Bontrager Rhythm Elite 29 // $539
Overgrown 29-inch wheels have a pesky way of upsetting the balancing act bike makers must tackle: creating bikes and parts that are lightweight and durable. Big wheels are heavier, no way around it. But there are advantages to be found.
The engineers who created the 1,950-gram Rhythm Elite 29er wheels sought to capitalize on the big wheels' already longer-than-conventional footprint by giving them an extra-fat 28-millimeter rim profile. The wider profile gives the tire a larger contact patch by spreading the tire beads into a wide stance rather than pinching them together—that means there is more rubber grabbing the ground at any given time.
I put them on my Voodoo Dambala and tried them with the new Geax Saguaro and Bontrager Jones ACX Tubeless tires. Both tires are designed to be fast rollers, not particularly tenacious grippers, yet they impressed me with their traction even on wet rocks and roots.
Like most Bontrager mountain bike wheels these days, the wheels came tubeless ready with an extra-thick rim strip and removable valve stems—a definite plus. My only real complaint is a slight delay in freehub body engagement, owing to a DT-Swiss 370-level hub, which engages every 12 degrees. However, this problem may have been less noticeable had I been testing them on a geared bike and not on a single-speed.
The wheels withstood several months of beating on the ultra-fast twisty trails of Fruita, as well as some steppy sandstone slabs in Moab. They're certainly not the stiffest wheels on the planet, but all 29er wheels have a tendency to suffer in the lateral flex department. But at the end of the day the wider-than-average footprint helped to make up the difference, and almost made me forget these wheels are a bit heavier than standard 26-inch hoops.