One of the first upgrades mountain bikers want to make is a new set of sweet wheels. Besides shifting and suspension for speed, comfort, and reliability, wheels are probably the most important part of the bike. But where do you buy them and how much should you spend? The online options are seemingly endless. Chances are your bike has a very narrow set of specifications for the wheels that will fit the frame and tires you’re riding. Here are a few things to know if you’re buying mountain bike wheels.
The first step is to make sure to go to a website (i.e., Mountainly!) that has specifications of your bike’s factory wheelset.
Sure, you can go out and look at the wheel, but good luck figuring out your inner rim width with the tire already seated.
After getting as much information as you can gather online, determine what you want to change on your next wheelset.
If all you want is lighter wheels, then you are probably looking for a material or component upgrade. A move towards carbon or an ultra-light hub and rim would work well. But if you’re looking to switch tire sizes or change the feel of your flow-through corners, you’re going to want to consider the finer semantics of wheel replacement.
Recently I had my rear wheel break on my 11-speed hardtail. I found myself in the market for a new wheel. I just wanted to buy the rear (on a budget!), so I searched for a solo replacement instead of a pair. It would have been easy to replace it with the same wheel as the build kit, but I wanted to try a different brand and width. I took to the internet to see my options.
The short story is that I quickly found myself in a maze of options, sizes, brands, and price points. I felt frustrated and confused.
I reached out to a couple of my more mechanic-minded friends. Honestly, they didn’t have much more to say than what I was reading online. I had to find a single wheel that was 27.5” and had a 6-bolt brake rotor fitting. It needed Shimano HG freehub and be able to fit a boost-size frame. Finally it needed to be 45 mm wide outside and could seat a 2.8” tire attached with a thru-axle bolt. It was a huge laundry list of items, and I was having trouble finding what I was looking for.
The place I found not to look was eBay.
The organization of technical specs for most eBay listings is like searching through a confusing and constantly ending maze. Instead, I had much more luck looking at online vendors such as Backcountry, Jenson USA, and The Pro’s Closet. I ended up buying a brand new Mavic E-XA 35 from The Pro’s Closet for a great price and was very confident that I was going to get exactly what I needed from the specs listed on the website.
I learned that it’s better to trust an official website with readable specs over eBay or a Facebook ISO ad.
Many of my friends have had a ton of luck on resale platforms and have landed killer deals. Still, for ease of purchase and confidence, I recommend sites that focus on organization and readability. Sites like Mountainly or The Pro’s Closet, to deliver you where you need to upgrade or replace your components or bikes.
So, the next time you start shopping online for wheels, take a deep breath. Have your list of specs written out next to you, and start with the websites that have a complete, readable list of options. Chances are you’re going to find the perfect wheel much faster than if you got hooked on a forum or scrolling through eBay.
Matt Chisholm is a data analyst and freelance writer who studies the environmental history of the Southern Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina. He was a contributor to Lost in Transition: Removing, Resettling, and Renewing Appalachia and the 2016 edition of the Journal of East Tennessee History, for which he won the 2017 McClung Award. When not writing, Matt enjoys road and mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and drinking beer around Concord, NC where he lives with his wife, daughter, and twin boys.
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