For road/race use, we recommend alloy rims from H plus Son, Velocity, Ryde, Stans NoTubes and Kinlin along with carbon fibre rims made by Carbonal. I consider these manufacturers to have the best quality vs performance vs cost balance available.
MTB rims are selected from Stans NoTubes (for tubeless applications), Ryde, Carbonal, and some older 26″ stock from WTB. Again I look for the best balance of performance and cost.
For touring, commuting and general leisure purposes strong and durable products from Velocity, Mavic and Ryde (Rigida) are used.
We are often asked for advice on ‘winter wheels’. This term can mean different things to different riders – depending on what their best or ‘summer’ wheels are, and how much maintenance they wish to do. Generally we would advise a sturdy set of wheels with more spokes and a thicker brake track (for rim brake bikes) to withstand the more abrasive stone/grit/leaf littered roads at this time of year. Of course, if you are prepared for the higher wear rate, you can use your lightweight wheels year round.
Hubs for winter (ie predominantly wet) use should have good sized bearings. Cup and cone types (Shimano or Novatec GCC) will generally have a lower maintenance requirement but sealed bearings should not be discounted. Miche Primato sealed bearing hubs have larger bearings than normal which give a good life.
If your winter riding is mainly in the dark or you do long distances, a front dynamo hub is worth considering. These have improved massively in recent years and are now lighter, more powerful and have less drag than before. We can build wheels using either Schmidt Son (the best) or SP (cheaper but still very good) dynamo hubs.
Track/singlespeed wheels are also useful for winter training. Apart from being very strong, track hubs tend to have large bearings which last well. Purists say that single speed cycling is good for strengthening the legs and practicing higher cadence riding.
‘Winter’ wheels are likely to be heavier than ‘summer’ wheels. This in turn has a strengthening effect on the legs which will pay off in spades when you switch to lightweight gear for summer events. As an example, my winter/training bike weighs 16kg. When I switch to my 6.4kg ‘best’ road bike, the inclines are noticeably easier.
In general, any rim can be used for disc brake applications with a few provisos.
Firstly, spoke number. The braking forces created by disc brakes put much more strain on the rim and spokes than rim brakes. Therefore the spoke number should be higher to spread the forces.
Lighter riders (under 75kg) can probably get away with 24/24 spokes in a wheelset. Everybody else will need 28/28 or 32/32 unless either the rims and spokes are very strong or you don’t use the brakes much!
Carbon rims are the exception here. Due to their overall stength, less spokes can be used.
Next, tyre pressures. Road rims such as the Velocity A23, H plus Son Archetype or Mavic Open Pro generally take tyres up to around 28mm wide and are happy running at high tyre pressures up to 120psi. This sort of rim are not normally the lightest though.
MTB 29er rims such as Stans Crest 29er, Stans Arch 29er or Velocity Blunt SL are usually pretty light as they were designed from day 1 as disc brake specific rims but were not designed for tyre pressures beyond 50-60psi. This generally limits users to tyres of 30mm or wider.
Rim colour. All disc specific rims come without a machined silver brake track. There are an increasing number of road rims available with a non-machined sidewall for disc brake use. Examples of this are the Stans Alpha 340 and 400 Disc models, Velocity A23 NMSW and H plus Son Archetype.
There are a number of newer rims in the disc brake arena – Stans Grail, H plus Son Hydra, Velocity Aileron and Ryde Pulse Comp for example. These are designed to be tough all-purpose rims and can be used with virtually any tyre. Anything from a 23mm road tyre, 32mm touring tyre, CX tyres and 29er MTB tyres up to 2.2″ can be fitted.
The rims are very similar and both build into a strong wheel. The Velocity Aileron is a bit deeper section. The Hydra and Ryde are a few grams lighter but lower profile.
We have tested a set of Stans Alpha 400 24/24 spoke disc wheels with an 86kg rider on a 16kg bike (me on my steel Genesis Croix de Fer) to see what sort of reliability they have in everyday use. The conclusion after a month of use is that they were absolutely fine, including braking from 50mph on a 20% hill. The rims usable with 24/24 spokes will need to have a strong spoke bed (Alpha 400, Archetype, Grail etc) and wouldn’t be suitable for MTB type off-roading.
Carbon fibre is a great material for wheel rims. It is light and stiff and allows rims with great aero properties and strength to be produced – hence the near total dominance of carbon wheels in the pro peloton.
However, there are some drawbacks. The heat produced by rim brakes (even with the correct carbon specific pads fitted) can cause rims to delaminate. Tubular rims used by light riders are largely OK as the heat produced can dissipate. Clincher rims, especially when used by heavier riders, can build up enough heat during prolonged braking to melt the epoxy resin which holds the fibres together. Use in the UK isn’t generally an issue but the prolonged descents found in the Alps and Pyrenees can cause problems for carbon clincher rims of any brand.
Rims with an offset spoke pattern are becoming more prevalent. The ever increasing number of gears available on a modern cassette has meant the amount of ‘dishing’ (offset) to compensate a wheel needs to allow for wider cassettes has increased in recent years. In turn, this has led to greater inequality in the spoke tensions between drive and non-drive sides of the wheels. This has the effect of only half the spokes doing most of the work.
If the rim has an offset spoke line, the spoke tensions are more equal and the load on each spoke is shared more widely. In turn, this increases wheel stiffness and can allow for lower spoke counts or lighter rims without losing wheel reliability. Kinlin and Ryde (among others) offer this for rear wheels (and disc brake wheels) and we are specifying all our rear carbon rims to be built this way.
Is there a downside? I don’t think so. Rims can appear a bit odd if you look closely but that is about it.
Hubs from either Novatec or Shimano are used for most purposes although we are also suppliers of the Hope, VIA Components, Miche and Rohloff hub ranges.
Most are available in 9/10 speed and 11 speed Shimano / SRAM format. We have Campagnolo freehubs for Miche and some Novatec hubs. SRAM XD drivers available for Hope and Novatec hubs.
Shimano needs no introduction – they are the world’s largest cycle component manufacturer.
Shimano hubs use traditional ‘cup and cone’ hub bearings which are very low friction and adjustable by the user but do require periodic maintenance. I strip, grease and correctly adjust each Shimano hub before building the wheel as experience has shown inconsistency in the bearing tension and amount of grease put in at the factory. Correctly maintained Shimano hubs are very durable – I have a Shimano SLX front hub on my touring/all purpose bike which has done 8000 miles in 3 years in all weathers.
Novatec are probably the largest bike hub manufacturer in the world that nobody has heard of! Most Novatec products are branded with the familiar names of cycling and sold as part of a new bike.
Novatec only put their name on their best products. These are high quality and lightweight hubs which offer fantastic value for money. Nearly all Novatec hubs use Japanese made sealed bearings which theoretically require no maintenance and are easy to change when worn.
Hope Pro 4 hubs are similar in general design to Novatecs but have a higher standard of water sealing and tend to be lower maintenance in typical UK conditions. They also have a stiffer axle as standard. However, Hope Pro 4s are a bit heavier then Novatecs and considerably more expensive. Customers should select according their priorities and budget.
A new introduction (by us) of some of the Novatec GCC range has combined cup and cone (Shimano style) bearings with Novatec quality and lighter weight at a slightly lower price. These are proving very durable – at least the equal of Shimano Deore and SLX – and we have now extended our range of these to include road hubs.
We have found that hubs using an alloy axle can flex when used by heavy (and/or powerful) riders. This usually manifests itself as brake rub when cycling at high effort. If affects rim brake wheels more than disc.
If you are powerful and over 95kg, we would recommend the use of a steel axled hub. Shimano, Miche and Novatec GCC hubs fall into this catagory as standard. The lightest of these are Miche which have a good combination of steel axle and sealed bearings. Unfortunately they are only available for rim brakes at the moment.
Steel axles. Novatec have custom manufacturered some steel axles for us to assist heavier riders. These fit Novatec D772 and D882 rear disc hubs and Novatec F162 and F172 rear road hubs. They only add around 50g to the weight of a wheelset but are stiffer than alloy axles. Cost is £10 more.
Hub bearings can last for many years or be destroyed in a matter of months. Use in wet/gritty MTB conditions accelerates the wear rate as does over use of spray on cleaning solutions. I use Novatec hubs in all my race bikes. The road bike has covered over 5000 miles and the bearings are as good as new. My MTB has needed 2 new sets in 2000 miles purely due to the wet sandy soils prevalent in Devon. Luckily sealed bearings are cheap and easy to replace using simple hand tools.
Sealed bearing life can be greatly extended by cleaning and adding fresh grease to the bearings. Most manufacturers seem to put in the minimum amount of grease that they can during manufacture. More can be added by removing the hub end cap and freehub and carefully prising off the rubber seal on the bearings with a very slim screwdriver. The seal will push back on easily afterwards.
We keep a stock of the sealed bearings used by Novatec.
Shimano/Novatec cup and cone systems are not normally economic to repair when worn, but I do stock replacement ball bearings if these become pitted.
We select the most suitable spokes for each build from the Sapim (Belgium) range and occasionally ACI Alpina (Italy) or DT Swiss, all of whom are world leaders in spoke technology. High quality stainless steels are used throughout and whether your wheels need strength, lightness, aero efficiency (or all three!), we can recommend the best product to use. Most are available in silver or black. Black spokes cost more and typically add £20 to the cost of a wheelset.
The spoke ranges we stock are;
Sapim Leader – 2.0mm plain gauge in polished stainless steel. 421 grams/64 spokes (260 length). Economical, strong spokes for wheels where weight is not the highest consideration. Made from the same high quality stainless steel as used in Sapim’s other ranges (and better than all the far Eastern brands).
Used for commuting, touring, tandems and also MTB wheels where price is the prime consideration. Often for rear wheel only or even just the rear drive side. Silver only.
Sapim Race – 2.0:1.8:2.0 double butted in polished stainless steel. 358 grams/64 spokes (260 length). Strong, mid-weight, mid-price spokes used for most road and off-road purposes. This is our usual ‘go-to’ spoke. The thinner centre section makes the spoke more flexible in this area which improves ride quality. The engineering process involved in production makes double butted spokes slightly stronger gram for gram than plain gauge. Silver or black.
Sapim D-Light – 2.0:1.65:2.0 double butted in black. 309 grams/64 spokes (260 length). This is currently the thinnest and lightest round spoke recommended for disc brake wheels available. Obviously it can be used on rim brake wheels as well. Available in all sizes to match popular 26″, 27.5″ (650b), 29er and 700c rims. Silver or black
More expensive than the Race, but still a good way to reduce the rotational weight of the wheel.
Sapim Laser – 2.0:1.5:2.0 double butted stainless steel. 273 grams/64 spokes (260 length). As light as the CX Ray but much cheaper. Very flexible. Only recommended by Sapim for rim brake use and lighter riders.
Mark has tested some 29er wheels built with these spokes on XC events but unless they are built into a fairly stiff rim the resulting wheels are a bit flexible. However, they are great for lighter riders looking for light 26″ ‘Race’ wheels on a tight budget. Silver or black.
Sapim CX-Ray – bladed aerofoil shape 2.0:0.9×2.3/2.0 double butted. 278 grams/64 spokes (260 length). The lightest and strongest spoke for it’s weight available and suitable for everyday use. Sapim measure the fatigue life of their spokes and this one lasts 3-4 times as long as the next best. Suitable for rim brake and disc brake wheels. Silver or black.
The only drawback is cost which is unfortunately 6 times the price of the Race spoke. Availablity can be patchy as well.
Mark uses CX Rays in both his best road bike and full sus 29er MTB and had never had a spoke failure despite the rear mech on the MTB being knocked into the spokes by rocks twice.
ACI Alpina – 2.0:1.7:2.0 stainless steel. Less highly polished than Sapim spokes but an economical mid-weight spoke used for some MTB wheels. Silver only.
All spokes except CX Ray bladed spokes come with 12mm brass spoke nipples as standard. These are included in the price. CX Rays come with 14mm silver alloy nipples
Brass spoke nipples should be the first choice for all uses where weight is not top priority. They are not affected by road salt and can usually be turned for wheel adjustment many years later. The standard finish is silver although ‘black’ brass nipples are available. The black colour is a coating on top of the silver finish which will wear off over time.
Alloy nipples are much lighter (saving 40g on a 32 spoke wheelset) and this weight saving is at the rim where the rotating forces are greatest. Alloy nipples are as strong in in use as brass but can suffer from salt corrosion. Alloy should be avoided on winter bikes and year round commuters unless they are regularly cleaned but are fine for off road and 3 season road use.
Coloured alloy nipples are an anodised finish and this lasts the life of the nipple. The coating helps to reduce external corrosion but will have little effect internally.