Wheelbuilding

Wheelbuilding is something that has always intrigued me. Maybe because when I was younger, the bicycle wheel looked complicated. Or maybe it is because the wheel accounts for so much of what the rider “feels” while riding. I enjoy wheelbuilding greatly and personally feel that it is a much better solution than buying off the rack wheels. This is not to say that you can’t get quality wheels from certain manufacturers. I would ride some manufacturer’s wheels in a heartbeat. Though hand-building is a huge factor for why many people build custom wheels or have them built, that is not my entire argument for going custom built. In fact, there are many manufacturers who hand-build their wheelsets, and they are quality as well.

For the Rider:

Beyond wheels being hand-built, a custom wheelset is just that, it’s custom. One can talk with their trusted mechanic/wheelbuilder about their discipline of riding, personal style, body weight, expectations from the equipment, and budget. This means that one can have a wheelset tailor made to who they are. They can have some of the best possible components money can buy, or the best components for their budget. If you have a good mechanic, you can trust that the wheels were laced well, tensioned properly, dished correctly, trued to the highest tolerances, and stress-relieved. Plus, you should have his name and word on the build. With quality components and a good build, the rider has little to worry about, for years to come. Warning to the wise: Don’t assume that you can get the flashiest, trendiest looking wheelset from your mechanic. Some guys only use J-bend spokes, some guys only build high spoke-count wheels. Your expectations as a rider should be realistic; if you don’t race, you don’t need racing wheels. A quality, well-built wheelset that seems “basic” will do you better on your group rides for years to come. Most manufacturers only guarantee their wheels for a few years. A rider can also trust that because his mechanic built the wheels, his mechanic can also service the wheels. Most custom wheelsets will have parts that are readily available such as standard nipples, standard J-bend spokes, and the like. Also, many wheelbuilders include lifetime truing and spoke replacement on wheels they build, including myself. Thus, for overall value, performance, and reliability, custom wheels are the way to go for the dedicated cyclist.

For the Mechanic:

Wheelbuilding is something that sets apart mechanic from mechanic. Wheelbuilding is not hard by any means, but requires patience, knowledge, and a good understanding of the mechanics of the bicycle wheel and it’s individual components. Building wheels also makes more sense for the mechanic in my opinion. Here’s why:

1)    You get to build relationships with your customers. It’s important to know your customers and serve them well. Wheelbuilding is an arena where trust is formed and where you not only meet your customer’s needs, but you build your reputation as a quality dude.

2)    As a wheelbuilder, you continue to learn about new components and manufacturers. You are always learning and perfecting you technique; which is never a bad thing. Ultimately, you gain valuable experience that benefits all aspects of your profession.

3)    The wheelbuilder gets to own and ride some of the nicest wheels he can produce. This may be the most tempting reason. You feel accomplished knowing that you can build the elusive bicycle wheel.

For details on wheelbuilding, I suggest Jobst Brandt’s The Bicycle Wheel, Leonard Zinn’s Zinn and The Art of Road Bike Maintenance, Sheldon Brown’s article found here.

Each of these guys has different opinions here and there, but they won’t lead you astray.

A proper, custom built wheel will not lead you astray.

Also, if you are interested in having me build you wheels, please contact my shop at store@spokecycles.com

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