Which Mountain Bike Wheels are Best? Expert advice from Graham Stock from Sixth Element

It's the eternal question: which wheels are best for your mountain bike? We asked Graham Stock, director of Sixth Element wheels. This is what he told us.

 

"Well, of course, this depends on where you want to ride, and what sort of rider you are.

But it is clear that changing your wheels has the single greatest effect, over and above other component choices, on the way that your bike rides.

Its easiest to break the approach to the question into four areas:

1. Rim size
2. Rim width
3. Hub choice
4. Spoke and nipple choice

Rim size

27.5s (650B) and 29ers each have their fans. The basics are that 27.5s are easier to control on the twisty stuff while 29ers roll more quickly.

29ers pretty much rule the roost in the race field, whether enduro, downhill or cross country, but aren’t for everyone. There is still lots of fun to be had on 27.5s; try some on your 29er bike and you might be pleasantly surprised!

Rim Width

A wider rim will give a fuller, squarer profile to a tyre. A narrower rim will make the bike roll faster.

So a typical 2.35 / 2.4 / 2.5 trail or enduro tyre will have a ‘fatter’ footprint on a 35mm internal rim than it will on, say, a 24mm internal rim.

This wider footprint will provide more grip, but at the sacrifice of some speed.

It's about finding the sweet spot between the extremes. For many trail riders / ‘occasional racers’ an internal width of between 28mm and 33mm is right.

Hub Choice

This is fundamental. However good a rim and build you have, a poor hub will always compromise the ride.

It’s a cliché perhaps, but the old phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ applies here. A hub that costs more will certainly be better made. It will generally (but not always) be lighter and will almost definitely last longer. So, it's good advice simply to buy the best hub that your wheel budget can stretch to.

A point of detail: changing the wheel bearings from the supplied items (even perhaps upgrading to ceramic bearings) will pretty instantly improve your ride and give you more speed, without breaking the bank.

Spokes and Nipples

Standard double butted spokes (which are machined to be thinner in the middle) from the main manufacturers are certainly good quality and up to the job of hard trail riding and MTB racing.

You can save weight (and add a little strength) by going for the bladed spokes, but that isn’t a necessity. In fact, arguably, if there is spare budget, the money is better directed to a hub upgrade.

Nipple choice: alloy nipples are half the weight of brass ones, but won’t last as long. If you are planning on keep your wheels for a few seasons then brass nipples are the way to go.

 

As always with bikes, there are lots of options, perhaps too many! A good wheel builder or shop will be happy to spend time talking matters over to make sure that you hard-earned cash is well spent."

 

Graham Stock
Director
Sixth Element Wheels

 

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