Mountain bike components- wheels
Upgrading your wheels can dramatically improve the performance of your bike. If you want to buy yourself some speed or performance, look for lighter wheels - as rotating weight is effectively double that of static weight on the bike - but do make sure that your wheels will be up to the job.

Mountain bike components- wheels

Bicycle wheels are built using a hub, rim and spoke to connect the two. Most good quality hubs are secured in the frame by a quick release skewer. A rim tape sits inside the rim to cover the spoke heads and then the tyre and tube are fitted - and you're ready to roll.

You can choose a wheel package to suit your type of riding, either as a factory built pair of wheels, or you can go to a good bike shop and have the resident wheel builder make a pair of wheels to your exact specification.

When you choose your wheels there are a number of points to consider:

  • What type of riding do you want the wheels for? E.g. downhill, racing, general riding.
  • How heavy are you? Bigger riders will need stronger wheels.
  • How hard do you ride? If you like jumping, or ride in rocky areas, you will need strong wheels. Lighter or smoother riding riders can get away with lighter rims and fewer spokes in the wheels.
  • What budget do you have? A good pair of wheels can cost anywhere from £70-£400.
It's best to buy your wheels from a good quality bike shop, preferably a mountain bike specialist. They will be able to offer and advise you on pre-built wheels and their own hand-built wheels. You can buy wheels through mail order businesses and often you can get very good value for money but if the wheels aren't perfect, or if they suffer in transit, getting any issues sorted out can be difficult and expensive.
Wheel building is an art and a good wheel builder will have a good reputation, so ask around. It's often worth spending a little bit more, rather than just buying the cheapest option


The hubs are the basis for wheels. Make sure that your hubs are compatible both your frame and with the other components on your bike. For example, road hubs are 5mm narrower than mountain bike hubs and 'freehubs' or cassette hubs' differ in the number and make of sprockets that they accept.

The main manufacturers of mountain bike hubs are the Japanese manufacturer, Shimano and more recently SRAM. Both of these offer a complete range of quality products from the budget end to high performance racing hubs There are also many smaller, specialist hub makers, though invariably their prices are greater. The specialist hubs often use exotic material such as carbon fibre or titanium to save weight, or special bearings for smoother running.

Disc brakes require special hubs, but there are a number of different standards at present, so your hub may not accept all brakes.

Key Points  
  • There is a wide range of hub prices
  • Make sure the hubs are compatible with your equipment
  • The big manufacturers offer good value hubs
  • Specialist hubs may be better but will be expensive.

Most factory-built wheels use standard 'plain gauge' spokes for strength, but if you are after a light wheel for racing, then there are some very thin, light spokes available. These are usually 'butted' with the ends being thicker than the centre of the blade, to save weight where possible and ensure strength where it's needed.

Further weight saving can be achieved with the use of aluminium spoke nipples (instead of the usual brass nipple), but these are less durable and so should only be used on very special, lightweight racing wheels.

Key Points
  • Lighter wheels use double butted spokes, and perhaps alloy nipples.
  • Strong wheels require thicker spokes with regular brass nipples.

Most good quality hubs have a quick release skewer to secure them in the frame. The hub axle is hollow and the skewer sit inside that. On one end there is a lever, operating on a cam to tighten it, with an adjustable 'nut' on the other end to cope with differing frame dropout widths.
Most manufacturers use steel for their skewers, but weight-weenies can seek out lightweight models made from titanium to save a few grams - at a price!

Key Points

Can be lightweight, but these are expensive and can be flexible.


Mavic is the largest and most renowned rim manufacturer with a wide range to suit all wheel types: general, downhill, lightweight or expedition. There are a number of proprietary processes to improve a rim's performance - including anodizing (oxidizing) to protect the rim's surface or including ceramics in the compound for greater strength and better braking.

Key Points
  • Choose a rim that will suit your riding style
  • Ask an expert for advice
  • No rim is indestructible!
Pre-built Wheels

For most people, a standard, factory built wheel will be fine. But these tend to be machine built and may not be ideal for more 'serious' usage. There has been a recent trend for the big manufacturers to produce their own specialist wheels for high performance use. The only downside to this is that they are often quite esoteric and may use some specialist parts that are not readily available.

Key Points
  • Available for specific disciplines
  • Can be expensive.
Rim Tape

Before the wheels are ready to ride you will need to apply some rim tape, to cover up the spoke holes in the rim - otherwise the inner tube will bulge and puncture. Rim tapes can be made from cloth (usually with an adhesive backing) or plastic. Make sure that your rim tape fits neatly inside the rim and covers the spoke holes.


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