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The Best Mountain Bike Wheels of 2019

Go ahead  break 'em. Santa Cruz dares you. If you do  they will replace the rims for free and in a hurry.
Wednesday November 13, 2019
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Looking for the best set of mountain bike wheels to upgrade the performance of your bike? After researching the top models on the market we bought 10 wheelsets for this comparative review. The right set of wheels can make a huge difference in the overall performance of your mountain bike, but finding the right pair can be a challenge. Our team of professional mountain bike testers rode six carbon and four alloy wheelsets for months to help you find the best mountain bike wheels on the market. We put hundreds of miles on each wheelset, smashed them through rock gardens, and ripped them through corners. We swapped wheels frequently for the sake of accurately comparing and contrasting strengths and weaknesses. Read on to find the best wheels to meet your needs and budget.


Top 10 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 10
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Awards Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award   Best Buy Award 
Price $975.00 at Competitive Cyclist$724.99 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare at 2 sellers
$580.00 at REI$1,549.99 at Competitive Cyclist
Compare at 2 sellers
$1,200 List
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Pros Industry-leading 0.52-degree freehub engagement, less expensive than carbon, great ride qualityExcellent freehub engagement, 2-year no fault guarantee, Vault hubs, lightweightLightweight, affordable for carbon, 3-degree freehub engagementLifetime warranty, lightweight, 5 degree freehub engagementInexpensive for carbon, stiff, lifetime warranty
Cons Expensive for alloy, heavier than carbonDecals peel easilyDifficult to mount some tires, SRAM XD driver sold separately, not as damp as competitionoccasionally twitchy at speed, less dampened feelfreehub engagement could be better, heavier than other carbon models
Bottom Line The Enduro S Hydra is the best alloy wheelset we've ever tested and the winner of our Editor's Choice award.The Race Face Next R31 Carbon wheels impressed us with their performance and quality and are the winner of our Editor's Choice Award.The Line Pro 30 is a reasonably priced high performance carbon wheelset.The TR 309 S wheels are a high quality, high performance, and lightweight carbon option from Reynolds.The Roval Traverse Carbon wheels are a low price and high performance carbon wheelset for the industry giant, Specialized.
Rating Categories Industry Nine Enduro S Hydra Next R31 Carbon Wheelset Line Pro 30 TLR Boost 29" TR 309 S Carbon Wheelset Roval Traverse Carbon Wheelset
Ride Quality (35%)
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Freehub Engagement (20%)  
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Specs Industry Nine... Next R31 Carbon... Line Pro 30 TLR... TR 309 S Carbon... Roval Traverse...
Weight Per Wheelset 1,895g 1,776g 1,713g 1,738g 1,866g
Available Wheel Sizes 27.5", 29" 27.5", 29" 27.5", 29" 27.5", 29" 27.5", 29"
Available Axle Spacing Boost, non-Boost, Super Boost 157 Boost, non-Boost Boost Boost, non-Boost Boost
Available Freehub Body Options Shimano, SRAM XD, MicroSpline Shimano, SRAM XD Shimano, SRAM XD(aftermarket purchase) Shimano, SRAM XD SRAM XD
Rim Inner Dimension 30.5mm 31mm 29mm 30mm 30mm
Rim Outer Dimension 34.1mm 37mm 36mm 36mm not listed
Offset 0mm 4.5mm 0mm 4.5mm 0mm
Spoke Count 28 28 28 28 28
Freehub P.O.E 0.52-degree 3-degree 3-degree 5-degree 10-degree
Warranty Policy 2-year 2-year no-fault 2-year no-fault Lifetime Lifetime
Brake Rotor Attachment 6-bolt 6-bolt 6-bolt Center Lock 6-bolt

Best Overall Mountain Bike Wheels


RaceFace Next R31 Carbon Wheelset


Editors' Choice Award

$724.99
(52% off)
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

94
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ride Quality - 35% 10
  • Freehub Engagement - 20% 9
  • Weight - 25% 10
  • Durability - 20% 8
3-degree freehub engagement
2-year no-fault guarantee
Lightweight
Vault hubs
Decals peel easily

Weight: 1,776g | Freehub Engagement: 3-degree

The Race Face Next R31 impressed our testers and took home the award for Best Overall Mountain Bike Wheels. These fancy carbon hoops were every tester's favorite, striking the perfect balance of on-trail performance, weight, and durability at a reasonable price (for a premium carbon wheelset). The rims have a 31mm internal rim width and an asymmetrical 4.5mm offset shape that is made to pair with Race Face's oversized Vault hubs. The oversized hubs decrease spoke length, even out spoke tension, and increase the bracing angle to make these wheels stiffer and more sturdy. They are stiff, as carbon wheels are intended to be, but they have enough flex to avoid being harsh, with a dampened feel that further enhances comfort on the trail. Testers also loved the lightning-quick 3-degree freehub engagement which helps take their performance to another level.

Our biggest gripe with the Next R31 wheels is no big deal. The logo sticker decals on the rims began to scratch and peel after only a couple of rides resulting in a less than perfect appearance. That's all. These wheels impressed on every level, including durability, plus they are backed with a two-year no-fault guarantee.

Read review: Race Face Next R31

Best Overall Alloy Mountain Bike Wheels


Industry Nine Enduro S Hydra


Editors' Choice Award

$975.00
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ride Quality - 35% 9
  • Freehub Engagement - 20% 10
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Durability - 20% 7
0.52-degree freehub engagement
Great balanced ride quality
Less expensive than carbon
Expensive for alloy
Heavier than carbon

Weight: 1,895g | Freehub Engagement: 0.52-degrees

Our testers were beyond impressed with the performance of the Industry Nine Enduro S Hydra wheels. These are easily the best alloy wheels we've ever tested and they gave the more expensive carbon competition a run for their money. These wheels are lightweight for alloy and have a nicely balanced ride quality that is an excellent blend of stiffness and compliance. The quality of craftsmanship is apparent in the nicely machined hubs and rims, and the engineering is ground-breaking in the new Hydra hubs. The freehub engagement is the real highlight, and Industry Nine has managed to give these wheels an astounding 690 engagement points, or 0.52-degrees. This engagement is far superior to any other design we've tested and gives these wheels a super quick, lively, and high-performance feel.

While our testers would probably give up their carbon wheels for the Enduro S Hydra wheels, they can't quite compete with carbon in terms of weight. Sure, they are the lightest alloy wheels in this test, but they are still a little portly compared to the carbon competition. They also aren't cheap, in fact, they are the most expensive alloy model we've tested. That said, we'd still recommend these wheels to anyone seeking a major performance upgrade and doesn't want to shell out the cash for a carbon model.

Read review: Industry Nine Enduro S Hydra

Best Bang for the Buck Carbon


Roval Traverse Carbon Wheelset


Roval Traverse Carbon
Best Buy Award

$1,200 List
List Price
See It

81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ride Quality - 35% 9
  • Freehub Engagement - 20% 7
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Durability - 20% 9
Inexpensive for carbon
Lifetime warranty
Stiff
Heaviest carbon model
Freehub engagement could be better

Weight: 1,866g | Freehub Engagement: 10-degree

A lot of people were surprised when Specialized introduced the Roval Traverse Carbon wheelset. It had been nearly unheard of for a quality carbon wheelset to retail at this price, not to mention with a lifetime warranty. Specialized's new Traverse Carbon are among the new breed of less expansive carbon hoops. They have the stiffness you want from a carbon wheel, yet remain quite comfortable on the trail. The DT 350 hubs roll fast with decent 10-degree freehub engagement and have a history of reliability. They are the heaviest carbon model we tested, but still lighter than any of the alloy models we tested.

The 10-degree freehub engagement is okay, although the Traverse Carbon wheels were outperformed by more expensive models with faster engagement. Despite that, there wasn't much we didn't like about these affordable and durable carbon hoops. If you've always wanted carbon wheels but didn't think you could afford them, Specialized now offers a quality carbon option at a very reasonable price, backed with a confidence-inspiring lifetime warranty.

Read review: Roval Traverse Carbon

Best Bang for the Buck Alloy


Stan's No Tubes Flow MK3 Wheelset


Best Buy Award

$307.63
(55% off)
at Amazon
See It

74
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ride Quality - 35% 8
  • Freehub Engagement - 20% 7
  • Weight - 25% 7
  • Durability - 20% 7
Affordable
Lightweight for alloy
Decent freehub engagement
Slightly narrower width
Heavier than carbon

Weight: 1,896g | Freehub Engagement: 10-degree

One of the best alloy wheelsets we tested was the Flow MK3 from Stans No Tubes, a company well-known for its innovative tubeless tire products. This reasonably priced model checks all the boxes and has the best price-to-performance ratio, earning them our Best Buy award. Not only are these wheels affordable, they are also lightweight for an alloy model. They were less than 100g heavier than a couple of the significantly more expensive carbon options. These wheels feel light and lively for alloy, yet stiff and sturdy when the going gets rough. The Stan's Neo hubs roll fast and smooth and have decent 10-degree freehub engagement. If you want to upgrade the wheels on your bike without breaking the bank, this is an excellent place to start.

The Flow MK3 wheels are the narrowest model we tested with an internal rim width of 29mm. Although they are only 1mm narrower than most of the other tested wheels, a very slight difference in tire profile and support was noticed. Not a deal breaker, but notable. Also, the 10-degree freehub engagement is noticeably more sluggish than the highest performance models.

Read review: Stan's No Tubes Flow MK3

Top Pick for Traction


Ibis S35 Logo Carbon Boost


Top Pick Award

$1,298.95
at Competitive Cyclist
See It

86
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Ride Quality - 35% 9
  • Freehub Engagement - 20% 7
  • Weight - 25% 9
  • Durability - 20% 9
Lightweight
7-year warranty on rims
Wide 35mm internal rim measurement
Excellent traction
10-degree freehub engagement

Weight: 1,744g | Freehub Engagement: 10-degree

The Ibis S35 Logo Carbon wheels are based on Ibis' new S35 carbon rim. This wide rim has a wide 35mm internal rim width and a shallow asymmetrical rim profile. Testers were thoroughly impressed by the high level of traction these wheels provided thanks to the increased air volume and large contact patch the wider rims create. These wheels are also among the lightest in the test with a stiff but well-damped ride quality. These wheels are some of the most comfortable we've ridden thanks to the compliant rim design and the low pressures you can run. They are also a relatively good value for a carbon model, plus the rims are backed with a 7-year no-fault warranty.

While we loved the traction and balanced ride feel of the S35 Carbon wheels, we were less impressed by the 10-degree engagement of the Ibis Logo hub. We've grown accustomed to faster freehubs, and it gives these wheels a somewhat lethargic feel at times. Otherwise, we found little not to like about this lightweight high-traction carbon wheelset.

Read review: Ibis S35 Logo Carbon Boost


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.

Why You Should Trust Us


Our mountain bike wheel test is led by Jeremy Benson, our Senior Mountain Bike Review Editor. Benson has been mountain biking since the early 90s and became passionate about it when he started racing cross country while attending Saint Michael's College in northern Vermont. Benson moved west after college and settled in North Lake Tahoe and now calls Truckee, CA home. He is an obsessive mountain biker and endurance racer and is notoriously tough on and critical of his gear. In addition to testing all manner of mountain bike gear, Benson is also the author of Mountain Bike Tahoe, a guidebook published by Mountaineers Books. Our former Senior Mountain Bike Editor, Pat Donahue, assisted in the wheel testing process. Pat is a life-long mountain biker with years of bicycle industry experience and is now the co-owner of a local bike shop. He is a well-rounded mountain biker, a former downhill and enduro racer, and a self-proclaimed "wheel killer." Additional testing and input was provided by Joshua Hutchens. Hutchens has been mountain biking for more than three decades. He has worked extensively in the bike industry, including stints as a shop owner and mountain bike guide. The South Lake Tahoe, CA resident rides with finesse and while testing has an uncanny ability to pick out even the most subtle differences between gear.

After spending hours researching the best mountain bike wheels available, our team purchased ten models to test and compare side-by-side. Our selection of all-mountain/trail wheelsets includes six carbon and four alloy models representing a large price and performance range. Once in our hands, each wheelset was weighed and photographed in new condition before being mounted up with matching sets of tires. The wheels were then passed between testers who used each set on their personal bikes for familiarity and consistency. Each pair was ridden hundreds of miles on the vast and varied trails of the greater Lake Tahoe area. Shuttle runs, all day backcountry epics, races — our testers did everything on these wheels, riding them harder than if they were their own. Each tester took detailed notes on each model and when our test period ended we rated and ranked them on several performance metrics.

Related: How We Tested Mountain Bike Wheels

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.
Switching between wheelsets while testing really allowed us to feel the differences in freehub engagement. The Traverse Carbon have a respectable 10-degrees  we feel that is good for this price-point.
Carbon Vs. Aluminum. The Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon on the left  and the Stan's Flow MK3 on the right.

Analysis and Test Results


Over several months, our professional mountain bike testers pedaled their hearts out, putting each of these wheelsets through their paces. We put hundreds of miles on each pair, scrutinizing every aspect of their design and performance. We focused on each wheelset's ride quality, freehub engagement, weight, and durability. Then we compared notes and tallied scores to determine our award winners.

Related: Buying Advice for Mountain Bike Wheels

Testing mountain bike wheels involves a lot of time in the saddle. Our testers aren't complaining.
Testing mountain bike wheels involves a lot of time in the saddle. Our testers aren't complaining.


Value


The most expensive (read: carbon) wheelsets were the highest-rated. Our Best Buy award winner, the Stan's Flow MK3, is one of the least expensive models in the test, yet its performance scores relatively well. Our testers were also very impressed with the Roval Traverse Carbon wheels, our Best Buy Carbon Wheelset. This lower-priced carbon model is less expensive than most of the carbon competition by a lot at MSRP, and offers a similar performance level.

There's more to our assessment of value than just the asking price: other factors like warranty are a consideration. Both the Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon and the Reynolds TR 309 S have impressive lifetime warranties. These warranties aren't limited to defects in materials and workmanship; instead they say they will repair or replace your wheels if you manage to break them while riding. This adds an incredible amount of value to an expensive purchase; it ensures that you will get many years of use out of them. The Race Face Next R31 wheels come with a two-year no-fault guarantee. It's not lifetime, but no matter how or why you break these wheels in the first two years they will repair or replace them for free. The Roval Traverse Carbon wheels also have a lifetime warranty but it is limited to defects in materials and workmanship. So, although carbon wheels are more expensive, they are backed by impressive warranties that add significant value.

The price of carbon wheels is coming down from their astronomical heights  and the Roval Traverse Carbon comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
The price of carbon wheels is coming down from their astronomical heights, and the Roval Traverse Carbon comes with a limited lifetime warranty.

Freehub engagement are another area where value is added to a wheelset. The Race Face Next R31 wheels come standard with excellent 3-degree freehub engagement and are reasonably affordable for carbon. The Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon wheels come with 10-degree engagement and cost more than the Race Face. Not only do they cost more, but their freehub engagement isn't nearly as high performance as the Race Face. You can upgrade the freehub of the Santa Cruz wheels to 6-degree engagement, but this adds more cost and still doesn't match the 3-degree engagement of the Race Face wheels. Another comparison: both the DT Swiss E 1700 Spline and the Stan's Flow MK3 are alloy models, but the DT Swiss wheels retail for much more and have 20-degree freehub engagement while the Stan's wheels have 10-degree engagement. The performance difference is staggering, as is the difference in price.

Ride Quality


Our testers identified the specific performance characteristics of each wheelset's ride quality. The differences are often subtle and differentiating between them can be challenging. By riding the various models back to back over time, we discerned the nuanced differences that give each model its distinctive ride quality.


It's no surprise that carbon wheels feel quite different from alloy models. Carbon wheels are known for their stiffness, precision, and lightweight. Carbon also has had a reputation for being stiff to the point of harshness, giving deflection and lots of trail feedback. The newest generation of carbon wheels has worked to change that reputation with models that have a little more compliant flex and dampening to produce a more balanced ride. These wheels are impressively lightweight and durable, with the stiffness and precise handling you want plus enough give and vibration absorption to enhance their comfort on the trail. Both the Race Face Next R31 and the Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon wheels have nailed this perfect middle ground, producing the pinnacle of ride quality. Our other carbon contenders aren't far behind, but while we love the way they ride they can't quite match the perfection of the Race Face and Santa Cruz. The Roval Traverse Carbon wheels are a touch heavier and a little bit stiffer than either of the above-mentioned wheelsets They are sturdy and stiff but occasionally get deflected due to their rigidity. Both the Reynolds TR 309 S and the Bontrager Line Pro 30 wheels are also fantastic, but they have a less dampened feel that results in a little more trail feedback. On the other side of the spectrum, the Ibis S35 Carbon has a well-damped and trail-smoothing feel, plus the wider rim helps to give amazing traction.

Focusing hard on the trail  while also contemplating the ride quality of our Best Buy award winner  the Stan's Flow MK3.
Focusing hard on the trail, while also contemplating the ride quality of our Best Buy award winner, the Stan's Flow MK3.

Alloy wheels are generally more flexy and compliant compared to carbon. They typically have a more forgiving ride but as a result, can sacrifice a bit of precision. Many riders prefer the feel of alloy wheels because of their forgiveness and overall comfort…and the lower price could also have something to do with it. Alloy is usually heavier than carbon, resulting in heavier wheels overall. That means more rotational mass at the rim, which can give the wheels a more sluggish feel than carbon wheels provide. Of all the alloy wheelsets we tested, Industry Nine Enduro S Hydra was the tester favorite. These wheels felt the stiffest and the most nimble, while also having a balanced and forgiving feel. Plus they are the lightest weight of the aluminum contenders, and they have the best freehub engagement by far. The Stan's MK3 also impressed our testers with its lively and responsive ride and a good blend of stiffness and compliance. Both the Spank Oozy Trail 345 and the DT Swiss E 1700 Spline 30 had smooth and comfortable rides, but both felt significantly heavier and generally less refined than the top-rated alloy models.

Freehub Engagement


Freehubs are designed in a variety of ways, but they all allow the hub to spin freely when coasting and to grab, or engage when the pedals are turning. All the freehubs in this test have some lag between engagement points, which creates a dead spot in the pedal stroke before everything reengages. The distance between engagement points is calculated in degrees; freehubs with fewer degrees are higher performance because there is less lag in the drivetrain system.


Industry Nine has been a leader in freehub engagement and they recently raised the bar when they introduced their Hydra hubs. The Hydra hubs on the Enduro S wheels have the fastest engagement we've ever used with just 0.52-degrees between engagement points. It is truly next level. The Race Face Next R31 wheels have a very impressive 3-degree engagement, and there is little lag when you press on your pedals; everything about your bike feels higher performance. Bontrager also came out swinging with the Line Pro 30 wheels, boasting an impressive 3.3-degrees on their Rapid Drive 108 freehub system. The TR 309 S wheels weren't too far behind with a very respectable 5-degree engagement, twice as fast, or better, than the rest of the field. The Roval Traverse Carbon, Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon, Ibis 35 Carbon Logo, and the Stan's Flow MK3 all have 10-degree engagement. Ten degrees is relatively standard, though you may sense the performance advantages of faster engagement. The Spank Oozy Trail 345 is a little slower at 12-degrees, and the DT Swiss E 1700 Spline 30 hubs come in dead last with a pretty miserable 20-degree engagement.

Faster engagement just feels better. The Bontrager Line Pro 30 have impressive 3.3-degree engagement.
Faster engagement just feels better. The Bontrager Line Pro 30 have impressive 3.3-degree engagement.

Weight


We weighed each pair as it would be ridden, including tubeless rim tape, tubeless valve stems, and center-lock adapters when applicable. Lighter is better as long as the wheels still perform as intended and don't become less durable. The lighter your wheels are, the lighter your bike is, the easier it is to climb, the faster you can accelerate. All other things being equal, lighter is better, although it often comes at a price.


Not surprisingly, all of the carbon models we tested weight less than their alloy counterparts. The lightest wheelset in the test is theBontrager LIne Pro 30 at an impressive 1,713g. They were followed closely by the Reynolds TR 309 S at 1,738g per pair. Ibis also impressed us with the lightweight S35 Carbon Logo wheels at just 1,744g. This is just 32g lighter than the Race Face Next R31 at 1,776g, and 94g less than the Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon at 1,832g. The Roval Traverse Carbon is the heaviest carbon model at 1,866g, still a respectable weight-to-price ratio.

Lighter wheels make lighter bikes. The Reynolds TR 309 S are some of the lightest wheels we tested.
Lighter wheels make lighter bikes. The Reynolds TR 309 S are some of the lightest wheels we tested.

Aluminum is heavier than carbon fiber and it's also much less expensive, so it stands to reason that all of the alloy models we tested weigh more and cost less than their carbon competition. Of all the alloy wheelsets, the Industry Nine Enduro S Hydra was the lightest at 1,895g, followed closely by the Stan's Flow MK3 at 1,896g. In fact, they are only 30g heavier than the Roval Traverse Carbon wheels that cost significantly more. The Spank Oozy Trail 345 was the second heaviest wheelset with a weight of 1,966g. Our heavyweight champion, the DT Swiss E 1700 Spline 30 weighed 2,136g.

Durability


If you're shelling out a whole bunch of cash to upgrade your wheelset, it's nice to know that it will last. No set of wheels will last forever, but most should provide you with several years of trouble-free use. Carbon wheels have been considered by some to be a risky purchase. Not only are they expensive but some of the early versions were prone to catastrophic failure and often were not backed by a great warranty. Many riders don't consider the performance benefits of carbon to be worth the price. They ride aluminum because it's more affordable. The initial price is less and repairing or replacing them is much less expensive. However, these days a new breed of carbon wheels offers new rim designs and next level durability, plus many are backed with impressive warranties.


To test each wheelset's durability each of our testers rode them in their own style. Some of us plow through rock gardens, some of us approach them with a little more finesse, and some of us fall somewhere in between. All of us put a lot of miles and some serious abuse on every set of wheels in this test. We played around with tire pressures and definitely rimmed out on every rear wheel several times in the name of testing. We only damaged one wheel in the process — one tester took it to the Spank Oozy Trail 345 just a little too hard. He put a 5-spoke flat spot in the rear wheel but admits that the impact probably would have damaged any wheel. Other than that incident, all the wheels made it out of our test period with no broken spokes, dents, cracks or damaged bearings.

Afraid carbon wheels aren't durable? You can put those fears to rest thanks to the new breed of super durable carbon wheels with excellent warranties.
Afraid carbon wheels aren't durable? You can put those fears to rest thanks to the new breed of super durable carbon wheels with excellent warranties.

Not only do carbon wheels feel more durable than the alloy, but these days they come with far better warranties in case of damage or premature failure. A couple of our testers had been carbon wheel skeptics, but this testing experience changed their minds. For this reason, we rated each of the carbon models in the test slightly higher than the alloy models, and the wheels with longer warranty periods also fared better.

Our testers had no problem logging long hours on the Next R31 wheelset.
Our testers had no problem logging long hours on the Next R31 wheelset.

Conclusion


A quality set of wheels is one of the best performance upgrades you can make on your mountain bike. There's a lot to consider when trying to find the pair that's right for you. We hope the information in this well-researched comparative review helps you find the best wheels to suit your riding style, needs, and budget.


Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens