Upgrading my MTB wheelset to carbon – the verdict

I have been riding bicycles for quite a few years, and now when I sit and ponder about upgrades, I’d say the best upgrade I have ever done is my wheelset.

I know many people upgrade their road bike wheelsets, but I have only ever upgraded the wheels on my mountain bike.  I’m sure most of the basics are the same between all cycling disciplines, although I feel that an upgrade to a mountain bike puts into practice more often all the benefits of the upgrade.

I have found that switching my wheelset to carbon has given me improvements in stiffness, rolling friction, and aerodynamics, whilst decreasing both rotational and static weight.

This has definitely improved my acceleration, cornering and speed, and although I haven’t measured each of these on their own, my hill climbs and lap times have dramatically reduced when I compare to my rides with my older style, aluminium wheelset.

mark-carbon-wheels.jpg

I currently run a set of Roval Control SL carbon wheels.  I run these as a tubeless setup, allowing for lower pressures.  These are a quite wide at 25mm internal rim size, allowing the tyre to balloon out and enable more give and more grip at the lower pressures.  The hubs I use have the same internals as DT Swiss, a setup I would strongly recommend with a 54-tooth engagement.  I feel these hubs are the standard when comparing quality to price.

The new wheels save me approximately five watts of power when climbing.

Now, when I say, ‘the best upgrade ever,’ this was by far the most expensive for me, but when put it into perspective, I have used these on three different bikes, both socially and in racing, for the last three seasons with only two broken spokes.  These wheels have reduced the bicycles weight by an easy 300g whilst giving me less rolling resistance and a serious increase in stiffness when compared to my old aluminium rims.  If you’re really curious, I even worked out the more technical details of the comparison, finding that the new wheels save me approximately five watts of power when climbing.

Don’t get me wrong though, as aluminium wheels do have a purpose and not just a price point.  They are not as stiff  and generally lead to a smoother ride if you’re touring and riding socially.

There are a variety of carbon wheelsets to consider, such as Enve, DT Swiss, Stans, Roval, Mavic and American Classic.  Please be aware though, there are also Chinese manufactured carbon wheelsets on the market that may not have the same quality controls of the larger, main brands.

So if you are ever in doubt about a carbon upgrade, or even just the cost of a wheelset, my conclusion from my experience is to sit back and think about the benefits, research the components used and read user reviews.  Hopefully you too will be riding into your 4th season or year with the same wheel set, as I am.

Written By Mark Brockwell – Masters MTBer

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