Yes things have been happening at the Lyall Bay HQ of Wheelworks Handcrafted Wheels. It's no secret that up until recently they had been using Derby Rims, one of the best carbon rims on the market, to lace up into their handbuilt wheels. You could choose from a limited selection of hubs and get a bullet proof wheelset with a lifetime guarantee against broken spokes and rim damage. What more could you ask for?
Well bossman Tristan, being the tech nerd that he is, thought there was room for improvement and set about designing his own rim and while he was at it, got his own hubs made too.
Look..this isn't an impartial review. Wheelworks pay me a fortune to ride their wheels...it's the least I could do to give them another shout-out. But I don't ride stuff I don't believe in... and I just can't rate these wheels highly enough. Every little gremlin that hides inside a wheelset has been excised...this is what happens when you're a small team driven by results, not shareholders.
Let's look at the rim. Keeping it simple, there is now a 34mm (internal) 275, a 32mm 29er and a 24mm XC 275 and 29er rim choice.
Then we have two different carbon layups. The trail rim which is for XC to All Mountain riding, and then the Enduro rim, for hardcore EWS Enduro type riding. The Enduro rim isnt just another layer of carbon to add strength though. Tristan decided to use a slightly softer resin to absorb big impacts better, then add more carbon to bring the strength back up. This is one of the reasons why you'll be hard pressed to find anyone with a busted Enduro rim. They are bloody tough.
The wheel market has got pretty saturated lately, so Wheelworks now offer a best price wheelset called the Stealth. The same rim, strength, build quality of their top Flite wheels, but built with round DT Competition spokes (not aero) and only with Dial hubs and black graphics. Yes you can now have a fully guaranteed handbuilt carbon wheelset for only $2300.
Dial hubs you say? With a 36 or 72 point engagement freehub from 3 or 6 pawls, Wheelworks now have their own hubs which I have been running all year without missing a beat. When I went to swap out the freehub last week to try a Shimano set-up, the pawls were clean and working at 100% so things are looking good there so far. There are a few design features in the spoke hole sizing and flange shapes to better the final build strength, so Dial is a very good choice if you want reliability
In case you don't know, all Wheelworks wheels are standard 32 hole J-bend spokes for simplicity and maximum strength. Did you know that straight pull spoked wheels are weaker? Have a look at the hub flange. Due to the nature of design, the spoke heads are further inboard resulting in tighter spoke angles which is exactly the opposite of what we want and why the industry is going to wider hub flanges (boost).
Related to that strength was Tristans decision to offset the rim spoke holes to even up the spoke lengths to get a more uniform tension which results in a far stronger wheel. Not only that but the spoke holes are offset drilled in a perfect line with the 2 cross spoke so you don't get the dreaded spoke-bending-as-it goes-into-the-nipple fiasco.
I'm sure all you wheel nerds know by now that Wheelworks custom cut their spokes to ensure that you get the perfect nipple/spoke thread interface and during the build process the wheels get pre-stressed by GRIMLOCK.. a custom built pnuematic press that side loads the wheels way more than you can ever do on the trail. This ensures that the spokes will be at even tension for years to come. FACT: I have never had to turn a nipple on any of my Flite wheels EVER! That's four years of riding on six wheelsets. Last summer I snapped 3 spokes with a fallen branch while in Nelson and continued riding for the rest of the trip with only a slight wobble in the rim. Three new spokes later and it was as good as new.
Weight wise, the numbers are pretty good for a bulletproof wheelset. On DT 240s hubs we have the XC at 1429grams, Trail at 1599 grams and the Enduro at 1719 grams. This is with DT Aerolite spokes, you can add 150g for the round spoke Apex and Stealth versions.
Back to the rims. They have all the features you should insist on a good wheelset. Thick beadwall, a beadlock ridge, a well shaped center channel to aid easy tubeless airing up, inline spoke hole drilling and the perfect circumference to allow easy tyre installation yet a secure beadlock. I can install and remove my tyres without levers and air them up with a floor pump, yet I have never burped a tyre... and you know how low I run my tyre pressures...down to 18psi on a 34mm rim with a 2.3" 850 gram tyre ... beat that!
What about rim widths? The bike industry has decided that 30mm rims are the new standard. Two years ago they decided that 26mm was the optimum. Two years before that it was 23mm. are they hedging their bets? You decide. 34mm is great for up to 3" 275 plus tyres. 32mm is ideal for 29ers... not many people want to run more than 2.5" 29er rubber. I think Tristan has got it right. Lets see what's happening in 2020.
So, lets recap.
Stealth ; Dial hubs, DT round spokes, black graphics. from $2300
Apex ; Choice of hubs, DT round spokes, choice of graphics. from $2450
Flite ; Even more hub choice, Aerolite spokes, custom graphics. from $2750
If you are a tight bastard you can even get the same choices but with an alloy rim (but without the impact damage guarantee). But I urge you to go carbon. Buy once, buy right and you can rest easy that you'll have a trouble free wheelset for years to come.
But why not just be happy with the wheels that came on your bike? Unless you are buying a high end bike ($10k+) then the wheels are often a budget OEM set that help keep the bikes price as low as possible. Weight vs strength are key features that help your bikes performance and reliability. Cheap hubs, freehubs and machine laced wheels are a great way to keep the costs down but unfortunately the money you have to spend later replacing it all negates any cost savings..in fact you'll end up spending more than you would if your bike came with decent wheels in the first place...and all those headaches and rideless days... it's just not worth it. Stiff strong and light wheels come at a price. $2300 for a guaranteed carbon wheelset... you can't beat that.
Interested? Best you look at the website and use the handy wheelbuild calculator which also throws up some colour options... Wheelworks Handcrafted Wheels