Wheel building is booming, though it’s rare to see evidence in the cycling press. I’d call it a work in progress, rather like craft brewing back in the day. Pioneers were scrappy and uncertain. When they first appeared, the big brewers knew it would be sporadic and limited (college towns, resorts). They actually got murdered over several decades and now craft brewing carries a large percentage of that market. This seems to be happening with wheel building.
Today most small builders are in likely cities (Portland, SF, Seattle, Boulder, LA…) but their global rise (UK, AU, NZ, EU…) shows it’s not a local trend. Your area may be barren but many successful builders are elsewhere. Check these, among hundreds more:
Not personal recommendations (but all excellent). The more you look, the more you’ll find.
If you are contemplating getting underway I recommend exploring two questions.
Where Am I?
You may plan a strong web presence but your immediate scene is your most important asset. Local riding is a key element in your opportunity.
Put aside personal preferences and experience because, as a wheel builder, you should welcome, understand, and whisper to all forms of wheels. Can’t do too much research and preparation to cultivate your local community.
Who Am I?
There are many types of builders. Wheel construction seems pretty straightforward but those who succeed do not share one approach. One science I hope, but not one style. Who are you? Understanding your style helps direct your effort and avoid confusion.
Handy with tools, good with gear, likes self sufficiency, finds building fairly easy, builds own and wheels for friends and family. Not so keen to make a simple task complicated or dramatic.
If you’re gregarious, wheel building can bring quite a range of human variety your way. Creating a business around the needs and exploits of riders is attractive to customers. You’ll want a welcoming workshop with plenty of ambiance and regular outreach.
Many an engineer type is drawn to building and customers, in turn, to them. Emphasizing tech with gauges and instruments, sharing spreadsheets and charts, teaching the “how” behind wheels can be a central theme if that is your drift. But it is not necessary to reek of tech. Performance minded customers need to trust but rarely require knowing all about the science.
Wheels are beautiful and there is room for plenty of self expression for a builder. The bar is very high for visual compatibility with the bike, high finish of components, and unity of design. Aesthetics are an ever changing scene, rules flex, styles evolve, and builders help drive change. We’ve all noticed what fixies combine on machines so basic they simply showcase wheels.
We are combinations of such types but discovering that inner builder is key to separating your offering from vague and mainstream options. Riders seek custom building for more than alleged benefits of value or performance. They want to deal with a real person, not just an “add to cart” button. There is no “better” style but the clearer yours, the greater authenticity you broadcast.
Authenticity attaches to wheels, gives them karmic power riders remember for years. Authenticity of our prized possessions adds meaning to our lives. That’s your ultimate product as a custom wheel builder.
Go for it and please share your experiences with others (and me :-)!
A new product and the return of an old favorite, what good news for the coming season!
We’ve added Pedro’s new spoke wrench. Three sizes, a delightful and original design, likely to become many builders’ go-to wrench. Pedro’s stuff is always a pleasure. Uber sturdy construction, no shortcuts, and trademark screaming yellow…what’s not to love.
Three sizes cover the range for 14 and 15G nipples: 3.23, 3.30, 3.45mm. Each tool features a reversible hardened steel insert offering a fast on and off, straight side opening and a 4-side drive, diamond shape.
Best news ever is the return of our nipple shuffler trays. While most efficient nipple lubing uses a strainer, pre-oiled nipples tend to drip. When you sprinkle them into your shuffler to begin lacing, a catch tray would be handy. We ran out last year and it’s been many months without.
Your shuffler sits up on the corner shelves. The wood loves oil, so everyone is happy. Just received 50 from Jon, a variety of woods, all magnificent. You’re welcome to make a request in the “notes” area at checkout but I’ll not be listing or selling them by species.
Junzo Kawai died this week at age 94. Some details were published in Bicycle Retailer.
Mike Sinyard, of Specialized, says gracious things in the BR&IN article. The effect Mr Kawai had on the world bicycle scene can hardly be overstated. Today, those he mentored, supported, supplied, and encouraged are deep in thought. It’s not my place to dignify such a career or “set the record straight” but a few words feel worthwhile.
Many of us captivated with cycling in the mid 1970’s, in the US and particularly on the West Coast, ignored the prevailing wisdom, “to get into plastics,” etc. Instead, we headed out on the roads and trails and tried to master an old and special sport. Some of us were clever in our minds; so inventive, so resourceful, so gifted to challenge convention and reinvent many of the basics of cycling.
However, the players of those early years in the US had little support. Europeans were great hosts and freely shared their enthusiasm. But finding resources to make change, to build companies took buy-in from beyond. That included members of a generation of Japanese war survivors who listened and collaborated with Americans who were, essentially, children of their recent adversaries. How did Mr Kawai and his peers find the wherewithal to give so much?
Talk about reconciliation, together we built something that was bigger and will outlast all of us. All due credit to US initiative, sacrifice, and ingenuity. But you won’t find anyone from that period, and that includes the entire pantheon of industry names (and more), who disputes that the steady support of people like Mr Kawai made the difference. I hope a stream of testimonials flows over the next few months as we acknowledge this crucial part of our industry history.
The important point is to be grateful to those (he wasn’t alone) who helped restart our industry, an effort whose effect has not diminished nearly a half century later. More important is to hope we will, in time, be regarded with similar gratitude. It’s everyone’s choice.: to solo or to mentor. To hoard or to share.
As our planet evolves at hyper-speed, hurtling towards an uncertain future, let Mr Kawai’s example help us rise to the challenge. It is a privilege to share mankind’s cleverest device and a duty to reply to the future with the integrity and passion of Junzo Kawai.
Last year he founded a company, SunXCD, with members of his family. Check it. He says “the market is too race-centric; carbon fiber, electric shifting, full suspension, 11 speed, doesn’t really enhance the enjoyment of cycling. In the 1970’s and 80’s we cycled to be closer to nature, for the environment, for our health, for the simple beauty of cycling.”
Condolences to the Kawai family. Best wishes to his son-in-law, Taki Takimoto, who heads Sun XCD. And good luck to all of us, appreciating the meaning of Mr Kawai’s life and work.