A quality wheelset will go a long way to determining the ride quality of your mountain bike, this means there are a few considerations to take into account when looking at replacing or upgrading your current set. Things to look out for include wheel size, rim width, axle type, desired riding style, weight, and price.
With mountain bike wheels, size matters. When upgrading or replacing, it’s important to ensure the wheels will fit on your bike. There are three common wheel sizes to choose from, 26”, 27.5”/650b and 29”..
Axle types can be confusing business, with modern mountain bikes featuring a mix of quick release or thru-axles in various widths and diameters. It’s important that you match the wheels to your frame and fork.
If a wheelset is designated as being for quick release, this will typically mean it has a 100mm front axle and a 135mm rear axle width.
Thru-axle wheels will often be designated by two lots of numbers, such as 148x12mm (a common rear axle size). This refers to the hub that is 148mm in width, with a 12mm hole for the thru-axle. Front and rear wheels will almost always require different width and diameter axles.
Likewise, for the freehub, the part that holds the rear cassette (rear cogs). For mountain bike wheels, there are generally two types. Shimano-style is the most common and will work with the vast majority of eight, nine, ten or eleven speed cassettes. XD-Driver is the other option and is specific to SRAM’s new eleven and twelve-speed single-ring systems.
The cost of a wheelset is often representative of their quality, durability, and performance. Entry level wheelsets will often be made from low-quality aluminum, carrying increased weight and feature lower quality bearings.Spending a little more on a quality wheelset initially is likely to provide a saving in the future, along with offering additional features such as tubeless tire compatibility and convertible axles. However, the discipline and level of riding you aim to use the wheels for will go a long way to determining your budget.