How to Choose a Mountain Bike Wheel

March 10th, 2021

WHAT’S IN A WHEEL?

Knowing what kind of mountain bike wheel you need is difficult, with names, numbers and classifications sometimes feeling like a foreign language.

Factors to Consider Before Buying a Mountain Wheelset
  • Rim Material
  • Number of Spokes Per Wheel
  • Spoke Type
  • Hub Type and Spacing
  • Your Bike and Riding Style
Rim Material

Much of the strength, durability and ride feel of a wheelset is determined by the material, construction and technologies built into the rim itself. Carbon fiber rims are typically regarded as the highest performing, as carbon can be tuned to achieve different goals and ride qualities, whereas alloy cannot. Carbon Fiber can be laid up in different orientations, thicknesses and laminates to create specific wheel properties for a specific discipline.

Spokes

The number of spokes used in a wheel build can give you a ballpark for its strength and properties. Lighter mountain wheels will typically run 24-28 spokes per wheel, a stronger trail or all-mountain wheel will likely use 28, and the burliest of wheel systems generally use 32 spokes. These aren’t hard and fast numbers, but generally, more spokes means stronger and stiffer.

The spokes themselves also determine the feel of a wheel, with heavier spokes creating a stiffer, but stronger wheel, and lighter spokes doing the opposite. The Sapim CX-Ray for example, is a good all around spoke for its strength-to-weight ratio and is widely used in our wheel builds. The Sapim Force is a stronger and stiffer spoke and is used for E-MTB and gravity-oriented wheel builds.

Hubs

Hubs will alter the feel, sound, quickness and weight of a wheel. Quick-engaging hubs accelerate faster and make awkward balancing moments easier, like when climbing slippery technical sections. This can make a great bike perform even better. 

Hubs should be reliable and last long without needing major service. They should also be easily serviced, as complicated maintenance procedures will take away from your riding time. We find the hubs we make in house and those from our hub partners provide the best balance of performance, reliability and serviceability.

Hub spacing refers to the width of the dropouts inside a frame and fork, which should be confirmed with your frame and fork manufacturers. See our post covering hub spacing here.

So what do I buy?

ENVE has options for all types of riders. Follow our guide below to find the perfect wheel for you.

Your Riding Style

Think about what kind of riding you like and tend to do most often. These categories are loosely categorized by the ratio of uphill to downhill riding one typically does:

  • Cross country (focused on uphill performance and long distance)
  • Trail (you ride up what you ride down and value performance in each direction)
  • All Mountain/Enduro (riding uphill is a means to an end)
  • Downhill (focused on going down)

A good mountain wheel will be built for the application you want to ride it in. If you go uphill and ride marathons, pick a cross country wheel. For chairlift laps, a downhill wheel would do you well.

If you’re generally light on your feet (er, tires) while riding, you can probably get away with a lighter wheelset. If you like to go fast and don’t care what you smash into, getting stronger wheels is a good idea. Your wheels should be tuned to balance weight and strength, and picking the right ratio will make all the difference.

WHAT TYPE OF RIDING DO YOU LIKE?

XC: Short track, marathons, and all-day suffer fests.
You’re the perfect candidate for the M5 series of wheels — light and fast.

Trail: Going uphill, downhill, and doing it all day.
Our high-performing, do-it-all wheelset is for those who just like to ride their bike: the M6 series. Looking for more all-mountain strength? Try the AM30.

Aggressive Trail and Enduro: Fast, steep and chunky. I will pedal to get there.
You need strength and flat protection. The M7 series or AM30 will have your back.

Downhill: bike parks, airtime, chairlifts, DH, enduro and shuttles.
For the pinnacle of strength and dependability, the M9 series is for you.

E-MTB: quick uphill, quick downhill, as long as the battery lasts.
You’ll want strength and reliability over all else – the M735E is for you.

WHAT DO THE NUMBERS MEAN?

Now you’ve seen what each wheel family is designed for, let’s dig into the numbers.

ENVE M5 SERIES – THE CROSS COUNTRY WEAPON

M5 – 50 percent down, 50 percent up

They’re the world-championship-winning cross country wheels with the performance and technologies that place them at the pinnacle of the lightweight mountain wheel market. The M525 is a no-holds-barred, uncompromising XC weapon that was designed to create the best riding experience for short course, marathon and long-distance endeavors. They’re light, fast, compliant, and strong. And most importantly, they win races. It’s our lightest mountain wheel, doesn’t compromise on strength, and is the standing benchmark by which all other carbon XC wheels are compared.

The M525 is at home on short-travel, lightweight mountain bikes that are built to be ridden fast and far. Whether full suspension, hardtail, or fully rigid, we generally recommend them for bikes from 0 – 120mm of travel. 

Rim Material – Carbon 
Number of Spokes Per Wheel – 24
Spoke Type – Sapim CX Ray
Hub Type and Spacing – Chris King, i9 Hydra – Offered in Boost and Non Boost

ENVE M6 SERIES – THE VERSATILE TRAIL WHEEL

M6 – 60 percent down, 40 percent up

Our high-performance, do-it-all wheelset for those who just like to ride their bike: the M6 series. Looking for more all-mountain strength? Try the AM30.

The M6 Series of wheels is a favorite among ENVE employees and athletes. They’re nearly as light as the M5 series, but with more strength and stiffness to make them strong, poppy, and playful, yet durable enough for day in, day out trail riding. The M6 carries speed through corners, aids uphill acceleration and gives the rider the ability to precisely pick and stay on line.

As a brand, we believe in creating the best possible product for every type of rider and application, and the M6 is a testament to that. The M6 series is available in two diameters and three widths, meaning that no matter your preference for tire size and pressure, there’s a fit for your bike and riding style. Pick a 30mm width for your trail bike, a 35mm for your plus bike, and a 40mm for your ultra wide bikepacking rig. No matter your preference, there is a perfect fit for you.

We recommend pairing the M6 with trail and all-mountain bikes with between 100-160mm of travel. They work great as a tough XC wheel, an everyday trail wheel, a bikepacking wheel, or anything in between. 

Rim Material – Carbon 
Number of Spokes Per Wheel – 28
Spoke Type – Sapim CX Ray
Hub Type and Spacing – Chris King, i9 Hydra – Offered in Boost and Non Boost

ENVE AM30 – THE FOUNDATIONAL ALL-AROUNDER

AM30 – All-Mountain, 30mm Inner Width

As a one-wheelset quiver for park laps, lunch laps, and backcountry epics, the durable-yet-comfortable ride tune of the Foundation Collection’s AM30 makes it the perfect fit for your all-mountain ride. It’s not just here for a fast time – it’s here for a good time.

The AM30 is part of ENVE’s Foundation line, which has a mission to deliver a best-in-class ride experience through crafted carbon and core ENVE technologies at a more accessible price. We created the AM30 with a 30mm inner width to pair nicely with modern all-mountain tires ranging from 2.3 – 2.6 inches in width. 

We recommend pairing the AM30 with all-mountain bikes ranging from 110 – 180mm of travel. The AM30’s strength is comparable to ENVE’s gravity offerings, while the ride feel is closer to our trail wheels. They are the perfect fit for someone wanting to improve the performance of their trail, all mountain or enduro bike without breaking the bank.

Rim Material – Carbon 
Number of Spokes Per Wheel – 28
Spoke Type – Sapim Race
Hub Type and Spacing – i9 1/1 – Offered in Boost and Non Boost

ENVE M7 SERIES – THE HIGH-TECH ALL-MOUNTAIN BRUTE