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Old 12-29-12, 06:40 PM   #1
ZippyThePinhead
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Wheel Question

Bought a wheelset from an online retailer.

Within 50 miles, I was getting a creak from the rear wheel. Took it to my LBS, and the mechanic says "spoke tension is all over the place." He detensioned and retensioned the spokes, no more creak.

100 miles later, I am getting a creak from the front wheel. It's at the LBS right now for the same service.

Is this to be expected, comes with the territory, etc., or might it indicate that the wheels were maybe not so well-constructed?

Thanks in advance...
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Old 12-29-12, 06:51 PM   #2
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Took it to my LBS, and the mechanic says "spoke tension is all over the place." He detensioned and retensioned the spokes, no more creak.

100 miles later, I am getting a creak from the front wheel.

Is this to be expected, comes with the territory, etc., or might it indicate that the wheels were maybe not so well-constructed?

.
Yes it's to be expected --- when buying wheels based on price only. The quality of the build is key to the life expectancy of wheels, regardless of the quality of the parts. Some sellers are choosey about who they buy their wheels from, or build quality wheels in house, others less so.

A well built wheel, will not need subsequent service, a poorly built wheel will always need service. You're lucky your shop handled this well and did what was necessary, and now you can look forward to riding a decent pair of wheels.
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Old 12-29-12, 07:02 PM   #3
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I appreciate the quick reply.

When you write "quality of the build," what is an example of one or two things which establish that quality? For the sake of this answer, assume quality components.

How does an online seller of wheels make money, assuming good components and low price? For me to buy the same components at retail, it would cost more than the wheelset.

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Old 12-29-12, 07:23 PM   #4
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I appreciate the quick reply.

When you write "quality of the build," what is an example of one or two things which establish that quality? For the sake of this answer, assume quality components.

How does an online seller of wheels make money, assuming good components and low price? For me to buy the same components at retail, it would cost more than the wheelset.
What makes a wheel a wheel is the tension in the spokes. Correct and even tension are key. It's impossible to see the quality when buying online, so you depend on they're reputation. Buying in person, you can gauge even tension by spinning a wheel with your thumbnail pinging the spokes. Pitch is dependent on tension, so you're looking for every spoke to ping the same. If you get highs and lows on the same wheel, it's a dog.

Of course, the quality of the materials counts, but that's easy to check out.

Online sellers sell wheels built by machine, which isn't automatically a bad thing. Machines can build good wheels if the operators set them up to do so. However setting the standards higher slows things down considerably. Time is money, so many high volume sellers, set the standard as low as they feel they can get away with.

As for why there's such a big spread, it's the economics of volume. Production wheel shops buy the hardware directly from the manufacturer in decent volume so things like shipping come to less. OTOH, a bike shop doesn't buy enough to deal with the manufacturer, so there's a wholesaler, who adds his markup. The parts also log extra miles in shipping which adds to the cost. Lastly, a machine operation can produce a wheel in approximately 3-4 man minutes. Compare this with a shop, where a decent builder can average 2-3 wheels per hour (that's if he's uninterupted and good).

Compare to building a car on an assembly line vs. one up in a garage.

BTW- there are a large number of good online wheel sellers, so that's still an option in the future. But you have to be selective.
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Old 12-29-12, 07:34 PM   #5
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Just curious-
How much did you pay for this set?
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Old 12-29-12, 07:41 PM   #6
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The set was around $290 shipped: Velocity A-23 Rims, Ultegra 6700 hubs, DT Swiss spokes & nipples. Retensioning will cost me around $100 for both wheels, but the seller refunded me a little bit to defray the cost after I complained to them (without the seller's help, it would have been $130).

As an aside, these wheelbuilding machines look like they're expensive.


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Old 12-29-12, 08:07 PM   #7
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Yes, they're expensive. The various machines involved in a wheel building facility cost about $200,000 or so. With them, 2 people can produce roughly 30 wheels per hour. The various machines have different production capacities, so a differently organized line with a more efficient array of machinery can raise productivity by almost another 50%, dropping the labor time to about 3 man minutes per wheel.

About 40 years ago, I visited the Huffy plant and they had a high capacity wheel tightener that simultaneously tightened 36 nipples to a preset tension, with a flow through capacity of almost 10 wheels per minute. I don't know if anybody in the USA still uses this particular machine, but bike companies who have to produce hundreds of thousands pairs of wheels per year, have to be able to do so very efficiently.
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Old 12-30-12, 07:40 AM   #8
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I wonder... if today there's a computer machine that can equal the balanced tension of a hand built wheel?

I was impressed with the equalized tension on a Raleigh I bought a few yrs back.. 26" MTB set that went 1400+ w/o a failure. That break the result of bad roads and somewhat careless usage... RR tracks and the surprise thump of potholes time to time. I do think that break was the product of low cost/high volume/cheep spokes.
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Old 12-30-12, 07:46 AM   #9
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For $290 you got good components and a crappy build, but as you found out it cost you another $100 or so to get a decent build. You get what you pay for. My guess is the components would cost just as much unbuilt, so you're still OK from a price standpoint. Ultegra hubs alone are $220 on the first site I looked at.
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Old 12-30-12, 10:58 AM   #10
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For $290 you got good components and a crappy build, but as you found out it cost you another $100 or so to get a decent build. You get what you pay for......
+1 kinda
I do think $100 is rather high to re-tension new wheels though.
New parts "fall in place" more readily. Unlike old frozen nipples etc.

Last Spring, I bought a CHEAP back up wheel set for my Hybrid <$80 delivered.
Shimano "Parallax"(sp) hubs, Alex single wall rims (that I can't find listed on the net) & galvanized? spokes.
Part of the reason was to check out my new Park tension meter.

Tension was +/- 25%. Not very good! True was about +/- 2mm lateral with 3 noticeable "hops".
I got them to +/- .5MM lateral, which was outstanding , since the rim width varied .75mm. I got it down to ONE much lesser hop at the rim joint. Tension was +/- 5%.
They are still a CHEAP set, but should be good for 1000's of miles.
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Old 12-30-12, 11:04 AM   #11
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I wonder... if today there's a computer machine that can equal the balanced tension of a hand built wheel?
.
Yes, there are machines that can do as good a job as humans, but interestingly they do a better job with lighter squirrelier rims. That's because the machines focus on alignment not tension. The best machine systems (when set up and used well) produce an even tensioned wheel using a tensioning machine separate from the actual truing machine. Then the final touchup and true machine finishes the job. The problem with stiff rims is that they're rigid enough to stay aligned across a slightly slack or tight spoke so the touchup robot doesn't see the uneven tension (neither do many human builders).
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Old 12-30-12, 11:30 AM   #12
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This is off topic a bit, and for that matter I like to build wheels so I usually build my own and I build some for customers in my shop (although the demand for custom built wheels in a bike shop isn't what it was years ago). But one thing I've seen from some fairly large companies who advertise their wheels as "handbuilt" is that the builder puts their name or initials on the wheels, the date built, etc. One wheelset that we've sold quite a bit is a "factory" wheelset, the Ritchey WCS Zeta. A very nice, light, trouble-free wheelset I've used quite a lot myself, and it comes with the builder's first name on a card, and the spoke tension range of like spokes (front wheel, DS rear, NDS rear). It's a nice touch, and it does show an attention to detail. Another company that puts the builder's initials and the date built on the wheels is Velocity, on their handbuilt wheels.

I like this practice, it at least give some credibility to the term "handbuilt." Granted, these wheels are at a different pricepoint than what the OP is referring to, but it's another example of getting what you pay for. I've seen some wheels advertised as "handbuilt" and when I went through them I realized that if they were indeed "handbuilt" they were either built by someone who didn't know how to build a good wheel, or they were built by someone whose quota was so high there was no way they were able to build quality wheels and meet it. Or both.

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Old 12-30-12, 11:46 AM   #13
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I like this practice, it at least give some credibility to the term "handbuilt." Granted, these wheels are at a different pricepoint than what the OP is referring to, but it's another example of getting what you pay for. I've seen some wheels advertised as "handbuilt" and when I went through them I realized that if they were indeed "handbuilt" they were either built by someone who didn't know how to build a good wheel, or they were built by someone who's quota was so high there was no way they were able to build quality wheels and meet it. Or both.
This raises a good point. There's a tendency to characterize machine built as bad, and handbuilt as good, but it doesn't follow.

First of all there's no clear line between so-called hand built wheels and machine built wheels. We all agree that if a human laces, tensions and trues a wheel that's a hand built wheel. But these are 3 operations, and what if one or more involves a machine. The slowest and most tedious process is threading the spokes into the hub and lacing up the wheels.

Is it still hand built if the builder has someone else do this for him, and if a machine is used to attach the nipples? After all this wouldn't in any affect the quality of the wheel. How about if a machine is used to pretension the wheel, duplicating the rote steps of turning all the nipples to a set length and adding tension by counting turns? Can a machine or fixture be used to set the elbows?

So, lastly how about final tension, alignment and dish. Is it hand built if a human does all these? Or machine built if it's only checked & touched up after the machine finishes?

What should matter to the buyer is the final quality, not how it was achieved. Machines can build good or bad wheels, just the same as humans. The reduction of some of the more rote and steps in building wheels to improve efficiency cannot be a bad thing, as it improves productivity and keeps costs down.
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Old 12-30-12, 12:16 PM   #14
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(roughly speaking...)

machine assembled < > hand assembled (pre)
machine pre-trued < > hand pre-trued (pre)
machine pre-tensioned < > hand pre-tensioned (pre)

machined trued < > hand trued (in)
machined tensioned < > hand tensioned (in)
machine dished < > hand dished (in)

machine stress relieved < > hand stress relieved (fin)
machine trued final < > hand trued (fin)
machine tensioned final < > hand tensioned final (fin)
machine dished final < > hand dished final (fin)
machine stress releived < > hand stress relieved (fin)

Traditionallly, a wheel was considered hand built when all of the above was carried out by a human.

I'm willing to call it such even when the (pre) portion is done by machine - because the human is still carrying out the (in) and (fin) portions of the wheel building. After all, most of us will use a hand drill to do that portion with a little oil and proper spoke length and a special bit as a pre-cautions.

What bugs me though is when a company has a machine do the (in) portion - and a human do the (fin) portion - and then turn around an call it a "hand-built wheel".

That's a "hand-finished wheel", not a "hand-built wheel".

Of course a hand-finished wheel can turn out just as fine as a hand-built wheel, but a subtle lie is a subtle lie though it's perfectly legal.

=8-)
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Old 12-30-12, 12:32 PM   #15
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I agree that calling a machine built wheel a hand built is a lie, even if it's finished (touched up) by hand. I'm just not sure if it's material to the quality to the finished product. Even machine built wheels start out hand built, since only the very largest factories use a machine to load spokes into a hub. Also all machine built wheels are laced by a human working with a machine who's sole contribution is attaching nipples as spokes are brought to the rim.

So the only places where there's a clear difference between man and machine is in the tensioning, and final operations. Consumers benefi from machine built wheels by virtue of the cost savings passed on. The problem isn't whether machines are used, but the quality control, and unfortunately that's hard to know from just looking.

I think there'll always be a place for truly hand built wheels, whether it's because of the "hand built" ethic, because it allows the freedom of user selected components, or because it allows reuse of quality hubs. But buyers should be aware that most bike shops do not build 90% of the wheels they sell, so odds are that the bike shop wheel was bought from a production facility. Hopefully, shops go through enough wheels that they can judge the quality control of the various producers, and stick to ones they've come to trust.
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Old 12-30-12, 12:43 PM   #16
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One supplier of very good wheels is Colorado Cyclist. I've had three sets of their wheel (CXP-33 rims on Campy Chorus or Ultegra hubs, DT 2.0/1.8/2.0 spokes 32H, 3X) that have come perfectly true and never needed to be touched with a spoke wrench until the rims wore too thin to trust at the brake tracks after over 25,000 miles.

CC doesn't claim hand built but says their wheels are machine built through mrrabbilt's int and part of the fin steps and are then hand adjusted for final tensioning and truing.

One good experience with what I expect are completely machine built wheels are a pair of Shimano WH-R560 wheels. These have moderately deep rims laced with 16 radial spokes in front and 20 spokes radial DS, 2X NDS in the rear on 105 lever hubs. Again, these came completely true and have remained so after 11,000 miles so far. And yes, the rear is laced radially on the drive side. I guess the hub shell is stiff enough that it doesn't matter.
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Old 12-30-12, 10:04 PM   #17
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+1 kinda
I do think $100 is rather high to re-tension new wheels though.
New parts "fall in place" more readily. Unlike old frozen nipples etc.
I didn't stay and watch, because my youngest son was with me. I wanted to. But the mechanic is a good one, and he told me that he "brought all the spokes down to 0 tension, retensioned & trued to <0.5mm lateral." Talking later with the owner, I found they also check to see if any kind of spoke prep was applied, and if not, they apparently put it on.

Though I'm inclined to learn this myself, I gather that in the short-term, it's cheaper and faster to go with my LBS. The combined cost of components, priced here and there on the Web, would be around $330 plus shipping and possibly tax. I'd need a few tools, as well... maybe another $400-$500 total, for new ones. I'm typically riding only 2000-3000 miles/year, so it would take some years to amortize the cost of the tools.

But I really appreciate the replies in this thread, and I thank you all. Very educational and tremendously helpful.

BTW I also appreciate the CC recommendation. Any other trustworthy online wheel sellers that you know of?
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