The world of mountain bike wheels can get murky, when you need to naviagte three different freehub bodies, rotor attachment interfaces, rim widths, rim depths, materials, size, tubeless compatibility and of course - cost! Hunt Bike Wheels are from the United Kingdom and they have set up a pretty handy business shipping their high-quality alloy and carbon wheels around the world. We've just had a set of their Race XC Wide 29er wheels land for testing. With a number of trail and enduro wheel sets on test recently, like the Shimano WH-M8120 TL, Hope Fortus 26 and of course the Bontrager Line Pro 30 carbon wheels. With that line up, it was time to test something more at the cross-country end of the spectrum.

So how do you choose a wheel set?

If you are looking for a new set of mountain bike wheels, I suggest you write down all your requirements. Start with compatibility such as wheel size, hub spacing that suits your frame and fork, freehub type and rotor attachment. The last two are often changeable or can be worked around - but not always.

Beyond that, think about the features you want. Is there a spoke count you're after? What about material - alloy or carbon? Do you want a hub with lots of points of engagement? Do you only want sealed cartridge bearings? And what about rim width? Don't forget rim height either.

You might find that your world of choice is whittled down a little once you have made a list of the specifications you need and the features you want. Next up is price. For most wheel set upgrades you can expect to pay at least $500 for a mid spec alloy wheel set, or closer to a $1500 starting point for a good quality carbon wheel set. There will always be exceptions, but if the pricing you see is far below that - it might be too good to be true.

Choosing the Hunt Race XC Wide wheels

This was easy enough, as Hunt Bike Wheels make picking your wheels quite straight forward on their website. Click on Mountain and you can see the whole range. Then there is a tick box menu on the left, and you can click away to meet the needs of your list of requirements and features.

I clicked on 29er, alloy, and with an internal width of 25mm. And I was left with the XC Wide wheels, which weigh 1647g and cost $579. Now, I'm not a huge weight weenie, but I was looking for something a little lighter. So via the menu I took width off and looked at the weights on all the wheel sets, and widths. While there was plenty of 30mm and beyond widths, the lighter weight Hunt Race XC Wide with a 24mm internal width and 1517g weight grabbed my attention. For $699, they're a good price, and 24mm is still a good width for most 2.2" and 2.25" or 2.3" tyres.

All I had to do was pick my freehub type and place an order. Demand was pretty high (and still is!) so there was a couple of weeks to wait.

Delivery from Hunt Bike Wheels

After the confirmation email, I had a follow up when the order was packed and shipped, and soon enough a text from Australia Post that I would have a delivery. This was on Friday, and while I thought that might have been the brownies my sister made and posted me for my birthday earlier in the week, alas it was just some fancy wheels to test.

After my disappointment about not getting brownies, but instead receiving a smartly packed box with a new wheel set subsided, I pulled the box into the shed.

The two wheels are really well packed in the box, and the rims come taped. The tubeless valves aren't fitted, so if you prefer tubes you're good to go. Or if you like your own valves, you can fit them up. The wheel box also has spare spokes in the right length - put these into your spares box right away, as it's super useful to have these on hand down the track.

A closer look

Out of the box, the all black look is one that is popular with nearly every mountain biker. Hunt's carbon all-mountain wheels can have an oil slick finish on the spokes if you want, but for the Race XC Wide it's just black. And that's fine, it matches almost every other wheel I have ridden for the past 10 years.

With the obligatory 'pick them up and spin the freehub' test, they pass with flying colours. Hunt use a straight pull hub with a freehub that has 5 degrees of rotation before engagement. This is pretty good, and a faster pick up than Hope, DT Swiss or Shimano offer.

The freehub is a pawl design, and the hub itself is tool free to take apart. You just remove the non-drive side end cap and pull the freehub off. It's a good way to get into the hub to keep fresh grease on the engagement mechanism.

You wouldn't need to remove the cassette to do this, and if you like looking after your equipment (or just want to do that more frequently) then this is a good hubset to quickly do some basic servicing on.

The bearings have what Hunt call H_CERAMIK coatings, and are a double sealed cartridge. They feel smooth but time will tell, as will fitting them to a bike. 

 
The freehub itself has a cylindrical end cap that pushes against the outside bearing. While I know the bearings are sealed, I don't like the design that leaves the bearing outser seal visible. Even a cap that sits flush is an extra barrier to water and grit and dust.

Freehub bearings are very easy to replace, and the 6902 size is common. Brits know sloppy conditions better than anyone, and I think Hunt wouldn't design their hubs like this if it was a weak point.

 

The spokes are from Pillar, who you may or may not have heard of. I've used Pillar spokes in a couple of other custom wheel builds. From J-bend aero spokes through to straight pull ones like these. They are another high-quality manufacturer up there with DT Swiss and Sapim. Straight pull spokes mean hubs have a lower flange height, which can reduce weight and make for a stronger hub. It can drop lateral rigidity, but many major manufacturers use straight pull spokes and hubs, and with no bend in the spoke the fatigue resistance is higher as well.

The rim comes taped, and it's a good quality taping job as well. Of interest, the rims aren't asymmetrics, which is actually pretty common for alloy rims. They're a low profile, which helps keep the weight down and the compliance up. A tall rim is heavy and stiff, and a bone-jarring ride typically isn't fun, and reduces traction.

As for weight, with the tape fitted the rear wheel came in at 870g, and the front was 691g, so that's 1561g total. A little more than claimed, but most claimed weights don't include rim tape.

For tyres, I made some quick decisions. I do have some new tyres to test, with 2.2" and 2.4" tyres to mount up. But I'd rather test these wheels in isolation, so I fitted up a Maxxis Rekon 2.25" front tyre, and a Maxxis Aspen 2.25" rear tyre. Both have EXO casing and 3C rubber.

They're not brand new, but this combination are the mix of treads I have ridden and raced on the most for the past 12-24 months. From Cape to Cape, to The Pioneer, the Swiss Epic and local XC. So I'm comfortable knowing how they perform at different pressures and on different trail types. 

 

Oh, and the price? These race ready wheels come in at $699, which is really good value for the quality of the wheels. Under 1600g for an alloy set of 29er wheels is pretty good going. They're about the same weight as a Stan's NoTubes Crest Mk3 wheel set, but they are a little wider than the 23mm internal on the Crest. The Hunt wheels are also cheaper.

If you were after a 25mm internal minimum, you could look at a DT Swiss XR M1700 Spline. They're 1680g claimed, but also well over $1000, for one millimetre of internal width. If you wanted 29/30mm internal (which is my sweet spot for new XC wheels) then in alloy models you will be heavier again. The DT Swiss XM M1700 spline wheels would weight 1848g, and still cost well over $1000. For carbon, you might end up at the same weight as the Hunt wheels, but at twice the price.

So all up, I think these wheels are going to be a great value wheel set, with performance to back it up. But for now I need to get some ride time on them. For any further details head to the Hunt Bike Wheels website.