Aluminum vs. Carbon XC Mountain Bike Wheels

Should I buy XC Carbon mountain bike wheels or Aluminum  XC mountain bike wheels for my next upgrade?

Currently XC mountain bike manufacturers are making stunning high end carbon and aluminum wheelsets for mountain bike racers and recreational riders alike. Bear in mind that the hub and spokes choices are equally important as the MTB wheel’s rim material.

Also some MTB wheel manufacturers simply have a better reputation for the build quality of their product. I have heard many stories over the years of some brands never stayed true and sometimes these wheels were even heavier duty wheels, while other lighter wheels remained perfect with the same abuse.

I had a a custom wheelset built some years back by a mechanic that had a good reputations with XC MTB wheels, and sure enough they really stayed true beyond expectations, and only required a little normal maintenance love here and there.

Aluminum vs. Carbon XC Mountain Bike Wheels

As far as rigid is concerned, carbon can be engineered to be less, the same or even more rigid then aluminum depending on the design and lay up. So it is important to not only understand the characteristics of the various wheels, but also if you have riding experience to make a decision based on what you desire.

For example if your bike and / or wheels have been real flexible and sloppy you might even want to go with a very rigid wheel. This isn’t set in stone, just an example of a possible rider option. In certain situations over very technical terrain a super rigid front end will slow you down if you start bleeding speed. On the flip side if you are carrying a lot of speed then a sloppy front end will slow you down as well.

I tend to carry a good cadence and really crush very technical terrain, so I prefer a stiffer shock setting and a very rigid front end. This might not be the best choice for your riding style and level, so carefully consider the best XC wheelset before purchasing.

Carbon wheels have come a long ways, and their uncanny ability to absorb vibration is a huge breakthrough in mountain bike riding. While their overall strength is incredible, they still are more prone to dings, scratches and cracks from rocks pegging the rims, where aluminum tends to be a little more forgiving in this area.

The good news is as of late, high end Cross Country carbon mountain bike wheelsets have really come down in price. I personally have been eyeing a beautiful XTR set for my bike and will probably pull the trigger soon on the purchase.

Remember you can always run your aluminum rims when your training, and throw on your carbon wheels for race day.

For XC / Cross Country mountain bike racing, UST is the only way to go.  You should experience reduced overall bike weight and the feel / handling of UST tires simply can’t be matched over running conventional XC tires which use tubes.  Plus with UST tires if  you get a big flat, you can still throw in a tube to get you down the trail.

So with some basics under our belt, what are the things to look for in an XC race wheel.

  • Rim Quality & Material
  • Hub Quality & Material
  • Spoke & Nipple Quality
  • UST or UST ready?
  • Build Quality
  • Price

No doubt carbon XC mountain bike wheels are here to stay, and slowly will take over aluminum sales and the prices will drop. Thus being said, today is a great day to try on a pair of high end carbon wheels.

Here are some of the MTB wheel deals I have been eyeing: