You only need to answer five questions to write a wheel review: How much do they cost? How stiff are they? How much do they weigh? Can I put a tire on them, and will they go the distance? If a wheelmaker misses any of those marks, there's no point in discussing fluff-stuff like spoke counts, tension bias, what material they're made from, rim profiles, or whether the freehub sings in the key of G or D-minor.
Construction & Features Wider Rims:
Mavic's Deemax Elite wheelset costs $700 USD. They strike a wonderful balance between precise-steering lateral stiffness and enough linear compliance to take the sting off of square-edge impacts. The 29-inch SRAM XD-driver configuration I reviewed weighed 2080 grams for the pair, with the valve stems and rim strips installed. You can mount a 2.5" Maxxis Minion tubeless with a mini pump, and after repeated runs through the rocks that sent Stan's fluid streaming from the tire casings on a number of occasions, the rims are still running true and the spokes are tight.
So, let's talk fluff...
Deemax Elite Details
• Use: Trail / Enduro
• Wheel Sizes: 29" & 27.5"
• Rim: Aluminum, ISM 4D machined, 30mm Inner width
• UST tubeless profile, molded liner
• Spokes: 28, S-steel, bladed, straight-pull
• Hubs: Mavic, tool-less axles, 6-bolt
• Instant Drive 360 freehub, 9° engagement
• Weight: 2080g (29"), 1945g (27.5")
• MSRP: $700 USD
• Contact: Mavic
Deemax Elite rims measure a full 30 millimeters inside the flanges. Why is that so special? Mavic makes wide-format wheels, but they took an about face and returned to 25 and 28-millimeter inner-width rims for all-mountain and enduro at the peak of the wider-is-better revolution. Their rationale was basic survival: Sheltering their vulnerable aluminum rims under the thickest part of the tire's tread helped keep them rounder longer. Clever, yes, but in retrospect, the French should have pushed the green button when they jumped into the trail bike time machine.
Do two or five millimeters really make that much difference? That's arguable, but 30-millimeter inner-width rims are the new baseline. All good tires will be built around that number, so that extra width ensures you'll enjoy the correct tread profiles. Deemax Elite rims accept tires from 2.35 to 3-inches, and future proofs your wheel purchase.Steel Spokes:
Stainless steel spokes, like guitar strings, do not suffer from fatigue when they are stretched and flexed. If a wheel is built properly they can safely lengthen or shorten (almost indefinitely) as the rim flexes and distorts, while maintaining proper tension. That magic makes wheels last longer and remain true. Deemax Elites each have 28 of them, and they are blacked out and bladed, which looks cool.Straight-Pull Hubs:
Some like them, some don't, but sound engineering practice says that rods in tension handle stress better when they are straight. There are enough subscribers to the straight-pull concept to ensure that replacement spokes will be readily available (Mavic sends two spares with each wheelset purchase).Star-Ratchet Freehub:
Mavic calls it their Instant Drive 360 system, but it's basically the same simple and reliable ratcheting-disc clutch that DT Swiss pioneered. The ID 360 also growls the star-ratchet's familiar "Raaaaaaan.....clock clock clock" sounds, and with 40 stops, the Mavic version has nine-degree engagement intervals. ID 360 isn't going to qualify for this year's Freehub Click World Championships, but nine degrees is good enough for most of us. Freehubs are available for Shimano (including Microspline) and SRAM XD.Tool-less Axles:
Those with strong fingers can simply pull apart the axle bits to service the freehub ratchet, reconfigure the axle to a different freehub body, switch to a quick release axle (really?), or change the front axle diameter from 15 to 20 millimeters.Six Bolt Interface:
Mavic only offers the Elite wheels with six-bolt rotor interfaces, which may be a shrinker for Shimano Centerlock fans, but half the riders in my neck of the woods are running six-bolt conversions on their Shimano hubs. Either way, it's something to consider.ISM 40 Rims:
The short version is that Mavic leaves a bunch of extra aluminum on the inside of its rim extrusion and then CNC-machines most of it off, leaving reinforced areas where the spokes enter the rims and thinner walls at the lower-stressed segments of the structure. The process eliminates the need for spoke eyelets and also allows Mavic to balance the weight of the Presta valve stem. The rim's profile is also slightly flatter, which reportedly provides some comfort and extra grip over rough trails.Great Tubeless System:
Okay, it's a little heavier than some, but Mavic's clear (vinyl, I think) plastic tubeless rim strip and inner rim profile make for one of the best-sealing systems I have ever used. I set the beads of a Maxxis Minion DHF, EXO casing tire on the side of the trail with an asthmatic Lezyne mini-pump - in front of witnesses. Not Too Heavy:
Mavic pegs the weight of the 29-inch Elite wheels at 2040 grams, which jives with my scale. Mine weighed 2080 with the rim strips and valves installed. If you care, the rear wheel, outfitted with an XD driver, weighed 1100 grams and the front wheel weighed 980 grams. 27.5-inch wheels are lighter: 1940 grams for the pair.Riding Impressions
Let's talk about placebo effect. Anyone who earned spare cash participating in pharmaceutical drug tests can sympathize with the dilemma a wheel reviewer faces. On the bike, they all look the same. Any sensations generated exclusively by the wheels are filtered through the tire, suspension, the chassis, and through the handlebar - and, if you went to the maker's dog and pony show before testing them, there's a busload of preconceived notions circulating in your brain. Is it real, or is it a fake? With an imagination overdosed by doubt and anticipation, you pop the pill, and wait...
I accidentally dodged all that nonsense for this review. My motivation to mount up the Deemax Elites wasn't for a wheel review. I was testing a new 12-speed cassette and the Mavic hoops were the only 29-inch wheels laying around with an XD driver. Call it serendipity, but the mid-priced trail bikes I had been riding all year featured aluminum wheelsets at roughly comparable weights and nearly all of them were shod with Maxxis Minion EXO casing rubber. Unaware that I was in for a pleasant surprise, I mounted the same 2.5-inch DHR/DHF tires to a review bike I'd been riding for the better part of the summer, aired them up to my standard 22psi front/24psi rear and hit the dirt.
What a difference. The bike rolled noticeably better over the same trails and the overall feel under acceleration, the steering, the general feel of the bike under saddle, was brighter. I'm describing two-percent improvements here, but such gains are significant in today's hyper-evolved trail bike arena. Name one item you could buy for your bike that would improve nearly all aspects of its performance.
Two trails I ride regularly put the heat on the stiffness of both wheels and frames. One is a fast paced descent on a two foot-wide rut that puts a premium on holding a razor sharp line. The second is a prolonged descent over an array of rock outcrops which put a busload of lateral stress on the components. In both cases, the Deemax Elites put in a top-notch performance.
I enjoyed their more muted feel over the rocks and, combined with an eight-out-of ten judgement on their lateral stiffness, the wheels brought another measure of calmness and control to a trail bike that was already impressive on both counts.
I can't say they offered an improvement for climbing, but I can say with conviction that the Mavics felt brighter while powering around corners and rolling sections of the trail where I was regularly on and off the gas.
Durability? Buoyed by the confidence the Deemaxes gave me over the rocks, I bashed holes in the sidewalls of my Maxxis Minions on a few occasions - impacts that convinced me that I had flat-spotted my rims. Such was not the case, and while there are a few dents in the rim flanges, the Deemax rims are still running round and true. Spoke tension is slightly off here and there, but are far from needing a turn of the spoke key. I'm impressed.
Do Aluminum Rims Last Longer?
The durability of aluminum rims has been overstated. For a wheel to retain its strength, both laterally and linearly, the rim has to be round and the spokes, evenly tensioned. An aluminum rim with a significant dent that can only be trued using wonky spoke tension may get you home, but performance-wise, it's just as dead as a cracked carbon rim.
The fact that aluminum rims are easy to dent is offset by their more affordable replacement cost and, perhaps more importantly, the ductility of aluminum ensures (most of the time) that you'll be able to nurse a fatally damaged wheel back to the trail head. Forego performance, and you may be able to nurse that wheel along for months.
Carbon rims stay round and maintain trueness much better than their aluminum counterparts - until they are damaged. A cracked carbon rim can also be ridden home, and compression cracks are far more common than separation failures. Once severed, though, the rider's sentence for a broken wheel is the dreaded walk of shame.
Issues? Only one. I applaud Mavic for engineering a tool-less axle system for the Deemax Elite hubs, but I'd advise the folks in charge of that aspect of the design to increase the tension of the O-rings that lock all the bits in place. Three times, an accidental tug on the cassette pulled the freehub mechanism off of the wheel, dropping the axle end and some of the freehub internals onto the ground. Not a happy outcome for expensive, precise-fitting greasy bits. I used up all of my mountain money
to clean them.
Let's Compare: Stan's Flow EX3 VS Mavic Deemax Elite
Stan's Flow EX3
wheels also have a rim that sets it apart from the crowd, Its low flanges actually better support the tire's sidewalls and inside the aluminum extrusion, a second bridge is added to increase impact resistance. The 29mm inner-width EX3 wheelset weighs 2150 grams, close to the 2080 grams of the 30mm inner-width Deemax Elites, and both arrive prepared for tubeless tires, with five star installation ratings. Mavic wins the durability game, not for its rim strength - both marquis excelled there - Mavic gets the nod because its spoke tension remained within spec, while the Stan's wheels needed a few tuneups. Stan's freehub ratchet is a conventional four-pawl system with a ten-degree engagement, while Mavic chose the star ratchet type with a nine-degree engagement. In this case I'd give the tie-breaker to Mavic.
Both wheelsets are targeted at the pointier end of trail riding, and Stan's goes further, adding a DH rating to the EX3. Both wheelsets came through their reviews without a serious dent, so I'll call that even. Remarkably, both wheesets carry the same $700 USD MSRP as well.
Great balance of stiffness and compliance+
Durable aluminum rims+
Best in class tubeless installation
Tool-less axles came apart too easily-
Nine-degree freehub engagement may be too coarse for you-
Not heavy, but certainly not lightweight