best mountain bike rims

Best Mountain Bike Rims in 2021

by Joseph Wells - Last Updated: November 28, 2020

One of the best upgrades that you can do on any bike is to improve your wheels.  One of the key aspects is the rims.  While the hubs and spokes are integral, good rims make or break a wheelset. Our top choice for best mountain bike rims begin with wheels from Stan’s No-Tubes Arch.

It would be easy to pick some carbon fiber uber wheel and call it best. However, with all things being told, Stan’s is one of the best choices available on the market today.  Not only will you get great technology, but the weight savings you will enjoy at such a low cost really helps your pocketbook. The reality is that unless you really need to take 50 grams off of your wheels, going with Stan’s aluminum is the best bang for the buck.

Our best mountain bike rims have many great features.  This particular model is disc brake specific, but they are also tubeless compatible.  That isn’t to say that they only will do tubeless, you can run any of your favorite tires, but you now have more tire options available.  The rims on this model of the Arch are amongst the lightest available and are semi-aero.  They also feature color-coordinated alloy nipples for a great look.

Additionally, you can choose from a standard 6 bolt disc or centerlock as well.  This is great since you do not have to change rotor types, you can continue one way or the other.  Included with these wheels are rim strips that already allow for tubeless use as well as valve cores for tubeless installation.  They are also Shimano compatible.

Our Top Pick: Stan’s No-Tubes Arch

This particular Stan’s model is designed for cross country use.  They also have models for Enduro and downhill.  These wheels are lighter wider and faster than previous models

Stan’s features an Optimal WideRight tire sizing 2.0-2.25 23mm internal rim width for more stability with larger tires.  The low-profile design saves on weight to allow you to roll faster and get more miles.  Additionally, the design helps stop pinch flats.

In this picture, you can see the construction allows for a laterally stiffer and stronger wheel for improved handling.  While somewhat flexible wheels help dampen vibration, if it is too soft, it doesn’t handle very well. On the opposite side, if a wheel is too stiff, it also has poor ride characteristics. The more durable rim design and the stronger alloy are what make this our top pick for best mountain bike rims.

Best High-End Rims: Enduro Boost

Reynolds has been at the carbon fiber game for well over a decade now. Be it forks, wheels, or other high-end parts, Reynolds has the top end engineering that you can trust. Reynolds has been making competition and high-end rims and wheels for quite some time.

Reynolds makes the Enduro Boost model and some similar variants to this rim and wheel. Although this particular model shown is using the Boost freehub system, Reynolds does make a traditional Shimano compatible freehub body for this wheel as well.

This wheel will be amongst the lightest available for this user type.  At just over 1600 grams for the pair, it is amazing how this wheelset and rims will transform your bike and riding style.  Pair with these a great set of lighter tires and you will see acceleration improve as well as overall handling.  Dropping weight on your wheels and in particular from the rims is amongst one of the best upgrades that you can perform.

Reynolds makes a variety of rims including the Enduro model shown. They feature asymmetric carbon rims which enables a more even spoke tension for increased durability and ride quality. The 28mm internal rim width provides outstanding tire fit allowing reasonable sidewall flex but excellent bead retention. Reynolds usually makes their own hubs, but use Industry Nine center lock hubs which provide ultra-quick, 3-degree engagement and deliver power when you need it most.

Most Affordable Rims: Wheel Master

When it comes to budget worthy wheels and rims, look to Wheel Master.  Wheel Master assembles wheels here in the US using high-quality parts at affordable prices.  Most independent bike shops will have replacement wheels made by Wheel Master.

Check out these Wheel Master 26″ bolt-on replacement wheels.  For many basic bikes out there, this wheel is a tough high-quality replacement choice.

They feature a threaded hub for freewheel style gears. They are bolt on to resist theft. While the silver color is quite basic, they will provide better braking performance since there won’t be painted to wear through.

Overall, these Wheel Master rims are great choices when you have killed your existing wheel and need something to get you rolling again.  They come in countless variations and have very economical prices. Normally, they feature high-quality stainless steel spokes which are superior to other spoke types for longevity and tension.

Best Alternative Rims: Mavic Crossride

If you are looking for something long-lasting, and a bit different with spoking, look to the various wheels by Mavic.  Mavic, out of France, has been making wheels and rims for decades now.  Their rim alloys are amongst the best in the business.

The Mavic Crossride is an excellent all-around wheel for most riding choices. While not the lightest by any means, they perform admirably. One cool feature is the use of straight-pull spokes.

On wheels, the majority of spokes are what is called J-Bend. That refers to the spoke head making a 90 degree turn at the hub just like the letter J.  This can be a point of failure in certain cases.  Straight pull spokes remove that bend. I have gone through my fair share of spokes over the decades, and at times have had to switch to straight pull to alleviate some failure problems.

Features To Look For In The Best Mountain Bike Rims

Materials

The number one key feature that separates good and bad rims is the metal.  Steel is one of the worst metals to make a bicycle rim out of. Steel does not absorb vibration and shock very well, it bends instead. That is exactly what you do not want to have happened.

Aluminum alloy is one of the best metals for a rim to be made out of.  It absorbs vibration and shock without bending.  It is far easier to repair aluminum rims over any other material.

Carbon fiber is rapidly becoming a material of choice for rims. It can be a very strong material, with most rim bodies being around 6 layers thick and the braking rim bead areas twice as thick. Carbon absorbs shock quite well, but when there is a failure, normally the rim is useless.

Spokes

Spokes generally come in 3 materials: galvanized metal, stainless steel, and specialty aluminum alloys.  I don’t include carbon, although it can be used as a spoke as it is not all that practical of a choice for mainstream wheels.

Galvanized metal is one of the worst metals that a spoke can be made of.  It stretches and corrodes very easily.  Generally, department stores and inexpensive wheels are made with these spokes.  Stay away from them if you can.

Stainless is by far the best and most popular spoke type.  Stainless resists stretching quite well and will retain threading easily. Obviously, it doesn’t deteriorate the same way that galvanized does. Stainless makes the best wheels because it can be trusted to hold its tension, and not be brittle.

Mavic and several other companies sometimes use specialty metals to make their own spokes. These are quite proprietary. They are lighter than stainless is. This comes at both a monetary and functional price.  These spokes are not cheap. Secondly, the functionality is limited to the brand that specified the spoke, which also can affect availability.

Hubs

Hubs are quite important to the equation.  But, don’t get fooled into thinking that the lightest hubs will provide a performance improvement.  Physics dictate that performance improvements are best gained by lessening rotating mass, then look at dead mass after.

Hubs, while they rotate, are not really rotating mass in the grand scheme of things.  That is why rim choice is so important.  Taking grams off the outside of a wheel is the most important thing for performance.  Good hubs will cut resistance and also support the spokes properly to alleviate breakage.

Conclusion – The Best Mountain Bike Rims

Some of the best upgrade wheels available for your mountain bike are made by Stan’s. Check out the Stan’s Arch series wheels for your various uses.  They are our choice as the best mountain bike rim on the market currently.

If you can afford carbon, check out Reynolds’ full line of wheelsets.  They offer both race-worthy and durable rims that will provide both good looks and ultimate lightweight.

Finally, if you need a replacement wheel for your older bike, Wheel Masters is one of the better choices on the market currently.  Assembled here in the US, there are hundreds of choices and configurations to help service your bike properly.

Rims and wheels are the most important component of any bike.  Many enthusiasts look past the physics involved in cycling, but everything revolving around performance has to do with wheels.  With that, the best upgrade you can make is with wheels.  Stan’s is our pick as the best mountain bike rim due to cost, lightweight, and high performance. Everything a rider is looking for in a wheel.

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