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Video 26 inch mountain bike wheels

The best budget MTB wheelsets are a serious upgrade for any standard bike. Okay, the absolute best mountain bike wheels generally cost serious money, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get most of their performance for a fraction of their price.

Lighter wheels accelerate more easily, stiffer wheels track more accurately through corners and ugly rock gardens, and stronger wheels keep on spinning when others fail. With so many options out there, there’s something to suit every kind of rider.

Wheel upgrades are simply one of the best aftermarket purchases you can make – even just changing to the best rim width for your best mountain bike tires can make a huge difference to tire stability, cornering performance and ride quality.

This guide to the best budget wheels for mountain biking outlines those that offer maximum performance with minimum outlay.

Jump to the bottom to see the things to consider when buying your next set of wheels or keep scrolling for Bike Perfect’s choice of best budget MTB wheelsets.

Best budget MTB wheelsets

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

It’s hard to believe this level of feel and performance is available for so little cash. Fitting the Race XC Wides breathes life into any bike thanks to a top-dollar feel and agility-boosting acceleration and control.

At barely over 1,500g, these represent a massive weight saving (likely to be around 500g!) over most OE (original equipment) wheelsets, even on some pretty expensive bikes. And as it’s rotating weight, it really makes a difference.

Whether you’re an XC racer or just love hammering out the miles, the advantages are massive – so long as the result isn’t flimsy, anyway. And the Hunts are anything but.

They’re tautly built to a very high quality, and transfer power without any wind-up loss. They’re not crazy stiff though – some compliance has been engineered into the rim, so they always remain comfortable and track aggressive off-camber lines with ease.

They can feel a bit flexy if you’re really pushing it, but their forgiving feel makes them a great choice less aggressive riding – and especially for hardtails.

Freehub engagement is near-instant, encouraging you to get on the pedals earlier and climb harder than ever. We punished these wheels far beyond their XC claims for months of testing, and needed only a single slight spoke tension adjustment as a result – we’re convinced they’re built to last.

Read our Hunt Race XC Wide wheelset review for more detail.

If trail mountain biking is seriously your focus, though, we also have great things to say about the Hunt Trail Wide V2 wheelset.

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Roval’s own Control SL wheels may be lighter, but the standard Control Carbon 29 wheelset we tested is hardly a heavyweight, and really hits the price-to-performance sweet spot. If you want carbon, these are an excellent place to start.

It took 16 prototypes to design the Control rims, apparently, and they weigh a claimed 358g per piece. They’re laced with DT’s well-proven, double-butted Competition straight-pull spokes to DT Swiss hubs.

The broad rim and well-designed carbon fiber layup leads to a tough, high-performance wheelset, and if you do manage to damage them Specialized offers a generous lifetime warranty. With XCO courses getting more technical and XC bikes getting more capable of descending at speed, that’s great news.

These wheels are the perfect match for an aggressive rider.

Read our detailed review for more insight into how the Roval Control 29 Carbon wheelset performed during our test.

(Image credit: Superstar Components)

Pretty much the only things you can’t select with a pair of these are the spokes and nipples, and even then you wouldn’t want to – they’re excellent Sapim Laser and Polyax models, respectively.

Otherwise you can choose between two rim widths (Trail30 for ‘intense’ riding and Trail24 for race/trail), two rim diameters (27.5in or 29in), and two freehub types -Shimano 11-speed or SRAM XD/XDR.

The result is going to fit your frame and fork, too, as Superstar does them with adaptors to fit 15mm and 20mm axles, Boost or non-Boost spacing and QR. They even offer a 12mm front option for road bikes, along with rear widths including the older 135mm and 142mm sizes, 148mm (Boost) and 157mm (Super Boost), and the new 150mm option.

The rims are asymmetrical for what Superstar says is greater rigidity, and the bearings a high-quality cartridge types from SKF, and they’re tubeless ready. In 24mm (internal width) guise they’re usefully light too at a claimed 1,665g, while even the burlier 30mm versions are under 2kg at 1,920g.

With an impressive machine build, a two-year warranty, a lifetime truing service and a crash replacement scheme, these offer a really solid performance for a very reasonable price.

(Image credit: DT Swiss)

DT Swiss is renowned for making some of the best mountain bike wheels on the market, and the E1900 uses what was, until recently, premium-level-only tech to make an enduro wheelset that far outperforms expectations.

The 30mm inner rim width means tires from 2.4in-2.6in widths pump up with near-perfect profiles. The rims are fully tubeless-ready too, and we find the DT Swiss system one of the easiest and most reliable to work with.

The DT Swiss 370 hub means a standard three-pawl engagement, and while it works solidly it does have a brief lag before the engagement hits. Still, it can actually be upgraded to a faster design – something to keep in mind when service time comes around.

On the trail, the E1900s perfectly balance stiffness with compliance, always remaining comfortable without showing the slightest unwanted flex or vagueness.

Quite simply the E1900 is one of the best enduro wheelsets available, regardless of price.

(Image credit: Hope Technology)

Still rocking 26in wheels? Unlike many, the Fortus is available in all three diameters, plus a host of rim widths too.

In this case, the 26 refers to the internal rim width in millimeters, though – the 23mm option would suit XC riders, the triple-walled 30mm will please the heavy hitters (or e-bikers) and the 35mm suits 2.6in or wider tires, but the 26mm is probably the best balance for general trail use.

Hope says it suits tire widths of 2.25-2.5in, but we feel that at the upper end of that, tires begin to look and feel a little pinched.

All Fortus wheels are machine-built in the UK using double-butted spokes and brass nipples – yes, they’re heavier than aluminum, but they won’t corrode or strip out.

At the center of all Fortus builds is Hope’s legendary Pro 4 hub. Like the rest of the build they’re not light, but with meticulous machining, extremely well sealed cartridge bearings and easy, tool-free servicing, they’re certainly built to last. We’ve been hammering a set with little sympathy in an e-MTB for years, and they’ve not shown the slightest hint of a problem.

If you’re prone to smashing wheels and value reliability over weight, these are fantastic.

(Image credit: Scrub Wheels)

There’s something special about a fully hand-built wheel, and from the first few pedal strokes the high-quality components and attention to detail seriously impress. These are some of the best feeling hand-built wheels we’ve ever experienced; it’s amazing this level of quality can be felt at such a killer price point.

On the trail, the Scrubs feel continuously smooth, change direction instantly and spin with ease.

The 30mm internal diameter rims give a great profile to 2.4-2.5in rubber, and has yet to show any weakness even after several rim dinks that had us wincing. Built around own-brand hubs with sealed cartridge bearings and a six-pawl freehub, these wheels also have a swift, enthusiastic engagement.

The Alloy 30s come pre-taped with valves already installed, and are backed with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty and five-year crash replacement support. If you’re not put off by the unknown name, this is a stellar option at a highly competitive price that will suit nearly all modern trail riders.

(Image credit: Halo)

Humming like a swarm of angry bees, Halo’s MT Supadrive rear hub has 120 points of engagement; the pickup and acceleration is instant. If your rear hub’s voice is important to you, then you’ll love the Vortex wheelset.

On the other hand, it’s worth noting that while such instant reactions are great for powering out of berms or mid-enduro race sprints, if your suspension creates a lot of pedal kickback it will only become more noticeable.

Surrounding the hub is Halo’s heat-treated 33mm (internal) alloy rim. This proves super tough and resilient, which isn’t that surprising considering Halo’s dirt jumping heritage.

The spoke tensions are equal on either side and the rim is asymmetrical, and to compensate for the different leverages the wall thickness on the short/long sides differ as well – consequently, impact forces meet a balanced resistance.

At over 2kg the Vortex wheels aren’t light, but they’re not excessively heavy either – if you’re a hard-hitting rider these are fit-and-forget.

They’re available in Boost and non-Boost hub widths, and the axles can be altered to work with any axle diameter too – even quick release. If you want a wheelset that sounds ace and will last you a full season of aggressive racing, this is a solid option.

(Image credit: Bontrager )

The Bontrager Line Comp 30 is by far the cheapest option here, but the low price doesn’t mean sub-par performance. Just over a couple of hundred bucks can massively improve your bike’s trail performance.

The 29mm internal rim width boosts cornering traction and overall feel, and allows low pressures for even more control over most much skinnier entry-level wheels.

The freehub body has 54 points of engagement, again a huge difference – most entry-level wheelsets have far fewer and are pretty laggy as a result. In fact, the acceleration pickup is comparable to wheelsets that cost three times as much as the Comp 30s.

These are tubeless-ready, too, with rim tape and valves supplied. The only negative is the lack of a SRAM XD freehub body option, but if you’re on a Shimano HG-style one anyway, these are a bargain.

(Image credit: Nukeproof)

To reach the desired reliability and performance, Nukeproof has produced its own 7-series aluminum blend for use in the 30mm wide rim, and has given the rear a thicker sidewall too.

These spin on good quality, rubber-sealed bearings with far more grease inside than most, which is particularly good news for longevity.

The Horizons are one of the more comfortable enduro wheelsets we’ve tried; we suspect it could be down to the 28 straight-pull spokes per wheel providing more compliance.

This, along with the tough, durable build, makes the Horizon V2s a great option for riders who may be racing one weekend and hitting the uplift the next.

(Image credit: Stans Notubes)

The Crest S1 is the latest in a long line of Stans XC wheels designed to be light enough to race but tough enough to rally. A 23mm internal width rim means XC tires from 2.1in to 2.3-in blow up to a well-rounded and traction-enhancing shape with no pinching, and the tough yet light build isn’t going to let you down when taking a poor line decision on race day.

Stans NoTubes is the originator of tubeless and, as you might expect, the rim shape of the Crest S1 makes them an absolute breeze to set up. Tires tend to seal and seat within the first few strokes of the track pump, and as with all Stans wheels, they come pre-taped. You just need to add valves and sealant.

Finishing off the speedy XC theme are Stans’ quick-engaging and fast-rolling Neo hubs, which can be made to fit a vast range of axle standards for excellent versatility.

How to choose the best budget MTB wheelset

Alloy or carbon?

While most brands’ more expensive wheels feature a carbon rim it doesn’t mean you can’t get top-performing characteristics from aluminum. The weight difference often won’t be as much as you think either. In fact, good alloy wheels can actually outperform overly stiff or dead feeling carbon hoops and in the event of a failure replacing an alloy rim is a whole lot cheaper, too.

How light should wheels be?

Lightweight wheels – which are typically aimed at cross country and fast trail use – accelerate fast, stop quickly and due to their low overall weight climb efficiently. The flip side of these traits is the low overall weight and slimmer build tend to compromise strength when hammering down techy descents and they’re usually flexier when pushed hard compared to stouter trail/enduro options.

Trail/enduro wheelsets are best suited to bikes most people are riding around on today, so they need to be able to perform well across a broad range of terrain. This means they need to be light enough to climb okay but tough enough to tackle testing descents.

Striking the balance is hard and going either way on the spectrum can massively alter the on-trail performance – too heavy and your bike will feel sluggish and cumbersome, yet too light could make your bike feel twangy and vague.

What’s the deal with hub spacing?

Hub spacing is another factor you need to take into consideration when selecting a new wheelset. Most new bikes operate with Boost or even Super-Boost spacing, however, if your bike is a few years old there’s a possibility it could still be using narrower non-boost axle widths. These specs can be found in the bike’s specification list but if you’re unsure a local bike shop should be able to advise the correct dimensions. The frame spacing specs are as follows:

Non-Boost – 100mm front + 142mm rear

Boost – 110mm front + 148mm rear

Super-Boost- 110mm front + 157mm rear

Axle diameter is something that seems to have settled with 15mm at the front and 12mm at the rear, but it’s still something worth checking. Some bikes, especially entry-level hardtails may still use a traditional 9mm quick release system spaced at either 135mm or 141mm whereas downhill bikes are still using a 20mm bolt through in the fork.

What’s the ideal inner rim width?

To both keep the weight low and mesh best with skinnier cross country/trail tires, lighter-weight wheels generally see a narrower rim profile, too, typically around 19-25mm, so if you plan on running wider rubber these lightweight weight options probably are not what you require. If you and/or your bike require wider, more aggressive tires then a rim width of 26-35mm provides a predictable tire shape through the ranges of 2.4- to 2.6-inch modern rubber.

How many spokes is best?

32 or more spokes make for a stronger and stiffer wheel, whereas fewer spokes (28 or less) create a more forgiving and compliant ride. A wheel with more spokes will feel more direct and responsive under power but may cause premature rider fatigue and erratic ground tracing characteristics by being overly stiff. Plain gauge spokes are heavier and more dead feeling than butted (thicker at the ends, thinner in the middle) spokes and they’re often not as strong either, so go with a butted spoke wheel if possible.

The spoke nipples, which the spokes themselves thread into, are usually made from brass or alloy. We prefer brass nipples as they don’t corrode or seize when ridden in prolonged wet conditions.

What do I need to know about freehubs?

The freehub is the section of the rear hub that the cassette fits onto. Inside the freehub body is the mechanism that engages when you stamp on the cranks. The speed that the freehub engages in is measured in degrees or points of engagement. More points of engagement will result in less cassette movement before it engages and starts driving you forward.

There are pros and cons for both laggy and super-responsive engagements. If the freehub engages quicker, it allows for the power to be delivered earlier, meaning you can get up to speed faster. The flip side of this is that, depending on your bike, a freehub with lots of engagement can increase pedal kickback. It’s also worth noting that due to the quicker engaging freehubs containing smaller parts with tighter tolerances, they can require more maintenance, especially on cheaper wheels and reduce the overall longevity.

Different drivetrain brands and models require a different freehub body fitting system to attach the cassette. Entry-level Shimano and SRAM systems us Shimano’s HG system, everything GX upwards from SRAM utilizes its XD driver system and Shimano’s all-new 12 speed systems have made the switch to a new Micro Spline pattern. Just like before, if you’re unsure it’s worth looking at your bikes spec sheet or checking in with your local bike shop.