On my website there is a page known as the Custom Order. I call it my “Getting to know you” page. A prospective client can use this page to communicate their criteria for the perfect wheel set. I build a picture of them by learning the following; their age, their weight, how much they want to spend, the bike the wheels need to fit on, the roads they ride and their expectations for the wheelset. It lets them tell me the problems they’ve had with wheels in the past -- if I cannot meet my customer in person, this is a pretty good substitute. Not long ago I communicated with a younger rider in this way; I suggested a couple builds that would get him where he wanted to go; the right price, in the ballpark on weight and components that I knew FROM EXPERIENCE would get the job done. I heard nothing for two months, so I sent a polite email asking if he needed anything else from me. To his credit he responded and told me that he’d had a local shop build his wheels with the parts I’d suggested, saving around eighty bucks on labor. He proceeded to tell me the wheels were a disappointment, coming out of true with disappointing regularity; how could I have suggested such a mediocre build? He implied that I wasn’t very good at what I did.

I didn’t react negatively to this young man; instead, two paintings came to mind. The artist James Whistler painted his mother when they were living in London in the 1870’s, hence the title “Whistler’s Mother”.

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The second picture that popped into my head is the improved version by Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean;

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I think we can all agree, it’s close to being the same picture. The same picture frame, the same canvas, the same paint, mostly; darn near identical -- with the exception of the head. But there’s no doubt that Bean’s “Whistler” is funnier.

But I digress; how does this relate to wheels? Like this.

If I’d been quicker thinking I would have told this young man that the hands of the builder make the difference; two wheel sets can have the same rim, hub, spokes and spoke pattern, but it’s the experience, knowledge and skill of the wheel builder that makes the difference between a good or bad set. There’s no substitute for wisdom that’s been gained (literally) firsthand. Whether it’s me, or another seasoned wheel builder in your own neck of the woods, have faith in us. The extra few bucks are money well spent!


Just recently, I changed my mind about something. It was a small thing – a spoke, in fact but the opinion was one I’ve held for thirty years. Since the late Eighties, my go-to spoke has been Wheelsmith’s 14 gauge double butted model. A thing of beauty, with butting that’s always around 30mm long at each end with a 1.7mm center section. It’s as much as ten percent lighter than rival DT’s Competition; the Competition has a 1.8mm center section with butt lengths that can vary greatly between batches. I must also confess an emotional attachment to Wheelsmith; in 1990, Kurt Stockton became U.S. Pro Road Race Champion on wheels I built using this company’s spokes. I recommend Wheelsmith butted spokes for almost every purpose; they are light and strong. For customers who need more speed or want to save weight, my choice is the DT Aerolite bladed spoke. A rider can save around 50-60 grams of rotating weight by going with these marvels which really do pierce the air better than a round spoke.

Nevertheless, a spoke that’s been hiding in plain sight all these years recently grabbed my attention; the DT Aerocomp bladed spoke. It’s a bit fatter and heavier than the Aerolite but it’s still pretty aero. How heavy is it? I took twenty 272mm Aerocomp spokes, twenty Wheelsmith butted 14 gauge spokes and weighed them. Here’s the DT Aerocomps;

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114 grams; not bad for an aero spoke that doesn’t break the bank. Next up were the Wheelsmiths. They had to be lighter, I thought.

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They were lighter, all right; by one measly gram!

I’m enjoying the hell out of building with Aerocomps. They make a fast training wheel and a great drive-side choice for rear wheels with Aerolites on the non drive-side. It keeps the wheel nice and aero while ensuring stiffness. And they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!