Carbon 26″ Wheels Vs 26″ Aluminium Wheels – Worth it?
Carbon wheels have been all the rage recently in the MTB press and there are quite a few brands out there that produce a good quality wheel set in various sizes for 26″ 27.5″ and 29″. Carbon wheels are being sold based on performance and weight. However in our recent experience we have seen a lot of these different brands either damaged to the point where they are not ideal to use, or smashed beyond repair. Considering the cost of these types of wheels we thought it would be good to examine are they worth it? We thought our first article on this subject we would look at realistic wheel setups and weights.
Inorder to answer this first question we thought we would focus first on 26″ Enduro style wheels and do a direct comparison with alloy/aluminium 26″ wheels from a top wheel producer. Mavic Crossmax SX wheels seem to fit the required specifications for our comparison along with DT Swiss EXC 1550 wheels. We set the wheels up with the same component add ons and used all the features on the wheels, like tubeless ready UST to their maximum, so we were setting the wheels up as recommended and manufacturer stated. We mounted the same tyres and the same brake discs and rear cassette to ensure that we got a fair result for how we would use the wheels on our bike.
Wheel Set Details
Carbon wheel set: DT Swiss EXC 1550. Retail price for a wheel set, €2,000 Euros.
Alloy/Aluminium set: Mavic Crossmax SX. Retail price for a wheel set, €800 Euros.
Video of Setup and Weighing
So we set up with an Shimano XT cassette, 200mm Icetech discs front and 180mm Icetech discs behind. We mounted a Maxxis Minion 2.35″ tubeless tyre on the front and a Maxxis Highroller 2.3″ tubeless tyre on the back. The carbon rims are specified to not use tubeless so we used a lightweight quality Maxxis tube. With the tubeless ready tyre we added 60grams of tubeless milk and a lightweight rim strip on the carbon wheels. This would be a standard Enduro setup for the local Punta Ala Enduro World Series trails where we test many bikes and bits.
Front wheel ready to ride weights:
Mavic Crossmax SX: 1790 grams.
DT Swiss EXC 1550: 1800 grams.
Rear wheel ready to ride weights:
Mavic Crossmax SX: 2410 grams.
DT Swiss EXC 1550: 2450 grams.
The total ready to ride setup weights were:
Mavic Crossmax SX complete wheelset ready to ride 4200 grams.
DT Swiss Carbon complete wheelset ready to ride 4250 grams.
Looking at the comparative quantative results, it is clear the complete real world setup Mavic wheels are marginally lighter, although feeling this weight in the hand is not possible. The DT swiss wheels have to be used with tubes, we tried to get tubeless to fit but the air leaks out and the tyres don’t seat properly, so as advertised tubes must be used.
Looking at the quantative results we can say that the DT Swiss wheels if they could be used in tubeless mode, as a set they would be 260 grams lighter, our tubes weighed in at 190grams each. The milk weighed 60 grams in the tubeless setup.
In the real world though they have to be used with tubes and cost 60% more than the Mavic Crossmax SX wheel set. Which is a huge extra cost for no advantage in weight. Regarding stiffness the DT carbon wheels are stiff, and the Mavic aluminium wheels are marginally less stiff when handled and mounted on the bike. Does it make a huge difference to how a bike will ride? In our next article on this subject of carbon VS aluminium wheelsets we will look at performance and resilience.
The main conclusion that can be understood at the moment is that carbon wheels are extremely expensive don’t offer any large weight gains in a real world situation and make good quality aluminium wheels look excellent value for money. Plus with setup most models can’t be mounted tubeless (with exception to the ENVE AM wheels we have tried).