One more reason for custom-built wheels: stop reinventing the wheel

There's a lot of good reasons to buy custom-built bicycle wheels, and the below video by Art's Cyclery I stumbled across this week pretty much nailed the biggest reasons:

Art's points out three main reasons to go custom: ability to tune and balance the wheel's characteristics through component selection; the ability to build a stronger, higher spoke count wheel; and value, citing that custom wheels often are less expensive than their prebuilt counterparts.

Beyond the reasons listed, there is one key reason not addressed: serviceability.

As a society, we've gotten okay with the idea of planned obsolescence and disposable products. At least I know I have. I don't bother to upgrade or repair my computer anymore. I use it for a few years, and when I break the screen or a hard drive fails, I figure I'm about due for a new laptop anyway. Finding parts for a 5-year-old MacBook isn't easy, after all.

The same applies to bike components. Manufacturers often offer replacement parts for 5 years, or sometimes even less. Some components are not user serviceable, and others just aren't serviceable, period.

For the elite rider and the professional athlete who are being given the latest product for free or at a deeply discounted rate, this is never an issue. Those wheels don't need to last 5-plus years, whereas the average recreational rider and amateur racer is going keep that set of wheels at least a few years, if not longer.

So what happens when a handlebar goes into a wheel and breaks one of those proprietary aluminum spokes at a local non-sanctioned 'cross race? You may be able to order a replacement spoke, which will likely take a week or two to arrive. Or, the spoke may not be available at all, depending how long the manufacturer chooses to support their components.

Now, it's unrealistic to think that a manufacturer can support every product they've ever made for all eternity. But, going with a custom wheel build with traditional, non-proprietary spokes, and standard brass or alloy nipples, you stand a fighting chance of that wheel being serviceable 5, 10 or even 20 years down the road.

After all, you know what they say about reinventing the wheel.   


Choosing a wheel builder: I'm not your best choice to rebuild a RockShox fork

Part of what I do here at Velocity USA is lurk (and sometimes participate) in some of the popular online cycling forums. In doing so, I've read a lot of recommendations for rims, both ours and other manufacturers.

While I would agree that rim choice is an important part of a custom build, what I rarely see is a recommendation for a wheel builder -- perhaps the most important part of a custom build. To me, this is a case of putting the cart before the horse.

The rim is only one part of the durability equation. Our rims, even our best and strongest, will fail in some way or another if it is not built properly.

Details like even spoke tension, proper spoke length (there's a ton of horrible advice circulated on forums regarding this), and proper spoke stress-relief procedures produce a strong, reliable wheel.

Often I see recommendations to "have your local bike shop build your wheels." We strongly advocate supporting your local shop. However, most shops do not have a professional wheel builder on staff, and few have professional wheel building equipment.
Our custom, calibrated load cell
Out of the 4 shops I have worked at over the span of a decade, you could count the number of wheel builds coming from each on one hand. Most were tensioned using a Wheelsmith gauge that was last calibrated around the time I was born. The chart indicating what the gauge's readout correlated to in kilograms-of-force had long since disappeared.

Spoke length was usually calculated using an online calculator and preset hub and rim measurements, which we could only assume were correct. We'd often round spoke lengths up or down so we could use the same length spokes on each side of the wheel, with no consideration for spoke and nipple engagement. I know better now.

In the year I've been at The Wheel Department, I've learned more about the art of wheel building than I learned in an entire decade of turning wrenches at various shops, and have built over 1,000 wheels, vs. the 8 or so I built in the previous decade.

A well used DT Tensio
I've also got a number of professional grade tools available at my disposal, including a surface place to check each rim before I lace it, a calibrated load cell to check my DT Swiss Tensio's calibration, a hydraulic press that both stress relieves spokes and sets the J-bends flush against the hub flange, and a Phil Wood spoke cutter which we use to get spoke length dialed in to the half-millimeter.
Our custom hydraulic wheel press
I'm not saying no other wheel builder or bike shop is capable of building a wheel to our standards. What I am saying is: be as, if not more, discriminating choosing a builder than choosing a rim.

Larry the Local Bike Mechanic is probably a great guy and a good bike mechanic, but he may not be your best choice for your custom wheel build, just like I'm not your best choice to rebuild a RockShox fork.


A23 "Blem" wheelsets: low price, high standards

As a testament to The Wheel Department's high standards, occasionally a rim gets rejected for minor cosmetic blemishes. Typically, we offer the rejected rims to shop employees and co-ops at a significant discount, but for a limited time we're letting everyone in on the deal.

For $199.99, you get a pair of 32 hole A23 wheels laced to our Sport hubs with Velocity stainless steel spokes and DT Swiss brass nipples, and our own Velotape rim tape already installed.

Even better, each wheelset is hand-built start to finish by our experts in The Wheel Department. You may be able to find a comparable wheelset for around the same price, but we can guarantee you that these wheels will arrive straighter, rounder and with more even tension than any wheelset at this price point.

Despite the discount, we still build these to the same standards of every other Velocity wheelset that leaves TWD. Our professional wheel builders proudly sign off each wheel, and we stand behind these like any wheel that leaves TWD. 

Run these on your road bike, cross bike, commuter, with tubes, without tubes, however you'd like. You're not just getting a great deal on a wheelset, you're getting a great deal on a wheel build. 


66 Seconds With Velocity: The Birth of a Bicycle Rim

Our last video, showcasing how The Wheel Department hand-crafts our complete wheels in Grand Rapids, Mich. got nearly 10k views -- more response than we ever imagined. Now, we'd like to offer a look at the US-based manufacturing side of Velocity USA.

The video offers a rarely-seen look into how our dedicated workers proudly hand-build our bicycle rims at our Jacksonville, Fla. factory. In 66 seconds, the video takes you from raw extrusion to a completed rim that's wrapped, boxed and ready to ship. 

66 Seconds With Velocity: The Birth of a Bicycle Rim from Velocity USA on Vimeo.


Introducing the 'upcycled' Velocity rim hanger

Velocity USA is proud to announce we're offering a new product, and its not a rim. Well, it is about a third of a rim, technically.

Normally, when we find a rim that just isn't up to our standards, it's set aside in a corner of the warehouse where it gathers dust until we decide to gather them up and bring them to the scrap yard for a little extra cash.

Convinced there was a better use for leftover Australian-made rims (we now manufacture our rims in Jacksonville, Fla.), our in-house wheelbuilders at The Wheel Department set out to find it. We posted a picture of a prototype "upcycled" hanger online, and the response was overwhelming.

Now, we proudly present the upcycled, US-crafted Velocity USA coathanger. Each hanger is handmade in Grand Rapids, Mich. out of a Velocity Deep V rim. The hook is made of two Velocity 14 gauge spokes, and affixed with two DT Swiss brass nipples. Each hanger is hand-cut, each hook is hand-bent.

We're selling the hanger individually or in packs of 4 in our online store at http://store.velocityusa.com/c/accessories_apparel.

These are time consuming to make, and frankly, when the riding season starts we're just not going to have time to make more of these. When they are gone, they're gone. Maybe they'll be back for 2015, but no guarantees.