MTB Wheels – to Carbon or not to Carbon

The Viper is our all-new best-in class wheel made of – not carbon? That’s right. It’s Tubeless Easy for painless tire installation and offered in every modern axle configuration or as a rim alone to match your own build. But yeah - it’s not carbon. And we’re not sorry.

Stepping back, it’s interesting to consider just how quickly bike trends have changed. Just a few short years ago, many riders looked askance at carbon wheels on mountain bikes. “Too fragile.” “Too expensive.” “Not up to the abuse,” they said. The trend has flipped and now carbon is all some folks will talk about.

Don’t get us wrong - there are plenty of reasons to love the stuff (and we do! – we offer some great carbon hoop options too), but it’s not the only way to build a great wheel. Just because its carbon doesn’t mean it’s awesome, and alloy still has an important place in the wheel world. Continue reading for some key tips on how to avoid “carbon fever,” weigh all the factors in choosing your wheels, and learn why we also love the “not-carbon” options in our line.

Budget is still budget.

This is one of the first things to think about. It is tempting to look at cheap carbon wheels and think “dang, that’s a good deal”. But… is it really? A well-made carbon rim can take 4-5 hours to make and the raw material, if top shelf, comes at top shelf pricing. That’s just the rim itself, to say nothing of the engineering, tooling, testing and other development costs. Good carbon is not cheap. When you see inexpensive carbon, you can rest assured that compromises have been made in prioritizing features – and let’s just hope “reliable” makes the cut.  When carbon wheels are at alloy prices, you gotta ask some questions.

Carbon is lighter and stiffer – sometimes.

What goes into making a bomber carbon rim that is still light and rides well takes getting the layup right. And that takes a lot of engineering and testing.  Assuming other companies also make the right call of keeping “reliable and safe” at the top of the check sheet that rim is going to be a little more expensive. When it isn’t, be sure to check the other features.  Some of the rims are heavier and less stiff than a high-quality alloy option with a much lower price tag – such as the Viper.

To maximize those features, the Viper uses ASYM (asymmetrical) technology which has an offset spoke-bed enabling it to be built with a greater bracing angle and equalized left to right tensions for a wheel which is stronger,  stiffer and will stay true longer. Key elements you want in your wheel.

A Wheelset is more than its rim.

Rims may be the most visible part of a wheel, but they don’t tell the whole story. A wheel’s build-quality, hub and the spokes are equally important. With carbon all the rage, some companies are hastily building lower quality hubs and spokes into carbon rims to keep the cost down, and relying on “carbon-fever” to attract buyers. Its akin to bike companies putting an XTR rear derailleur on a bike where everything else is SLX (it’s an XTR bike- whoo hoo!). Hubs are an important component of a wheel and it is not the place to skimp.

The Viper – like all our wheels - is hand built by professionals in-house with White Industries USA made hubs, ensuring a completed wheel that’ll add to your riding experience every time.

Avoid tunnel vision and prioritize the ride.

Yes, when done right, carbon fiber rims build into incredible wheels. That’s why our sister company, Rolf Prima has been working with it for years, and why we make the carbon Hollywood and Jester. But letting it dominate your wheel decisions would be a mistake.

Modern alloy wheels like the Viper deserve their place at the table. For less money you get more reliable, stiffer wheels and a better riding experience. At just 1665 grams, the Viper is still lighter than many carbon budget models.

So, when it comes time to choose your next build, prioritize the ride first, rim material second.

Take off the carbon-blinders and survey all your options. When it comes to balancing value and performance, alloy options are hard to beat. Of those, the Viper leads the charge.


 Viper Wheelset