Many cyclists could benefit from having wheels built specially for them. Different people have different needs, and the stock wheelsets on many new bikes are designed mainly to sell bikes, not necessarily to fulfill the needs of the buyer. The wheelsets on many new bikes have fewer spokes than ever. These "low-spoke-count" wheels are considered by many to be very desirable. In many cases, I feel differently. Many of the entry-level wheels are generally no lighter than a conscientiously built 32 spoke wheel and if you manage to break a spoke on one of these wheels, you are usually finished for the day. Since each spoke carries a greater percentage of the total load, a single broken spoke can result in the rim going out of true so severely that it will not clear the brake pads-even with the quick release open. Also the hubs in these wheels are sometimes sourced from Asian companies that provide no spare parts to the US market. A worn out bearing, normally a quick job to replace, can force wheels built with these hubs off the road into the trash.
Now for a short detour...
If you really want a low-spoke-count wheel, then I would recommend you give the Bontrager line a try. We are a Bontrager Test Ride Center. Keith Bontrager has been an innovator all his life. His designs are efficient, elegant, and do not embrace trendy whims. They have been ridden to victory numerous times. They avoid proprietary spokes, are easy to service, and have the one of the best warranties in the wheel business.
Ok, back to the main road...
So, those are a few examples of what a wheelset shouldn’t do.
So, what should a wheelset do?
It should never break spokes. Broken spokes that aren’t the result of an overload, e.g. crash or pothole, are nearly always a sign of a wheel that either lacked sufficient strength from the start or was improperly built.
It should stay true for the rim’s lifetime. This presumes it is ridden with care, in the manner for which it was designed.
It should be reasonably lightweight. That term has different meanings depending on what you do with your wheels. A lightweight touring wheelset would be considered hopelessly obese by most racers. On the other hand, most road racing wheels would lead very short lives under the weight of a full load of touring gear.
It should be easily repaired. Sooner or later, even the finest wheels will need maintenance. With manufacturers debuting new wheelsets every year, replacement parts can often be hard or even impossible to find. Well-spec’d custom wheels are easily repaired and do not use hard to find proprietary spokes. Unless you are a member of the “Wheel of the Year” club we think you'll be happier on a set of purpose built wheels!
To ensure that my custom wheels meet these specifications, I insist on using the highest quality materials.
I like most of the Mavic range, except the Open Pro as well as Velocity. DT Swiss' new line of rims are well designed and a pleasure to build with. Some Sun rims are very good. We build with entire Stan's Notubes line as well. Enve and Zipp are two of the best quality carbon rims available. I advise serious riders to avoid the cheap Chinese carbon rims. They are not built for durability. That said, I am riding on the HED Belgium rims. They are immensely strong, light and aero.
DT Swiss 240s as well as the 350 line are a favorite both from performance and durability as well ease of maintenance. Chris King hubs are what I have on my road bike. They now also have a line of road specific hubs that are lighter and have less rolling resistance than their ATB hubs. King is a company with a conscience. They use only domestic materials and reuse most of their scraps. Their factory is even made out of recycled materials! Phil Wood are time-tested super-durable hubs that are available in many different configurations.
Of course, there’s always Shimano. Their upper range, i.e. Ultegra, Dura Ace, XTR, and XT, is hard to beat for the price!
Just because you don’t see a manufacturer mentioned, don’t assume I can’t or won’t build with them. There are lots of companies making great rims and hubs.
SpokesI also "tie and solder" wheels for certain applications. This is the process of tying the spokes at the last crossing before the rim. It can transform a pair of wheels! Keener steering response and better power transfer are but two of the advantages. It also enhances safety. If a spoke were to break, it is attached to the adjacent spoke, and doesn’t become entangled in the derailleur or hub. Tying and soldering has no effect on the ability of the wheels to be trued should they ever need it. There are a lot of myths floating around about negative ride quality issues with tying soldering. Wheels were never intended to act as a suspension element for the rider any more than the Golden Gate bridge was intended to act as a cushion. Wheels can be likened to pre-stressed concrete structures in that each spoke is under several hundred pounds of tension. That high tension helps prevent spoke breakage. If your wheels are soft enough to be cushy, they will almost certainly be breaking spokes as well.
If I build a wheel for you with components that I recommend, I will warranty that wheel against spoke breakage for the life of the rim. If a spoke fails in a wheel I have built for you which has not obviously been damaged in some way, I will replace that spoke, and retrue the wheel, usually while you wait at no charge. The same goes for truing. If your wheel becomes untrue without any obvious damage, I will true your wheel, free of charge, again, usually while you wait. Feel free to ship your wheels back as well. You pay the shipping to me and I pay the shipping back! Shipped wheels will most often be turned around the same day.
A note for racers
Racers frequently ask me to build wheels that will not, in my opinion, be durable in the long run. In general, racers’ foremost requirement is lightness. A season or two of hard riding is all they want from a wheelset. I am happy to build wheels like this, but cannot offer the lifetime warranty on such wheels.
So what does a set of Custom Wheels by Doug Hamilton cost? They can start as low as $375.00 for a Velocity Deep V/Shimano 105 combination. The choice of hub largely determines price, unless you want a carbon rim.
Feel free to call 513.523.4880 to discuss your wants or needs.
You may also e-mail The Wheelbuilder.
All wheels are hand-built by Doug Hamilton.