Over the past year, we have compared tons of wheels and their characteristics. Everything from carbon and alloy wheels to the compliance of the wheels and engagement. The one thing we haven't discussed are some of the more wallet-friendly wheels. These wheelsets work great and are what the majority of us ride. In addition, it can be one of the best upgrades you can make to your bike. All of these wheels are under $750, and while that is still a good chunk of money, I think it's money well spent and I'll explain why.
Stock wheels can vary greatly in quality, from the weight and strength, to how fast they roll. Most of the time, if you have a decent mountain bike, stock wheels will have sealed hubs, a decent spoke count and a strong rim. But what they normally lack is overall strength. That might be acceptable if they were super lightweight, but they're normally heavy. That isn't a great combo, especially if you throw in a low engagement hub. All of these can be improved and will be something you ACTUALLY notice while riding. Many upgrades are not very noticeable on bikes, but wheels and tires are always something you feel. It's what makes contact with your trail, responding to pedal strokes, and helps you carry momentum while riding.
We are going to be looking at three different wheelsets, all of which are under $750 and offer a good balance of all the above-mentioned qualities. The three wheels are the Stan's Flow EX3 at $699 for a wheelset, the E13 LG1en + wheels at $598 and the Industry 9 Enduro S 1/1 wheels at $750. All of these wheels offer a good combination of rolling speed, strength, engagement, and weight. I have spent time on all of these wheels, from normal local riding to our DH worthy local chunky trails and our local bike park, with the Stan's wheels making it all the way to Whistler. All of these held up without many issues at all, and I have enough time to know all the pros and cons of them. So let's get into it.
The Stan's Flow EX3 wheels are rocking a new rim that is an improvement from the Flow MK3 rim. They combined the material of the MK3 with the shape of the older Flow EX rim to make the newest, strongest version yet. During testing, they proved that the shape of the Flow EX made it incredibly strong, and one of the best in all rims they tested. And combining the shape with more modern dimensions, and the stronger 6069 aluminum of the MK3 versions, the Flow EX3 rim seems to be one of the best combinations Stan's could make. With an internal width of 29mm, the rim profile suits tires from 2.3-2.8, landing most Enduro and DH tires right in the middle. Weighing in at 2115g for the wheelset on our 29” test set, it's not light, but weight is not what these are made for.
The hubs are Stan's Neo OS, front and rear. The front hub has a larger bearing than the other Neo hubs and the rear hub has a cromoly axle rather than an alloy axle. These are a few of the steps Stan's took to make the most durable wheelset possible. The engagement on the hubs is solid and fast enough for all types of riding. With 72 points of engagement or five degrees, it's an upgrade from most. Laced up with 32 Sapim D-light spokes and secure lock nipples front and rear, the Flow EX3 wheelset really is a good bang for the buck. How do they handle the constant banging on rocks?
Mounting up Stan's wheels was not an issue, tires went on fine and installation was straightforward. I've always liked the profile Stan’s rims gave tires; it seems to just be a bit different than other rims out there. I mounted up some of my favorites, WTB Vigilante 2.3 tough tires. I may be out of trend on the width, but the 2.3 profile on a 27-30mm width rim and the tread pattern makes for one of the most consistent tires I have ridden no matter the conditions, and one of my go to tires when trying out new wheels. I rode them locally for a weekend and then it was off to Whistler with these wheels and a fresh set of the same tires. I figured there is no better place to test a rim that claims to be strong than three full days of Whistler lapping.
After two days of full Whistler shredding, a few rim smacks, a couple of cased jumps, and an overall 20k+ feet of descending, I did a full bike check, and really was curious about the wheels. To my surprise, they were true, zero dings and tension seemed OK. I didn't have to touch them. The third day had some morning rain followed by the best dirt conditions I have ever ridden. We rode the entire day, a full eight hours of riding like little kids in a candy store. Lap after lap, and you could imagine by the third day I was comfortable, sending jumps too far, leaving whips out hanging and smashing rocks. It was probably the best day on a bike I've ever had, as well as the most vertical feet of descending I have ever done in done day with 23k feet of pure DH in 8 hours. A quick wash and the bike was packed up.
Once back home, I took out the wheels and wanted to see the final result of the trip. Again, zero rim dings despite knowing I hit rim over 10 times. They were much straighter than I expected. The only thing that wasn't perfect was the spoke tension. After that third day the tension dropped significantly, enough that I had to throw both front and rear in the stand and tighten the spokes up. I will say that is 100% expected after three days in Whistler and 50k feet of descending. I'm actually surprised that spoke tension was the only issue, as I blew up a rear derailleur, went through a rear tire, and two sets of brake pads.
Overall the Stan's Flow EX3 wheelset really impressed me with the quality and strength they provided. No uncommon issues occurred, and not even a rim dent or wobble. Quite impressive.
E13 has been on a rampage with their wheelset offerings, and as nice as carbon is, it's often too expensive and not what all riders want. The E13 LG1en+ wheelset is a great, affordable option for an alloy wheelset to replace or upgrade your current bike. They have 30mm internal rims, 28 spoke count front and rear, and E13’s own hubs featuring oversized bearings, fully sealed with 6-degree engagement. Weighing in at 1910g for the 29” wheelset, it's a bit heavy but again, not designed to be light. All that for just under $600 is a pretty darn good deal.
A few of us were able to ride these wheels, giving them a proper beating and test. First was our Logan on the east coast, thrashing these in the Pisgah National Forest before they made it to the west coast for our rocky dry trails. When they showed up after Logan, who isn't slow or easy on bike parts, the wheels were perfectly straight, in tension, and the hubs were smooth. Once I got on the wheels, they were solid. A few weeks of thrashing about on our local rocky trails, there was no damage to see. One thing I did notice is the wheels did not roll all that fast compared to other wheels I have been on before these. Now, to put that in perspective, these are the most budget-friendly wheels I've been on for a while, so it's not fair to compare these wheels directly to a wheelset that costs 2-3x as much.
Also, while by no means bad, the engagement is also the least amount in this group of wheels we are comparing. Again, it's still going to be an upgrade and for the price, 6-degrees of engagement is really good. It's enough to be all you need and will not leave much dead zone. For the least expensive wheels in this test, and being affordable when comparing to other similar wheels, the E13 LG1en+ wheelset hits the target market and is a solid upgrade.
Let's get into some specs: the Industry Nine 1/1 wheelset rock the new I9 1/1 hub that sports 90 degrees of engagement, with the drive mechanism engaged by a 6 pawl, leaf-sprung system on a 45 tooth drive ring. The 1/1 hubs in the wheelset are also available in six-bolt and Centerlock disc options, as well as all three freehub body styles: Shimano HG style, Sram XD style, and the new Shimano Micro Spline. The end caps have also been redesigned on the hubs, the seals on them not only help reduce drag but also help keep any debris out. Additionally, the wheels use the classic J-bend spokes, just like all the other wheels in this test, instead of Industry 9’s proprietary straight-pull spokes.
The Enduro wheelset rocks a 30mm internal rim, perfect for the slightly wider, more aggressive tires like 2.3”-2.8”. While not being super light, they are actually the lightest in this test. The Enduro S 1/1 wheels weigh in at 1725g for 27.5” and 1855g for 29”. Both the wheels use 28 spokes front and rear and boast a 2-year warranty.
These wheels ride exactly how I imagined they would, pretty damn great. With so many amazing wheels out there, I think at this point a company is really messing up if a wheel does not ride well. The Industry Nine 1/1’s are smooth, roll fast with the 1/1 hubs, and after a few months of abuse, I haven't had to true them or pull out any dents. I will say, I typically run XC Cush Core in the rear to help eliminate any dents and rim smacks, however, I have also dented rims badly enough where they don't seal with a full-size Cush Core in. They hold up and have you thinking less about your wheels and more about the trail, the best any component can do for you.
One thing you do notice is how smooth, yet direct the hub feels. While it doesn't boast the highest engagement or even as much as the old Torch hubs, I think the 1/1 hubs feel amazing. This engagement is also the best in the test of the three wheelsets we are looking at. With just enough engagement you won't have any dead zone out of a corner or tech climb, they also don't feel over the top. I know that is a vague description, but some higher engagement hubs on the market tend to give a softer engagement feel, while quick, it's not always as solid as I would like. That is what the 1/1 hubs do really well when you get on them; you feel solidly connected with the pedals, chain, and the power you are putting out. As well as the rims holding up, the hubs have had zero maintenance and remain smooth and quick. I would say these hubs stand above the others we are testing, from rolling speed to engagement.
Comparing all these is going to be a bit difficult, so I will pretty much be saying what I liked and stood out amongst the others, and what maybe wasn't so great. I'll start with the Stan's, and I think the highlight here is the rim. I think it's the most developed rim out of any of these wheels. It's in the third generation, and constantly getting better. The riding I put in on these was the hardest out of all of the wheels, and the rim held up amazingly. The abuse came to the spokes, but I will also admit they were brand new and I threw three full days of DH park laps at them, spokes are going to loosen up. The hub on the Stan's is down the middle, nothing that really stands out, and nothing that really isn't up to the level I want. It gets the job done, rolls smoothly and fast, not as fast as the 1/1 hubs from I9, but very close. Also landing right in the middle of the price range, and what I would say is the nicest rim, the Stan's Flow EX3 delivers!
The E13 LG1en wheels are the cheapest at just $600 for the pair. It's really amazing how good these wheels are as a system. From the rims to the hubs, there is nothing to complain about. While they do not have quite the engagement of the I9 1/1 hubs, they are also $150 cheaper. You could essentially buy a set of tires and E13 wheels for the price of the I9 wheelset. Pretty big savings within a test of all wheels being under $750. I think just for the price of these wheels, they have their place in this test and are a great option for someone trying to upgrade their stock wheelset for the least empty wallet possible.
As mentioned above, I think the Industry 9 Enduro S 1/1 wheelset sports the best hubs of all these. They have the highest engagement and smooth-rolling feel, and I mean, after all, I9 is really known for their kick-ass hubs more than anything. But that's not to hate on the rim or the entire wheelset either. The rim was strong in test, not getting any dents or issues and holding up to a few months of chunky trail thrashing.
There are so many options out there to upgrade your wheels, these three options happen to be our favorites under $750. While that is still a grip of money for some wheels, it's over $2,000 cheaper than some other options out there. In my opinion, wheels can make some of the biggest differences when upgrading parts. It's what helps keep your momentum, especially when constantly spinning them up to speed and slowing them down. They determine how your tire profile is and need to be strong enough when smashing rocks. The wheels work as a package, with the hub spokes and rim all working as one, and if one isn't good, it will ruin the entire wheelset. With the E13 coming in at the cheapest option and providing a great all-around wheel, the Stan's in the mid-range of this test as far as price, but with the best rim, and the Industry 9 at the top end of the price but having the best hub, all of these can change your bike and how it rides.