10 Wheelsets for Almost Any Budget


One of the most common questions we get from riders is about upgrading their mountain bikes. They want to know how to spend their money wisely to get the largest performance gains possible for a given budget.

We always recommend a tire upgrade first, as the best bang-for-your-buck upgrade you can make. A new set of tires can do several things. Sometimes they can shed rotational weight, but more importantly, a good set of tires will improve your comfort, control, and confidence. Check out the results from our 2017 Gear Survey for recommendations of specific models.

Second on our list of recommended upgrades are the wheels themselves. The stock wheels found on entry-level bikes are often built using heavy rims and low quality hubs. Even more than a fresh set of tires, a new wheelset can completely transform the ride of your mountain bike. A lighter wheelset will add some pep in your bike’s step, while a stiffer one will have you charging through the chunk with newfound courage.

Once you wring all the miles you can from that stock wheelset, here are some options to consider.

Mountain Bike Wheels Under $600

The sub-$600 category is likely the most competitive amongst wheel manufacturers, particularly around the $500-$600 range. In order to meet this price point, companies have to compromise somewhere, whether that’s in the rim, hub, or spokes. While that means the wheels in this category may carry a couple hundred extra grams, their overall performance leaves little to be desired. Honestly, unless you just have the money to do so, there aren’t many reasons to spend much more than this.

Stan’s No Tubes S1

Stan’s S1 wheels offer performance on a budget (photo: Stan’s)

Stan’s rightfully deserves most of the credit for dragging mountain bikers into the tubeless age. Their rims have won races around the world in just about every discipline. Stan’s rims are great for custom builds because you know the rims will show up nice and round out of the box, but Stan’s complete wheelsets are a good value too, particularly the newer S1 line.

The S1 wheels come in various widths to cover the entire mountain biking spectrum from XC to fat. Internal widths vary from 23mm on the Crest to 38mm on the Major–simply pick your preferred tire width and select the corresponding model to meet your needs. All S1 wheels use Stan’s Neo hubs, Sapim Race double-butted spokes, and brass nipples for a long-lasting build.

  • $479/pair
  • Aluminum rim
  • 26″, 27.5″, 29″ diameters available
  • Boost and non-Boost spacing available
  • 1,882g for 27.5″ Arch S1 wheelset

Ibis 738/938

Wide rims at a reasonable weight and price (photo: Ibis)

Did you know Ibis makes wheels in addition to frames? Well they do, in both aluminum and carbon-rimmed options to boot. If you want a wide rim at a reasonable price, the alloy 738/938 wheels give you just that. Internally, the rims measure 34mm, which means they’ll pair well with tires up to 2.8″ wide.

One thing to keep in mind when considering wide rims is your preferred tire model. Some of the more “classic” tire widths around 2.2″ — and even up to 2.4″, depending on the tread pattern — end up with a square profile on rims such as these. A tire that’s too square will handle like microwaved dog poo, and nobody likes that.

Ibis’s wheels have a nice, subtle appearance that will look good on any brand of bike. They use Ibis’ own hubs, laced with 32 spokes to the offset rims. The wheels come with rim tape and tubeless valves installed, so they’re just about ready to ride out of the box.

  • $499/pair
  • Aluminum rim
  • 27.5″ and 29″ diameters available
  • Boost and non-Boost spacing available
  • 1,880g for 27.5″ wheelset

Ibis 738 Aluminum 27.5 in. Wheelset
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Custom Wheelset

Hope hubs are durable, reliable, easy to service, and affordable (photo: Aaron Chamberlain)

A custom wheelset is the perfect way to get exactly what you need performance-wise and also to personalize your bike. Like with anything custom, the sky’s the limit in terms of price, but there’s no need to spend a fortune to build a quality pair of wheels. It’s also an opportunity to learn the skill of wheel building. Most of us don’t have a truing stand at home, but anyone can lace up a wheel with a little bit of Googling and some patience. Here’s a great place to start:

  • Hope Pro 4 hubs: excellent durability, decent engagement, easy to service, available in six colors
  • WTB Frequency Team 29mm wide rims: wide, durable, affordable
  • DT Swiss Champion spokes and nipples: strong and reliable

Based on full retail prices, a wheelset built with the components above would be just outside our $600 budget. However, Hope’s hubs are sold well below retail online. Based on current hub prices — but paying full retail on the rims and spokes — this wheelset would cost about $525 in parts. That leaves plenty of money to pay your local shop to tension and true them if you lace them up at home. You get a bombproof set of wheels with some personal flair to coordinate with the rest of your bike.

  • $525/pair in parts + labor if needed
  • Any rim size you need
  • Any spacing you need
  • Any color you want

Bontrager Line Elite 30

It’s hard to beat the engagement for the money with Bontrager’s wheels (photo: Bontrager)

Bontrager revamped their wheel offerings in 2017, simplifying their line and lowering prices. That’s great news for riders. Bontrager’s Line wheels are all built around their Rapid Drive hubs, which provide an extremely fast 108 points (3.3°) of engagement. For reference, Industry Nine’s hubs have 3° of engagement while Chris King offers 5°, but you’d be lucky to get a pair of hubs from either of them for $600. The higher engagement translates to a more responsive wheel on the trail, particularly ratcheting through techy sections.

The rims are a modern 29mm wide internally and come with a Bontrager rim strip installed for tubeless use. Other features include straight-pull, double-butted spokes, alloy nipples, and tubeless valves are provided. For the money, it’s a tough package to top.

  • $600/pair
  • Aluminum rim
  • 27.5″ and 29″ diameters available
  • Boost and non-Boost spacing available
  • 1,708g for 27.5″ wheelset

Wheels Under $1,200

In this price range, you’re getting a really nice set of wheels. I’m focusing mainly on trail wheels since that’s how the majority of our readers identify, but there are plenty of feathery light XC wheels in this category for riders looking to shed weight. Generally speaking, wheels in this bracket feature excellent hubs with high engagement and use lighter weight spokes and rims. Obviously, the custom route is still available in this range.

Savvy riders willing to compromise slightly on the hubs can upgrade to carbon rims. There are tons of cheap carbon wheels out there on sites like eBay, but the quality can vary wildly, so be wary. And good luck if you have any sort of issue with the product. One company that’s an exception to this is Light Bicycle. While I haven’t personally used their products, numerous riding friends have had positive experiences with them. Another exception is Bontrager’s carbon fiber Kovee Elite wheels. They use a narrow-ish 23mm rim, so maybe the Kovees skew towards XC, but as long as you aren’t using rubber wider than 2.5″, you should be okay. At $700 for a set, you’d be hard-pressed to find a carbon-rimmed wheelset for less.

Industry Nine Trail S

Industry Nine Trail S (photo: Industry Nine)

Industry Nine is famous for their brightly-colored hubs with lightning-fast engagement and a distinct sound. Their Steel Series wheels forgo some flash and the machined aluminum spokes found on I9’s highest-end wheelsets in favor of straight-pull steel spokes. With the steel spokes, I9 can hit a significantly lower price point. In their stock configuration, the Trail S wheels have 6° of engagement, but riders can upgrade to a 120-point drive ring for $50, bringing engagement to just 3°.

Compared to I9’s 24-hole Trail 245 wheelsets with alloy spokes, the Trail S wheels are a mere 70g heavier. However, they’re nearly $400 less expensive. Both wheelsets are built using I9’s 24.5mm wide, aluminum Trail rim. If you want something wider or heavier duty, check out the 30.5mm wide Enduro S wheels starting at $860/pair.

  • $845/pair
  • Aluminum rim
  • 27.5″ and 29″ diameters available
  • Boost and non-Boost spacing available
  • 1,550g for 27.5″ wheelset

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
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DT Swiss M1700 Spline

DT Swiss M1700 Spline (photo: DT Swiss)

There are actually three rim widths to choose from in DT Swiss’s M1700 line: 25mm, 30mm, and 35mm. All three options are built using DT’s 350 hubs laced with straight-pull DT Swiss Competition spokes. As the rim width increases, the overall wheelset weights increase slightly because of the heavier rims. The prices increase a little as well from $828 on the 25mm to $880 for a set of 35mm wheels. The 350 hubs lag behind the other wheels in this category in terms of engagement at a downright slow 20°. However, riders can upgrade to a 54T ratchet ring which will speed it up to 6.6°.

DT Swiss is perhaps best known for their reliability and ease of service. Most of the hub can be disassembled by hand, without tools. This makes regular maintenance a breeze. Even a novice mechanic can pop the end caps off to clean and regrease the internals.

  • $854/set (Spline 30)
  • Aluminum rim
  • 27.5″ and 29″ diameters available
  • Boost and non-Boost spacing available
  • 1,822g for 27.5″ wheelset

DT Swiss M1700 Spline Mountain Bike Wheel Set 29"Alloy Tubeless SRAM XD
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Race Face Turbine R

Race Face chose tall flanges on its new Vault hubs (photo: Race Face)

The Turbine R wheels tick all the necessary boxes for a modern trail/enduro wheelset. Fast engaging hub? Check. Wide rim? Check. Reasonable weight? Check. Easily serviceable? Check.

Race Face launched an all-new hub design when they debuted the Turbine R wheels. Dubbed “Vault,” these hubs have 3° of engagement, tall flanges to increase stiffness, tool-free end cap removal, and they use a single, large bearing size to keep things simple. It’s almost like Race Face had riders in mind when they designed these things. Other features include 28 straight-pull spokes laced 3x to an offset rim. The offset rim helps balance the tension between the hub flanges.

  • $1,120/pair
  • Aluminum Rim
  • 27.5″ and 29″ diameters available
  • Boost and non-Boost spacing available
  • 1,730g for 27.5″ wheelset

Race Face Turbine 30 27.5" Rear Wheel, 12x142mm Thru Axle, XD Driver Freehub Body
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Wheels Over $1,200

There’s no rational case for dropping this much money on a wheelset, but hey, I get it. Sometimes you want the absolute best of the best, nothing wrong with that. When dropping this much cheddar on wheels, chances are you want some carbon rims, which is why all these options feature them. New wheel companies seem to pop up constantly, all claiming to make the best wheels on the market. But for this category, I chose wheels I have either ridden personally or that come from a reputable brand.

Roval Traverse SL Fattie

The Roval Traverse SL Fatties are super wide and super light (photo: Roval)

Roval started as Specialized’s house brand wheel company. Recently though, Specialized has pushed Roval as a stand-alone brand. At trade shows, for instance, Specialized and Roval get separate booths. No matter what they may tell you, it’s an effort to sell more wheels, particularly to people not riding Specialized bicycles. Machinations aside, Roval makes excellent, durable wheels at a decent price.

The Traverse SL Fattie wheels are designed for trail/enduro riding, but manage to come in at an XC race weight. Branded as Roval, the hubs use DT Swiss internals, making them easy to maintain. They also use Revolution spokes which are the lightest round spokes DT Swiss offers. Roval offers two rim widths in the Fattie line: a 30mm rim for trail bikes, and 38mm for plus bikes. The carbon rims are hookless, which saves weight and makes for a stronger rim.

  • $1,500/pair
  • Carbon rim
  • 27.5″ and 29″ diameters available
  • Boost and non-Boost spacing available
  • 1,530g for 27.5″ wheelset

Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon

Santa Cruz put other wheel companies on notice with their Reserve Carbon (photo: Santa Cruz)

Once Santa Cruz started making carbon fiber handlebars in addition to its frames, the writing was on the wall: it wouldn’t be long before they got into the wheel business as well. From a business perspective, it’s a smart decision for Santa Cruz. They get to spec their own wheels on their highest end complete builds, which no doubt improves their margins. It also opens up aftermarket sales to current Santa Cruz owners and even people riding other brands. Since Santa Cruz has one of the strongest brands in the business, most riders are comfortable buying a wheelset from them. With aggressive pricing for the category and a stellar warranty, Santa Cruz has thrown down the gauntlet to every other wheel company out there.

The Reserve wheels come in one of three widths: 25mm (29″ only), 27mm, and 30mm.  DT Swiss 350 or Industry Nine hub options are available. Like their complete bikes, Santa Cruz assembles the wheels at the headquarters in California. There’s nothing proprietary about the wheels, which makes finding spares much easier for the rider.

  • $1,599/pair
  • Carbon rim
  • 27.5″ and 29″ diameters available
  • Boost spacing only
  • 1,751g for Reserve 30 27.5″ wheelset

Reynolds Blacklabel Enduro

Reynolds rims provide a great ride quality: stiff but not harsh (photo: Reynolds)

When I tested the Blacklabel wheels earlier this year, I was most impressed with their ride quality. That’s a subjective and hard to quantify trait, but I found Reynolds’ premier rims to track and corner superbly without beating me up on small trail chatter. Reynolds chose to build the wheels around Industry Nine hubs–a wise choice on their part. Those hubs are laced with Sapim CX bladed spokes to a 28mm wide, hookless carbon rim. Like many of the other sets on this list, Reynolds designed an offset rim to even out spoke tension between the drive side and brake side of the hub.

Originally, the wheelset was priced at $2,500, but Reynolds has since dropped it to $2,300. That’s still a shit ton of money to spend on a wheelset. However, Reynolds recently announced their TR S wheels that come in at $1,549 per pair. The TR S wheels use a Reynolds hub with 5° of engagement in place of the Industry Nine hubs. Interestingly, the less expensive wheelset weighs 100g less even though the rim is 2mm wider.

  • $2,299/pair
  • Carbon rim
  • 27.5″ and 29″ diameters available
  • Boost and non-Boost spacing available
  • 1,660g for 27.5″ wheelset

Reynolds Black Label style wheel wrap decals sticker KIT MTB 26 27.5 29 AM XC DH
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