[B]What pair of wheels?[/B]

Mar 8, 2009 at 19:48
by Jorge Soler  
Tech article on wheelsSo you’ve bought you first bike and after pottering around in your neck of the woods for some time you’ve come to a decision: you want to change those rims. The important thing is to base your choices in your individual needs, so don’t get fooled by looks and sparkling colours. Here is a basic guideline on how to get the most out of your money when it all comes down to hunting down that coveted piece of gear you need.


Your wheels are probably one of the most critical components you are riding your bike in. They keep you moving, and the bigger they are, the faster they will keep you rolling. Manufactures all over the world tend now to satisfy all costumers in their needs, so it is easy to get a little bit confused when you face up against so huge a variety of things.

Cross Country:

If cross country is what you do most of the times, you need to look for something light and thin, but this is all based on your riding style. Most XC riders tend to ride their rigs in 17mm width rims for speed, but they aren’t very stable on the other side of things and won’t take much abuse either. Some XC riders will still trade up to wider rims for comfort, but this cannot usually be done without taking the penalty in weight. Things do work out in a very simple ratio. The thinner the rim, the less rolling resistance; and the wider it is, the more stable your ride will become. To keep things simple it is possible to say that the width’s range for XC lays somewhere in between 17 and.

Typical cross-country rim:



“All-mountain” is another way to say you do XC all over the place. Whereas XC is done more along well defined track units, if you do All-mountain, your business is the whole mountain as a whole. This implies you will probably need both, something thicker for stability and heavier for strength. A typical all-mountain rim is some21/28mm width as normal but anything over 2.1 kilos for the pair of wheels is simply too much.


Free-riders are recreational bikers and a lot of jumping and hacking is involved with it. Not that XC riders don’t do, but jumping here is done more for fun and not so more to negotiate obstacles on the road. A typical free-ride wheel-set will be some 30mm width, and the more solid, the better off riders will be. They will also be heavier, but you need to take into account how you will keep your momentum as you ride your bike. For some riders, spoke count will vary too as it is strength on landings what they need.

Free-ride rim:



This can be argued, but anything with less than 30mm width is just suicide. Any free-rider worth its salt knows how to land things smoothly, but if you are into downhill, you can expect your wheels to take a good deal of abuse in terms of stress; not so more because of ill favoured landings, but due to the nature of the DH track itself. Some riders will undo their set for truing in just a couple of rides, so the most important thing to bear in mind now is all of that strength you will need to put up with all of that hell. And please do not forget that a downhill rig weighing in at 40 pounds is a starving one and very light for its range. A typical Downhill rim will be some 30/40mm width, and very heavy too, so bear all of this in mind when planning on buying them.

Dirt, street and skate-park:

The right size for a play bikes’ wheelset still seems to be 24’’, and they should be as thick and wide as possible for strength, but this can be argued. I’m personally on 24s, but this is due to the fact I do find it easier to bonny hop in those and bigger wheels do usually get in my way (I guess this is why someone came up with the idea to pull tabletops over obstacles). One thing you need to think about is that the closer you are to the ground the more stable you are in your ride. 24s won’t roll as fast as 26’’ ones, but they will help you in keeping your centre of gravity low. It has been put 24s are also more radical as you can get everywhere. The choice is yours.

A Dirty-jump rim:



So now you’ve already decided what rims you will be riding your bike in, but ain’t all that sure about the rest of bobs and pieces which come along with it. Many online retailers will give customers a dropdown menu where it is possible to select particular items as needed so that you can build your wheels more based on your needs. Some people will make do with a pair of some nice pre-built factory wheel-set, I mean for what they need (after all, who can say no to a pair of Mavic Crossmaxs SX?), but if you are after particular features, you’ll probably be better off if you just build them all by yourself. It can be cheaper as well and most online retailers will build them for you (this is where the dropdown menu comes in).

First thing you need to think about is whether you are on a 20mm axel-through or just a quick release one (front). For the rear wheel is the same (either 12mm maxle-through, so they call it, or quick release). Most XC and all-rounder rigs will ride on 135mm long axels (rear) and just quick releases (front), but a few downhill rigs still demand 150mm long ones in the rear (front end remains the same: it is either 20mm axel-through or quick release). These numbers are very important as the wrong size will imply you won’t be able to have them fitted onto your bike.

A 20mm axel-through front hub:


Quick release:


Nipples and spokes:

Ordinary nipples are usually made with cooper as standard, which is kind of heavy and adds the so called “rotational gravity” to your wheels when they roll fast. Alloy nipples, on the other hand, are made with lighter composites (aluminium), but they are more fragile when they are put to the test.

The spoke gauge will vary as 1.5mm (XC), 1.8mm (AM) and 2mm (DH). Whether they come as standard alloy, double or triple butted, is something you should probably need to consider for strength. Butted composites are usually subjected to hardening processes and will withstand more abuse than ordinary alloys, so keep this in mind.


UST: it stands for Universal Standard for Tubes, which is more or less the idea behind the tubeless concept. UST rims do differ from others in that they have been drilled in one wall only (the outer one) for air-tightness.

Maxtal: is a purpose built alloy for rim manufacturing, which adds 30% strength compared to classic alloys of the same weight.

Welded: rims are joint welded and milled for a smooth finish. Most manufactures claim this is probably the easiest wheel-building technique for a more balanced product.

Pin-joint: rims are no weld but heat treated to avoid hot spot weaknesses.

Anodizing: is a chemical treating process in which alloys are dyed instead of powder coated. This makes all bicycle components treated by this process lighter and last longer as powder coat tends to wear off in the course of time.

Quick-release: refers to the way your wheels have been fitted onto the frame. Quick releases are the rods that go through your front axle with a flicking lever you can lock on and off as you like.

Axle-through: systems differ from quick-release’s in strength (those rods are simply thicker and sturdier) and in that they’re usually fitted onto your frame in a different way (two levers in the front and screwed tight into the frame).


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