In Issue #116 of Singletrack Magazine, David and the crew tested six sets of sub-£1500 carbon mountain bike wheels. We subjected all of these wheels to the same bikes, the same tyres, same air pressures, riders, trails, weather conditions and abuse, all the while keeping and comparing notes.
We then settled on three category winners: Easiest To Live With, Most Comfortable, and Best Value. In selecting the easiest wheels to live with, the main factors we’ve considered are serviceability, warranty support, and lack of proprietary or obscure standards. The most comfortable wheelset was selected by assessing ride quality in back-to-back comparative testing. Best value was selected on the basis of not just price, but ride quality, set-up, durability and servicing set against that.
Winner Most Comfortable: Mavic XA Pro Carbon
Occasionally in this job, you hear pros talking about wheels. One was a mechanic claiming their rider disliked asymmetric rims and could feel the difference. Another was a racer asking “You know when you’re cornering and can feel every spoke loading and unloading?” and I, along with the person they were addressing, was thinking “…er, no?”. At the start of this test a friend said “a wheel’s a wheel, innit?”, and I found myself desperately hoping that wasn’t true. After all, I was testing six pairs of them. “They went round and didn’t break,” doesn’t differentiate much.
Fortunately, nothing has demonstrated how different wheels can be to the extent these Mavics have. They’re unlike anything else in the grouptest, and during testing revealed some interesting quirks of riding and reviewing to me.
Mavic XA Pro Carbon Wheel Features
- Available in 27.5in and 29in diameters
- 100% unidirectional carbon fibre rims
- Tubeless compatible design w/hookless sidewalls
- Internal rim width: 26mm
- Designed for 2.1in – 2.5in wide tyres
- CNC machined alloy hub shells
- Boost and non-Boost hub spacing available
- ITS-4 freehub mechanism w/48 points of engagement
- Shimano & SRAM XD freehub bodies available
- 24 x stainless steel straight bladed double butted spokes per wheel
- Wheelset includes a pair of Mavic Quest Pro UST 2.4in tyres
- Included accessories: tubeless rim tape, valves, sealant & spoke nipple wrench
- Actual weight: 1492g (27.5in wheels tested)
- RRP: £1495
So first of all I’m going to talk about the ride. Unlike the harsh ride that carbon wheels tend to be known for, these are gazelle-like and springy. On most rides, of most bikes, with most wheels, as long as the suspension’s set up properly and the wheels are going round, everything’s great and you don’t really think about it.
These Mavics though? They sing, and not only that, they feel like they’re doing harmonies with the suspension. They absolutely and very noticeably excel in pump sections. The compliance makes them less skittery than most wheels, keeping rubber on the ground and imparting loads of confidence-inspiring precision.
I often found myself comfortably pushing lines or lean angles I’d normally doubt, and they seemed to open up late line choices too, making these wheels by far the most fun on test. When you do decide to get them off the ground, whether that’s jumping stuff or just lifting one wheel, they feel nimble and the springiness works with you. When you land, the suppleness gives you loads of confidence that there will be grip.
It’s not the first time I’ve ridden a bike and had it feel this way, but thanks to comparative wheel testing, on the same days with the same bike and wheelsets, it’s the first time I’ve been able to trace those feelings directly and exclusively to the wheels. There are so many things in the feel of a ride we tend to think of before wheels, and normally I’d attribute quality like this to a good bike or a good day.
The ride quality might be without parallel in this test, but there are a few drawbacks to consider. Mavic has a UK service centre, though breaking one of the straight-pull spokes might be a pain on a trip. These wheels also have a weight limit of 120kg including the bike, so might be too flexy for heavier riders. They’re sold as being for cross-country and trail riding, so maybe look to something else for Fort William.
Each wheel is built on 24 bladed spokes, and considering that not just spoke count but rim material, flange spacing, and spoke triangulation will all influence the feel of a wheel, Mavic has balanced everything at an interesting sweet spot. At 7.5° the rear hub doesn’t have the smallest engagement angle in the test, but it’s fast compared to many hubs. These are good on technical climbs and quick to accelerate uphill. At 1,538g, they’re one of the lighter wheelsets on test, which became very obvious when I realised I was pushing slightly higher gears up the climbs.
Mavic has put a lot of thought into the design of these, right down to the way they’re packaged. Everything is quite clearly stickered with visual instructions, which is reassuring attention to detail. Getting tyres on was difficult (it ended up being a team effort with levers), though they inflated with no problems once we applied soap and a track pump. If I picked on one thing, it’d be that Mavic’s valves are stubby and smooth, meaning not all pumps can get a good grip on them. The valves ship uninstalled, though the tape has a helpful indent on the valve hole so you don’t accidentally shove it through the wrong place.
By a country mile, Mavic’s debut carbon wheels are the most comfortable on test. That’s not just in terms of how much trail chatter they tune out, but also how much confidence they give you to pick lines. They might not be so suited to heavier riders, but I’m well within their weight range and they made me feel like I was dancing.
|XA Pro Carbon 27.5
|by David Hayward for 5 weeks