Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lace it up

We live in an age of immediately outdated technology.  Laughably, our computers are obsolete before we unbox them.  Our best efforts to spend our hard earned paychecks on the latest and greatest are often met with the realization that they are no longer late or great—now just recent and decent.  In an industry as fickle as ours, it can be a badge of greatness when a design endures for longer than a flash in a pan.  Nowhere is there a greater example of this than in bicycle wheels. 

Bicycle manufacturers literally try to reinvent the wheel on a daily basis.  These designs will claim to work miracles on race day, but say little about their ease of use or longevity.  So often in cycling we pay a premium for cutting edge performance—giving little or no credence to any given items serviceability, durability, or reliability.  These performance-oriented items can live up to their claims on race day, but often disappoint when they are put into training or everyday use.  So what do you do when you find out your $3000 carbon tubulars aren’t really suited for 4 hour winter training rides—or really anything for that matter other than racing?  Hand built wheels. 

I’m not talking about flashy, new-age, crows-foot lacing, pink hubs with candy cane rims hand built wheels.  I’m talkin’ brass-nippled stripped down form follows function style hand built wheels. 

There are so many choices to build the perfect wheel for all of your wants and needs.

What? You’re not excited? Its true that 32 spokes aren’t as sexy as 12—and double eyeleted, double wall, aluminum rims aren’t as sexy as full carbon clinchers, but you should want these wheels.  Here’s why:

Ride Quality

When assessing a new product I always start here.  How does this product effect the way my bike feels?  At the end of the day this is what matters most.  In almost every case, a set of durable hand built wheels will feel more comfortable than almost any other “straight from the manufacturer” wheelset.  Why is this?

Performance wheels are built for just that: performance.  Sacrifices in comfort and ride quality will always be made in the name of weight or aerodynamics. 

“Well that isn’t a bad thing,” you say, “Don’t I want my bike to be light and aerodynamic?” 

While this is a bit of a complicated question, I will attempt to give you my honest, and maybe somewhat controversial answer: No.  Weight savings and aerodynamics are great things when you are racing, but for training and everyday purposes—which are what most cyclists do most of the time—you need components that function.  No one wants to get chattered around on a set of deep-dish carbon wheels on a four-hour training ride at the beginning of the season.  They just are not built for comfort. 

Hand built wheels, on the other hand, are fully customizable.  They can be built with any number of factors in mind.  Comfort, durability, weight, stiffness, and handling characteristics are all factors that can be specifically tuned for your needs when getting hand built wheels. 

“Fully custom sounds expensive…”

Fully custom is fully custom.  You can choose expensive or inexpensive parts without giving up much in terms of the wheels’ tunability.    Custom wheels vary drastically in price, but I assure you they will be much less expensive than any race wheels. 

Hand Built wheels are fully customizable.  We can even build premium race wheels in addition to burly training wheels

They’re Hand Made

This might seem obvious, but it’s worth talking about.  Hand built wheels are so great because they get the undivided attention of a skilled artisan for hours! That’s right, hours, as in multiple.  We’re not working on a production line.  We don’t have a quota of 15 wheels to build in one day.  We are not a machine that approximates spoke tension.  We take the time to check and re-check, tune and re-tune until your wheel is flawless.  Here are a couple of videos I made of the process:

Wheel building generally has two parts: Lacing and tuning.  You just watched the lacing portion.  That is the simple part.  The real magic happens in the second part: Tuning.  Check it out:

That was just a portion of the process that usually takes about 1-2 hours per wheel.  In case you’re wondering, that is actually the speed at which I work (if you don’t believe me, check out  0:45 of the video for a real time coffee sip). 

This is the real advantage of hand built wheels.  We take the time to make them perfect before they even go on your bike.  Despite a slight break-in period, these wheels are pretty much maintenance free for life—a life than can be easily 5-10 years if you don’t mistreat them.  We believe so strongly in our craftsmanship at Cadence, that we offer lifetime free truings and a guarantee against spoke breakage for the life of the wheel for every hand built wheel we sell.  You might think that is crazy, but we don’t spend very much time with our hand built wheels after they leave the store—if you know what I mean.

Bomb Proof

It’s one of my favorite bike shop phrases.  “Are these bomb proof?” “How bomb proof are these mini-pumps?” “What’s your most bomb proof pair of socks?”

Hand built wheels are by far the most bomb proof wheels in the store.  End of story. 
Most “straight from the manufacturer” wheelsets can be expected to last 1.5 seasons.  If you really take care of your stuff you might get three seasons out of them.  To be honest, by the time you get to three years, you will want a new set anyway because they are so outdated!

Hand built wheels can be expected to last thousands upon thousands of miles.  You will physically wear a hole in the brake track of your rims before these wheels bite the dust (I’ve seen it).  Even when that happens, you need only replace the rims and rebuild the wheels to have a brand new set at a fraction of the original cost. 

Each component of the build is serviceable and replaceable.  Hub bearings can be rebuilt, spokes can be changed, rims can be replaced.  There is almost no situation where the whole wheel should be scrapped and you have to start from scratch—which is fairly common with manufacturers’ wheels made with proprietary spoke systems, etc. 

Want something unique? Check out Ghisallo wood rims.  Visually stunning and durable. 

It seems like a no-brainer to me.  For race day, continue to strap on your highest tech wheelset you can get your hands on, but for everyday use, find something that better suits your wants and needs.  Find something that will last.  Find something that will be dependable for many seasons, many bikes, and many miles to come. 

Interested in getting wheels built?  Contact us at the shop at 215-508-4300, email me at, or come in and find me, and we can chat about your custom wheel options.

Music Credits: The Black Keys - Remember When
                        Garage A Trois - Plena for My Grundle

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