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  1. #1
    mtbr member
    Reputation: SDCA's Avatar
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    Sep 2013

    What to look for when choosing a wheelset

    I apologize if this has been asked before but I was unable to find postings regarding, "How to choose the proper wheels for a mountain bike".

    1. What should someone look for when buying wheels?
    2. What would a heavier rider need?
    3. What would a trail/jumper/cross country, etc. rider need?
    4. Why is the UTS standard important?
    5. Is tubeless better?
    6. What size axle should someone consider?
    7. How can I determine is a 15mm or 20mm axle will fit on my bike?
    8. Is the 6 bolt hub or Shimano splined hub the current standard (I don't want it to become obsolete like my 4 bolt codas).
    9. Would you buy hubs with sealed bearings if you rarely go through water (keep dirt off bearings)?
    10. How important is the weight of the wheels?
    11. Why do people use liners?
    12. What should someone consider when buying a hub?
    13. Why choose one width over another?
    14. Why would someone choose a 20mm hub over a QR convertible or vice versa?

    Hopefully the answers will help future members and I choose the proper mountain bike wheels for our bike, weight, riding style, terrain and budget.

    I also added keywords for search engines.


  2. #2
    Clueless genius
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    1) is very open-ended and would require several paragraphs to properly respond to as there are many, many, many different variables at play here

    2) Heavier riders should generally look for something that's sturdier, has a higher spoke count (32/36), is wider for better support of tires, and focuses more on durability, stiffness, and strength, rather than speedy lightness. You don't want a DH wheelset that weighs a billion pounds, but you don't want some XC race wheels either. Look for rims that have eyelets that allow for greater spoke tension which helps with maintaining trueness, standard j-bend spokes for easy replacements. Ask for help in the Clyde forum.

    3) Trail/General riding: a "trail" wheelset. Something with moderate width, moderate weight. DJ: wide, durable, bomb-resistant. XC: light, usually a bit narrower, and stiff. AM: something a little burlier, but not super beefy (depending on how you ride), DH/FR: STRONG

    4)the UST standard isn't super important anymore. Basically, it just means you're going to have a much easier time setting up with tubeless when using a tire with a UST bead.

    5) Yes and no. Yes because you get less rolling resistance, a comfier ride, more grip, and depending on how you do it, less weight. (oh, and no flats!) But it can also be a real hassle to set up, sometimes it's a bit of a crapshoot, tires are pricier, sealant ain't cheap, and it definitely requires work. (or money if your shop does it for you!)

    6) If you don't want to change your fork: consider only wheels compatible with the axle you have. If you are changing your fork; 15 or 20mm. 15 mm is only marginally heavier than 9mm, and MUCH stiffer, and 20mm is only marginally heavier than 15mm, and again, MUCH stiffer and stronger.

    7) The axle type depends on what is on your fork. A 9mm axle will be an open-ended dropout, whereas a 15 or 20mm thru-axle will be a closed full circle (9mm qr vs 15mm ta: , a 20mm axle is even bigger) It doesn't matter what bike you have, it matters what fork you have.

    8) The standard is 6-bolt, and I don't think that will be changing anytime soon. Centerlock is fairly rare still. If you're really paranoid, you can get a centerlock hub and then get a centerlock to 6-bolt adapter, but I'd suggest just getting 6-bolt. Cheaper, easier to find rotors, and more prevalent. And cheaper.

    9) Yes. Sealed bearings roll smoother, last longer, and you can replace them easily. You can service loose ball cup-and-cone bearing hubs, but they are generally heavier, not as well sealed, and don't roll as smoothly. That said, a properly maintained cup-and-cone hub, like an older Shimano XT hub, will last...just about forever. However, for most people, Sealed bearings are the way to go due to them being less hassle, lighter, and won't make you freak out when you service them for fear of losing a tiny ball bearing.

    10) Rolling weight makes perhaps the biggest difference in your ride feel. Lighter wheels and tires will accelerate faster, more easily, and make a huge difference in climbing, but also descending as it make the bike feel more lively. That said, don't go weight weenie and sacrifice strength (and cash) in the pursuit of ultimate lightness. Don't get boat anchors, but don't get ricepaper. Find a compromise between weight, cost, and strength (You can pick two usually!)

    11) I'm not sure what you're referring to by liners. If you mean rim tape, as in the strip of either cloth, rubber, or some kind of plastic that sits around the rim and covers the spoke holes, then that is to keep the tube from expanding into the spoke holds and bursting. Or in tubless wheels without a sealed spoke bed, they're to seal the spoke bed. If you mean tire liners, as in the strips of rubber and plastic that sit around a tube to prevent flats, then they're to prevent flats. They don't work that well and weigh a lot. And if installed improperly, they cause flats.

    12) Is it within my price range (Do not buy something you cannot pay for!) Is it the correct number of spokes? (28, 32, etc). Is it the correct axle diameter? (9, 15, 20 for front, or 10 (normal QR), or 12 for the rear) Is it for the right kind of spokes compatible with my rim? (J-bend or straight-pull which are always proprietary to a particular wheelset), is it the right width (more important for the rear hub as there are many different widths nowadays, 135 (normal mtb/road), 150, 142, 147...and too many others). And that's basically it. Usually, it's best (and less money) to buy a whole wheel or wheelset, especially for a beginner.

    13) If you mean in terms of hub width, it's to match what is required by your fork (100, or 110 if you have a 20mm axle), or your frame (135 etc etc etc) In terms of rim width: a wider rim supports larger volume tires better, and to a point stiffer. We will ignore massively wide fatbike rims here. The downsides to a wider rim are they are usually heavier than narrow ones, also a very wide rim can cause a narrow tire to either a) not fit totally right, or b) handle a bit off due to how rounded it makes the profile. For an average rider using say...2.2-2.35" wide tires...go for a rim with at least 21mm internal width. Wider rims also support tubeless setups better than narrow ones.

    14) Larger diameter hubs are for forks with larger diameter axles. They are stronger, they are stiffer, but they are a little heavier. Noticeably heavier? Not really, but that's up to you to decide. If you can find one within your budget, a hub that can be used with any axle standard is a great option; especially if you have more than one bike and swap wheelsets! Or if you just plan on upgrading to a fork with a different axle in the future!

    Hope you found this helpful!
    1994 Cannondale M400 2017 Felt Surplus 30
    1997 Marin Point Reyes 2013 Pivot Mach 5.7

  3. #3
    mtbr member
    Reputation: SDCA's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Wow. Thanks for taking the time to write your reply. This is a huge help and I hope it helps others.

    Regarding 11. It was for tubeless. So, I assume it was to seal the spoke bed.


  4. #4
    mtbr member
    Reputation: chuckeieio's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2013
    Nice. I'm tagging this for future reference.

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