundreds of miles. We swapped wheels often for comparison and took detailed notes on each model's performance characteristics. In an effort to level the playing field, all of the wheels tested were in the 29" wheel size with boost spacing, 15 x 110 in the front and 12 x 148 in the rear. Each wheelset was mounted with the same exact tire combination, a 29" x 2.5" WT Maxxis DHF in the front and a 29" x 24." Maxxis Minion DHR II in the rear. Testers used their own personal bikes for the purposes of familiarity and additional consistency.

Nothing to see here  just seven wheelsets... Wheel testing requires switching between models frequently for comparison.
Nothing to see here, just seven wheelsets... Wheel testing requires switching between models frequently for comparison.

Ride Quality


To test the ride quality of the various models, we rode each one of them a lot. Each of our testers took each wheelset for 4-5 rides ranging in length from 15-25 miles. During those rides, we went out of our way to focus on the performance of each model while climbing, descending, cornering and smashing through rock gardens. We also considered the design, weight and freehub engagement of each set and how that related to on-trail performance. After testing each model we took detailed notes on their performance and discussed their strengths and weaknesses. We also switched between models frequently for direct comparisons.

Riding your bike is the easy part  focusing on each wheel's performance characteristics while you're riding is another story.
Riding your bike is the easy part, focusing on each wheel's performance characteristics while you're riding is another story.

Freehub Engagement


In addition to the specifications provided, we tested the freehub engagement of each model by riding each wheelset. The differences are quite noticeable and very easy to detect, especially when going from coasting to pedaling, or when making short pedal strokes through technical uphill sections of trail. Freehubs with more lag result in more chain slap, clunking noises and a generally lower performance feel.

Weight


The weight of each model was determined by weighing the wheelset as it would be ridden with tubeless rim tape, valve stems and center lock adapters when applicable. All of the wheelsets were weighed on the same scale for consistency. While riding we also considered the feel of each wheelset in relation to its weight and its effect on ride quality.

We found the Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon wheels in the 29" wheel size to weigh 1 832g including tubeless rim tape and valve stems.
We found the Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon wheels in the 29" wheel size to weigh 1,832g including tubeless rim tape and valve stems.

Durability


Durability was assessed by riding all of the wheelsets heavily, as if they were our own. We didn't baby them. Quite the contrary; we beat on these wheels as hard as we possibly could. We chose especially rocky and rough trails for test laps and ran low tire pressures to ensure the occasional rim out. We repeated these test laps frequently and made sure that each wheel endured a similar level of abuse. After each ride we inspected them for damage, making sure each wheel stayed true, checking rims for dents or cracks and spokes for tension.

We tested durability by beating on these wheels as hard as we could.
We tested durability by beating on these wheels as hard as we could.

When our testing period ended, we compiled all of our notes and discussed the attributes and performance characteristics of each model and rated each one based on the metrics described above. The total scores led us to our best overall, best buy, and top pick award winners.