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 you’re 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:

Mountain Bike 27.5″ Wheels

Race Face Aeffect 27.5 in. Wheelset
Race Face Aeffect 27.5 in. Wheelset
Sale Price: $219.99 (63% Off) was $600.00
Shimano XTR WH-M9000-TL 27.5in Wheelset
Shimano XTR WH-M9000-TL 27.5in Wheelset
Sale Price: $592.65 (55% Off) was $1316.99
Shimano XTR WH-M9020-TL 27.5in Wheelset
Shimano XTR WH-M9020-TL 27.5in Wheelset
Sale Price: $592.65 (55% Off) was $1316.99
ENVE M60 Forty Boost 27.5 Wheelset
ENVE M60 Forty Boost 27.5 Wheelset
Sale Price: $1399.99 (48% Off) was $2718.00
Reynolds Trail 27.5 in. Wheelset
Reynolds Trail 27.5 in. Wheelset
Sale Price: $1299.99 (48% Off) was $2500.00
Spank Spike Race 28 Evo 27.5 in. Wheelset
Spank Spike Race 28 Evo 27.5 in. Wheelset
Sale Price: $264.99 (47% Off) was $499.99
Reynolds Trail 27.5 in. Boost Wheelset
Reynolds Trail 27.5 in. Boost Wheelset
Sale Price: $1399.99 (44% Off) was $2499.99
Reynolds Blacklabel Enduro 27.5 Wheelset
Reynolds Blacklabel Enduro 27.5 Wheelset
Sale Price: $1299.99 (43% Off) was $2299.00

Mountain Bike 29″ Wheels

Reynolds Trail 29 in. Wheelset
Reynolds Trail 29 in. Wheelset
Sale Price: $1299.99 (48% Off) was $2500.00
Reynolds Enduro 29 in. Wheelset
Reynolds Enduro 29 in. Wheelset
Sale Price: $1299.99 (48% Off) was $2500.00
ENVE 29 in. M60 Plus Boost Wheelset
ENVE 29 in. M60 Plus Boost Wheelset
Sale Price: $1749.99 (40% Off) was $2900.00
Mavic Crossride UST Pulse 29 in. Wheelset
Mavic Crossride UST Pulse 29 in. Wheelset
Sale Price: $379.99 (31% Off) was $549.90
Easton Heist 24 XD 29 Mountain Rear Wheel Parts   Mountain Wheels
Easton Heist 24 XD 29 Mountain Rear Wheel Parts Mountain Wheels
Sale Price: $239.99 (31% Off) was $349.99
Fort Terramax 29 Mountain Rear Wheel
Fort Terramax 29 Mountain Rear Wheel
Sale Price: $109.99 (31% Off) was $159.99
Mavic Crossmax Pro 29 Xd Mountain Wheelset
Mavic Crossmax Pro 29 Xd Mountain Wheelset
Sale Price: $769.97 (30% Off) was $1099.99
Easton EC90 XC 29 Carbon 9x100 QR Mountain Front Wheel Parts   Mountain Wheels
Easton EC90 XC 29 Carbon 9×100 QR Mountain Front Wheel Parts Mountain Wheels
Sale Price: $614.99 (30% Off) was $879.99

Mountain Bike 26″ Wheels

Industry Nine Big Rig 845 26 in. Wheelset
Industry Nine Big Rig 845 26 in. Wheelset
Sale Price: $999.99 (22% Off) was $1275.00
Industry Nine Enduro 26 in. Wheelset
Industry Nine Enduro 26 in. Wheelset
Sale Price: $999.99 (17% Off) was $1210.00
Spank Spoon 26 in. Wheelset
Spank Spoon 26 in. Wheelset
Sale Price: $365.49 (15% Off) was $430.00
Sun Ringle 26 in. ADD Pro Tubeless Wheelset
Sun Ringle 26 in. ADD Pro Tubeless Wheelset
Sale Price: $699.99 (7% Off) was $749.99
Mavic Crossmax SL Pro 26 Mountain Rear Wheel Parts   Mountain Wheels
Mavic Crossmax SL Pro 26 Mountain Rear Wheel Parts Mountain Wheels
Retail Price: $314.99
Wheelmaster Alex 26 in. Disc Wheelset
Wheelmaster Alex 26 in. Disc Wheelset
Retail Price: $299.99
Mavic Crossmax SL Pro 26 Mountain Front Wheel Parts   Mountain Wheels
Mavic Crossmax SL Pro 26 Mountain Front Wheel Parts Mountain Wheels
Retail Price: $279.99
Mavic Crossride 26 Mountain Rear Wheel + 26x2.4 Quest Tire Parts   Mountain Wheels
Mavic Crossride 26 Mountain Rear Wheel + 26×2.4 Quest Tire Parts Mountain Wheels
Retail Price: $174.99

This page was last updated on 4/13/2018.