Getting the best mountain bike wheels can totally transform your ride – it's one of the most effective upgrades out there.

The best mountain bike wheels can take more of a hammering than ever. You can also choose between light weight for maximum speed and efficiency, ultimate strength for durability, compliant wheels for comfort, or stiff wheels for responsiveness. We’ve narrowed down the options to make your life easier.

Wheels are just part of the system; make sure you’ve got the best mountain bike tyres for the conditions you’re riding in, and good mud tyres if you’re looking for extra grip in the winter.

Trail/Enduro wheels

Crank Brothers Synthesis E11

The Crankbrothers Synthesis E11 wheels are special hoops.

1. Crankbrothers Synthesis E11

Best carbon trail wheels for overall ride quality

Weight: 860g front, 1,020g rear | Material: Carbon | Internal rim width: 31.5mm front, 29.5mm rear | Rating:10/10

Reasons to buy:

  • A special product that dos what it sets out to do
  • Noticeably more grip on severe terrain

Reasons to avoid:

  • Relatively expensive
  • Not for weight weenies

For its Synthesis wheels, Crankbrothers looked at what was required from a front wheel and a rear wheel, and optimised every element of each wheel for its specific task. So that translates into more comfort, grip, and compliance up front, allied to a stiffer, stronger rear wheel that transfers power efficiently and stood up to all the abuse we could throw at it. Calm and composed, yet seriously rapid, the Synthesis carbon wheels are our favourite options for all-round performance.

Read our test of Crankbrothers Synthesis E wheelset

Hunt Wheels Trail Wide

As an affordable upgrade, nothing really beats Hunt’s Wheels Trail Wide wheels.

2. Hunt Wheels Trail Wide

Best budget trail wheels

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

Reasons to buy:

  • Lighter and faster than most
  • Not much heavier than lots of carbon wheels
  • Excellent value for money

Reasons to avoid:

  • Direct sales only
  • Not the most comfortable wheels

Hunt’s direct-sales wheel range brings top performance at down-to-earth prices. The rims are seriously tough, roll fast, and the freehubs engage rapidly, so acceleration is almost instantaneous. In the box you get spare spokes, tubeless valves, and a spoke key, so you can get set-up and hit the trails straightaway. While not the most compliant or comfortable of wheels, the Hunt Trail Wides make up for this with excellent strength, decent weight, and a sorted package at a bargain price.

Read our test of the Hunt Wheels TrailWide wheelset

Zipp 3Zero Moto

Zipp’s 3Zero Moto is a unique product that excels on natural enduro terrain.

3. Zipp 3Zero Moto

Best wheels for off-camber grip

Weight: 891g front, 1,019g rear | Material: Carbon | Internal rim width: 30mm | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Simply amazing rims
  • Grip is off-the-charts

Reasons to avoid:

  • Hefty price tag
  • Not suitable for heavy riders
  • Don’t buy if you want to schralp berms and regularly burp tyres in corners

Zipp’s single-wall carbon rim is the most impressive wheel-related product we’ve tried in years. Maybe even decades. It’s engineered to flex locally around the spoke bed, so the rim and tyre can better conform to the ground. And the design works. The amount of off-camber grip is absurd – it feels like cheating. However, the rims are not exactly light, not exactly cheap, and don’t suit heavy riders or those that generate high cornering forces. But for natural enduro trails they are sublime.

Read our test of Zipp 3Zero Moto wheelset

DT Swiss M1900

The DT Swiss M1900 wheels are burly but bombproof.

4. DT Swiss M1900

Best budget wheels for reliability

Weight: 950g front, 1,060g rear | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 30mm | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Really smooth ride feel
  • Sorted hub internals
  • No weird construction

Reasons to avoid:

  • Heavy

Toughness and reliability are the main selling points with DT Swiss’ M1900 wheels, and this bombproof package does the job for a fair price. You’ll need to spend considerably more, and reach much higher up the DT range, to save weight, but lighter wheels are available for a similar price from brands such as Hunt. That said, you will be able to get spares and replacement spokes for a DT wheel pretty much anywhere in the world, and that’s something worth considering.

Read our test of DT Swiss M1900 Spline wheelset

Mavic E-Deemax S 30/35 wheels

5. Mavic E-Deemax S wheels

Best electric mountain bike wheels

Weight: 1,030g front S30, 1,150g rear S35 | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 35mm | Freehub: XD driver, Microspline or HG | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Easy to set-up tubeless
  • Strong rims
  • Durable
  • Low-friction freehub
  • Good quality

Reasons to avoid:

  • Heavy
  • Standard graphics are a bit naff

As the name suggests, the E-Deemax is aimed at hard-hitting e-bikers looking for peace-of-mind. You can get them in either 29in or 27.5in diameters, with two different widths (30mm and 35mm), so it’s easy to mix and match. In terms of stiffness, they are middle of the road, but the freehub is super-fast rolling, so you seem to roll effortlessly and they may even help boost battery range a little. The other main benefit with Mavic wheels like the E-Deemax is that they don’t need rim tape, so they tend to be really easy to set-up tubeless. Not a wheel for weight weenies, but the E-Deemax is solid, reliable, and easy to set-up.

Read the full review of the Mavic E-Deemax wheels

Mavic Crossmax XL wheels

The Mavic Crossmax XL wheels are well-made and reliable.

6. Mavic Crossmax XL wheels

Best wheels for easy tubeless tyre set-up

Weight: 964g front, 1,109g rear | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 30mm | Freehub: XD driver, Microspline or HG | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Durable internals
  • Mix and match wheel sizes
  • Tough
  • Easy to run tubeless

Reasons to avoid:

  • Freehub engagement is laggy
  • Bladed spokes can feel twangy when pushed

This is Mavic’s budget wheelset and it’s built around a 30mm rim with no spoke drillings, so you don’t need rim tape to set them up tubeless. This takes a load of faff out of the procedure, and is one of Mavic’s big selling points. It’s also built tough, although there is a weight penalty on the scales. The Crossmax XL won’t transform the ride quality of your bike, but it will outperform and outlast the no-name wheels on a budget bike, which makes it a smart upgrade for a lot of riders.

Read the full review of the Mavic Crossmax XL wheels

Stan's No Tubes Flow EX3 wheels

Stan’s No Tubes Flow EX3 have the build quality needed for punishment duty.

7. Stan’s No Tubes Flow EX3

Best wheels for heavier and/or enduro riders

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

Reasons to buy:

  • Heavy duty wheels for serious enduro riding or bigger riders

Reasons to avoid:

  • Perhaps overkill for smaller, lighter, smoother riders

Built tough, Stan’s No Tubes Flow EX3 wheels come in at over 2kg on the scales. That’s extra weight that has to be hauled uphill, accelerated, braked, and picked up when changing direction. So it comes as a surprise that they actually ride lighter than the numbers suggest. We wouldn’t choose them for a trail or down-country bike, but for big riders on long-travel enduro bikes, they are a smart choice.

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

Silt All-Mountain

Silt All-Mountain’s are tough and pretty light.

8. Silt All-Mountain

Don’t just go by the All-Mountain tag, these are impressively light

Weight: 1,890g pair | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 30mm | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Pretty much unmatched in terms of weight and strength at this price

Reasons to avoid:

  • Not a lot for the money

Silt’s another new brand with a direct-sales wheel business. We’ve tested a couple of its products and been impressed on both occasions. These All-Mountain alloy wheels are competitive in terms of both weight and price, and the ride quality is snappy and positive. The low mass means they change direction quickly and respond immediately. Despite our best efforts, we’ve barely managed to put a scratch on them, too, so durability is impressive.

Read our test of the Silt All-Mountain Wheelset

Enve MTB Foundation AM30 wheelset

Enve’s MTB Foundation AM30 wheelset only needs you to sell one kidney.

9. Enve MTB Foundation AM30 wheelset

Best premium carbon wheel for badge snobs

Weight: 1,875g pair | Material: Carbon | Internal rim width: 30mm | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Good balance of stiffness and comfort
  • Anti pinch flat design is cool

Reasons to avoid:

  • No lighter than alloy wheels
  • Price is still high

Enve’s AM30s are expensive and don’t bring any ‘extra’ compliance or tracking benefits to the table like Zipp’s 3Zero Moto or Crankbrothers’ Synthesis wheelsets. But, if you’re after a zesty, rapid-feeling carbon wheel that’s comfortable enough to ride all day and tough enough to handle a proper battering, this package is a sound investment. And while Enve hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel itself, it’s done enough with the Foundation AM30 to turn our cynical tester into a firm believer.

Read our test of Enve MTB Foundation AM30 wheelset

Best XC wheels

Silt Carbon XC wheels

1. Silt Carbon XC wheels

Best lightweight cross-country XC wheels

Weight: Front: 640g/Rear: 750g = 1,390g total | Material: Carbon | Rim width: 32mm external, 27mm internal | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Lightweight
  • Great value
  • Immediate, stomp-and-go acceleration

Reasons to avoid:

  • Sticky freehub
  • front spacer not super secure

If you’re looking to save weight from any XC or down-country bike, the Silt Carbon XC wheels would be our first choice. Better yet, for total confidence there’s an unlimited crash replacement program that comes with them. The ride quality is seriously snappy, with rapid, effortless acceleration, although Silt has traded some comfort to keep them sharp and responsive. Add in the excellent value, and these are an impressive set of wheels for any speed freak.

Read the full review of the Silt Carbon XC wheels

Hunt XC Wide

2. Hunt XC Wide wheelset

Best budget lightweight wheels

Weight: 780g front, 880g rear = 1,660g pair | Material: Alloy | Internal rim width: 25mm | Rating: 9/10

Reasons to buy:

  • Fast and feel fast
  • Lightweight for great price
  • Dynamic steering

Reasons to avoid:

  • Slightly harsh ride
  • Noisy

Looking to save wheel weight on a budget? Then Hunt’s XC Wide wheels come in at just over 1.6kg and cost less than £500. The fairly narrow rim width obviously helps shave weight and increase pace, and the result are a pair of wheels that feel as fast as many more expensive carbon options. Expect a slightly harsher ride as a result, but for 90-minute XC races, or quick down-country blasts, that’s acceptable. Normally weight saving comes at a significant cost, so that must make these the exception that proves the rule.

Read our test of Hunt XC Wide wheelset

How we tested the best mountain bike wheels

As well as back-to-back testing wheels on the same terrain under controlled conditions, we managed to do some uplifts on DH tracks to accelerate ride time on these wheels. We’ve also had time on various test bikes with some of the wheels here and a chance to ride then all over the country.

We used the same Maxxis tyres set up tubeless (at the same pressure) for final testing, and also swapped between wheelsets on the exact same bike with fixed suspension settings and pressures. Deliberately using a shorter-travel (120mm) bike also exaggerated feedback and compliance impressions from wheels on rougher terrain.

mountain bike wheel grouptest imageHow to pick the best mountain bike wheels for you:

The attitude of reliability trumping every shiny new parts weight is a bit of a theme in recent MTB ‘fashion’ overall. Nobody wants to ruin a great ride with a mechanical, so we largely subscribe to the idea here at MBR too, but also reckon wheels are actually one area where you can have your cake and eat it too.

wheel size comparison chart

Wheel size comparison chart

Is it worth upgrading my wheels?

Upgrading your wheels will have a bigger impact on the way your bike rides than just about any other component choice. After-market wheels can massively improve rolling speed, handling, and acceleration. They can also benefit grip, tracking and comfort, which helps you rider faster and safer in the toughest terrain. On top of this, and flying in the face of this new-school attitude for robustness, the best wheels can also achieve these significant performance gains with zero trade offs in terms of reliability and lifespan if you choose wisely.

With wheelsets better than ever, the choices are plentiful, and nowadays you only need to spend top dollar for ultimate (rather than good) performance too.

ENVE's impact strip

Enve’s impact strip aims to reduce pinch flats and rim damage.

On the surface, wheels simply roll and support tyres that cushion the bike from the terrain. Dig deeper though, and different products all transfer power variably, accelerate at a range of rates and conform to bumps uniquely. Freehub and hub designs impact durability, serviceability and rolling resistance, while every rim responds differently to impacts. There’s a lot to take in.

Carbon wheels are not always the best option, and the extra cash doesn’t always bring extra performance.

Are carbon wheels worth investing in?

Carbon-fibre rims are often thought of as the ultimate wheel upgrade, but high-end extruded aluminium rims can be just as light and offer an even more forgiving ride – in fact many top enduro racers still bank on alloy rims instead of carbon.

Both materials have advantages, but the general consensus is that carbon ‘should’ produce a tougher and rounder wheel, although the flip-side of this is that they can fail catastrophically, while an alloy rim may be temporarily repairable – enough to get you home. Our experience is that modern carbon rims rarely break, while alloy rims can ding or dent relatively easily, which can cause tubeless tyres to leak air and lose their seal. Overall, it’s hard to draw general conclusions about either material – as ever, it comes down to the design and construction of specific products.

If you’re going to the trouble and expense of upgrading though, your new hoops better improve performance or what’s the point, right? The after-market packages here should noticeably improve rolling speed, handling, and acceleration over cheaper, stock wheels, and if you shop wisely you can have the best of both worlds, balancing fast and zingy against strength and comfort.

The popularity of longer-travel enduro bikes and faster and more technical tracks means wheels get abused more than ever. This partly explains the sector’s bias towards strength and toughness over weight saving and maximum efficiency. Weight is still a crucial factor, however, in terms of rolling speed, acceleration and less rotating mass to drag uphill and we’re frequently surprised by wheel tests downplaying this aspect.

Nowadays there is a plethora of great wheels to choose from; the set that best suits your needs will depend on the compromise between cost and performance that matters most for your riding style and terrain.

How important is weight when choosing a mountain bike wheelset?

Lighter wheels accelerate and slow down faster, change direction quicker and make climbing easier. It’s not that simple though, as wheel roundness and stiffness are factors too, plus the physics involved with rotating mass and centrifugal forces means weight closer to the outside edge makes more difference, so a heavier wheel with a proportionally lighter rim can still spin up to speed faster.

best mountain bike wheels

Spoke count can vary, but most MTB wheels have between 28 and 32 spokes.

How important is spoke count and lacing pattern?

Extra spokes add strength, but also weight, and can reduce comfort in terms of bump swallowing. They’ll likely improve resistance to twisting or lateral flex, increase overall strength and durability and should ensure a wheel stays tighter and truer longer too. Any spokes chosen have to match budget constraints and can use different gauges, butting (thicker and thinner zones to save weight) and profiles to tune ride quality. Two and three cross are the most common patterns used on modern MTB wheels. Proprietary spokes are often harder to replace and source, but some wheel brands use the same length spoke on all of their wheels, making repairs much easier.

best mountain bike wheels

Front rims can be wider than rear rims

What is the best rim width?

Most modern rims have become wider. The extra room inside allows the sidewalls of broader, grippier and more comfortable tyres to sit naturally and inflate as manufacturers intended. Rim material, shape and depth also have a marked influence on impact strength, stiffness and compliance. Most brands have settled on between 30 and 35mm wide rims (measured internally). The best rim width will depend on what type of riding the wheel will face, as well as the size of the tyre mounted. 30mm rims tend to be sufficient for most trail riding and tyres up to 2.5in wide, while 35mm rims work slightly better on 2.6in or 2.8in tyres and more abusive riding scenarios.

Plenty of new tubeless rims forego a bead hook to save weight and boost sidewall resilience, and it’s now accepted tubeless tyres mount, stay inflated and remain stable with a multitude of quirky rim profiles.

How important are bearings and weather sealing?

How smoothly (and ultimately how fast) wheels spin is closely linked to bearing quality and design. UK rides often happen in wet conditions where grit and crud can get inside hubs and eat into a precious investment. Balls and bearing casing specification, rubber seals, and grease all effect lifespan, but better sealing can also add friction, which reduces rolling speed.

Beware special bearing sizes and fiddly designs that are a faff to service too. Cup and cone (open) bearings are still common in Shimano hubs and spin well, but require more looking after.

The inner working of a typical rear hub, including sprung pawls, multiple bearings and freehub body.

Should I look for the fastest freehub engagement or pick-up?

Most hub designs use a pawl system of some description whereby small metal ‘hooks’ engage into a ratchet to drive the hub, then disengage to allow the hub to freewheel. Different designs have their own levels of drag (resistance to spinning freely) while not pedalling and engagement (measured in degrees of rotation).

A faster pick up means power is delivered quicker; especially useful for technical climbing where lower gears and higher torques mean responsiveness is key. Faster engagement can eat into durability and strength, since splines or ratchet teeth first need to be smaller to be closer enough together to enable it. E-bikes need stronger internals as they have to cope with more power and torque through the transmission, and in this case, the fastest engagement may not be the best solution.

Can I expect to be covered by a warranty if I crash and wreck my wheels?

Especially important for carbon wheels, where a failure is more likely to be absolute rather than a ding or dent, warranty can make or break a sweet deal. The best warranties will minimise bike downtime and hassle, with some promising no-quibble replacement even in the event of a crash, so read any small print carefully and ask questions before you buy. However, you’ll likely pay a premium for such peace of mind, in the form of a higher up front cost.