Give me Hope (and DT Swiss) – Hand built wheels in detail

We love building wheels. It’s one of those jobs in the workshop that our mechanics fight over to do. There is something a bit magical about taking a pile of flimsy spokes, a hub, a handful of brass nipples and a rim and turning that into a strongly built wheel that can take impacts that would destroy any of the components on their own. Not only is the hand built wheel stronger than the sum of its parts, it can also seriously upgrade the feel and performance of your bike.

When customers ask us what we recommend for hand built wheels we usually start with what their budget is because this is the main limiting factor in getting wheels handmade for you. They are not the cheapest wheels you can get for your bike, and we make that clear from the start. We can offer hand builts wheelsets from around £350 / 400. If the budget is less than that it makes it hard to get parts to fit. Also below that price range there are lots of decent machine built wheels that are reasonably good so we would probably steer people towards that rather than use lower quality parts just to get a wheel handmade.

We recommend DT Swiss rims more often than any other brand. They’re extremely well built and come in a wide variety of standards, sizes and for many disciplines. More often than not the mountain bikers that are buying hand built wheels from us are looking for a wheel that is tough above all other things, i.e. low weight and cheap.

We know we can build very strong wheels for Enduro or Downhill mountain bike use using something like the EX471 for Enduro use or the FR560 for Down Hill abuse. We know they work and they are well priced for what they are. Definitely, an improvement compared to a lot of the rims found on stock wheelsets on bikes.

We use spokes from DT Swiss too because they’re extremely well made, well priced and they come in black. We always recommend double butted spokes as they build a stronger wheel than plain gauge spokes. We do also offer spokes from Sapim and Halo if requested and it’s a place where money can be saved if that’s important.

NIPPLES! We only recommend brass nipples for our builds. They cost more and they weigh a little bit more but they are far, far superior to alloy nipples. The amount of wheels we see through the workshop where the alloy nipples are crumbling because of the salt found all over our roads is ridiculous. If you want the lightest possible wheel and don’t care if you have to rebuild the wheel in a couple of years because of popped nipples then we will build you one but for us we recommend long-term reliability over a few grams saved, even if the failure of the alloy nipples could generate work for us down the line.

For hubs, this customer went with Hope RS4’s, the road version of the ever-popular Pro 4 MTB hub. It’s a solid choice which is easy to service and simple enough inside that it will keep running for a long time with little maintenance. They also look great which is, let’s face it, extremely important.

Once the wheel is laced up we get it in the stand and bring each spoke up to a fairly uniform tension by eye. Then we use the Park Tool truing stand dials to get it perfectly true (well, within 0.1 – 0.05mm anyway). Within the bike industry, you get different levels of truth in wheelsets with the UK regulations saying that 2mm is the minimum.

2mm lateral movement is not a true wheel and the only thing it indicates is that little time has been spent building the wheel or finishing it at the end. Hand built wheels can be less than .05mm from perfect true fairly easily.

We use a simple tension meter, from Park Tools again, just to check that spoke tensions are even around the wheel. This also helps us ensure that the overall tension is as high as possible for the rim. Both of these checks allow us to make a wheel that will stay true for as long as possible. It’s attention to detail and it’s essential if you’re serious about getting things as good as they can be. There are better tension meters out there but really we only use it in a relative way, i.e. to see the overall picture and compare spokes to each other and it works fine for that.

And this is what is was all for. One set of hand built wheels using DT Swiss RR411 rims, DT Swiss double butted spokes, DT Swiss Prolock brass nipples and Hope Pro 4 RS4 hubs. Dressed up in Schwalbe Durano tires. It’s a great feeling to have taken 64 spokes, 64 nipples, 2 hubs and 2 rims and turned them into these 2 wheels that will be good for thousands of miles.

All of our hand built wheels come with lifetime free truing which is how much we believe in our work. We don’t expect to see them back very many times over the years.

Get in touch if you have a wheel build project that you’d like us to help you with.