Photos: Colin Levitch

The right set of wheels and tyres on your bike can make a night and day difference for ride quality and control. This is not new advice, as people like myself have been saying as much in cycling titles for decades. And for decades, riders around the world have been choosing Hope hubs for custom wheel builds to suit their needs. Hope do have their own range of wheels, built tough and with a long service life. And anyone familiar with Hope wouldn't expect them to do it in any other way.

The Hope Fortus 26 wheels were sent out to review in early winter, and they haven't skipped a beat since then. Hope are well-known for their reliable hubs, which have a long service life, a good 44-point engagement, and compatibility with all three freehub bodies: Shimano HG, SRAM XD and now Shimano Microspline. Hope hubs use a 6-bolt rotor attachment – although their road disc models use Centrelock – I do wonder if this will come to the mountain bike wheels as well.

The wheel build is what you'd expect from Hope, with an approach that is very common and done well. So that's 32 butted J-bend Sapim spokes per wheel, with brass nipples. These sorts of parts will be available in just about any bike shop around the globe. The Fortus 26 wheels use an alloy rim with steel eyelets. The rim is 6061aluminium heat treated to T6 for strength, and the eyelets help builders add greater spoke tension than an alloy spoke hole alone can take. With a brass nipple they also tend to last longer without seizing, for a longer term service life.

The rim itself is pretty stout. With a 20mm depth, the rim sidewalls are close to 3mm, with a claimed 26mm internal width, which is about right compared to what we measured. The wheels came in at 2210g once the supplied tubeless tape and valves were fitted. This is pretty weighty for a set of wheels that aren't even in an on-trend 30mm internal width. With a rim weight of 580g, you would move up to a 720g weight rim for the Hope Fortus 30 wheels, which have a rim with a 30mm internal width. At 26mm internal, Hope state these wheels suit Trail and Enduro riding. And this is the same width at the NoTubes Arch Mk3, although those rims are lighter, and eschew things like spoke hole eyelets.

Setup of the wheels was simple. The rotors bolt straight on, and the freehub comes nicely greased on the pawls. There is quite a big seal ring on the freehub, and the size of the mechanism is quite large – which should really handle the load of larger cassettes. I had a set of Hope hubs almost two decades ago that were faultless, and a test pair used in a custom wheel build almost three years ago still run perfectly. This set of Hope Pro4 hubs should do just the same.

I fitted some Maxxis Minion 2.5” and 2.4” WT Minions onto the Hope wheels. While the WT tyres do have a different casing that is optimised for rims with 30-35mm internal widths, they mounted up fine and had a nice rounded profile. They were reasonably tall but not beyond their size.

On the trail

If you judge wheels by freehub buzz then you'll like Hope hubs, but not as much as Chris King, Industry 9 or Project 321. However, points of engagement and loud freehubs are not a true marker of performance. And a loud freehub can just be a hub calling out for some attention and lubrication!

With a full complement of spokes with 32 per wheel, and a very nice finishing tension, the Hope Fortus 26 wheels are lovely to ride. The Hope hubs spin for days, and like any good hub, they got better over the months of testing, as the seals bedded in nicely.

With a lower profile than most carbon rims, the Hope Fortus wheels don't tend to chatter across roots and rocks in the same way as many carbon wheels. Plenty of newer carbon wheels have been engineered to offer a more compliant ride, but the fact remains that a nice alloy wheel is pleasantly compliant, as well as being more forgiving on your wallet as well.

Compared to some other trail wheels tested recently, the Hope Fortus have a very nice ride feel. They're still a little more compliant than even the Bontrager Line Pro 30 wheels, while still feeling good out of the saddle. Of course, the Bontrager wheels feel a little snappier when jumping on the pedals, in part due to weighing several hundred grams less!

In rockier terrain and steeper chutes they didn't deflect, and as a bonus the feedback was pretty muted compared to some stiff carbon wheels.

In terms of tyre width and rim width, 26mm internal is a little narrower than what would be on my tick list for a trail or Enduro wheel. But – at no point did I feel like I would have been riding better or faster if they had a few millimetres more width. If you are primarily running tyres at 2.5” and 2.6”, then you would be better served by something a little wider.

I did throw on some 2.35” inch tyres, and they had a perfect profile with the edge knobs in just the right place. I actually ran these on my XC bike while it's been in a 'down-country' spec, and it was a blast. With full-knob 2.35” tyres, strong and stiff wheels and longer suspension fitted it really hauled. But given how smooth the hubs feel and how absolutely silent the wheels were during the whole test, I never really thought about the extra weight, as the ride feedback was exceptional.

The Hope Fortus 26 should suit anyone looking for a high-quality wheel that isn't going for a wallet destroying investment. At about $900 for the wheel set, they're not nearly the cost of a carbon wheel set, and on par with something from NoTubes. The Hope Pro4 hubs will likely outlive your current bike frame, and with a bit of servicing they should be around a very long time. The rims are a bit narrow, and a little heavier compared to some. But that brings very high strength, and Hope do class these as being strong enough for Enduro racing. Anyone who is after a very reliable and strong set of wheels would be well-served looking at these. And seeing they come in options for Boost width, plus 135mm and 142mm rear, they could be an ideal upgrade to an older bike as well, where running anything bigger than a 2.4” tyre isn't possible anyway!

RRP: Around $900