I like wheels. Obviously we all need them and we all know that it’s the one upgrade that you can really feel, but it was only within the last few months that I realised the satisfaction of speccing and building your own. The idea started to take shape after my Shimano RS80 road wheels wore dangerously thin and then discovering that to buy new rims from Shimano would cost more than the wheels did. Shit economy. I also had a well respected shop build my MTB wheels last year – they’re the best spec wheels I’ve ever had but I was forever getting them re-trued…
So why build your own?
- When a rim wears down you’re just looking at replacing a standard off the shelf part (£40 for my rim of choice)
- No more company specific spokes that cost a fortune and take ages to order through a shop (Shimano, grrrr)
- Design them specific to your needs (weight, strength, cost, use, colour etc)
- Massive potential for annoying your other half by spending hours reading reviews of spokes etc. (“Do you not know everything there is to know about wheels yet?”)
- You’ll never need to pay a bike shop to spend ages replacing a snapped spoke again.
I always assumed, like most do, that building wheels was a craft that needed years of training to learn. I even considered going on a wheel building course. This is bollocks – just buy ‘The Professional Guide to Wheel Building’ by Roger Musson. This will be the finest £9 pdf you will ever download and he will take you through everything you need to make your own wheels.
I spent a long time speccing the parts for my wheels (I’ve now built three pairs and looking for an excuse to build another) and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. Obviously these are my own views – much like the rest of the internet – but if you’re of a trusting or lazy disposition then you can benefit from my weeks of research distilled into a few paragraphs.
I spent ages looking at DT Swiss, Ambrosio, Mavic and ZTR, but eventually went with Mavic. They were the most readily available and consequently competitively priced and compare well against the others. I’ve used Open Pro’s for all my builds so far (about £40 and 435g). I was also quite drawn to the CXP33, though I’m not sure how much aero advantage you’d get for the weight penalty. I nearly got the Ambrosio Excelight (few grams lighter for about £10 more) but they seem harder to get hold of.
For my first set I went ‘tried and tested’ with Shimano, picking up some Ultegra hubs at a good price. Since researching further though, I’ve realised that they weigh an absolute ton (relatively speaking of course) so they have been designated as my cross wheels. My second set featured Miche RC2’s which were cheaper and lighter, making a cracking training set for the road. My third set were built around some unbranded hubs from a Taiwan ebay seller. This isn’t my usual style but they were £75 posted and only weigh 295 grams – I challenge anyone to beat that! I’ve done 350 miles on them and so far so good. I also looked at DT Swiss (a small fortune) and Hope (love’em off road but couldn’t imagine the freehub noise on the road). Ambrosio hubs also looked good quality and value.
Be aware that not all hubs come with skewers. If you want to save weight, the rather wonderful Planet X do some Ti/Carbon models at 44g a pair for the bargain price of £17.50 (at the time of writing)
Call me naive, but I didn’t realise there was so much variation in spoke design… Your two main players are DT Swiss and Sapim. I’ve used DT Swiss Competition double butted spokes for two the first two sets. Roger will explain more about double butted spokes in the book, but be aware that the black ones are dearer (but look ace!) and the best place I found was Rose Bikes in Germany. They deliver quicker than some UK shops, but as there’s a delivery charge, see if you can get as much gear as possible in your order to make it worthwhile. For my ‘posh’ set of road wheels, I went for Sapim CX-Ray spokes. They’re aero, light but still strong. DT Swiss Aerolight seem to be the exact same weight/strength/quality so it just depends on whatever you can get hold of. I got the CX-Rays from Bike24.com, another German site. These were the dearest part of the build… I also invested in some posh nipples (oo-er) – black aluminium rather than the usual silver brass. Dearer, but lighter (there’s a theme developing here…)
Again, the book will go into detail, but I went for 32 spoke 3x on my first two sets. I’m a bit of a fat bastard at 13 stone and for the cross and winter training intentions these wheels were built for, it seemed sensible. For my ‘posh’ road wheels I went 32 spoke 3x on the back and 28 2x on the front. These wheels weigh in at just over 1500g including quick release skewers and cost under £300. I know some people would use 20/24 spoke lacing, but every time I snapped a spoke on my RS80’s the wheel went so far out of true I had to carry the bike to the nearest station. Bollocks to that, for what a decent spoke weighs, I reckon it’s worth using enough so you’ll still get home if one breaks.
I’m right chuffed with my posh wheels, they feel fast and strong, look as good as any factory wheel. All my wheels have stayed in true so far and every part can be replaced cheaply. By me.