Mountain bikers constantly look for ways to improve their bikes and some want to make their bike as light as possible. Wheels, for example, weigh a lot and getting lighter wheels is sometimes an option, though an expensive one.
The lightest mountain bike wheels are custom made and 999 grams for a 29″ wheelset is the limit right now. In order to get the lightest wheels you need to pick the parts yourself and have them assembled.
There’s more to it, what is a MTB wheel anyway? It consists of rims, hubs, and spokes and in order to get some weight off, you need to pick the right ones. If you take it to the extreme even rim nipples add weight. So let’s dive a bit into how to reduce weight, the benefits and assembling wheels yourself.
Do Lighter MTB Wheels Make a Big Difference?
It depends on your goals sure it makes a difference when it comes to your budget. Every bit of weight you can scratch of your mountain bike makes you go faster but only the pros benefit. As an average or occasional mountain biker you really shouldn’t focus on getting the lightest possible MTB. It’s also about aerodynamics, a couple of grams less won’t beat a well designed bike or bad posture for that matter.
When you ride competitive it really matters how much your MTB weighs. A couple of grams less can mean the difference between winning and losing a contest. At some point it really gets expensive though, some even say each gram less can cost you 100 bucks.
To us mortals this isn’t really an option. I for one love to ride but spending that much on a MTB will probably mean my wife will kill me. I also have a few other hobbies which means making choices.
I do see people out there riding $6000 MTB’s who can barely climb a hill. I guess it’s also a bit of making your friends jealous and getting yourself the most comfortable bike, so all the power to them.
There’s no point in having a lightweight MTB if you are overweight. Better to lose a few pounds than to spend hundreds on gear. Well the good news is, the more you go out there the lighter you get. Unless you have a bad eating and drinking habits.
Don’t Forget About Spokes and Hubs
The weight of spokes also varies a lot depending on the tech and materials used. There’s a difference between spoke lacing and more spokes means more weight. Berd polymer spokes, for example, go for $9 a spoke and I’m scared to even do the math here.
Hubs also add weight to your wheels and they can go up to $250. Nobody said mountain biking is cheap but this is probably not for the average mountain biker.
The Downside of Light Wheels
Light carbon wheels are very expensive, some sets cost as much as 2 decent new bikes. Even though carbon is a pretty strong material it doesn’t mean it won’t break. Accidents happen and snapping a 2k wheel in half is no Bueno. Others say that they can slow you down when going downhill but I haven’t been able to confirm this. than that there aren’t any real downsides I know of.
The one thing I can think of doesn’t have anything to do with the wheels, it’s your own weight. Heavy riders shouldn’t be looking for lighter wheels, if you’re too heavy the wheels might collapse but this also depends on brand and quality.
Carbon or Aluminum MTB Wheels?
Not a hard choice when you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg. Aluminum is way cheaper than carbon but there are differences in quality for both. A good quality aluminum wheel is way better than a bad carbon wheel and they don’t always weigh more than carbon (depending on which wheels you compare). Rule of thumb is go for aluminum when your budget is about $500-$600 about $1000 is when you can look at carbon wheels.
Don’t fall for cheap carbon on sketchy websites or import stuff from China. Also, be careful when you check eBay, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Cheap carbon wheels can be outright dangerous.
In order to get the lightest wheel set possible carbon is the way to go. Carbon is a strong material and doesn’t weigh much but the strength is very dependent on how they are engineered. While it’s not very environmentally friendly it sure is the way to go if you want to lose a few grams. Carbon is a lot more stiffer than aluminum and offer two five times more rigidity. This is especially great for XC racers who benefit from responsiveness. In short there are a couple of advantages here:
- Carbon fibre is generally lighter.
- Stronger depending on the quality.
- They spin up faster.
- Less vibration because the material has better dampening capabilities.
Aluminum has a couple of advantages. You can reshape the ring if it’s bend out of shape which you can’t do with carbon wheels. Once you cracked a carbon wheel it’s time to get a new one. Enduro, downhill and trail riders often go with aluminum because they’re more flexible and are more forgiving.
- You don’t always have to buy new wheels when when you hit a rock too hard.
- Way cheaper.
- Great for recreational riders.
Other Ways to Reduce MTB Weight
As much as I could go on about wheels, there are more ways to take weight off your MTB without buying expensive upgrades. Some even go as far as trimming handlebars. Obviously you should get rid of mudguards and if you know what you’re doing you could also trim some cables. Before you decide to cut and trim parts of your MTB make sure you know what you are doing!
- Trimm handlebars
- Cut some cables
- Get silicon grips
- Lose the mudguards
- Don’t wear a backpack
Building your own custom lightweight wheelset
If you’re thinking of having your own custom wheelset built check out fanatikbike.com. They have a wheel builder form where you can select all the necessary components and all components have their weight listed. Make sure you know what you’re doing before you order something you might regret! I’m sure there are more builders out there so check forums on how they deal with complaints. If a builder offers great customer service this might be worth a little extra.
Do lighter mountain bikes make you go faster? Yes, but you also need to take pedalling efficiency, bike posture and rolling resistance into consideration. They are all related so if you take 10% weight off your MTB and you pedal in the same circumstances at the same effort you will go faster.
Are carbon MTB wheels stronger than aluminum? That really depends on the engineering quality. Some are stronger than aluminum and some are weaker. While carbon had a bad reputation when it comes to durability the quality and tech has increased dramatically over the years. A new generation carbon fibre needs a serious rock strike to be killed. Make sure to research the wheels you’ve been eyeballing and don’t make any rash decisions.
Do you really need carbon wheels? Not at all it really depends on what and where you ride. They do offer more comfort and trails for example. There’s a subtile difference when you ride over tail chatter like small rocks, dumps, ruts, etc.