Lets talk about wheels for a minute. For a bike they are a very important piece of the puzzle. Wheels have a large effect on the quality of how your bikes rides. Luckily for you guys, the consumer, most of the wheels that come stock on bikes are pretty decent. The bike companies have done an excellent job of putting wheels on bikes that are reasonably light, roll smooth and fast, and last a fair amount of time without needing too much attention or maintenance. By making a few thousand of the same type of wheel, the bike and wheel companies are able to offer a nice wheel at a fair price. You build enough of any one thing and you tend to get fairly efficient at it. It’s called manufacturing to scale. It drives the overall price of anything down by allowing for the most streamlined process.
The problem with manufacturing to scale is to do it properly, you have to make a large amount of the exact same thing. I’m guessing that most of you aren’t exactly the same size or shape as one another. I’m also pretty certain that all you different sized and shaped people ride in various types of terrain. I’ll also go out on a limb and assume that while traveling over all those various tyoes of terrain, you divergent build of riders also have unique and varied riding styles.
Those stock wheels that came on your bike don’t know or care about any of that. They were designed for a rider of average size, weight, riding style, and over an moderate amount of terrain. They don’t care if you are 220lbs. or 110lbs. Same wheels. They don’t care if you ride in Florida or Colorado. Same wheels. They don’t care if you are a hard charging crit racer or a recreational bike path user. Same wheels. They don’t care if you grew up on a BMX track and have awesome technical skill or if you just smash through stuff. Same wheels.
Now again, those wheels are good wheels. But they are bit like buying a great car and never adjusting the seat position. Actually, that’s a terrible analogy. Wheels, custom wheels, are what truly make a bike yours. A long time ago, I fancied myself good at golf. And I wasn’t half bad. Not pro tour level talent or even club pro talent, but good enough. College level good, but probably not D1. I thought at one point my skills warranted a custom built set of very expensive Ping irons. Custom shafts, custom lay and face angle, even grips just right for my hands and grip. Those clubs sang. I still hit errant shots that didn’t go where I wanted them to, but no club will correct a swing defect or mental faults, of which I had plenty. But those clubs hit more shots better and with greater ease than any I had ever played before. I still have them and every so often I drag them out and hit a few buckets and play a quick nine. And because those clubs are better than I ever was or ever will be, but were built for me, I still fall back into the old rhythms quicker and easier than I have any right too.
That’s not much better of an analogy, but it’s what has stuck in my craw, and besides, all the trade magazines say cycling is the new golf, so lets just run with it. When you take the time to sit down with your favorite wrench to discuss an new set of wheels, that person is going to (or should, anyway) take into consideration all the things that you want and need in a set of wheels. Height, weight, riding style sure, but also the important things. Things like what the wheels should feel like slicing a turn. How they’ll track through the rain ruts and washboard. Jumping to cover a break and feeling them snap up to 28 mph. How they’ll smoothly scrub speed and panic stop under full control. How they’ll hold up under a loaded off road tour and yet still be snappy on the local gravel rides.
Other things like how the hubs are serviceable. Spokes are ones you can find at any local bike shop. Rims designed to seat a tubeless tire quickly or match the profile of a cyclocross tubular. Nipples that won’t corrode under harsh commuting conditions. Axles you can swap out from QR to thru-axle and back as needed. CenterLock or 6 Bolt.
Important things like de-badging rims of stickers. Proper nipple color selection. Silver or black spokes. Has going full stealth black jumped the shark stylistically? Overall color and style points. All of the above things go into making your wheels for you, they are all important, and none of it was considered when every single bike company choose which ones to spec on your bike.
Of course, this is the point where I’m supposed to link you over to to website with a dazzling array of wheel options for you to choose from. Wheels built with boutique hubs and butted and bladed spokes, and nipples in all the colors of the Skittle rainbow. Rims as deep as the deepest dish pizza. Wide rims, aero rims, tubeless, and tubular rims. Machined and eyeleted. Carbon. Anodized. All of these wheels already pre-programmed and ready to select from the drop down menus. Only problem is those wheels aren’t yours. They were predetermined to have a sexy anodized appeal to the widest range audience. They are shiny, trendy versions of the stock wheels you already own.
The other standard is to link you to a site where you choose all the parts and a basic calculator spits out a wheel spec and price. A few clicks and a PayPal transaction and you’ve determined what type of wheels will be anonymously built for you. The issue with these is you aren’t hiring a wheelsmith to build your wheels. You’re paying for for someone to assemble a list of parts. You should be choosing a wheelsmith and not a wheelbuilder.
Choosing a wheelsmith is what makes a custom built wheel special. Tati Cycles explains best what the difference is between a wheelbuilder and a wheelsmith. Take a few moments and read his much more elegant treatise on wheels.
Service Course Velo is your wheelsmith and not your wheelbuilder.
I’ve built a lot of wheels in the almost 20 years I’ve been turning wrenches in the bike industry. I’ve built them too light, too heavy, under spoked, not enough crosses, under tensioned, poorly prepped, and improperly spec’d. But those wheels were excellent learning tools. All those wrong wheels help teach me what a person needs in a pair of wheels. Pulling apart the wrecked, crashed, and damaged remains allowed me to do bike shop CSI on what went wrong and how to make it better and right the next time. Mostly, it taught me to listen to what the customer needs above what the trendy, hot wheel component might be. It taught me to build a wheel that is light, stiff, round, true, and stays that way for as long as it possibly can and when it does finally go pear shaped, to be easily fixed, either trailside or in the shop. Ultimately, it taught me to build the right wheels for the customer.
All that said, there are certain rims, hubs and spokes that tend to pop up fairly frequently in a lot of Service Course Velo’s wheels. Mostly it’s due to their quality. I’m in a fortunate position to not have to stock items or product I don’t stand behind or believe in. But as bike shops are businesses, there are often other concerns that need to be taken into account as well. Availability is pretty high up on the list. If I can’t readily source a company’s product, let alone get parts and technical support for it, then it doesn’t behoove you or me to offer it in a wheel build. It’s also nice to do business with vendors who run upstanding businesses and are nice people. Life is too short and it just ruins the fun of riding a bike to have to deal with jerks, flakes, and assholes.
Obviously, buying a custom set of wheels is a not insignificant financial undertaking. But if you have the means to do it, it is well worth it. Also, if the stock wheels that came spec’d on your bike are nearing the end of their serviceable life, then quite often you’d be surprised by how affordable a hand made set of custom wheels can be.
If you are interested in your own set of wheels, custom built just for you and how you ride, then call, email, or stop by. I’d love to sit down and have a chat with you about all the parts and pieces. But I’d really like to discuss how I can build you a set of wheels that the only time you’ll notice them is when they make you smile.
Listed below is some of the brands Service Course Velo regularly uses in a big ol’ variety of combinations when building wheels.
Stan’s No Tubes