Whenever the subject of wheel choice comes up, there is considerable support for what is generally called the ‘hand built’ wheel set as distinct from the ‘factory built’ pair. In practice, ‘hand built’ means ‘built using readily and separately available rims, hubs and spokes by someone not working in a wheel factory’, which in turn means anyone from the guy down the local bike shop to one of the small number of specialist builders who make their living turning out bespoke hoops.
These wheels have been built by the reviewer as representative of the kind of bog-standard assembly anyone with a spoke key, a wheel jig and sufficient skill and enthusiasm might put together. Mavic’s excellent Open Pro rims meet DT Competition double-butted stainless steel spokes with standard brass nipples and roll on Shimano Ultegra 10 speed hubs. All-up weight minus skewers is around the 1700g mark, the exact mass of such a build depending, of course, on spoke count front and rear. Here we have 28 spokes at the front and 32 rear crossing three times in both cases. Component cost is around £210.00; build ‘em yourself and that is the total price.
Given the undoubted quality of the various parts, the initial build was entirely trouble free. Using the DT Swiss spoke chart is simplicity itself and, provided initial measurements are done accurately, provides spot-on answers. The test of this comes with completion of the wheel; each spoke tip should lie between the top and bottom of the nipple’s screwdriver slot. Bang on.
The performance of any such wheel pairing depends to a very large extent on the skill of the builder, so there’s not much point in commenting on many aspects in this review since they will not necessarily be replicated by similar wheels by another builder. However, some aspects are worth noting. The rear hub has a steel freehub body that will work with any Shimano eight-, nine- or 10-speed cassette. The 28/32 spoke count saves a little weight and air drag over the more usual 32/32 combo without losing out on durability unless the wheels are to be used for laden touring. The 28 spoke front rides very nicely built three-cross and can be recommended for a rider up to perhaps 85 kg. For a rider of up to 75kg, the same count might be tried at the rear unless longevity is a major consideration.
A comparison can be made between these and Shimano’s WH-6600 wheels, which weigh about the same despite having an aluminium high-spline freehub body. The 6600s feel a little faster thanks no doubt to fewer, bladed spokes and a semi-deep rim section. The same low spoke count and associated high tension means that, should a spoke ‘go’, the wheel will immediately go far enough out of true to hinder riding. The hand built pair, on the other hand, is not only ‘softer’ sprung, with a more comfortable ride, but less likely to leave the rider in the lurch in the event of spoke breakage. It is also easy to repair should a rim wear through or receive a ‘ding’ and, if rider experience is anything to go by, is likely to last a lot longer if used to carry any kind of luggage. So, for speed, factory built is surely the answer. Otherwise, try handbuilts and enjoy the sensation of comfort, longevity and ease of maintenance.