Wheels are another constant topic of conversation among cyclists. The different design solutions employed by the companies behind our hoops are myriad. Carbon or aluminium, and often both, are deployed at the rim and at the hub. Rims are becoming wider in the belief that they offer more effective ‘seating’ for – and ultimately more efficient rolling of – the tyre. Ring drive mechanisms are replacing pawls in the freehub of more expensive hoops for their quicker engagement. Straight-pull spokes are increasingly de rigueur, offering stiffer lacing than that afforded by the humble J-bend spar. And that’s before we’ve discussed spoke counts and lacing patterns. The options open to the wheel designer are seemingly endless.
New school carbon wheels – those with shallow, rounded profiles that offer stability in crosswinds to match their low weight, exceptional speed, and a reasonable amount of comfort – occupying much of the conflab. Already a world away from what might be described as ‘first generation’ carbon wheels – those with narrow, high-sided profiles and alloy brake tracks – it’s possible now to buy an off-the-shelf wheelset the equal of anything in the WorldTour.
Why then do a lot of the mechanics with whom I discuss the topic find themselves tasked with building custom wheelsets at an ever increasing rate? The era of the hand-built hoop is far from over, it seems. Some of this popularity may be seasonal – the Mavic Open Pro rim laced to a mid-range hub remains a ‘go to’ for many in the winter months – but equally the appeal of choosing the constituent parts yourself and placing them in the hands of a craftsman appears to be undimmed.
Many riders will espouse the middle ground offered by companies like Hope, who offer a factory-style, prebuilt wheel while allowing the customer a hand in the selection of components, Mavic, Stans, Enve and others are making some great rims for wheel builders to lace to hubs from Chris King, Shimano, and Campagnolo and, let us not forget, Royce.