Upgrading the basic wheelset on an entry-level mountain bike or e-bike is a wise move, giving your ride a noticeable performance boost. These are our top picks under £500.

The best mountain bike wheels we’ve tested are from brands with a strong focus and pedigree in this area. You’ll get a wheel set that’s designed for a specific type of riding. This means an appropriate rim width and spoke count, matched to a hub that runs smoothly on easily replaceable cartridge bearings. Different hub/axle standards will be available along with decent spares back up.

Upgrade your basic stock wheels and you should get a noticeable step up in performance, durability and longevity – depending what wheels you choose. Adding a pair of the best mountain bike tyres set up with the best tubeless sealant and best tubeless valves will enhance performance further and unleash your bike’s true potential.

Best Trail/Enduro wheels under £500

best mountain bike wheels

Hunt sells its Trail Wide wheels direct to the public, which means they can keep the price low.

1. Hunt Wheels Trail Wide wheels

Best lightweight trail wheelset

Weight: 810g front, 990g rear | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 30mm | Rating: 10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • One of the lightest aluminium trail wheelsets
  • Decent spares back-up direct from Hunt
  • Excellent value for money

Reasons to avoid:

  • Direct-to-consumer sales only
  • Not the most comfortable ride quality

UK brand Hunt blends direct-sales value-for-money, with high performance and decent spares back up. The Trail Wide wheels are packed with clever thinking too – the strong, 6069 T6 aluminium rims use a 30mm internal width to play well with wide, high-volume tyres, and the spokes are a triple-butted J-bend spec from Pillar. The rear hub uses a rapid-engagement freehub and high quality bearings – this results in a near-instant pick-up, with crisp acceleration under power. Hunt makes it quick and painless to get these wheels fitted – tubeless rim tapes are already fitted, with valves and spares spokes in the box.

At a weight that rivals many carbon wheelsets with a similar focus, these Trail Wide wheels feel fast on the trail. They do give up a touch in comfort compared to boutique wheelsets, but this really is splitting hairs at this price point.

Read our full review of the Hunt Trail Wide wheelset

Hope Fortus 30SC Pro 5 

Hope’s hubs have been a rider favourite for decades, and can be found at the heart of the Fortus 30SC Pro 5 wheels.

2. Hope Fortus 30 SC Pro 5 wheels

Best trail wheelset for long-term serviceability

Weight: 950g front, 1,120g rear | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 30mm | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • British made with excellent spares back up
  • Rebuildable hubs
  • Solid, urgent ride with fast freehub engagement
  • Wide range of hub colour options

Reason to avoid:

  • Not the lightest in class
  • More expensive than direct-sales wheelsets
  • You’ll need to fit your own rim tapes

Hope’s latest addition to its range of aluminium wheelsets is the Fortus 30 SC which uses a lighter, trail-focused rim and the brand’s latest Pro 5 hubs. Hope says these hubs have a faster freehub engagement, better sealing but less drag. With a reputation for high quality, British manufacturing and excellent long-term spares back up, Hope components are always a sound, long-term investment.

The ‘SC’ single cavity 6061 aluminium rim means there’s less outright rigidity but for trail/enduro riding we couldn’t detect any compromise. ‘Stiff and direct, with a refined, comfortable yet lively ride quality’ were our test notes, yet the lighter-weight rim seems to have the impact resistance and durability of the original, heavier, Fortus rim.

Weighing in just over the 2kg mark, the Hope Fortus 30 SC wheelset isn’t the lightest on test but it’s fairly priced considering its build quality, hub durability and spares back up.

Read our full review of the Hope Fortus 30 SC Pro 5 wheelset

DT Swiss M1900 Spline wheelset

Reliable and tough: The DT Swiss M1900 Spline wheel set.

3. DT Swiss M1900 Spline wheels

Best value trail/enduro wheelset

Weight: 950g front, 1060g rear | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 30mm | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Stiff, robust and reliable
  • Available in 25,30 or 35mm internal rim widths
  • Hand built in Europe
  • Great value

Reasons to avoid:

  • Uses a centre-lock hub design – you may need new rotors/adapters
  • Straight pull spoke design may be harder to source
  • Slower freehub engagement than on DT’s premium hubs

DT Swiss has a reputation for offering reliable, European built wheels to suit a wide range of budgets. The M1900 Spline is one of the most affordable options in DT’s mountain bike lineup. At the heart of this trail-focused wheelset are cartridge bearing hubs with reinforced spoke cradles for the straight-pull spoke heads. The M1900s are only available with centre-lock rotor fittings, so adapters are needed, or specific rotors – an additional expense worth bearing in mind. The rear hub uses a three-pawl freehub rather than DT’s ‘star ratchet’ hub, so you don’t get the rapid engagement of the brand’s premium hubs.

The M1900 wheels are offered with 25, 30 or 35mm rim widths. We tested the 30mm spec wheels, the go-to width for most wide, high volume trail tyres. Although they’re not the lightest wheels on test, our tester noted that they rolled over rough ground well and felt energetic enough to be a genuine upgrade over cheaper, factory-built, stock wheels.

Read our full review of the DT Swiss M1900 Spline wheelset

Mavic Crossmax XL wheels

Mavic’s rims don’t need rim tape and that makes setting them up tubeless a doddle.

4. Mavic Crossmax XL wheels

Best trail wheelset for easy tubeless set up

Weight: 964g front, 1,109g rear | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 30mm | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Easy to set up tubeless
  • Durable hub internals
  • Tough rims

Reasons to avoid:

  • Slow freehub engagement
  • Bladed spokes can feel twangy under load

Mavic was the first brand to offer premium off-the-peg wheelsets and a pioneer of tubeless rim technology. The Mavic Crossmax XL is the budget option in the brand’s three-tier mountain bike wheel range. A standout feature of the Crossmax XL wheelset is the use of asymmetric aluminium rims with no visible spoke drillings on the rim bed where the tyre sits. This is an approach that Mavic has used on its tubeless mountain bike rims since the 1990s – it’s well proven, giving quick and dependable installation and sealing of tubeless tyres.

There’s a strong focus on reliability with these wheels too. Cartridge bearing hubs, Mavic’s Black Shield treatment on the rims, and new Drive 360 freehub tech (using double ratchet rather than pawls) should all add up to a long-lasting wheelset. The price is fair, and all three common freehub body types are offered, along with 6 bolt or centre lock rotor mounting options.

Read our full review of the Mavic Crossmax XL wheelset

Stan's No Tubes Flow EX3 wheels

Stan’s No Tubes Flow EX3 wheels will take a beating.

5. Stan’s No Tubes Flow EX3 wheels

Best wheelset for harder-hitting riders

Weight: 1,000g front, 1,145g rear | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 29mm | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Robust wheelset for heavier riders or enduro use
  • Proven tubeless reliability
  • Decent spares back up

Reason to avoid:

  • Possibly too burly for lighter, smoother riders
  • Slower freehub engagement than on class-leading hubs

As the name suggests, Stan’s No Tubes has built a brand around tubeless rim technology, so you can be assured of straightforward and reliable tyre installation. The Flow EX3 wheelset is one of this brand’s heavier duty models and although it tips over our £500 price point by £20, we feel it deserves a place in this buyer’s guide.

Using stronger 6069 aluminium, the EX3’s rim measures 29mm internally, but stands taller than its predecessor, with thicker sidewalls too. This adds stiffness and dent/impact resistance to an already strong rim design, with Stan’s claiming it out-performs benchmark rims such as the well-regarded DT Swiss EX511.

Stan’s Neo OS hubs have a focus on increased durability too. Here, large diameter bearings and a stronger steel axle reflect the hard-hitting riding these wheels are designed for. This all adds weight, which is noticeable on the climbs, but our test notes did highlight brisk acceleration and a direct fee under power.

Read our full review of the Stan’s No Tubes Flow EX3 wheelset

Best Cross Country (XC) wheels under £500

Hope XC Wide Wheels

Lightweight wheels can make a massive difference to your ride, but tend to be expensive. Not so the Hunt XC Wide wheels.

1. Hunt XC Wide wheels

Best budget lightweight wheelset

Weight: 780g front, 880g rear | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 25mm | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Noticeably fast
  • A very low weight for the price
  • Fast freehub engagement

Reasons to avoid:

  • Slightly harsh, choppy, ride quality
  • Won’t suit heavier riders on rough terrain

The Hunt XC Wide wheelset exhibits many of the qualities of this UK brand’s highly-rated, burlier, Trail Wide wheelset – listed above. Hunt’s mix of high performance, attention to detail and comprehensive spares back up, all with a keen price tag, are here too – just with a more lightweight, cross-country focus.

The low, 1660g wheelset weight is the headline here and it’s instantly noticeable on the trail. Acceleration is rapid and there’s a real zip to these wheels both when climbing, and on rolling terrain. Hunt says the narrower alloy rims (with a 25mm internal width) will suit tyres up to 2.4in wide. This does give the steering a more dynamic feel, but you lose a touch of the stability that a wider rim provides. It’s a small price to pay for the added injection of speed these Hunt XC wheels give – at an exceptional price point.

Read our full review of the Hunt XC Wide wheelset

Intense Tracer 29 Vs Intense Tracer 279

Wheels come in different diameters, widths, materials, spoke counts, and a myriad of other variables that can impact the ride quality.

How we tested the best mountain bike wheels under £500/pair

Whether it’s a wheelset with a lightweight XC build, or a model designed for hard-hitting use, we insist on fitting them to test bikes with a similar focus. This replicates the riding conditions the wheels are designed for and lets us compare them to the stock wheels that the bike had fitted originally.

We seek out the most appropriate terrain for the wheels we’re reviewing and spend time with comparable models for some back-to-back testing. With suitable spec Maxxis control tyres fitted, set up tubeless and with identical pressures on every wheelset on test, it gives consistency to the review process.

One test bike, with multiple wheelsets switched in and out over the day. On the same track or course – with identical trail and weather conditions – realistic comparisons can be made.

best mountain bike wheels

Alloy wheels are generally the best option unless you’ve got well over £500 to spend.

Why upgrade or replace the stock wheels on your mountain bike or e-bike?

We’ve tested hundreds of mountain bikes over the years, from budget hardtails to boutique custom builds and cutting-edge eMTBs. Ride quality, strength, durability and tubeless reliability of a bike’s wheelset all play a contributing part in our evaluation of a bike on test. And it doesn’t take long for a stock wheelset’s compromises to make themselves known.

Stock wheels on many production mountain bikes will often be functional and get the job done but can hide compromised components and feel a touch lacklustre. Brands will often cut corners with wheels and tyres to get a bike down to a certain price point.

Your bike’s unbranded hubs may not be easily serviceable, with spare parts a struggle to find. The freehub body – the body that your cassette sprockets attach to – may not be upgradable, or an easy part to source when it’s worn out. Rims on stock wheelsets may not be the ideal width for wider, trail-focused tyres and trade-offs to strength and tubeless compatibility are common.

A wheel upgrade is not just about better serviceability and increased longevity though. A well-built, quality wheelset is one of the most beneficial performance upgrades you can make to your mountain bike. For starters, you may shed some excess weight from your bike, but you should see improvements to handling, acceleration and rolling speed. With an optimum rim width for your chosen tyre size you could also benefit from improved grip, traction and comfort too.

Aftermarket wheelsets have never been better, and the options in this buyer’s guide blend value for money with increased performance and improved reliability.

Roval Traverse Alloy wheel rim

The cross-section of an extruded rim is tuned to balance strength, stiffness, and comfort.

What is the best rim material for a wheelset under £500?

The six wheelsets that make the grade in this sub £500 guide use aluminium rims – and for justifiable reasons. With well-considered rim dimensions and shape, along with an appropriate spoke count (the number of spokes used on each wheel), the ride quality of an aluminium wheelset can be tuned to suit its intentions and bike type. Aluminium rims are affordable if you need to replace one, and a wheel builder at your local bike shop can do this for you.

A budget carbon wheelset may look appealing, but will often hide compromises when it comes to both ride quality and spares back up. If a high performance carbon wheelset is on your wishlist, then check out the top-rated options in our best mountain bike wheels buyer’s guide.

Commencal Meta V5 Race

When choosing wheels, it’s always a good idea to have a goal in mind. Do you want to save weight? Increase strength? Reduce harshness?

What is the best rim width for my bike and type of riding?

With the best cross-country and trail bikes getting more capable, tyre widths have increased to mirror this shift. Wider (2.4-2.6in), higher volume tyres benefit from a 30mm internal width rim, which is now the new standard for trail and enduro bikes. This places the tyre’s shoulder tread in the optimum position, maintaining the cornering traction and handling characteristics and shape that the manufacturers intended.

Step up to 2.8-3.0in ‘Plus’ tyres and a 35mm rim will be ideal, whereas if you’re running narrower, lighter (2.1-2.2in) tyres on an XC bike then 25mm is still the norm. The DT Swiss M1900 wheelset is available in all three rim widths.

The choice of aluminium used, along with the shape and depth of the rim has an influence on stiffness, impact strength and ride quality. Heavier weight rims, with a deeper profile and shod with wider, tougher tyres, suit hard-hitting riding but will be overkill for a lighter rider on XC terrain.

What are the benefits of the hubs found on aftermarket wheelsets under £500?

The hubs on all the wheelsets listed in this guide should be a step up in quality from the stock models on your mountain bike – especially if its price tag is below £2000.

Higher quality hubs will roll better. They use premium spec cartridge bearings, giving a smoother ride, better sealing from filthy conditions and are replaceable when they’re worn out. This means a refresh is easy after a few seasons of hard use, adding years to your wheelset’s lifespan. The axle will be chosen to suit the focus of the wheelset too, so if it’s intended for enduro or bike park riding, then you should get a stronger more durable axle spec here.

Freehub quality will be higher too, often with a quicker engagement and it will certainly use more reliable internals. These premium freehub bodies often run on a cartridge bearing too, and this will be replaceable to aid longevity. E-bike transmissions take a beating from the power and torque the motor dishes out, so stronger internals are a priority. Here, the fastest engagement hub may not be the best option.

The option to change the freehub body/driver to SRAM’s XD driver or Shimano’s MicroSpline will release the full potential of wide range 12 speed cassettes – consider this when choosing new wheels if a drivetrain upgrade is on your wishlist. Also worth checking is the disc rotor attachment, as some wheelsets are only available with a centre-lock fixing, meaning the cost of adapters or new rotors need to be considered.

Specialized Roval Traverse SL Fattie

J-bend spokes are an age-old design that still works well today. Also note the butting at the end of the spoke, which keeps strength high, but also reduces weight.

Are the number of spokes (the spoke count) important?

If you step back twenty years or more, mountain wheels were generally built with 32 spokes for a regular build, with 28 for a lightweight XC pair and 36 for heavy duty use. Rims and tyres were narrower back then and higher tyre pressures were the norm, so wheels took a beating and needed more maintenance to run true.

Now, with wider rims, high volume tyres and more reliable wheel components, a higher spoke count is not always needed and brands have their own take on what the correct approach is. For example Hunt uses traditional triple butted J-bend spokes, with a 28 spoke count on its Trail Wide wheelset, whereas DT Swiss specs 2mm plain gauge, straight pull spokes, with a 28 spoke count, on its M1900 wheelset – both designed for hard use.

Tubeless set-up can be messy and frustrating depending on the wheel/tyre combination.

Will all these wheels set up tubeless easily?

All the rims on the wheelsets in this buyer’s guide are tubeless compatible but can be run with a standard tyre and inner tube too.

Brands have different approaches to what you’ll need for a tubeless set-up. On the Crossmax XL, Mavic uses a fully sealed rim with no spoke holes on the rim bed, so tubeless tape isn’t needed and this makes for a very reliable seal. Hunt supplies its Trail Wide wheels with tubeless tape fitted and valves supplied, whereas with Hope’s Fortus SC 30 pro wheels you’ll need to install the rim tape yourself.

You’ll need the best mountain bike tubeless sealant for a good seal and a puncture-free ride, so don’t forget that. One of the best tubeless tyre inflators is a worthwhile investment, making the set-up process easier and stress free.