Mavic Crossmax SX (Russell Burton)

We’ve hammered the latest light-but-tough, through-axle compatible trail wheels to find the ideal next set of rolling stock for your riding. Here’s our pick of the best 2012 mountain bike hoops we’ve tested. 

Best 26in mountain bike wheels

Winner: American Classic All Mountain

£499.99 / US$850

The most obvious aspect of these wheels is a very low weight that’s comparable to carbon fibre wheels at a much lower cost. While freewheel pickup can lag, they light up very quickly once locked in. They flick and lift around effortlessly on the trail to giving an instant sense that you’ve installed a serious speed and responsiveness upgrade.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the American Classic All Mountain

Value award: Superstar Switch AM

£275 / US$428.75

Superstar’s reliable, versatile, wide-rim wheels are an all-round performance bargain. They’re hand-built in the UK with top-quality Sapim CX Ray spokes, and the Alex Supra rims are reliably tough and broad enough to handle fat tyres without being heavy and slow on the bike.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Superstar Switch AM

DT Swiss Tricon M1700

£729.98 / $1180

Outstanding stiffness and top-quality hubs make these wheels a super-responsive trail or cross-country upgrade. The Star Ratchet clutch system gives super-fast engagement to flatter the responsiveness of the low overall weight, making them singletrack rippers. Designed more for cross-country than mountain hammering, they’re tubeless compatible as standard.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the DT Swiss Tricon M1700

Fulcrum Red Power XL

£254.99 / US$439.99

Fulcrum’s excellent new budget trail wheels are smooth, stiff and versatile. While most cost-conscious wheels betray their budget on the scales, the externally butted rims of the XLs are bang on the grams for their category. Quick pickup from the silent freehub and taut asymmetric spoking give them a responsive feel on the trail, and they track well and corner confidently too. They’re not shy of clattering through rocks or off fair-sized drops either.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Fulcrum Red Power XL

Hope Hoops Pro 2 Evo (with Stan’s ZTR Flow rims)

£365 / US$569

Hope’s homemade wheel buffet still beats most pre-built wheelsets on versatility, value and reliability. Stan’s Flow rims are good, light-yet-strong and tubeless-ready hoops, and are great value from Hope compared to the price of buying separately. The Pro 2 Evo hubs are superbly sealed, have fully interchangeable axles and are easily serviceable too.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Hope Hoops Pro 2 Evo (with Stan’s ZTR Flow rims)

  • Weight: 1,886g
  • Axles: QR/15/20 front, QR/135/142/150 rear
  • From:

Hope Hoops Pro 3 SP-XC3

£385 / US$600

Key to this lightweight wheelset are Hope’s own Pro3 hubs, with their unique tri-arm rotor design. The hubs are among the lightest you’ll find, but it means you’re stuck using Hope’s own (admittedly effective and durable) Pro 3-specific tri-bolt rotors. The hubs use Hope’s four-pawl ratchet, 24-tooth engagement cassette body, which is both fast to pick up and loud.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Hope Hoops Pro 3 SP-XC3

Mavic Crossmax ST

£625 / US$800

The STs feel lighter than their 1,595g weight suggests, which is always a great attribute when it comes to wheels. This may be because of the new four-pawl ITS-4 alloy freehub design, and the extra responsiveness is noticeable from the first pedal stroke. Narrow rims and lateral flex mean they’re best suited to shorter-travel bikes, but they’re a top-tier everyday option for mainly cross-country riding.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Mavic Crossmax ST

  • Weight: 1,595g
  • Axles: QR/15/20 front, QR/135/142 rear
  • From:

Mavic Crossmax SX

 £659.99 / US$900

The Crossmax SX structure has been a light-but-tough benchmark for years. For 2012, the rest of the wheel matches up to build an outstanding all-mountain performer. They’re super-rigid for cornering precision and berm speed. They’re also fat-tyre friendly, fully tubeless (valves included) and have lost weight, too.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Mavic Crossmax SX

  • Weight: 1,781g
  • Axles: QR/15/20 front, QR/135/142 rear
  • From:

Stan’s ZTR Alpine 3.30

£435 / US$678

Stan’s complete Alpine wheelset is outrageously light and responsive, but surprisingly tough. They’re not the stiffest under power, but their low weight means they boost acceleration and agility. We’ve not spent long enough on them to really rate the bearings yet, but reports from elsewhere are good. They come with tubeless tape and valves installed, too.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Stan’s ZTR Alpine 3.30

CrankBrothers Iodine 2

£499 / US$849.98

The original Iodine wheels were very strong but suffered from a poor freehub design. The issues that this caused have been addressed for 2012. So far, our wheels have laughed off sideways landings and numerous batterings on rocks, just like the older wheels, and there’s been no sign of freehub body failure. 

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the CrankBrothers Iodine 2

Halo 4XR

£334.99 / US$522

The buzzing 120-point, three-pawl Micro Notch engagement in the Supa Drive rear hub means that the 4XRs’ instant catch and drive is the first thing you notice. The wheels are light enough to make the most of that snap for those who like to blitz between corners and jumps. The 21mm internal width rim gives enough girth to handle big tyres without wobbling, and we’ve put a hard year of use and abuse into our long-term sets without suffering any rim issues.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Halo 4XR

Shimano MT15

£145 / $255

If Shimano’s MT15s excel in one area it’s price, but that’s a damn good area to excel in, as it has a positive knock-on effect everywhere else. These are strong, good-looking trail wheels that, with TLC, will serve you well for years. Much of their strength is down to chunky rims, which at 19mm have enough internal width to support 2.3in tyres without either rounding off their shoulders or letting them twist and stretch.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Shimano MT15

Shimano Deore XT Trail M788

£359.98 / US$561

The new XT Trail wheels are built round a usefully broad 21mm rim. They’re proving very tough so far, even on bouldery black runs, and tracking accuracy and cornering stiffness are impressively predictable. Full tubeless capability (valves included) boosts survivability and ride quality. The freehub is faster-reacting than most.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Shimano Deore XT Trail M788

Syncros FL25

£1,449.98 / US$2,260

Syncros’s carbon rims have been around for a while and are proving reliably tough despite being very light. As you’d hope for the price, they’re noticeably tighter-tracking than similar weight alloy wheels. Pickup is average but acceleration is excellent and they instantly enhance the agility of any bike you stick them on.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Syncros FL25

Easton Haven

£730 / US$945

Easton’s lightweight all-mountain wheels look gorgeous and they’re impressively tight. The skinny straight-pull bladed spokes run high tension to keep tracking really tight, with a sharp slingshot feel through corners. Pickup speed is average, but once engaged they accelerate really quickly and they’re a joy to flick around on the trail.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Easton Haven

Nukeproof Generator Race

£304.98/ US$475

The broad rim is based on Sun Ringlé’s MTX family with a 23mm internal width giving you free rein on rubber size. Thirty-two plain-gauge DT spokes spread impact loads well, and we’ve not had any issues despite hammering and hucking them. If bright yellow scares you, they come in silver and black too. Axle switching isn’t easy but they are sturdy.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Nukeproof Generator Race

Reynolds AM Carbon

£1,299.99 / US$1,800

Reynolds’ beefy All Mountain wheels are well-priced for carbon-rimmed rollers, but they’re not light. The thick-walled, centre-seamed carbon rims have survived several rock strikes without any damage or deviation. Add rim strips and they’re tubeless-compatible too. With conventional DT Swiss Revolution spokes, they’re stiff enough to carve corners and off-cambers well.

Click here to read BikeRadar’s full review of the Reynolds AM Carbon

How we tested the latest mountain bike wheels

Our annual wheels grouptest isn’t a last-minute grab-bag test but a culmination of months – and in many cases years – of tracking the evolution and performance of each wheel and its ancestors. This lets us put every fresh wheel we feed into our savage round of constant ride testing into totally accurate context against its relevant benchmarks.

Our team of relentless bearing-bursting, seal-swamping, spoke-snapping, rim-denting test riders hitting the trails flat-out all year round means it doesn’t take us long to find out what survives and what surrenders. That’s a definite bonus when a whole new slew of wheels hits the shops.

Once we’ve collected all the relevant reliability data from our freshly abused and long-term sets, it’s time to drill down into the direct comparisons. We make sure we consider every possible aspect, from ease of tyre fitting, freehub spline durability, pickup speed, weight and axle versatility and so on, to build up the overall picture you need to choose your ideal wheelset.

This article is based on reviews originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine (available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio), What Mountain Bike magazine (also available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio) and BikeRadar.

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