Have you ever thought about building your own bike wheels? Or have you looked at the cost of bike wheels and thought I can build this for less? Fancy learning a new skill and building bike wheels feels like a good one to add? Or have your heard of your friend doing this with their bike wheels and wondered what it cost?
Building your own bike wheels is great fun and can be hugely rewarding. However, is it cheaper than buying from a reputable manufacture or an experienced wheel builder? Well, that’s not a simple question. The short answer is it depends and is a bit contentious.
Let’s just quickly go over what is used in a bike wheel (you may know this but just so we are all on the same page).
- 1st there is the hub which hold the bearings, the drive system and in the case of disc brakes, the brake.
- 2nd is the rim. This is the outer metal part where the tyre sits.
- 3rd is the spokes. These hold the rim to the hub.
- 4th is the spoke nipples that the spokes thread into at either the rim or hub (think nut and bolt. The spoke is the bolt and the nipple the nut)
If you have looked at bike wheels you will see that there is a huge range in price. You can buy new wheels from shops and online for £33 up to £2k plus depending on what attributes you are looking for.
Can you build a new wheel for £33? No. By the time you buy a hub and rim you will have spent more not to mention spokes and nipples. But can you build a new wheel for less than £2K. Absolutely.
Okay so where is the cross over? When does it get cheaper to build your own wheels?
Well, this is where it gets mucky. You can almost always build the same level wheel as one from a manufacture but not always at the same cost or with exactly the same parts.
We are going to use Mavic Aksium’s wheelset as an example as it demonstrates our point well. At a cost of £250rrp (rim brake) these are a solid entry level wheelset for road bikes made by a very reputable manufacture. Can you build a wheelset for the same price or less at home?
Exactly like for like you can’t build at home as you can’t buy the rim or hub individually from Mavic (and spokes are like gold dust). But we can get close.
If we use Halo’s white line road hubs with 24 spoke holes front and rear with a retail price of £85 plus DT Swiss R460 rim (rrp £40 per rim) we are getting close. But now we come to the spokes used. Mavic use aero spokes which are not cheap at £3.75 per one. With 24 spokes in both the front and rear we are at £345 for the wheelset! So, is it cheaper to build your own when comparing comparable wheelsets? No.
Okay so when is it cheaper? Well, if we use normal round spokes at £0.70 per spoke suddenly its £198.60 for the wheelset! And was it a significant change? To someone who’s average ride speed is over 40km/h. Yes, as aerodynamics make a big difference at those speeds. For everyone else? No, this isn’t a big change. And this is the biggest advantage to building your own wheels. You get to choose the features that matter to you (see our blog on custom bike wheels for more info).
So, can it be cheaper to build your own wheels? Yep, but we have conveniently ignored some significant costs. Tools and training. Wheels building tools are not cheap. You can get a trueing stand for £80 (or less but please save yourself the money in this case) and professional ones are £250+. Nipple keys are £10+. You also need a spoke tension meter. These measure the force in the spoke and as a result the force holding your wheel together. If you are new to wheel building this is a necessity as if this force is too low or high, then the wheel is unsafe. These are form £65+ for a park tool one and not worth cheaping out on. So, £155 minimum in tools. Therefore, for a one-off build, it’s never going to be cheaper to build your own. But if you plan on doing multiple builds it can pay for itself.
Training is another matter though. You can pay hundreds for training (we charge £150 for this service) and often this is where it gets contentious. A professional wheel builder will charge for the time that it takes to assemble a wheel (£55 per wheel for us). This is because it is a skill and an art where people do and regularly build wheels to a higher standard than the manufacture. In this case often it is more expensive to get someone to build your wheels, but you will get a higher quality product out. You can definitely build a good quality wheel at home with the tools mentioned but to a higher standard than the manufacture is a tall task.
So, in conclusion “Is it cheaper to build your own bike wheels?” Rarely. But, if you already have the tools and the know how then yes it can be. However, if you don’t have the tools, the skills or looking to build a wheel exactly the same as one from a manufacture, No.
So, is building your own wheels worth it? We think so yes…… but not to save money. It’s rewarding, results in a better wheel for you and teaches you new skills. That is why we custom build all our wheels by hand to order to a higher standard than manufactures.