Archive | November, 2010

The Rebirth of the Handbuilt Wheel

4 Nov

OK, so maybe they never died, but over the past ten years or so the Cycling industry has seen a surge in the popularity of pre built or machine built wheels. These wheels were and are still touted as lighter, stiffer, and more efficient than their counterparts. While this may be true in many cases it is not a hard fact. Each way of building wheels has its own set of benefits. I could go on all day about how x wheel has higher spoke tension and pulls the spokes at y angle to maximize a specific property of the ride. This post is more about the general trend back toward hand built wheels that we are seeing right now, and why you should care.

Most cycling enthusiasts and industry insiders will tell you that there is nothing quite like the feel of a quality wheel hand built by a master wheel builder. Having said that there can also be serious drawbacks to a hand built wheel that is not assembled correctly. That is why it is essential that you know the person that is building your wheel is competent.

So, before you set about getting a new wheel set built up it is important to know who is building it. This doesn’t mean that you should stroll in and ask the shop who their best builder is and grill him with a thousand questions you read on the internet in some blog post like this one. Rather, it is best to go to the shop you normally frequent and ask them about getting a new wheel built. They will guide you through the process.

They will ask about your uses for the wheel, are you concerned more with weight or with longevity, or stiffness, or price, or geek factor. They will explain the differences in rims, spokes, nipples, and lacing pattern and help you decide what will work best for you. If they don’t, can’t, or seem to be faltering then that could be an indication that you should consider another builder.

One sometimes overlooked benefit of hand built wheels is their serviceability. If you have a broken spoke or stripped nipple it should be easily replaced at any shop in the US. Specialty wheels, on the other hand, may require parts that are not available to all dealers and may be a special order item.

It has also been popular lately for stores to farm out their hand built wheels. This is an option that works for some stores who either can’t build their own wheels to a high level of quality or are strapped for time and can’t dedicate the man hour to do it. This option works because there are plenty of good wheelhouses out there, but you loose the personal interaction with the builder.

Below are a few of our most recent wheel builds.

Here is a video of our senior wheel builder Sam talking about a custom build we have recently done.

Thanks for reading.