Ever wonder what makes handbuilt bicycle wheels so special? Or what the alternative is? Are they worth the premium that some marketing implies? We visited Full Speed Ahead’s factory in Taiwan to ask that and other burning questions about wheels and hubs. For this video, the first of three, we show how they build their wheels both by hand and by machine, and explain why one costs a lot more than the other…
Are handbuilt bicycle wheels better than machine built wheels?
Both are good. Handbuilt wheels cost more because they take a lot longer to build, but you end up with a more refined product. Machine built wheels are found on a lot of production bikes because they can be produced faster and more economically, but they still get tested for trueness, roundness and stiffness.
Some of the things shown in the video include the Holland Mechanics wheel building machines, which are one of the industry standards and used by a lot of wheel brands. The machine that’s pressing down on the hub is de-stressing the spokes, after which the wheels will need to be rechecked and often fine tuned again. Some builders do this multiple times, but it should be done at least once. If not, as soon as you ride the wheel and you hear all those pings and pops, your new wheel would basically be out of true immediately.
The key takeaways are this:
- Handbuilt wheels are 100% hand built from start to finish.
- Machine built wheels still have a lot of human hands on them, from starting the build to a final check.
- The difference is the level of precision, with handbuilt wheels receiving more time and attention to getting more perfectly true and round. And getting the spoke tension within a smaller range.
- Machine built wheels can also be very good, the differences being very small. All wheels need to pass a certain level of performance before they’re sold, and machine built wheels perform just fine for many riders.
- Machine built wheels are found on many production bikes, especially lower cost bikes, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
- Custom wheels and special cases, such as a particularly light or heavy rider, warrant the higher cost of building the wheels by hand.
- A professionally built wheel should stay truer, longer, and perform better over its lifespan.
Huge thanks to FSA for sponsoring this video series. Stay tuned for parts two and three where we discuss bearing preload, spoke tension and more!