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Great Wheels: Why the headlines never tell the whole story

Posted by The Dr. on

Headline specs don't tell the whole story - not even half of it!

In the crowded high performance wheel market it's all about the attention grabbing headline specs. 

The weight of a pair down to the gram, the depth, the spoke count, the price.  Carbon or alloy? However these headlines are a lazy way to define a pair of wheels.  They simply don't and never can tell the whole story - not even the half of it. How a wheel feels, performs and lasts is the result of so much more than simple headlines.

As the founder and owner of a bike company I have the pleasure to meet a great many cyclists of all stripes, and whenever I do we spend a lot of time talking wheels – about those I make as well as all the big name wheels. Whilst I'm often asked how does this carbon, that hub, this profile, or that warranty compare to so-and-so's, I'm rarely asked how we build our wheels, or even who it is that makes them.

The simple fact is this. I could give the exact same rims, hub set and spokes to 10 bike mechanics, and deliver another 10 sets of identical components to the most sophisticated automatic wheel assembly line. And what would I get back? The answer is 20 entirely different pairs of wheels!

These wheels would all look the same. They'd all have the very same headline specs. But they'd ride, perform and handle differently. Furthermore, they'd cope with daily use and abuse with wildly different outcomes.

Watch the full build in time lapse on YouTube (new window)That's because  the build is the most overlooked factor in wheel quality and ultimate performance. It can't be neatly summed up in one of those headline specs. You'll rarely find it mentioned or even considered in a magazine review or group test. And yet it makes all the difference.

Given the enormous impact the build has on the overall performance, feel and lifespan of wheels it surprises me that more cyclists, equipment aficionados and professional cycling journalists don't ask this question more often, dig a bit deeper and look beyond the simplistic headline specification.

A good wheel smith understands the components he's working with as well as the riders she's building for. A great builder can tune the ride precisely and extract optimal performance for the wheel's new owner as well as ensure the wheels stay sound and true for the long term, with maximum usability and durability.

A good wheel smith can make better wheels out of poor components than any machine can do as no machine yet devised can understand, see and feel how a wheel and its constituent components react and mesh together as the wheel comes under increasing tension loads.

So imagine what a great wheel smith can do with cutting-edge components, where each part has been carefully designed and engineered for maximum performance on the bike, and not compromised to facilitate speed and efficiency in mass production.

That's the magic combination we aim for at Spin Industries. Not to be the biggest name in wheels. Not the cheapest nor the most expensive. My aim is simply to offer high quality, highly considered performance components, built with precision craftsmanship. I'm passionate about engineering, about dynamics, about craftsmanship and about cycling. So I guess it was inevitable that I'd spend most of my days in the shed making bike stuff. And whilst doing so, thinking up better ways to do it in future. 

In the next article, find out why a  quick build rarely results in a fast wheel for very long.

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