If you are dreaming of a wheelset with smooth and serviceable hubs, light and strong rims, and spokes all selected for your weight and riding style, you may want to seek out someone like Mackenzie Ogilvie head wheelbuilder and service manager at Urbane Wheels.
Custom, handcrafted wheels may seem like a luxury, but a good wheelset provides you with benefits whether you ride road, gravel or singletrack. A good custom wheelbuilder will focus on functionality so the wheels are long lasting and reliable saving you hassle in the future. The hoops can be made to your specific needs so performance features can be included to make you quicker and more confident in your discipline.
No wheel on the market will be as finely tuned as one made for you. A wheelbuilder will not only select rims, hubs and spokes for you, but will guide you to the perfect balance between strength, performance and durability for your physique and your bike. “I would include the wheelbuilder as an important component of a wheelset,” Ogilvie explains. “You can put a wheel together, but it won’t hold up or ride well if the wheel wasn’t put together well. The skill of the wheelbuilder is definitely a big factor.”
Tucked away on the top floor of the Urbane Cyclist shop in downtown Toronto is the workshop where custom wheels for boutique bike shops like Blacksmith Cycle and many others are being handbuilt. The walls of the workshop are stocked with rims. The shelves are full of hubs while drawers are packed with spokes. The tools of the trade are neatly hung on the walls while a precision truing stand and a striking spoke cutter are centrepieces of the workbench.
Why go for a custom wheelset?
In the wheelbuidling section of the store, Ogilvie and his team also go through the process of making sure they deliver products that are thoughtfully considered for the customer’s specific needs. It’s the serviceability, Ogilvie says, that really distinguishes his wheelsets from off-the-shelf offerings.
“Cyclists are looking for something that will not just improve the ride but also be a wheel they can rely on and not have to worry about,” Ogilvie says about his customers. “The thing I tell people about custom versus a stock wheelset is its built for the rider. Part of that conversation is what’s your weight, what’s your riding style, what’s your bike, how much do you ride, what are you looking to get out of the performance benefit of a new wheelset and what’s your budget?”
A wheelset for life
A big advantage of the custom wheelsets built at Urbane is that the wheelbuilders use parts they are confident in and have extensive experience with. While bigger companies may discontinue parts making servicing wheels and finding parts difficult in the future, Urbane’s team prefers to build wheels with parts they know will continue to be supported years in the future. If, however, the customer wants specific parts, they can be used, too.
“I know my wheel is built with components that can easily be replaced in five or 10 years. It’s the fact I am the one building your wheels and you’re having a conversation with me,” Ogilvie says. “I’m sharing my 10 years of wheel-building knowledge with you. I am going through that process; it’s a partnership.”
Know what you are getting
Whether you already have an idea of what you want or are looking for suggestions, a good wheelbuilder will work with you to deliver what you are looking for. Since no two wheelsets are the same, communication is important so you know what to expect from the finished product.
“Ask a lot of questions to make sure you are getting the right wheelset. But also trust the builder because most builders have a lot of experience,” Ogilvie says. “I look at my customers as lifetime customers. I want to make sure I am building the right wheel for them. If this wheelset is right for you, then you will enjoy riding it and it will hold up.”
Custom wheels and everything else
While the wheel-building department runs in a room above the store, the main floor of the Urbane Cyclist shop serves all sorts of riders with adventure, randonneur, cyclocross, gravel, road, mountain and commuter bikes stocked. The range of services stretches from the bike-buying process and accessorizing to the team of mechanics who can fix and maintain any bike. The shop has a comprehensive offering of in-stock parts in addition to an ordering department to get you what you need. It’s an approachable shop that won’t leave you overwhelmed or intimated. Look up on the wall and you will spot some examples of the wheels Urbane Wheels are building. If you are curious to learn more, the conversation can start there in person or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.