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custom built vs factory wheels?(7 posts)

custom built vs factory wheels?mlbd
Sep 5, 2003 9:11 AM
I'm in the market for new wheels. Ideally, I'd like a pair of wheels that are light and durable. I'm willing to spend as much as $500, maybe $600. This wheelset will be used for racing (about 10 races per year) and training. What are the pros and cons of going custom built vs factory wheels? Is there any general difference in terms of quality?

if we made a FAQ for this, I'd write...gtx
Sep 5, 2003 9:29 AM
There are five things to consider when it comes to wheels; price, weight, durability, reparability and aerodynamics. Compared to these higher end pre-built wheels, your basic hand-built ("custom") wheels will be about half the price, the same weight or less, equally or more durable, and easier to repair. In terms of aerodynamics some pre-built wheels might score better in wind tunnel testing but in the real world might do little or nothing for you, and depending on the design might be more irritating in crosswinds.
re: custom built vs factory wheels?russw19
Sep 5, 2003 9:35 AM
If the factory wheels are handbuilt and done right, then the advantage to them is that they were designed as a unified wheel system. The hub was designed around the spokes and the rim to be a complete unit. The downside is that you will pay more for this.

As for custom built wheels, they can be just as nice, just as light, just as aero, and just as fast, but you generally have a hub from one manufacturer, a rim from another, and spokes from a 3rd. Sometimes this is a problem, but usually not. Going custom wheels lets you pick the best hub, rim, and spokes and have them built into a wheel. The downside is that wheel will only be as good as the person who builds it, so pick your wheel builder as carefully as you pick your parts. Also, custom wheels like this can be serviced by anyone and parts are generally easy to find. There are generally no exotic spokes to deal with so that issue is not important.

So for the quality question, with custom you get to pick the best parts, but your wheel is only going to be as good as the person who builds it. With factory wheels you have an integrated system that is optimized (in theory) to work together as one wheel rather than components.

Hope that helps,

re: custom built vs factory wheels?gf99
Sep 5, 2003 9:45 AM
What gtx said plus a skilled wheelbuilder can tune the weight/stiffness/durability to your specific needs.
I prefer customChicago_Steve
Sep 5, 2003 10:32 AM
This is a good topic for the wheelbuilding forum over at MTBr!

Last year I started dabbling in building my own wheels and I will be the first to tell you that going the custom route is definitely the way to go... Why?

Standard Parts
Going with a custom wheel build means that you use standard parts. Lets say you break a spoke on your Ksyrium/Spinergy/"namebrand" system wheels. How many local shops are going to have that spoke in stock? How expensive will it be to replace (I've heard $5 for a Mavic Ksyrium spoke!)? Will you have to send your wheels back to the factory for service? Going with standard spokes/hubs/rims takes away alot of this hassle.

You customize the wheels!
By building a custom wheel you can make a lot of decisions on how the wheel will look and perform. For example, you can go with less spokes or more spokes depending on your application. You can vary the lacing pattern to influence the feel of the wheel. You can pick colored spokes/hubs/nipples to make your wheels look unique. Finally you can select the rims you want depending on your intended usuage (wider for touring/commuting, light for racing, aero for crits, etc.). These are not options when you buy factory built wheels.

Learn to build them yourself
Are you really concerned about $$$? Learn to build wheels yourself and you'll save money while developing a skill that will last you the rest of your bikeriding days! Sheldon Brown and others have great resources on building wheels on the Internet. It's not very hard to learn and is actually quite addictive (Note - See my recent CX wheelbuild!).

Grab the latest Excel/Colorado Cyclist/Performance catalog and start looking at the system wheelsets in there. You might be surprised that their weight is often the same or more then a set of Open Pros laced 3x to Dura Ace or Record hubs. Surprising but true!
hand made vs machine madeJFR
Sep 5, 2003 11:49 AM
It has been my experience with 32 hole mtb wheels over the last 10 years that hand made "custom" wheels are stronger/last-longer than machine made "factory" wheels. Having a good wheelbuilder, of coarse, is necessary.
re: It all depends on you LBShudsonite
Sep 5, 2003 5:00 PM
Having a custom wheel built up is the best choice for all the reasons that people mention. You can pick your hubs, rims and spokes to suit your needs. You can put together a high quality set of wheels for about $300 to $400 that will meet your strictest requirements. They will last a long time and can be built very light if required. They can be rebuilt and repaired almost anywhere in the world.

But there is a big if!

And that is, does your LBS have a qualified wheel builder? Many shops do not have the people or the processes in place to guarantee consistency from wheel to wheel. They may have a good wheel builder, but you are dependent on that one person doing a good job and having a good day. Most shops do not have the quality control processes in place to guarantee that every wheel is a good wheel.

This contrasts to a Mavic, Campagnolo or Bontrager(Trek) that have rigid processes and QA steps along the way. Not to mention the engineering teams to make sure that all the nuances of spoke length, bends, dishing and tensioning are all ‘bang on'. Not to mention the testing of the complete package over many miles and conditions.

If the LBS does a good job, you are in good shape for a long time. If the wheel goes out of true or spokes brake, I am afraid that the ‘fun' with the shop has just begun. Your warranty recourse is with the same people that messed up in the first place. They may not be keen to accept responsibility and the cost to make it right.

Some of the big mail order sites have a good reputation. But if the wheel you receive has problems, shipping and time to have it fixed could be a problem.

The third option, that may be attractive for some, is to build a set of wheels yourself. The first time you do it, it may cost you more than buying a factory wheel or a LBS built wheel. You will need to buy some ‘how to' books, purchase a truing stand, a tension-meter and other assorted tools. The result will be a quality product that you can take pride in.

In summary, if you have a great LBS that builds wheels and has a good reputation, this would be the best choice. If not, purchase a quality factory wheel. And if you have the time and desire to learn to build your own wheels, go for it.