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machine vs hand built vs combo wheels

Old 12-18-06, 10:39 AM
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balto charlie
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machine vs hand built vs combo wheels

Hey folks; When people say that machine made wheels suck are they referring to wheels that are machine assembled and hand tightened and trued. OR are they speaking of wheels that are completely machine assembled and machine tightened and trued? Seems that a wheel which is machine assembled and hand tightened and trued would make an affordable alternative. Just wondering as I am planning a rebuild project and try to save $$ when possible. Thanks Charlie
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Old 12-18-06, 10:52 AM
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They're referring to wheels that are totally built-up by machines. Machines are good at lacing wheels and initial building-up of tension, and machine-built wheels will usually true. But the machines they suck at getting tension even between spokes and high enough anyway. Basically, people are better at the combination of algorithms necessary to get a wheel trued and tensioned properly. It's a complex process balancing a bunch of variables.

Now, machine-built wheels can be topped off with tension by someone who knows what they're doing. What you call "combo" - and this works well. Plenty of knowledgeable wheelbuilders will just buy pre-built machine-built wheels (because it's often cheaper than buying all of the individual parts yourself) and then build up + equalize the spoke tension while keeping the wheel in true. This is a good and viable option.

The only downside is that machine-built wheels usually don't prep the nipple/spoke thread interface with anything (e.g., spoke prep; I use boiled linseed oil). But this doesn't matter that much if you top off the wheel with proper spoke tension.
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Old 12-18-06, 11:04 AM
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My last 2 wheelset purchases I made were on super special deals and have been machine built, I assume. But I have gone over them once I've put a few hundred miles on them. They were a lot cheaper than completely building them myself had I gone out and bought identical components separately and put them together.
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Old 12-18-06, 12:03 PM
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Wheelsmith was responsible for getting both their spoke and rim suppliers to tighten up their tolerances so that completely machine built wheels could be made with high, uniform tension and excellent truness and roundness.

A couple of years ago I bought a pair of Wheelsmith factory-built wheels consisting of Mavic CXP-33 rims, Wheelsmith XL-14 spokes and Dura Ace hubs. The mechanic at shop where I got them put them on a truing stand, checked the tension and said they needed absolutely no changes. He was right. They lasted 29,000 miles before the rims wore too thin and never saw, or needed, a spoke wrench.

Based on this experience, my son-in-law bought Wheelsmith factory wheels with Open Pro rims, 14/15 db spokes and Ultegra hubs. Same good-to-go as purchased and the same flawless service history.

It can be done.
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Old 12-18-06, 12:23 PM
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Good to know, HillRider. Maybe the critiques that I'm familiar with are rather old.
I got an Open Pro/Ultegra wheel with 14/17/14 spokes from Performance a year and a half ago, and spoke tension was quite good. I figured it had been topped off by a person, but maybe not.
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Old 12-18-06, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by timcupery
Now, machine-built wheels can be topped off with tension by someone who knows what they're doing. What you call "combo" - and this works well. Plenty of knowledgeable wheelbuilders will just buy pre-built machine-built wheels (because it's often cheaper than buying all of the individual parts yourself) and then build up + equalize the spoke tension while keeping the wheel in true. This is a good and viable option.
+1. I think this is the most cost-effective option for someone who is able to do a bit of truing, but doesn't need an unusual hub/rim combination: buy machine-built wheels and then carefully hand-true.
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Old 12-18-06, 12:46 PM
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Another + on buying machine built wheels and then doing your own "quality control" check once you get them in. I've done this with several wheelsets and have had excellent luck. My experience has been that it's a roll of the dice as to whether the wheels will be okay right out of the box, it seems about half the time they are, half the time they aren't. But I factor this in when I buy the wheels to begin with, and I actually enjoy checking them over and making sure they're properly tensioned and true, and making the proper adjustments if needed-
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Old 12-18-06, 01:35 PM
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This is what I have done as well. I bought the set previously mentioned from performance - open Pro/Ultegra with Wheelsmith Spokes. Great price for great components that would have been $100 more in parts if purchased separately. I did have to tension them as they were relatively uniform but at about 1/2 the correct tension. Still, overall a great deal if you have the skills to tension or a trusted friend to do it. I will be building a set from scratch for the mountain bike this spring though because of the component mix I'm looking for. But I will have 1.5 times the money in that set.
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Old 12-18-06, 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by blamp28
This is what I have done as well. I bought the set previously mentioned from performance - open Pro/Ultegra with Wheelsmith Spokes. Great price for great components that would have been $100 more in parts if purchased separately. I did have to tension them as they were relatively uniform but at about 1/2 the correct tension. Still, overall a great deal if you have the skills to tension or a trusted friend to do it. I will be building a set from scratch for the mountain bike this spring though because of the component mix I'm looking for. But I will have 1.5 times the money in that set.
I bought a new rear wheel last spring at a great price. Also found the spokes at 1/2 correct tension. After bringing the tension up and stress relieving I have not had any problems with it staying true ( I weigh 235 lb).
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Old 12-18-06, 04:36 PM
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Originally Posted by AndrewP
I bought a new rear wheel last spring at a great price. Also found the spokes at 1/2 correct tension. After bringing the tension up and stress relieving I have not had any problems with it staying true ( I weigh 235 lb).
Same here 235# and have ridden this wheelset 2000 miles without issue. $259 for OP/Ultegra/Wheelsmith = great deal.
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Old 12-19-06, 11:17 AM
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Thanks all. I talked(email) to AEBikes and Bikeman about Quality Wheelhouse wheels. They said they come hand trued and tightened but machine assembled. They seem to have great prices. Charlie
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