The over-enthusiastic cyclist

If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…

Category Archives: Wheels

Pro spec road wheels for half the price

Whilst I didn’t actually need another set of road wheels, I’ve always fancied some that were at least a little bit aero. Obviously I’d love some deep section carbon rimmed models, but I can’t really justify the cost. And so my quest to balance weight, performance and cost began. If you’re new to wheel building then you might want to read the previous post encouraging you to give it a go.
Warning: if you’re not in the least bit interested in bicycle wheels, then you may find this post a little bit dull. 

The brief
I wanted some wheels that were under 1500g without skewers, a rim depth great enough to hopefully provide some aero advantage and a total cost of under £300. I knew that deeper aluminium rims would weigh more, but that could be offset by running fewer spokes due to the increased rim strength. I’m struggling to stay at 80kg so was reluctant to go for the popular 20/24 spoke count. Having been forced to carry my bike home after snapping spokes on my 16/20 Shimano RS80’s before I wanted a wheel that would still function with a spoke out. I settled on 24/28 as a safe compromise and started buying components. One benefit to building your own wheels is that you can spread the cost by buying components whenever you have the money.

Hub choice
Having previously discovered and road tested the 288g BT12 hubs from an Ebay seller for £75 for a previous build, I was more than willing to go with them again. I did have a panic with my first pair after 1100 miles when the rear hub developed an alarming cracking sound that sounded like my carbon frame was about to snap. Having finally worked out how to get into them (take the skewer out and stick an allen key in each end – so obvious I didn’t notice!) I gave them a quick clean and a regrease and they’re like new again.

The rim of choice?
After much research, I stumbled across the TSR 27 from a company called Tune, featuring a rim depth of 27mm, (only) available in 24/28 holes and £33 pounds online from Germany. The site claimed they were “about 430g” which sounded amazing, so I was slightly gutted when they weighed out at 455g each. Still, they’re deeper, lighter and cheaper than Mavic’s popular CXP33 and I liked the understated lack of logo’s. Tune themselves sell a wheelset with these rims on for over £500 and it gets specced on bikes costing £4500, so I was surprised to pick them up so cheap. Also under consideration was the IRD cadence Aero, but the only UK distributer I could find ran out of stock when I had the money…

Spokes
Bit of a no-brainer, but for lightweight and aero I don’t know of anything better than the Sapim CX-Ray. I also really like building with them, as despite being a two handed job, it’s impossible to get in a mess with spoke wind-up. These spokes are brilliant but unfortunately the most expensive components of the wheel build, especially in black. The best place I’ve found is here. I opted for matching black aluminium nipples for an all black sleek looking wheelset (it seems that looks matter to me and my wheels…)

The build
I’d only ever built with the double eye-letted Mavic Open Pro’s before, so I initially fell for the trap of half lacing the wheel then dropping a nipple in the rim and having to unlace it all to get it out. I ended up using an old spoke to poke the nipple through the rim without losing it (are any non-wheelbuilders still reading at this point?) I thought that less spokes might make the build harder, but I had them  trued, tensioned and stressed fairly easily. I’d also decided to try VeloPlugs instead of my usual Velox tape (saving a few more grams…) though I also ran a layer of standard insulation tape over them to prevent the chance of losing any plugs in a roadside repair. I like to easily see some coloured rim tape before pumping a tyre up to 110psi so I know I haven’t pinched the tube.

The result?
I like these wheels – they look great and weigh 1471g without skewers (+44g with my Planet X favourites) and came in under my £300 budget. By comparision, Shimano Dura Ace wheels cost over twice as much, aren’t as aero/deep but do weigh 90g less. Obviously the Dura Ace wheelset has more kudos and is ridden by pro riders, but for the money and extra 90g I’ll go with my self built efforts. If a spoke snaps I can still ride home (no following team car for me) and a new spoke costs £2 instead of £10 with a lengthy wait from Madison. I wisely ordered an extra spoke for each length just in case. Also, when I wear the rim down I can buy a new one for £33, whereas it is not even financially viable to re-rim a high end Shimano wheel, you’d have bought a very expensive wheel with a limited life span.

So how do they ride? Great! I’m not sure how much faster they feel over my Open Pro wheels, but (in my head) they feel quick. They feel nice and stiff with no noticeable brake rub when going hard out of the saddle and I’d recommend them to anyone looking to build some good wheels on a budget.

The only problem I now have  is finding a decent reason to build my next set of wheels…

The finished wheels

The finished wheels

The end result (excuse the flowers)

The end result (excuse the flowers)

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Build your own wheels!

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.

Rims
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.

Hubs
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)

Spokes
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…)

Design
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.