MTB. An acronym that every off road rider in the world knows. Of course there was a time when few people dreamt of careening down a mountain on a bike, unless they were slightly mad. That all changed when some young upstarts in California started converting old Schwinns and other post war bikes that were popular with kids who once used them to deliver newspapers. These machines were the crucible that eventually became the MTB. Riders like Gary Fisher were at the forefront of this new cycling discipline. Could they have ever guessed that they had created a monster that would live on into the unforeseeable future and morph into several other things that no one had envisioned. Of course not.
But all new inventions take many twists and turns that only visionaries can see in their minds eye. Thank heavens these guys were crazy enough to reinvent the wheel shall we say.
Speaking of the wheel, i’d like to talk about that evolution a bit. Instead of recapping everything that has come before, i’d like to touch on where we are at now.
What we are seeing today is everything getting wider, and that means, rims, hubs, tires and axle spacing. In an attempt to make MTB wheels more robust hub designers have embraced the world of wide.
Boost hubs are 148mm, and this added width has helped strengthen the rear wheel with better spoke bracing angles and an improved equalization of tension between the drive side spokes and the non drive side spokes. Some hub makers offer even wider spacing for Fat Bike wheels and the like. Thru axles dominate for a solid engagement that’s completely reliable. Front wheels also come in a 110mm width and various axle diameters for added strength. Beefing up these wheels has been a very good idea, as some of them get subjected to serious punishment. So what companies make the best MTB hubs? Cognoscenti Cycles has partnered with over 25 different hub manufacturers and several of them make excellent MTB hubs. Some of my favourites are Onyx, Chris King, White Industries, Hope, Hadley, Phil Wood, Trailmech, Syntace, DT Swiss, Industry 9, Stealth, Project 321, Raceface and Tune among others. So there is an obvious bounty of choice here. Hubs to fit most every budget, colour, spoke count and technical needs.
Along with wider hub spacing has come wider tires. Almost every MTB rider these days is running a tubeless set up to take advantage of lower air pressure which improves handling and grip. Tire selection has steadily grown to include numerous tread options at various widths all suiting different terrain and conditions.
Carbon fibre now dominates much of the better quality rims, though alloy rims have not completely disappeared yet. Companies like Santa Cruz and We Are One Composites now offer life time guarantees for their carbon rims. That was unheard of just a few years ago. We have carefully scrutinised all the best companies for our carbon rim choices. Like our vast selection of hubs, we also cater to all budgets with carbon rim options. Names like Enve, Nox Composites, Boyd Cycling, HED, Pacenti, Astral Cycling, Atomik Carbon, We Are One Composites, MCFK and Kappius Components are the companies that we trust to deliver the goods.
Carbon is a special material because it has the potential to add some much needed compliance if the design is sound. It works well with tires running at lower pressures to absorb some of the shock that aggressive trails may dish out. The wheel build is quite critical here, especially the spoke count and the overall spoke tension. I pay particular attention to all the design attributes of a MTB wheel to assure that it’s providing the right ratio of strength and compliance. That helps a wheel to last considerably longer and yet be a comfortable ride as well.
I like to design a wheel set that suits the riders weight and style. I always make enquiries about those details as they will dictate choices like spoke gauge, spoke count, lacing pattern and rim weight. Each recipe will be different and suited to a particular rider. Believe me this makes a big difference!
If you are thinking of a wheel upgrade we can explore the many possibilities of hubs, rims and spokes. There has never been a greater selection of top quality options for all these components. If you are looking for a Toronto wheel builder Cognoscenti Cycles would love to build you a world class set of bombproof mountain bike wheels! Check out the brand new section on my website that showcases all the MTB hubs and rims that we carry, entitled “Off Road Wheels”.