1. What does "Hands On" mean?
Every wheel is built by me. Every spoke is installed by hand, and carefully adjusted to eliminate any lateral tension before final tensioning.
2. Do you work with carbon rims? If not, why?
No. Carbon is a dangerous material, as it is prone to catastrophic failure when slightly damaged. It is also prone to "dissimilar material corrosion", which drastically shortens the usable life of a wheel.
3. Alloy nipples?
Again, no. I use brass only. Alloy is notorious for corrosion and early fatigue, cracking and failure.
4. How important is weight when considering which wheel to order?
This depends on the specific application and expectation one has for any given wheel or set. Most of the wheels I build are for daily rough-and-tumble use, whether recreational, commuting, or touring. Hence, tougher materials and more spokes will produce a wheel that will hold up longer with fewer problems. If you want a lighter wheel, the first place to cut down is the rim. Rotating weight is much more of a burden than anything else. There are plenty of lighter-weight rims available that will hold up well under difficult conditions.
5. How important is spoke count?
More spokes contribute to longer wheel-life, and tend to produce a more stable ride. A broken spoke on a 20- or 24-spoke wheel will effectively end your ride. On a 32- or 36-spoke wheel, you can open up the brake and ride home! For racing or lighter-weight club rides, a 28-spoke front and 28- or 32-spoke rear will be fine for any load (rider plus gear) under 200lb. 200lb and up, 32/36 or 36/36 are recommended.
6. How about straight-gauge versus butted spokes?
Double-butted (larger diameter at the elbow and nipple ends) have a number of advantages over straight-gauge spokes. By providing a bit of "give" in the middle area of the wheel, there is relief of stress on the hub flange and the rim -- so they'll last longer. They also give a slightly "cushier" ride because of the "give".
7. What about spoke tension? Balance?
Higher spoke tension will improve performance, and contribute to longer life of the wheel. It's especially important to have high spoke tension on the right (drive) side of the rear wheel, as the "dish" (centering) of the wheel in the frame will necessitate lower tension on the left (non-drive) side. Most modern rims will tolerate tensions up to 140kg (1400 Newtons), though I tend to work to a maximum of 130kg. Most, if not all, modern hubs now come ready for 11-speed cassettes, which increases the imbalance, so high tension increases in importance.
8. Disc brakes?
9. Cassette vs. Freewheel
Phil Wood freewheel hubs are the best out there, and I have no hesitation recommending them to my customers. It is important to note that quality freewheels, while available, can be expensive. My preference is for Suntour freewheels, which are no longer manufactured. IRD has recently developed a line of freewheels which are quite good. For simplicity of service, however, cassette hubs and cassettes are superior.
10. Loose-ball vs. sealed cartridge bearing hubs?
They're all great. All Shimano hubs are loose-ball. On the positive side, they're adustable and repairable. On the negative side, they're adjustable and repairable (!). For ease of service and longevity, if you're not a home-mechanic, cartridge bearings are the way to go. Those hubs tend to be more expensive, but they're much easier to maintain and repair.
11. Do your wheels come with any guarantee?
Every wheel that leaves my shop is true to within .05mm, and round to within .1mm. Each wheel is guaranteed to be true and round for the life of the rim. For local San Francisco Bay Area customers, adjustments and repairs are covered for the life of the rim. For non-Bay Area customers, the same guarantee applies, only I will pay for local repairs. If you want to have me do the repair(s), then I ask that we "split the difference" on shipping (I pay one way, you pay one way).
12. What is your turnaround time for a wheelset?
Once I have all the components available, I will usually be able to ship a wheel or wheelset within one week. Shipping via UPS is $40.
13. What about prices?
Prices fluctuate, unfortunately usually upward! I charge $75 labor and $50 per wheel spokes for each wheel. Hubs vary in price, as do rims, so the total for the wheel(s) will depend on your choices in those area. Least expensive wheelsets are around $450.
14. Your prices seem higher than other online wheelbuilders. Why is that?
I spend 3 to 4 hours on every wheelset, and I use only the highest quality components. Everything is done completely by hand, and the finished product is the best you'll find anywhere. My prices are commensurate with the labor I put into each wheel, and the guarantee I offer. Many "hand-built" wheels available online are actually "hand-finished," and machine-assembled -- faster, but lower quality.