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Should I build my own wheels or buy a wheelset?(17 posts)

Should I build my own wheels or buy a wheelset?wjtm
Sep 4, 2001 11:25 AM
I am in the market for some new wheels for my current Klein road bike. I also like to tinker and have a truing stand, and am considering building my own.

I've heard that building a new wheel isn't all that difficult, and I have trued my own wheels for some time now, so I think I have the "feel" of spoke tension down ok. I currently have Ultegra hubs mounted on Sun Venus rims (semi-deep dish aluminum) that aren't terribly heavy. I have a few questions regarding this project:

1. Is it cheaper to buy a pre-constructed wheel or build my own? Any hints here?
2. I was hoping to get away with around a $300 to $350 set. I spec'd out Mavic CXP 33's, Ultegra hubs, and bladed spokes from coloradocyclist and all together it came in at about $350. Do you think this is a good deal? Are there any rim/spoke/hub combinations you recommend more for less money?
3. I've read a lot about lacing patterns, and it appears that radial front and non-drive side on the rear is pretty standard. Do any custom wheelbuilders think this is good, or should I build a standard-laced wheel? I weigh in at 185 - do I have a worry with a radial pattern?

Any other advice or resources you could point me to are much appreciated!

-Will (
it's cheaper to buy'em...C-40
Sep 4, 2001 1:56 PM
Unless you just want to pay a lot more for the "fun" of building your own, with no recourse if they perform poorly, I would recommend that you let Colorado Cyclist or Excel Sports build the wheels.

Custom built CXP-33's with Revolution spokes and ultegra hubs are only $256. I wouldn't use bladed spokes unless they are Sapim X-rays which are very light. Some bladed spokes are heavy, and generally are used with lower spoke count aero rims.

28 hole CXP-33's should hold up with Revolution spokes everywhere but the right rear. Use 14/15's there, for durability and easier truing. If you're tough on wheels, a 32H rim may be needed for the rear. Most builders will tell you that there is little to gain from radial or other odd lacing patterns. 3X can't be beat for durability.
that's absurdclub
Sep 5, 2001 5:46 AM
I could build up two pair of nice wheels and have change left over with that amount. Once you discover that wheelbuilding ain't all that difficult, and you complete your first pair and find they're as good as store-bought ones, you will never buy pre-built wheels again. And next time you toast a rim or wear thru a sidewall on one, you won't have to go a'running to the LBS with a $50 in hand to pay someone to lace up your new rim. Paying wheelbuilders is like buying fish from the market instead of catching them yourself. The latter's cheaper, more satisfying, and more fun.
your answer is absurd!C-40
Sep 5, 2001 8:49 AM
List the source of the components to build a set of CXP-33's with ultegra hubs and revolution spokes for $130. The price for the individual parts at Excel is $273, compared to the built wheel cost of only $235.

The prices for built wheels at Colorado Cyclist and Excel Sports have been significantly less than the combined prices of the components for at least the last 10 years. Like I said, build'em yourself for fun, but it's cheaper to buy'em.
built cheaper sometimesColnagoFE
Sep 5, 2001 11:53 AM
I got a pair of what Excel Sports calls the Cirrus wheelset. Open Pro black rims w revs 3x, alloy nips, and 14/15 drive side rear w/ record hubs for $205. That's cheaper than the parts cost alone. D/A version available for $195.
re: Should I build my own wheels or buy a wheelset?Jofa
Sep 4, 2001 2:22 PM
For anybody with a modicum of mechanical curiosity, wheelbuilding is an enjoyable and satisfying thing to do. Before buying anything else, my recommendation is to buy a copy of "The Bicycle Wheel", by Jobst Brandt, published by Avocet Press. The book gives you thorough instruction, step-by step through the process of building a wheel from scratch, coupled with mechanical theory and experiment describing the ways in which wheels work, and the often surprising forces under which they operate. It will answer the questions you pose, though I'll look at them in order in any case:

1. Usually the cheapest way is to build your own, though large companies have the benefit of economies of scale and may be able to compensate for their whee-builder's fee, especially if he is partially machine. Certainly, most prebuilt wheels which are marketed as complete items- Ksyrium, Rolf, the Shimano's etc- are a more expensive option.

2. CXP33's are OK if unneccessarily chunky: Open Pro's are better designed though still flawed. The best rims made recently are Mavic MA2's, though they are discontinued- maybe look for end-of-line bargains- they were never expensive in the first place. Otherwise look for box-section rims with steel spoke sockets.
Ultegra hubs are about the best available, when cost is considered (as it should be): only DA are better and they are much pricier. CNC-machined 'cottage-industry' hubs have a litany of flaws which I won't go into here. Round spokes are much the ideal, though be sure to specify swaged (DB) ones. Flat spokes offer a tiny aero advantage in exchange for many material weaknesses.

3. Radial lacial has one big problem: it places radial rather than tangential stresses on the hub flanges, which have little material to resist the stress in this direction. They are likely to fail as a result: this has happened to me twice, so it is a far from theoretical concern. If hubs are designed with enough material to prevent failure here, then they are correspondingly heavier which misses the original point. Go with tangential spoking everywhere, whether 2, 3 or 4 cross is up to you though most go with 3, for practicality. The variations of 'tangentness' have no significant effect on durability.

The wheelbuilding page at is useful- it's basically a very condensed version of Jobst's. Well built wheels which have seen out any teething problems shouldn't require attention until the brake track wears out: at which point it's easy to exchange the rim. The wheel design is, to me, an elegant illustration for the bicycle design as a whole.

Good luck if you choose to build your own, and don't hesitate to post any related queries here.

Follow up on my original postwjtm
Sep 5, 2001 8:05 AM
Thanks for all the help.

I would like your opinion on the following components for my wheels. I have decided to do a standard 3X lacing pattern for strength, and to avoid deep dish rims despire my original desire for deep dish rims and bladed spokes. So what do you think of:

1. Ultegra hubs ($55 and $32)
2. DT Competition DB 14/15 spokes ($.50 each, about $35 ttl)
3. Mavic Open Pro rims ($65 each, $130 ttl)

I think that brings the price into the $250 ballpark. But I have some more questions:

1. Do I need to use special spoke prep? It is expensive - like $22 - do I really need it over a light grease?
2. Why do people recommend Mavic Open Pro rims? I can get Velocity Aerohead 2 rims, which are lighter, for 1/2 the price. I am just curious what the Mavic's will give me - but I do want to build a very high quality rim and don't mind a few extra bones to ensure it.
3. The Open Pros are available with a ceramic brake strip which bumps up the price by about $30 per wheel. Other than better braking performance, is it worth it?
4. When all is said and done, this set is in the same price range as Mavic Cosmos pre-built wheels. Am I really ending up with a better wheel?

buy The Bicycle Wheel....C-40
Sep 5, 2001 8:58 AM
A good book on wheelbuilding, before you start. Obviously you don't know what you're doing now. Spoke prep is good to have, but some people use boiled linseed oil successfully.

As for the price of the rims, you get what you pay for.

You will need a spoke length calculator, unless you can get the seller of the components to determine the correct spoke length for you. There are some web sites with spoke length calculation programs.
Follow up on my original postJofa
Sep 5, 2001 10:16 AM
The components you've chosen are all great: light, and they will last indefinitely with little attention.

1. Spoke Prep or other glues aren't necessary, though something to prevent galling at the nipple/rim interface during building is: I use 10w motor oil, but most oils will be fine.

2. Open Pros have just become the standard. Mavic put the aluminium in the right places for durability, though they then do stupid things to them like weld the join, machine the sides and anodize them- all of which are either unnecessary or a compromise to durability... still, there's nothing better that I'm aware of. The velocity rims look too thin in the spoke bed to me, but others have built with them without problem: really, these days, rims are much of a muchness.

3. Ceramic sides are unnecessary. The small advantage for wet braking is more than offset by the coating's brittleness, insulating efficiency (your brake blocks will melt) and expense. A ding means a new rim, as the ceramic will flake off making braking unpleasant, whereas an ordinary rim can be manipulated back into shape without detriment.

4. This is up to you. Cosmos are ok, but too few spokes mean an increased likelihood of spoke failure, and the hubs are cartridge bearing equipped rather than the more durable and better designed Shimano. They are cheap however and there are enough in use that they're unlikely to throw any surprises your way. The building of a wheel is also a learning experience in itself- valuable, in my mind: in any case, read Jobst's book: it may crystallize you about wheels one way or the other.

use spoke prepgutterball
Sep 6, 2001 12:49 PM
Spoke Prep or other glues aren't necessary, though something to prevent galling at the nipple/rim interface during building is: I use 10w motor oil, but most oils will be fine.

Use Spoke prep!!! it's the only reason I build my own wheels...I can't count the times that I have trued up friends wheels that have bought from large mail-order companies, and the spokes have seized to the nipple. These wheels are not the same once a nipple has seized.

I've built several wheels with a radial lace in the front and have never had a problem. Watch your spoke tension and you should be fine. A triple cross in the back is standard, even for the non-drive side.

Take your time bringing the wheel up to tension once you get it laced. If you put your heart into it you will have a wheel that will last much longer than any "professionaly" built wheel.
use spoke prepJofa
Sep 6, 2001 1:56 PM
I meant to refer to the nipple/SPOKE interface, not the rim. I didn't notice I'd made the error, but thanks for pointing it out as it might have been misleading. Otherwise, my point still stands: use a lubricant- oil is ideal but grease will do- but don't use spoke prep: it's too much like glue, and will mask rather than solve the problem of residual spoke twist.

I've built radial wheels that haven't failed either but the fact that two of them have done is telling. There are too many cases like this which in any case follow the theory which predicts failure, for it to be worth the aesthetic advantage. Spoke tension has nothing to do with it, it is cyclic loading which I expanded on in a thread above.

first...check out Excel Sports prices on thisColnagoFE
Sep 5, 2001 11:56 AM
I'm guessing you can get them to build these wheels (or even with D/A hubs) for way less than $250.
re: Should I build my own wheels or buy a wheelset?jaybird
Sep 5, 2001 12:01 PM
Build them... no doubt about it... if it does cost you more it is well worth it, the opportunity to learn this skill is priceless and is best done hands on. What is the wost case scenario? You totally "F" things up and have to take them to a builder to get them built, so what? and if your wheel fails on you after you built it, you know you did something wrong and will learn from it... Also, don't forget that you are a guy and, if you are married, this is a great excuse to buy more tools...

Good luck,

Also, if you want soem strong rims, check out the Velocity Razors. I have beat the snot out of mine and they are almost as true as that the day I bought them and I weigh almost 220.
Small pointJofa
Sep 5, 2001 12:13 PM
Raise your expectations: any rim should stay exactly as true as the day you fitted it, until the braking track wears out, regardless of rider weight. Wheels losing trueness shouldn't be tolerated as lackadaisically as it seems to be; it means that they were built wrong, or that a component is designed or made wrong.

Excellent advice, of course, about the tools and acquisition thereof.

Small pointjaybird
Sep 6, 2001 7:11 AM
The problem that I run into is that I am just hard on wheels. I am 220 and I love to bunnyhop curbs etc... usually all it takes is a quarter tun here and there and I am good to go. I dont pay a whole lot of attention to my commuter wheels so it is all my fault... It doesnt matter who buit them... That is also why I work in a shop, to keep the cost down...
you must have a lot of timeRed Barn
Sep 6, 2001 7:24 AM
for building wheels. I'd rather do something else with my time like ride. You must not have kids.
you must have a lot of timejaybird
Sep 6, 2001 8:47 AM
no kids... and I do get 300-350 a week with a real job and a "parts time" job at a shop... A set of wheels can be built in a couple of hours, and its not like I build a new set every week. I usually build/rebuild one or two sets a year for myself