Review: American Classic’s light, stout All Mountain 26 Tubeless wheelset
In what’s become the year of the lightweight trail wheelset, one option has become very easy to recommend. With its reasonable weight, proven freehub, standard spokes, and 28mm wide (25mm inside) rims, and competitive price, American Classic’s All Mountain 26 Tubeless (an All Mountain 29 Tubeless wheelset is also available) wheelset ticks all of the right boxes. With several months under them, American Classic’s trail wheels have done virtually nothing to draw attention to themselves- a Very Good Thing. Hit the jump for specs, pics, and the recommendation you can already see coming…
Despite weighing in at only 1620g (actual), American Classic’s All Mountain 26 Tubeless wheels have seemed equally at home on the 120, 140, and 150mm bikes that they’ve seen during our testing. Most strikingly, the 25mm wide rims really do make tires feel different. Fast, small-knobbed tires like Geax’s 2.2in AKA tire become viable all-mountain choices (especially on the rear), more stable but more supple than on narrower wheels. On the front, everything in the 2.2-2.3in range just felt better than on narrower rims, providing the confidence of larger tires without the weight or rolling resistance. Though some tires seem to benefit more from the added girth than others, there are limits to the “wider is better” meme: when stretched across the All Mountain 26 Tublesses, WTB’s narrow-for-a-1.95 Wolverine tires left frighteningly little space between the crest of the tire and the rim (and never made it out of the workshop). The rim’s deep (23mm) parabolic cross section contributes to a plenty stiff whole while contributing only 390g to each wheel’s weight Taking nearly a very direct path from nipple to bead hook, the rims’ shape is so pronounced that it requires a stabilizing spacer under the included 5g valve stems’ locknut.
Working inward, 30 black and 2 red Sandvik stainless steel 14/15ga double-butted spokes are secured by American Classic’s proprietary nipples. The nipples are loaded in compression- rather than tension- for longer life and can thankfully be trued on the trail using standard tools. At the heart of the All Mountain 26 Tubeless wheelset are American Classic’s Disc 130 and 225 hubs. With names coming from their claimed weights, the hubs have some of the highest flanges on the market and take easily-found J-bend spokes. American Classic’s trademark cam-actuated 6-pawl freehub mechanism, while not especially fast-engaging, has proved itself over time to be light, quiet, and bombproof- even for several years’ worth of single speed use. The aluminum freehub body has steel inserts at several points to limit the damage cassettes can do to soft aluminum splines. With a properly tightened 9s XTR cassette, this hub exhibits virtually none of the scarring that our Project 24 wheel did last year, lending credibility to American Classic’s theory that the previous hub was damaged by a cassette run with a slightly loose lockring. The front hub is convertible between 9mm QR and 15mm thru axle configurations (a dedicated 20mm version is also available) while the 135mm QR rear can be readily converted to 135x12mm and 142x12mm standards- making the wheels largely future-proof.
Add it all up, throw in rim tape (mounted at the factory) and a rear quick release skewer and you’ve got a darn light $850 trail wheelset. On the trail, the All Mountains are surprisingly stout, with none of the flexiness or windup that I have felt in similarly priced wheelsets in the same weight category. In fact, American Classics are confidence inspiring on rough sections and have suffered numerous graceless landings without a peep. The rear hub’s clutch mechanism purrs quietly- a sound that almost needs to be listened for when riding with others on high end wheelsets. While many companies boast super-fast engagement, which can be nice to have, I quickly adjusted to the few extra degrees American Classic require between coasting and pedaling and after a few of rides hardly thought about the issue. Though I’m not sure if it’s extra-smooth bearings, the clutch mechanism, or the tires’ performance on the wide rims, but the All Mountain 26 Tubeless wheels also seem to roll noticeably better than other wheels. Whatever the reason, they sure feel nice.
Our sample front wheel came with an ever-so-slightly loose front hub, which was easy to adjust and has stayed tight since. In fact, finding the slim 22mm wrench needed to adjust the hub has been my biggest headache with the wheels to date. Inside the packaging was an admonition not to use Formula-style rotors without webs between mounting bolts- doing so unevenly loads the bolts and cause the hubs’ threads to strip. For 2012, all AC disc wheelsets are shipping with reinforcing rings (also available aftermarket) that address this issue. A note of caution: I did suffer a Schwalbe Nobby Nic Snakeskin blowout one evening while the wheels were sitting in the workshop (thankfully not while riding). American Classic and Schwalbe are both aware of the issue (I’m not the first) and are calling it an incompatibility. Neither product adheres to the UST standard- for the time being it would be wise to avoid running Schwalbe Snakeskin tires on American Classic tubeless wheels. WTB TCS and Geax TNT tires haven’t had any issues at all.
Whenever asked by trail or bigger XC/enduro riders what wheels they should consider purchasing, I’ve been steering them in American Classic’s direction. Besides being stronger than they probably need to be, the All Mountain 26 Tubelesses use a proven freehub design, are compatible with all of the trail standards currently on the horizon, and have readily replaced spokes. To top it all off, their weight and price are right where they ought to be. All of this makes the American Classics perfect for anyone whose rides take them a long way from the car- and less likely to make a big day out into a long walk home. While I have embraced the “Rawtype” graphics, others have asked if a more subdued option is available: the available white “Buzzsaw” scheme just might be the ticket for more reserved folks. If either color scheme suits you, American Classic’s All Mountain 26 Tubeless are absolutely the trail wheelset to beat.