The Golden Wrench

A blog about bicycle repair and maintenance by the mechanics at Freewheel Bike.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nothing Beats Hand Built Wheels

Every year shrewd companies scramble to make the newest, lightest, most aerodynamic, weakest, most fragile, and most NASCAR-looking wheelset so that Bike Rumor, Velo News, MTBR, and local message boards light up with excitement. Gram hounds everywhere, rejoice! For an extra $400 you can lose 30% of your lateral stiffness and shed a face-melting 40 grams of rotational weight!


Then you break a spoke off in the proprietary nipple and it takes 6 weeks to get replacements, and when you DO get a replacement, you have to completely de-tension the wheel to replace the spoke.

Then the freehub dies three times in one season. Two inboard bearings seize up, and one pawl mysteriously snaps in half and chews up the drive ring.

Then you bend one of your fancy aluminum spokes. 100 miles later, it snaps. Then another one, not bent in the above incident, snaps. They cost $10 each, and they're not even anodized exactly the same color as the originals.

Then the rims that are supposedly "tubeless ready" get you stranded in the field because you can't get a tire to seat properly without an air compressor cranked up to 120 PSI. Funny, other "tubeless ready" setups don't need that much pressure...

Then you are in the biggest race of your life, pushing yourself to the limits, and you stop pedaling, only to have your blingy, ultra-loud, ultra-engagement freehub keep spinning with the wheel, winding your chain up into your spokes. Thus ends your race, and possibly your season!

All of these lessons we've had to learn the hard way. We wanted to believe the glowing magazine reviews and message boards. We wanted to believe that such-and-such company was really producing superlight wheels that were bombproof and laterally stiff and armed to the teeth against the elements. When those wheels failed the first time, we thought it was a fluke. When they failed repeatedly, we woke up.

You know, some system-built wheels are awesome, especially for road bikes. Most, however, utterly fail to live up to the hype that surrounds them from a performance, durability, longevity, serviceability, or cost-effectiveness perspective. And if you end up with a wheel from a fly-by-night company, who is going to service it for you when the design features which made that fly-by-night company a fly-by-night company go KABOOM?

Customers say "why you sell me this crap?"

This is why we're taking our custom wheel building program to the streets. We've been building wheels since the Nixon administration. We know what works, we know what doesn't work. We know how to save weight, we know how to save money. We know how to make wheels fast, we know how to make wheels last. We know wheel theory, we have the right tools, and most importantly, we have the right people.

And we stand behind our work! And no, I'm not sure why we used a picture with a dirty cassette!

Read more about our Hand Built Wheels.