XC or all-mountain use; Industry Nine Hydra hubs; 30.1mm internal rim width; optimized for use with 2.1 to 2.8-inch tires
More affordable than most of its competitors; great hubs; good warranty and crash replacement program
Rims sourced in China (though that's not really a con for many buyers)
The Rough Country wheels feel just as high-end, stiff, solid, and responsive as carbon wheels twice the price. That alone should be enough to convince you to buy them. As long as you aren't tied to the "Made in the USA" theme (the Rough Country wheels are built in the USA, but the rims are sourced from China), there's not much to dislike about the Rough Country wheels.
There’s no shortage of carbon wheels on the market, and most rugged trail and enduro riders tend to avoid them because they’re often far too pricey. Crack one of those bad boys and you’re out a lot of cash. Dirt Components has made a set that’s more affordable than most; the Rough Country wheels are priced to get more mountain bikers on carbon wheels. And so far, the performance well outpaces the price.
Rough Country by the numbers
The 29-inch Rough Country wheels I tested fit anywhere from a 2.1-inch tire all the way up to 2.8 inches. My sweet spot is around 2.4. This seems to capitalize perfectly on the 30.1mm internal rim width. The rims are 26.1mm deep, which seems on par with most of the Rough Country’s competitors. Dirt Components recommends a max pressure setting of 45psi, which is well above what I would normally run, and there’s a 260-pound rider weight limit on these bad boys.
The Rough Country wheels are tubeless-ready and feature a hookless bead, which is more or less standard fare these days when it comes to mountain bike wheels. Dirt Components says the Rough Country wheels are intended for XC and all-mountain use.
While the rims were unfamiliar to me, I’m well-versed in the workings of Industry Nine’s Hydra hubs, and I’m glad Dirt Components specs them here. The Hydra hubs feature a whopping 690 points of freehub engagement, which results in immediate power transfer when you start pedaling. I’m a big fan of these hubs, though if you’ve got sensitive ears, you might think you’re being chased by a pack of murder hornets. I9 recommends swapping out the stock lubrication to quiet the hubs.
Dirt Components company
Dirt Components is an upstart name, so you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of it (even though it produced its first wheels in 2014). The Austin, Texas-based wheel makers source its carbon hoops from China, but the wheels are all hand-made in the USA.
Dirt Components president Patrick Reed says, “Every single build is done in house, started on our handmade lacing jig and finished on a P&K Lie, and our quality control methods include cataloging every wheel’s spoke tension in a database through our Mahr digital indicator and recording suite with milestone indications for each build. Passing build tensions means average tensions are within a specified range, and that min and max tensions are each within 2.5 percent of that range. Our head builder, Michael Nguyen, has created an internal net query-based lookup for spoke lengths, to show off his coding skills and to simplify our job process, I’m still very impressed with it; it works better than Google.”
With precision and consistency in mind, Dirt Components still offers a 4-year warranty on all its wheels. There’s also a 2-year “Just Riding Along” crash replacement policy, so you get a lot of peace of mind when you plunk down the cash for these wheels.
About those prices: For carbon hoops, the Rough Country wheels come in at a pretty good price. Reed says, “Prices are low because we keep overhead low. There aren’t any fancy boxes, the warehouse is a hole in the wall in the middle of nowhere, and we do it right the first time to keep our labor as low as we can.”
Riding the Rough Country wheels
The Rough Country wheels are all about cornering. It sure is fun to rip into corners with these wheels; they’re impressively stiff, so there’s really little flex to counter when you push your weight down to make the corner beads of your tires dig in.
I put the Rough Country wheels on my Revel Rascal, a bike that has consistently encouraged me to ride harder than perhaps an injury-prone gent such as myself should. (With friends like this, who needs enemies, right?) The bike itself is a rowdy one, taming hits that would otherwise buck me or force me to change lines. So the Rough Country wheels had to stand up to a lot of steamrolling and, shall we say, inartful descending. That’s the nature of most of the Colorado trails I ride, here on the Front Range outside of Denver: fast descents, sharp rocks, and rattlesnakes that force you to air it out at speed (and shriek like a child).
In that sense, the ride quality impressed. The wheels took a beating but never felt overly jarring. Sure, you get that carbon-stiff character, but it’s certainly not as unforgiving as I’ve experienced on other carbon hoops of this ilk. Generally, I’ll take a bit of extra stiffness if the trade-off is killer tracking in corners. The Rough Country wheels are worth it for sure in that regard.
But keep in mind that if you’re coming from aluminum rims, the stiffness here is going to feel jarring. That’s the case with almost all carbon mountain bike wheels, so that’s not necessarily a knock against the Rough Country wheels specifically. Just know that the ride quality changes, and if you’re after forgiving wheels, you probably won’t like carbon hoops in general.
It’s hard to argue with carbon wheels and stellar I9 Hydra hubs at this price. Sure, the hoops are made in China, so if you’re on the Made-in-America wagon, you probably don’t mind spending more cash on something like a set of Enve MTB wheels (which I’ve had great experiences with as well). I like what the company offers — a good warranty and crash replacement program, minimal packaging, and a meticulous build process, all at a great price compared to its competitors — and the ride quality feels on par with wheels at twice the price. Dirt Components has a good set of wheels on its hands with the Rough Country; if you’re in the market for carbon MTB wheels and don’t mind hoops sourced from China, the Rough Country wheels are hard to pass up.