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:
- Magnetic Wheel Co. (Portland)
- Monument Wheel Works (Seattle)
- Diablo Wheel Works (Pacific Palisades, CA)
- Ergott Wheels (Islip, NY)
- Joe Young Wheels (Granbury, TX)
- Noble Wheels (London)
- Wheel Tec (Alkmaar, NL)
- Melody Wheels (O’Connor, AU)
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 :-)!