Wheel building - gauging interest

ugo.santalucia
ugo.santalucia Posts: 28,230
edited August 2013 in Road general
I used to build wheels for (very reputable) airnimal folding bikes.

Am I wrong in thinking you are 18? :shock:

Nothing wrong with your idea, but at your age ideas come and go and interests shift quickly... people who will come to you will look for a reliable person they can ring one year later when the wheel needs some work... if they start thinking that the same person might be on a gap year in Borneo or has in the meantime moved to Australia's surfing scene, they might be a little weary before parting from their cash.
Admittedly I am being a bit biased here.

Your proposed fee is not far off what the majority of builders charge... don't look at Strada, they are in a different league.
Cambridge is a good place, in that respect...
left the forum March 2023

Comments

  • GiantMike
    GiantMike Posts: 3,139
    I was recently charged £20 to build a wheel recently which I thought was a good price. Any more and I'd do it myself.

    The issue you'll have is getting all the right parts in stock. I'd assume you'be be able to provide a range of hubs and rims as well as the right spokes for a variety of lacings. When I got my wheel built the chap cut the spokes to the exact length with a very expensive machine rather than having lots of boxes of different sized spokes for different manufacturers.
  • ugo.santalucia
    ugo.santalucia Posts: 28,230
    GiantMike wrote:
    When I got my wheel built the chap cut the spokes to the exact length with a very expensive machine rather than having lots of boxes of different sized spokes for different manufacturers.

    Yes, but that limits your choice of spokes to plain gauge ones, that nobody really wants, plus the Phil Wood (or other) cutting/rolling machine does not make as good threads as those made by the manufacturers, so it is a bit of a waste of time and money in a world where lengths are available... that thing costs about 2 grand! :shock:
    left the forum March 2023
  • drlodge
    drlodge Posts: 4,826
    As well as knowing the wheel builder is going to be around for a while, can build a decent wheel and having all the necessary materials in stock, I would also want a wheel builder to advise what combination of rims/spokes/hub are best suited to my needs. For example, Shimano 105 hubs are probably "the best" value hubs for most people, but their wider flages are not suited to deeper rims. Also knowing how may spokes per wheel is appropriate, whether to use lighter or heavier d/b spokes, pros/cons of flat/aero spokes etc. is all knowledge I don't have and would look to an experienced wheel builder to advise me on.
    WyndyMilla Massive Attack | Rourke 953 | Condor Italia 531 Pro | Boardman CX Pro | DT Swiss RR440 Tubeless Wheels
    Find me on Strava
  • GiantMike
    GiantMike Posts: 3,139
    GiantMike wrote:
    When I got my wheel built the chap cut the spokes to the exact length with a very expensive machine rather than having lots of boxes of different sized spokes for different manufacturers.

    Yes, but that limits your choice of spokes to plain gauge ones, that nobody really wants, plus the Phil Wood (or other) cutting/rolling machine does not make as good threads as those made by the manufacturers, so it is a bit of a waste of time and money in a world where lengths are available... that thing costs about 2 grand! :shock:
    No, my spokes were butted. The builder didn't need lots of spokes in mm steps, probably just 5mm steps.
  • ugo.santalucia
    ugo.santalucia Posts: 28,230
    GiantMike wrote:
    GiantMike wrote:
    When I got my wheel built the chap cut the spokes to the exact length with a very expensive machine rather than having lots of boxes of different sized spokes for different manufacturers.

    Yes, but that limits your choice of spokes to plain gauge ones, that nobody really wants, plus the Phil Wood (or other) cutting/rolling machine does not make as good threads as those made by the manufacturers, so it is a bit of a waste of time and money in a world where lengths are available... that thing costs about 2 grand! :shock:
    No, my spokes were butted. The builder didn't need lots of spokes in mm steps, probably just 5mm steps.

    You can shorten them of 2-3 mm tops if they are butted...
    look, I keep DB lengths from 286-296 in steps of two mm, which do all the 3 cross wheels and some of the 2 cross wheels. If I need shorter ones, I just order them in small numbers and they're here in 3 days. I also keep a small stock of mixed spokes of lengths from 268-302 for repairs (leftovers from previous builds). People are a PITA and will always want what you don't have, so it's pointless to try and stock up too much. if they want something different and special, they wait...
    left the forum March 2023
  • drlodge
    drlodge Posts: 4,826
    People are a PITA and will always want what you don't have, so it's pointless to try and stock up too much. if they want something different and special, they wait...

    Well you might think you need what you don't have, but when a PITA customer turns up with a hub thats different to the one he ordered since the one he ordered doesn't exist and the shop gave him the hub he really wanted, then you find out that actually you do have the right spokes in stock afterall and you then have a box of funny length spokes you no longer need :wink:
    WyndyMilla Massive Attack | Rourke 953 | Condor Italia 531 Pro | Boardman CX Pro | DT Swiss RR440 Tubeless Wheels
    Find me on Strava
  • GiantMike
    GiantMike Posts: 3,139
    GiantMike wrote:
    GiantMike wrote:
    When I got my wheel built the chap cut the spokes to the exact length with a very expensive machine rather than having lots of boxes of different sized spokes for different manufacturers.

    Yes, but that limits your choice of spokes to plain gauge ones, that nobody really wants, plus the Phil Wood (or other) cutting/rolling machine does not make as good threads as those made by the manufacturers, so it is a bit of a waste of time and money in a world where lengths are available... that thing costs about 2 grand! :shock:
    No, my spokes were butted. The builder didn't need lots of spokes in mm steps, probably just 5mm steps.

    You can shorten them of 2-3 mm tops if they are butted...
    look, I keep DB lengths from 286-296 in steps of two mm, which do all the 3 cross wheels and some of the 2 cross wheels. If I need shorter ones, I just order them in small numbers and they're here in 3 days. I also keep a small stock of mixed spokes of lengths from 268-302 for repairs (leftovers from previous builds). People are a PITA and will always want what you don't have, so it's pointless to try and stock up too much. if they want something different and special, they wait...

    Oh I see. I'll call him and let him know he's doing it wrong.
  • owenlars
    owenlars Posts: 719
    The problem with all things bike, as has been alluded to here, is stock, both the sheer number of similar but subtly different components and the levels of stock you need to keep if you want to respond to customers quickly. To minimise stock holding you can have an account with wholesale suppliers such as Madison and Chicken and order as you need stuff. However these guys like to ensure a level of business before they sign you up. In other words they want to know you are a serious player. If you cant get these suppliers signed up then you either buy as you need probably at retail rates or pay in advance for stock you might not use quickly.
    In short if you want to do this as a hobby to help out mates and perhaps pay for your own fettling it is probably doable. If you are going to be serious with quick turn round times etc then it is considerably more complicated and expensive to get into.
    Good luck with it.
  • ugo.santalucia
    ugo.santalucia Posts: 28,230
    GiantMike wrote:

    Oh I see. I'll call him and let him know he's doing it wrong.

    No, he's not... it's just my view... what works for him might not work for others... it depends on what customer base you have... if your average customer is a Touring or Audax rider, he'll try to squeeze 100,000 miles out of the wheels and won't care if the spokes are silver, black or CX Ray with red nipples... but if your average customer is a middle aged roadie, then you will see that no spoke is quite right enough and no colour is the right shade to match the frame. You can steer people to an extent, at least to avoid stupid combinations, but if they want the CX Ray in black, that's what they want! And if the front wheel needs be radial 'cause it looks good, then it needs be radial
    left the forum March 2023
  • drlodge
    drlodge Posts: 4,826
    GiantMike wrote:

    Oh I see. I'll call him and let him know he's doing it wrong.

    No, he's not... it's just my view... what works for him might not work for others... it depends on what customer base you have... if your average customer is a Touring or Audax rider, he'll try to squeeze 100,000 miles out of the wheels and won't care if the spokes are silver, black or CX Ray with red nipples... but if your average customer is a middle aged roadie, then you will see that no spoke is quite right enough and no colour is the right shade to match the frame. You can steer people to an extent, at least to avoid stupid combinations, but if they want the CX Ray in black, that's what they want! And if the front wheel needs be radial 'cause it looks good, then it needs be radial

    Well as Harry would say..."The Customer is always wrong". How right he is!
    WyndyMilla Massive Attack | Rourke 953 | Condor Italia 531 Pro | Boardman CX Pro | DT Swiss RR440 Tubeless Wheels
    Find me on Strava
  • drlodge
    drlodge Posts: 4,826
    ...being a good wheel builder is surely more important than being experienced?

    Being a good wheel builder means you can build a wheel. But people like me will be after advice and that's where experience comes into its own. There's more to building a good wheel than assembling the components competently, its also about selecting the most appropriate combination of components for the customer given his needs, weight etc.
    WyndyMilla Massive Attack | Rourke 953 | Condor Italia 531 Pro | Boardman CX Pro | DT Swiss RR440 Tubeless Wheels
    Find me on Strava
  • imposter2.0
    imposter2.0 Posts: 12,028
    drlodge wrote:
    There's more to building a good wheel than assembling the components competently, its also about selecting the most appropriate combination of components for the customer given his needs, weight etc.

    Selecting components is not rocket science. My principal consideration in selecting a wheelbuilder is his/her ability to build a good wheel - nothing more.
  • slowbike
    slowbike Posts: 8,498
    As you already work in a bike shop - what does the shop owner think of your idea?
  • drlodge
    drlodge Posts: 4,826
    The question is, can the knowledge of your experienced hypothetical builder not be matched by maybe a week of research and reading etc?

    Such wheel builders are not hypothetical, they are real. Some people may wish to research for a week, I dare say most won't understand the various factors and numerous options available. Personally I like to discuss the various options with my builder of choice, get his view on the pros-cons of each in order to make an informed decision. To me, that is value-added.
    WyndyMilla Massive Attack | Rourke 953 | Condor Italia 531 Pro | Boardman CX Pro | DT Swiss RR440 Tubeless Wheels
    Find me on Strava
  • diy
    diy Posts: 6,473
    I think there is a market in fashionable hand build wheels for middle aged group C (b on a good day) roadies who want lightweight, blingy, deep section wheels that can be repaired. Like me ;)

    A lot of the hand builds just look a bit plain. Surely part of the point of hand built wheels is they can be custom.
  • He trued up my wheel nice and good about a month ago, it's still going strong and is still true; it's been over a fair few big pot holes (not intentionally) since!

    Wheelbuilding is one of those niche markets where word of mouth and reputation either sets you head and shoulders above the rest or kills off your business before it even started. Experience comes from doing, and the best wheelbuilders didn't become the best overnight, like everything it takes time and dedication. So long as you do a good job on the wheels and keep it up, your reputation will grow and thus your profits will increase.

    I doubt it's going to make you shed loads of cash to start out with, but I'm fairly sure with persistence and doing a good job to build up a good reputation there's no reason you can't do it; I'll get you to build my next set of wheels ;)
  • drlodge wrote:
    Such wheel builders are not hypothetical, they are real. Some people may wish to research for a week, I dare say most won't understand the various factors and numerous options available. Personally I like to discuss the various options with my builder of choice, get his view on the pros-cons of each in order to make an informed decision. To me, that is value-added.

    I think that a lot of people read a lot of rubbish into wheel builders, like anyone, a wheel builder is offering a service, now there are plenty of rubbish wheel builders out there who have years of experience, there are also plenty of less experienced wheel builders out there who can build a very good wheel.

    Would you rather go to someone who is average, but has shed loads of experience and knows just about every possible wheel combination you could have or someone less experience who does a great job?


    For example, I know someone who is a plasterer and he's barely 20, he's about the best plasterer I've come across, he doesn't have years of experience but he does a great job, never a mark on the walls and always a plum square finish..... I had another guy with 20 odd years of experience come plaster one wall and it was a terrible job, as a competent DIY'er I had to go over 80% of the wall and re-skim it to give a clean finish!
  • slowbike
    slowbike Posts: 8,498
    Slowbike wrote:
    As you already work in a bike shop - what does the shop owner think of your idea?

    Well, I won't tell him until it turns into a realistic plan. We do hardly any wheel builds in the shop though so no competition there.

    Hmm ... I suppose your job there doesn't matter too much?

    I was thinking two ways
    1) you could source the parts through the shop
    2) the shop owner may not like an employee being a competitor and will make life difficult

    To become successful you need to be advertised - a good way to do that would be through the shop (providing they didn't offer the same service!) as that is where a lot of riders will go to first. Obviously, to do that you'd need the shop owner on side.
    So, you have to ask why he's not offering the service now - is it because there is no money in it or because he doesn't want to employ the expertise to do it? Or some other reason ....
  • drlodge
    drlodge Posts: 4,826
    But what factors are there to understand?

    Anyone could tell you that you need more spokes if you're heavier or plan on touring, but will be sacrificing performance because of weight and aerodynamics. Anyone could tell you to go for Aero spokes to go faster, a lighter rim to accelerate faster, tubulars for racing, open bearings for ease of service, more spokes on the rear wheel because that's where more weight is, plain gauge to keep costs low, j bend in case of emergencies etc etc.

    This is all just basic knowledge that any old quack could know. Why does this require XYZ amount of years of building to know?

    (I'm not arguing by the way I just want some alternative viewpoints)

    I agree all these factors can be understood, just that some people choose not to understand them :( And as we know, the customers is always wrong :wink:

    May be a more relevant question is - what service are you offering?

    OK, the service is to build wheels..but are you going to build any wheel using any combination of components a customers asks for not matter how inappropriate they might be? Or are you offering advice, and will only build a wheel you believe is right for the customer and are prepared to turn away business if you don't believe its good for your reputation in the long term?

    I guess what I'm looking for in a wheel builder is good advice, so that the chosen wheel is the right one for me and we're both happy at the end of the day.
    WyndyMilla Massive Attack | Rourke 953 | Condor Italia 531 Pro | Boardman CX Pro | DT Swiss RR440 Tubeless Wheels
    Find me on Strava
  • slowbike
    slowbike Posts: 8,498
    Little anecdote ...

    I wanted to get a road bike for my wife ... in her mind she wanted one with similar geometry to mine - fairly low head, but not slammed. We went into a reputable bike shop that stocked the brand we wanted and asked their advice.
    The guy who helped us said to start with that he didn't think our choice was right and suggested a different frame - I took a back step and left him to run things through with my wife - tried different bikes & frames and ended up with the one he thought would be better for her - the one he thought of to start with. It's slightly more upright than mine, but is a better fit for my wife.

    She's still riding it.
  • Monty Dog
    Monty Dog Posts: 20,614
    I do bike repairs and stuff for friends - mainly women who tend to rubbish/patronising service from LBS - I just use it to pay for my tools/materials.I looked at this a while back and as a career / business it's more like a funded hobby where you might just cover your costs - you're not going to get rich.
    The problem is that there's little to differentiate builders apart from their reputations and few can charge premium for their services - buyers simply go elsewhere.
    I'm not sure your present employer will agree with your idea - they'll see it as a threat to their business.
    Make mine an Italian, with Campagnolo on the side..
  • cattytown
    cattytown Posts: 647
    With the existing employer there's always the possibility of talking to the manager and looking to offer it as a subcontract service as well.

    Understanding wheels is important. if I came and asked you to build me a set of ultralight low spoke count wheels, the best thing for you to do would be to decline my business if I couldn't be persuaded that I need something a little tougher as I am 16 stone.

    Paul.
    Giant Defy 2
    Large bloke getting smaller :-)
  • Stedman
    Stedman Posts: 377
    Slowbike wrote:
    As you already work in a bike shop - what does the shop owner think of your idea?

    Well, I won't tell him until it turns into a realistic plan. We do hardly any wheel builds in the shop though so no competition there.
    Luke,

    With the link to your web-site below your last message, I am sure that someone will soon tip him off if he has not already seen it.

    If I were you, I would come clean before anyone else tells him!
  • ugo.santalucia
    ugo.santalucia Posts: 28,230
    I wish you luck Luke, it's nice to see someone your age interested in an old craft... there isn't a better time to get started but don't put all the eggs in one basket and keep your eyes open for opportunities
    left the forum March 2023
  • gabriel959
    gabriel959 Posts: 4,227
    Luke,

    Speaking as someone who lives in Cambridge (and with some handbuilt wheels!) I think it is a great idea seeing as there is not a single wheel builder I know in the area (theCycleclinic is nearby though) and there are plenty of cyclists with money to burn (as you probably know working at Primo). As others have said service is very important but I reckon you could earn a decent income out of it.
    x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x
    Commuting / Winter rides - Jamis Renegade Expert
    Pootling / Offroad - All-City Macho Man Disc
    Fast rides Cannondale SuperSix Ultegra
  • diy
    diy Posts: 6,473
    And get liability insurance before you have assets to loose.
  • Camcycle1974
    Camcycle1974 Posts: 1,356
    gabriel959 wrote:
    Luke,

    Speaking as someone who lives in Cambridge (and with some handbuilt wheels!) I think it is a great idea seeing as there is not a single wheel builder I know in the area (theCycleclinic is nearby though) and there are plenty of cyclists with money to burn (as you probably know working at Primo). As others have said service is very important but I reckon you could earn a decent income out of it.

    Bike Ambulance (stone's throw away from Primo) have been building wheels for a long time. Andy Kelly who owns it is a well respected builder. He did me a set of Archetypes recently. Very nice they are too.

    Luke, I think there is room for another wheel builder in Cambridge but I would look more to the premium end of the market which should fit in with your clientele. I know you stock Mavic/Zipp already but there are those of us who prefer a more bespoke product
  • gabriel959
    gabriel959 Posts: 4,227
    gabriel959 wrote:
    Luke,

    Speaking as someone who lives in Cambridge (and with some handbuilt wheels!) I think it is a great idea seeing as there is not a single wheel builder I know in the area (theCycleclinic is nearby though) and there are plenty of cyclists with money to burn (as you probably know working at Primo). As others have said service is very important but I reckon you could earn a decent income out of it.

    Bike Ambulance (stone's throw away from Primo) have been building wheels for a long time. Andy Kelly who owns it is a well respected builder. He did me a set of Archetypes recently. Very nice they are too.

    Luke, I think there is room for another wheel builder in Cambridge but I would look more to the premium end of the market which should fit in with your clientele. I know you stock Mavic/Zipp already but there are those of us who prefer a more bespoke product

    That is good info thanks - I did not know about that :)
    x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x
    Commuting / Winter rides - Jamis Renegade Expert
    Pootling / Offroad - All-City Macho Man Disc
    Fast rides Cannondale SuperSix Ultegra
  • Camcycle1974
    Camcycle1974 Posts: 1,356
    gabriel959 wrote:
    gabriel959 wrote:
    Luke,

    Speaking as someone who lives in Cambridge (and with some handbuilt wheels!) I think it is a great idea seeing as there is not a single wheel builder I know in the area (theCycleclinic is nearby though) and there are plenty of cyclists with money to burn (as you probably know working at Primo). As others have said service is very important but I reckon you could earn a decent income out of it.

    Bike Ambulance (stone's throw away from Primo) have been building wheels for a long time. Andy Kelly who owns it is a well respected builder. He did me a set of Archetypes recently. Very nice they are too.

    Luke, I think there is room for another wheel builder in Cambridge but I would look more to the premium end of the market which should fit in with your clientele. I know you stock Mavic/Zipp already but there are those of us who prefer a more bespoke product

    That is good info thanks - I did not know about that :)

    You're welcome :D
  • tim_wand
    tim_wand Posts: 2,552
    I wish you luck Luke, it's nice to see someone your age interested in an old craft... there isn't a better time to get started but don't put all the eggs in one basket and keep your eyes open for opportunities


    This^^^^^^. Fantastic to see someone of this age (not trying to be condescending there Luke) have a go, and his responses and attitude seem spot on.

    Skills like this need to be kept alive, The amount of times me and Mrs W will walk past some Yut in town with his jeans around his arse and the Mrs will always say I bet he hasn't got a shed or a screwdriver.

    I have kids in our Village come to me to fix punctures.. because their dads have never shown them how to do it or know themselves. So good luck Luke , I am sure in Cambridge you ll have plenty of custom.

    Last year I bust the frame on my Felt, Its got Carbon seat stays and ally Chain stays and went right on the Drop out, No one would touch it to weld as the Ally is so thin,

    In the end a 17 year old lad who works at my mates Classic car restoration business (Sherwood Restorations), did it for me and its more neat and solid than the original weld on the none drive side.

    Alex my mate now uses this 17 year old to do welding on the Space frame and Chasis of Bird cage Maseratis and and Racing Ferraris,