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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2012

    Wheels - pre-built vs custom built

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    I've noticed that many bike riders I know tend to spend big bucks on pre-built wheelsets, rather than selecting parts and having them custom built. This surprises me, mainly because these wheels are often far more expensive than what you can get if you get them custom built, in my experience at least. Plus the spare parts such as spokes are very expensive.

    Basically, I was wondering if there's a benefit that I'm not aware of. Do you prefer to pick individual parts and ride custom wheels, or do you opt for pre-built sets instead? Discuss

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Central Indiana
    We have several sets of relatively basic hand-built wheels in our household, but I'll be honest that I haven't seriously priced or considered pre-builts and have only a vague notion anymore of what's on the market and how they compare. At the time, I liked the idea of getting something that was specifically made for my size/weight, and the price at the time seemed pretty reasonable. My wheels were built in early 2007 and remain problem-free. My husband overhauled the hub (a White Industries H1 hub) as part of his standard maintenance last year, but it was a straightforward process.
    Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Continue to learn. Appreciate your friends. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.

    --Mary Anne Radmacher

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Melbourne, Australia
    We only go custom if there's a need. From working in the industry, pre-builds are often built to a price point as the manufacturer buys parts in bulk, and will get value for money (or otherwise take it as extra profit).

    Also technology and innovation goes into pre-builds- so you want to ride the wheels that won Stage X of TDF- well so you can.

    However of course pre-builds have a huge draw back. They often are built with a weight limit, usually 90kg. If you weigh more than this you are setting yourself up for problems with the wheel- as my DH found out. Cracking rims and breaking spokes etc.

    So getting custom wheels is often required if you have special circumstances- you are heavy, you want a wheel for a special function, like tandeming, or you are small but require a performance 26" wheel for your bike (as options are very limited).

    Going custom doesn't always mean getting better- it depends on who is building them and what kind of "care" package you get afterwards. A poor build or selection of parts will not make a good wheel, and if the builder isn't able or doesn't want to give you free adjustments, well that means extra dollars. Pre-builds are at least supported by a manufacturer who will repair or often swap the wheels out- but also this can go wrong as well!

    I personally don't think either way is better- it really just depends on what your needs are and how much you have to spend.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Columbia River Gorge
    Hi brigada.

    I happen to live with a custom wheel builder. I have a custom bias so take this for what it's worth.

    Custom - Can be tailored for the rider by weight, riding style and intended use. Usually less expensive for a given weight. Can be repaired and trued easily, parts readily available particularly replacement spokes. Can pick the colour of your rims and spoke nipples for some extra flare.

    Production - Can buy them off the self at your LBS with big logos to impress your friends because they all read the marketing propaganda in Bicycling Mag.

    Custom - Won't impress your friends unless you get crazy rims like my snake skin Velocity rims. Really the only people that will appreciate them from afar are serious bike geeks that will recognize that you had the smarts to go custom.

    Production - Generally over priced. Some use spokes and/or rims that are nearly impossible to find if you need to replace them. Some production wheels are not intended for heavier riders so you always want to check out what weight they are spec'd out to. In general, production wheels are made lighter by lowering spoke count. This is the worst way to reduce wheel weight. It increases stress on individual parts as the same overall wheel stress is distributed through fewer contact points. This makes the wheel more prone to failure.

    IMHO - Production wheels bought off the shelf have a "good" reputation only because big name corporations have the money to market that reputation. Wheel builders are artisans. They like to do what they do. They want to get fair payment for their work but they aren't looking to make much more. They aren't part of a large corporation trying to make billions to buy their 20th home in the Canary Islands. That's the reason why custom wheels cost less. Having said that, if I was to buy a production wheelset, I would buy Rolf. Their heart still seems to be in the right place.
    Last edited by Wahine; 08-05-2013 at 10:17 PM.
    Living life like there's no tomorrow.


    2007 Look Dura Ace
    2010 Custom Tonic cross with discs, SRAM
    2012 Moots YBB 2 x 10 Shimano XTR
    2014 Soma B-Side SS

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Denver, CO
    Quote Originally Posted by Wahine View Post
    Custom - Won't impress your friends unless you get crazy rims like my snake skin Velocity rims.
    LOVE those rims!
    Pivot Mach 4 / WTB
    Updated Vintage Terry Symmetry / Bontrager InForm RL WSD

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    I build my own. I get to pick every part, design them for my use and weight, and know that I can repair them myself with readily-available spokes. I do own a couple of production wheelsets that I picked up on clearance for less than I could build something comparable.

    If the cost and design are similar, I'll go custom every time.



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