New Wheels, New Personality – Handbuilt Wheels by BikeCo
We often talk to clients about where the “personality” of their bike comes from. Frame, of course. Suspension setup, yup. The right cockpit and brakes, definitely. Wheels. Wheels and tires will create and shift personality more than just about any other aspect (being on the wrong frame / suspension will kill riding personality as well). Let’s take a look at the advantage of Handbuilt Wheels by BikeCo.
Even having worked at BikeCo for so many years I will admit I am guilty of riding product into the ground from time to time. Looking back, my last set of wheels had been begging to be put out to pasture well before I finally gave up on them.
Here are some common symptoms of a tired wheelset.
Breaking spokes in batches. This tends to be the death knell of a wheel build. Once I start breaking spokes 2 or 3 at a time, or in quick succession, I’ll look at a wheel rebuild. It doesn’t mean new rims or hubs necessarily – but tired spokes eventually have you walking out. I’m not into hiking with my bike…
Issues staying in true. My last set of wheels got to where they constantly needed to be in the truing stand. Moreover than the actual truing – they required more and more tension to true. This created a couple issues. First, its hard on the wheel build for the spokes and the rims. Second, it compromised on trail traction and tracking.
It can be hard to feel the difference in performance as your wheels age. Like suspension as it needs a service the changes are typically slow to onset with gradual effects.
I really didn’t notice how much traction my wheels were giving towards the end of their service life. (But I certainly did notice how much better the new wheels felt.)
In fact it wasn’t the on trail feel that got me rolling on new wheels. It was the stress cracks in my rear rim that I found during a wash!
The combination of age, tension and use came together and put an end to the wheels. I was impressed – for a machine built set of 28h Race Face ARC rims laced to DT Swiss 350 hubs I got tons of use out of them. Much more than I would have thought honestly.
But, cracked rims and a going to 29’s meant it was time to look at fresh wheels.
I’ve had a handful of setups over the years. The last several seasons I’d run machine built, mid to lower price point wheels with decent results. BikeCo’s mechanics go through each wheel we sell prior to them leaving, whether we build them, another builder ships them in, they come with a complete, etc. Tension, True, Round are checked. Pre-stressing techniques are used to minimize wheel break in and maximize trail performance. This ensures our clients ride the best machine built wheels on the market.
BikeCo Handbuilt Wheels
All of that said, I wanted to treat myself to the best performance, a touch of vanity with colors as well as a personalized spec for my riding style. It was time for another set of handbuilt wheels.
There are some obvious and other less obvious places where you’re going to find performance in a wheel build.
This one is pretty obvious. Better hubs, better wheels right? Ya, pretty much. Factors to consider: service life, reliability, weight, color options (hey I admitted to a bit of vanity earlier…) and engagement.
I much prefer high engagement hubs. The 36t DT Swiss 350 was near the lower end of the spectrum that I enjoy riding. Go to the 55t? Well, that 55t can be a bit dainty. I’m a larger rider without great pedaling technique, so I can be pretty hard on hubs. The DT Swiss 55t was going to be too delicate for me.
I must admit that I expected to have some issues with the DT Swiss 350 and never did. It proved to be quite the reliable workhorse hub. I didn’t even eat up a bearing in the 3 seasons I rode those wheels. More than once I did eject the cassette and freehub mounting a tire which annoyed me – but it was an issue with my technique I suppose. I had to remind myself of that looking for springs in the garage late at night, etc.
The DT 240s hubs are very popular with cross country and endurance racers. Light weight, strong, with great part availability have them on a lot of riders short list to review.
Industry Nine’s new Hydra hub system is set to take a place in the high performance hub world. High engagement, great color options and made in Asheville North Carolina – lot to love with these.
I ended up pulling the trigger on a Chris King setup. Insane attention to detail, great engagement, color that I wanted, US made (Portland, Oregon) these hubs are machined artwork to me.
King has easily servicable bearings with a near infinite lifespan. In fact, many of BikeCo’s clients are running King hubs from well before the 27.5″ wheel days!
The trickle down technology in other areas of bike building made it easier to treat myself to the nicer hubs. GX drivetrain, less expensive dropper seat posts, Magura MT5 brakes – all of these have a ton of value for the performance and meant I could allocate a bit more budget to my wheelset.
If price is an issue there are some great options we work with that can save you some money as well. Factor by Novatec, Hope Pro 4 (for the right rider), etc.
The carbon vs. aluminum debate. So much to get into, and only so many words left before the SEO wizards get sad…
Am I pro carbon? Absolutely. The stiffer wheels tend to track better creating a more confident on trail experience. There are a variety of carbon layups with varying stiffness (aka feedback, feel). Want the stiffest? ENVE. Looking for a bit more supple feel? NOX and Ibis make amazing rims. Dialing in the right carbon rim for your riding is incredibly important. A bit more on that when we get to spokes.
Do I ride carbon? I do not. Looking at my old wheels the front told a story of nimble, smooth riding. The rear looked like it had been in a cement mixer with a dozen hammers! If I have an issue riding these days it would be smashing the rear wheel now and then. Aluminum rims take a hell of a beating and still hold the tire. Eating the occasional rim hurts less with aluminum for me.
Rim width, weight and strength are factors to consider whether carbon or aluminum. It is important to have a rim width that pairs with tires you like to ride and produces a shape complimentary to your riding. 27mm to 35mm options are most common depending on rider style and preference.
ENVE M730 Rim Profile
I went with the WTB Asym i29. I liked the eyelets, especially after having rim cracks on my last wheel. The 29mm internal pairs well with 2.3 to 2.6″ tires (I currently run 2.5) with a good cornering lug shape.
The WTB KOM Tough also is a great option for riders like me. I’ve had good luck with the RaceFace ARC series and the new Stan’s rims are good widths for a wide range of riding.
Questions on rims? Chat with our expert staff they can help you dial in your build.
SPOKES and WHEEL TUNING
OK. You’ve made it this far. That’s good. Because this is a hugely under appreciated area in wheel performance and you’re about to be more in the loop for reading it.
Spoke production, high end spoke production, is a bit of a guarded art.
At BikeCo we work as much as possible with DT Swiss spokes. DT Swiss has the best batch to batch consistency. This is partly because their wire suppliers provide more consistent product but also DT has developed proprietary ways to butt and shape spokes for the best stress flow and strength.
Spokes like the double butted DT Swiss Competition and Competition Race are not only lighter, but stronger than straight spokes thanks to the work hardening manufacturing processes. Cold forging the spoke shape doesn’t break the material grain (like cutting would) rather it compresses the material for better flow of strength.
Since spokes are a quantity purchase lighter spokes can substantially lower the weight of a wheel.
It is common for our builds to feature mixed spokes as well. For instance my personal build features double butted DT Swiss Competition spokes in the rear but a mix of Comp and Comp Race in the front. The heavier spokes reside on the more stressed side. ie the Comp spokes are on the braking side of a front wheel or the drive side of a rear.
The right spoke spec built by an experienced builder allows the entire wheel to have a tension “tuning” range. Why do you need to tune your wheels? Well as you lean a bike over (particularly in a non-bermed corner) the suspension becomes less effective. This means that a bit of lateral give in your wheel acts as suspension helping you maximize traction.
One of our sales team, Landon, has personal experience with this. Last season Landon was riding a set of Enve rims that were extremely stiff for his weight (light rider). This compromised the bike’s traction as it always wanted to “skip” across the top of the trail. Working with Joe and Tracy his wheels were “de-tuned” a bit allowing more flex from the spokes and wheel build. The bike came alive.
Is there a limit to wheel tuning? Of course. Should you simply loosen your wheels up? Not unless you’re aware of what you’re doing and the potential consequences! (It might blow you away to know how many wheels downhill racers use up trying to maximize high lean angle tuning, especially with carbon hoops.) But should it be something you consider on your next set of wheels?
Absolutely. And from hubs, rims, spokes to wheel tuning BikeCo.com IS your expert resource. BikeCo offers the best spec, setup, tune and pricing in MTB. Chat, email or call our sales team today to discuss dialing in your riding experience.