Wheelbuilding 101 – Rims, Hubs, Spokes, and Cost Effectiveness

by Sabinna on May 12, 2010

This is the first post of a few talking about wheelbuilding production issues. Technology is important but will not be the exclusive focus. Can’t be the exclusive focus. I’ll try to explain this later.

The overall idea is similar to the principle discussed in a recent post: technological solutions must be cost effective. And I think cost-effectiveness is the primary issue because it shapes and selects the possibilities that you take to the market for the most important evaluation of all.

So on one hand you have wheelbuilding as a purely technical activity. And then on the other, more inclusively, it’s  about optimizing value both for the cyclist and the producer, value that continually shifts as conditions change. Cost effectiveness is a moving target.

Background

Feedback and suggestions from dealers led me on a path to put together a high-quality, reasonably priced alloy rim wheelset. The first thing to do is to source components. The second is to actually build the wheels.

The wheelsets I normally make use of are Mavic Aksium Race (most popular), Equippe, Elite, and Ksirium SL. Of these, customers mostly go for the extremes: Race or Ksirium SL. These have the right combination of looks, performance, and durability for the market segments for which I provide service.

However, over time more and more dealers mentioned that it would be good to have an alternative to Aksium Race, which, apart from technical specs, were only available in black or  silver. Could I come up with a wheelset similar in scope, but offering a real alternative?

Since the base color for the frames in question is pearl white, I decided on a set sporting white rims and hubs, with silver decals. Coming up with the aesthetics was straightforward. Getting the technical specs right, was another matter.

Rims

My immediate thought for a source was Tainan-based King Lin rims, a company with a solid reputation. The particular model was XR 200. This is a rim that has been widely used by many of the big brands with excellent feedback.

Supplementary evidence was a Singapore-based customer of mine. He has his own brand and builds his own bikes and wheelsets. He demands top quality consistently. He has been using these rims for several years and keeps coming back with repeat orders. The rim has also been used by a top-tier pro-level test team, with, once again, very good feedback.

Hubs

I have had been through this wheelbuilding process with my carbon wheelset which I put together a few years ago. The hub that I selected was one that had also been tried and tested by big brands. I had subsequently been using it with no problems since then. I also asked for feedback from my wheel assembler, who builds (in a very modest workshop surrounded by ricefields on three sides) for a number of the big brands. He could not see any reason not to use it with an alloy rim and the right spoke selection.

Spokes

My first thought was to use CN spokes, a company that has been producing spokes for 40 years. However, they did not have exactly the quality I was after at the right price. There was also feedback from my Singapore customer who used CN spokes–he had some spoke breakage issues, and changed suppliers.

A higher-level alternative was Pillar spokes. Although the quality is acceptable, the image is not quite there yet. It’s coming, but there’s still some way to go. I decided to use Sapim butted spokes, which have served me well with the carbon wheels. Sapim is recognized as high-quality and well proven in the market–it is very high-image.

Putting all these together resulted in a wheelset that came in weighing just under 1500g — it was very much lighter than Aksium Race, although the cost was a little more.

The market feedback has been very favorable. Dealers took an instant shine to the wheels; riders have been more than happy. Hence, I have been through several productions. Nevertheless the process has not been all plain sailing. An issue arose, which I will deal with in the next post.

Scattered thoughts-a wheel to be assembled.

Cost-effectiveness is about negotiating the continually shifting line between cyclist/consumption value and production-side value. Performance, safety, and turning a profit fit together in various combinations as the different parties involved in the production process influence it in their various ways.

A lot of what we talk about when discussing “value” is all condensed into image or the brand. Image is built on technical performance, however that is measured. It’s tempting to say that image takes on a life of its own from here. But that’s not strictly right because technological edge or “innovation” (there’s a word that everyone uses!) or “superiority” is usually brought back into the discussion (talking up or down) of a branded component or complete bike brand.

The question is to what degree is technological edge influenced by who (which brand) is seen to be responsible for it (often hard to work out in this OEM/ODM productive maze), or  the other way around? What is, or is not, value for money is found somewhere in this continually shifting equation. I guess the reality of this movement is what makes this business the business of keeping track of that movement. Tricky, but a whole lot fun as well!

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