Mountain bike wheels explained
Wheels are an important piece of equipment on your bike, along with tyres they help you to cover all of the terrains that you choose to ride on.
You can use the links below to skip to the relevant posts
- Hardtail vs full suspension.
- How much MTB suspension travel do I need?
- What wheel size should I choose?
- Mountain bike wheels explained
- Which frame material is best?
- How to choose a mountain bike by price
- Different types of mountain bikes explained
- What size mountain bike do I need?
- What else do I need to go mountain biking?
Mountain bike wheels explained
Wheels are an important part of a bicycle’s equipment. Along with the tires, it helps you tackle any terrain you want to run on.
Most mountain bike wheelsets are still made of aluminum. offers a great combination of weight and feel, but the biggest factor that has emerged in recent years is wheel size and rim type. At Wiggle we carry his excellent MTB wheel brands including Hope, DT Swiss and Nukeproof.
There are currently three main wheel sizes on the MTB wheelset market. The minimum is 26″, the maximum is 29″ (700c), and the latest offering and the two midpoint 650b options.
26 inch wheels
Because these wheels are small, they generally offer the lightest option and highest stiffness for a comparable price of any size available.
drive. The smaller wheels are lighter and stiffer, allowing them to accelerate very quickly and rip through twisty singletrack at high speeds with lower rotational mass. Better cornering ability means that combined with narrower handlebars doesn’t sacrifice overall cornering ability.
27.5 inch wheels (650b)
The 650b is halfway between 26″ wheels and a 29er. Designed to provide a good compromise between weight, handling and speed.
drive. The 650b continues to be popular mainly because it retains the lightness of its 26-inch wheels and its faster handling on twisty tracks. However, it also has many of the improved traction and roll characteristics of the 29 series. Literally in between.
29 inch wheels (29er)
It is currently the largest wheel for mountain bikes. 700c wheels feel slow when accelerating to top speed because the larger rims and longer spokes add weight, which requires more force on the pedals to turn the wheel.
drive. The contact surface between the wheel and tire is increased to improve traction. Combined with a larger rim circumference, the 29er wheels roll better over uneven terrain, and can smoothly climb over small obstacles like tree roots and ruts.
Mountain bike rims explained
The second advancement comes in the form of rim type. Standard and tubeless are the two options and again, both give a very different ride ‘feel’.
Designed for use with tires, this is the “traditional” way to mount a wheel while driving.
Basis. All that is needed is the inner tube and rim tape (if not sealed). The simplicity of the design means that an inner tube can be installed in just a few minutes.
Command. Tire pressure is an important consideration for ride comfort, but generally needs to be slightly higher on the “tube” setting to avoid “flat”. However, the slightly higher pressure gives good rolling speed over the terrain.
With the introduction of the tubeless rim, this allowed the tube to be removed from the setup, providing a very different driving feel at lower pressures.
Basis. Tubeless requires several additional kits to make up the sealing system, tubeless valves and rim tape, sealant and tubeless ready tires. But once in place, the tire bead is attached to the wheel and held there without the use of a tube.
Command. The absence of a tube allows the tire to operate at a lower pressure without the risk of a flat tire. This gives more traction feeling and also has excellent absorption properties on uneven ground. Sealants can also repair minor punctures in tires, even on the go.
What type of riding do you do?
As an example, Enduro bikes are great for descending at speed but might be overkill for trail riding.
It’s important to be clear early on which routes you plan to ride and what kind of terrain you want to ride the bike on.
This will help you decide which category of wheel and tyre you need.