My previous article on an attempt of finding the best tires for my 2020 Turbo Levo only reinforced that there is no one best tire so much as the best tire for the current trail condition, so, I decided to get a second wheel set for the bike so that I could alternate between tire types – especially for winter riding.
I have come to prefer riding a normal MTB in the winter vs a fat bike because I had no luck with riding a fat bike unless the snow was thin and hard-packed. Even then, if I hit a patch of ice, it was super scary. The solution was carbide-studded tires, which are very expensive for a fat bike, but only about $150 a set for a normal MTB if you shop around. I have the Ice Spiker Pro, and like them a lot. They are even great in wet weather and grip wet wooden bridges like nothing else, though they are very loud on pavement.
The 2019 and 2020 Turbo Levo needs 15×110 thru-axle up front and 12×148 in the back with a Shimano driver for the base or Comp and an XD driver for Expert or S-Works. Also don’t get Centerlock brakes as then the wheel sensor magnet won’t mount.
There are various wheel sets on eBay in the $280 to $600 range, but I decided to give my local bike store a chance, and Rockland Cycle in MA offered me a 30 or 35mm internal width 29er wheel set assembled in Florida USA by Wheelmaster (part number 742107) using Ryde Edge M35 rims, DT Swiss 2.0mm black stainless spokes (32 per wheel), and Origin8 MT3100 hubs (36 pawl engagement vs 20 for the stock Specialized hub). It would not come with tubeless tape, valves, rotors, or a cassette, but he said he would put tape on it at no extra charge. I said ok to $269.99 plus tax, and he called me the next day saying they were ready to pick up.
Weight with the tape but no rotors or cassette was 1134 grams front and 1344 back, which is expected since these are rims specifically sold for eMTB, Downhill, Enduro, and Free Ride. Compare this to 1020 grams for the stock front and 1222 for the stock rear. Note that the same wheels with 30mm inner width would have saved 115 grams. So, for the same width, these combined are 120 grams (4.25oz) heavier than the stock wheels. For comparison, a $600-$900 wheel set with double-butted spokes and alloy nipples would be almost 1 lb lighter, front and back combined. Is it worth paying $300 more to save 300 grams? That is $1 per gram. Everyone can decide for themselves, but for me, that makes more sense on a Triathlon bike than an eMTB – especially since I just wanted winter wheels. But, you could get a high-end upgrade wheel set for normal use and keep the stock ones for winter.
As for 30 vs 35mm, my personal opinion is that most people should get 30mm, but a recent MBTR article said “Many observers believe the majority of riders of all stripes will settle on 2.4 to 2.6 tires fitted to wheels with internal rim widths of 30mm or 35mm, with a lean toward the latter. The Ibis 942 and 742 (35mm internal) rims, for example, outsell their narrower 29mm cousins by 9 to 1.” So, maybe 35mm is in more demand, and there are lots of tires coming out designed for wider rims.
I mounted my Maxxis Assegai and DHR2 tires easily and they inflated without tubes or sealant using just a manual floor pump. After they inflated, I let the air out and added 100ml sealant into each one using a syringe.
For rotors, I cheaped out and got $9 each ones from Amazon, and they are fine. Laser-cut steel is laser cut steel. 200mm ones are needed front and back. Problem is, these were 203mm, and that was enough to make them not fit. I used #10 stainless washers, two under each bolt, to raise the calipers, and that is working well.
For the cassette, I decided not to get another SRAM NX as there are much lighter ones for the same or less money – both the Shimano M8000 11-42 and the Sunrace MX8 seemed better, and either of those looked good to me. I ended up with the Shimano, and it is 435 grams. The stock NX 11-42 is 527 grams or so, so the change was within 1 oz of making up for the difference in wheel weight. You will have to either move the speed sensor magnet, or get a second one.
Once everything was mounted, I did a wet-weather run with the Assegai tire, and then the same route with the Ice Spiker Pro. The Assegai was great on the trail in general, but I could make it slip by testing panic stops on wet wooden bridges. Not so with the Ice Spiker – it was like Velcro ® brand hook-and-loop fasteners even on wet bridges. Shifting stayed indexed on both cassettes, and after some adjustment, either rotor worked with no rub. The same brake lever Deslackinators worked fine as well. I will warn that had I tried to go to a 46-tooth cassette, the chain might not be long enough to continue to work with my 38 tooth chainring.
In summary, these wheels are good for the price, but heavier than wheels that cost 2-3x as much. You can probably get a stock wheel set as a takeoff from someone for the same price, but it is unclear if that is better or worse – especially since this rear hub has more engagement points. They both will have 2.0mm non-butted spokes and brass nipples, and I don’t know which which hubs will last longer. If, however, you want wheels that are an actual upgrade, you should look for something with lighter hubs, and rims made from 6069 alloy. In doing so, it is easy to spend $600 to $900 for better alloy wheels that save about 1lb of combined weight, or you can just lose 1lb of weight off your body.