Building a custom wheel set for a customer is a uniquely satisfying experience. It isn’t simple the act of building the wheel from it’s component parts but rather the entire process, beginning with the initial conversation about what is gong to be built. There are an endless variety of very well designed and solidly assembled pre-built wheelsets available from large and small name manufacturers. While there are several quality options the custom handbuilt wheel is still the best way to get exactly the wheel you are looking for.
It all begins with the first conversation. There are so many ways to build a wheel and so many ways to manipulate the characteristics of the wheel that it is critical that a thorough conversation takes place to determine how exactly the wheel should be built to best serve the needs of the rider. There are many variables to consider. Obviously what kind of bike will the wheels be used on, rider size, how will they be used, what kind of terrain and what demands does the rider style put on the wheels. Those considerations are used to determine how strong or how light the wheels can be. Once you figure out how you want the wheels to ride the fun part starts, that is, component selection. This is where you can really bring some personality to the wheels set. Liven it up or tone it down, blingy or understated. This is really where the bespoke wheelset is created.
As a wheel builder that is part of where the satisfaction comes from. Regardless of how common or unique the final product will be the custom wheel really is built specifically for the individual. Standard components certainly does not imply any lower quality of a build than a wheel with rare or unique components. As a wheel builder knowing the individual that will be riding the wheels means that I have a deep vested interest in building wheels of exceptional quality.
A custom wheel set does not have to be expensive. It is natural to think that custom means expensive but the beauty of custom wheels is that one of the considerations when building a wheel is price. Just like ride characteristics are a consideration, price is just as much a consideration. Obviously when trying to keep costs down the number of potential options for hubs and rims decreases but the quality of build certainly does not. The same attention to detail remains. A very good quality but relatively inexpensive custom wheel set could cost right around $350. Maybe that is not entirely cheap but when you consider that the wheel will almost certainly last several times longer than a factory wheel set that costs half the price, it will almost certainly stay truer, and will have a better ride quality then the value becomes more apparent. In addition to the beneficial qualities of a custom wheel is the warranty that comes with a custom wheel set. All the wheels that we build here at Missoula Bicycle Works come with a lifetime true guarantee. That means that if your wheel comes out of true we will true it for you free of charge. Fortunately due to the quality of the hand built wheels we rarely see those wheels in our truing stands.
Limitations. If I am being completely honest there are some limitations to custom wheels. Mostly I would say those limitations mostly involve factory wheel sets that are built as a system. Meaning the hubs, spokes and rims are designed to work together as a complete product. I certainly would not say those wheels are of lower quality than a hand built set. Far from it actually. In fact I have really nice set of Mavic Carbon aero wheels that I think are fantastic. They are light, aerodynamic and, yeah, they look really cool. The downside is if I were to break a spoke for example. The likelihood that a random bike shop has the specific spoke or tool to repair that wheel is not very high. But, for the benefits Mavic wheels offer, I am willing to take the chance.
On a mountain bike the situation, in my opinion, is a different one. Super light and aero are not the terms we usually hear to describe the ideal wheel set. Rather strength, durability, ride quality and to a lesser extent, weight are the main goals here. Mountain bike wheels are regularly subjected to hard riding, they need to be able to take a thrashing and come out still riding straight and true despite sustaining scratches and dings. What if you do happen to come up a bit short on you landing or find just the wrong rock and your rim is no longer round enough to ride. Well replacement is usually pretty simple. The hub can be reused and only new spokes and rim are needed. Actually, while not recommended, there have been a few occasions where even the spokes were preserved.
The bottom line, if you are looking for a wheel set that is unique to you, that has the ride characteristics that you are looking for, then a durable, repairable and predictable then we recommend you consider a custom wheel set.