New PowerTap Options With Wheelbuilder

PowerTapWheelBuilder

Of all the parts of a bicycle, it is the wheel that can do the most to impart a different experience. Put on a pair of heavy wheels and you’ll feel invincible on descents, but also like someone robbed you of your sprint. Put on a light set of wheels and your bike will handle quicker and accelerate like you added a supercharger. Put on an aero set  and you get free speed. Lace up a set of 36-hole Ambrosio tubular rims, tie and solder the spokes and you can ride across Damascus at 40 psi. And now we’ve got a tubeless technology for those wanting the ride of tubulars in a form that is no less difficult to address should you flat.

It’s quite a menu. And therein lies the challenge. No one ever thinks about frames and says, “I want the handling of an old Moser, the weight of a Cannondale, the stiffness of a Specialized and the aero performance of a Cervelo.” Well, almost no one. The thing is, frames don’t have swappable components that have encouraged us to think this way. However, I’ve often thought that I wanted a wheel with the aerodynamic performance of a set of Zipp 404s, tubeless technology, a power meter and built well enough to survive California fire roads.

Well, a new partnership between PowerTap and Wheelbuilder is taking us a good deal closer to that. Of all the wheels I’ve ridden in the last five years, the best build I’ve encountered was performed by staff at Wheelbuilder. They were easily better than anything from Zipp, and writing that pains me. While Zipp wheel builds are usually good, they have yet to be flawless, and on one occasion the wheel build was definitely sub-par.

Granted, I’ve ridden only one set of wheels from Wheelbuilder, but I checked them for true when I pulled them from the box, checked them after my first ride, and checked them again at the end of the review. They hadn’t moved. Easton takes a lot of flak for hub and bearing issues, but I can say that I’ve seen no OEM or aftermarket wheel maker that produces a more uniformly tensioned and true wheel than they. Wheelbuilder, I’m finding, is every bit as good.

It only makes sense. Wheelbuilder’s only product is its labor, well, that and its ability to do custom builds of any selection of components you might want. But because its product is fundamentally a service, the build needs to be better than OEM; otherwise, what’s the point?

So PowerTap, in an effort to increase its appeal to buyers, has struck an agreement (I refuse to say “partnered”) with Wheelbuilder. You can now get Enve, Zipp and HED rims laced to a PowerTap hub. It’s not a huge increase in selection, but the point is, you now have more options and you don’t have to sacrifice build quality to get it; on the contrary, the build is likely to be better than what you might otherwise have been able to find locally.

Power-measuring devices have changed training the way that heart rate monitors did 20 years ago. The proof can be found as simply as by attending a group ride. Every group ride I do is faster than it was 10 years ago. While some of that can be attributed to smart training and nutrition, the fact is that the riders who have gained the most in their fitness are the ones able to talk one-minute power, five-minute power and 20-minute power. There was a time when talking power was like trying to eat sand; it was just a fancy number most folks didn’t know how to digest. Thanks, in part, to pro riders talking about their numbers and their training, the average joe has a much better working understanding of wattage and how to use those numbers.

It’s fair to say the market for power-measuring devices is heating up. Between SRM, PowerTap, Quarq, Stags and now Garmin, consumers have a great many choices. How you might go about choosing between those various systems isn’t the point of this post. Just which system you go for depends on how many bikes you have, how many wheels you have and how often you switch bikes and wheels. Whether or not you think there’s a right answer, the only obvious assessment is that there are no easy answers. I’m partial to PowerTap because it’s the only power measuring system that’s easy to move between bikes. That said, I know plenty of guys who have one bike and lots of wheels, so for them it’s not nearly as useful a system as something like SRM.

We (assembled members of the media) went for a ride when we met with the folks from PowerTap and Wheelbuilder. Naturally, I took the opportunity to check my wheels when they were first installed in my bike. One thing I’ve learned from years of building wheels (so long ago it was practically a different life) is that whatever re-truing is required following a set of wheels’ first ride will tell the story of those wheels’ life. If they don’t move in that first ride, they’ll last a long time (barring crashes). If they need a fair amount of re-truing and re-tensioning after five miles, they will only last a season. The wheels I rode didn’t budge even though I rode across all the rough and broken pavement I could find on our ride. Damn fine work.

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5 comments

  1. Alan

    Nice concept but this seems to be a fairly niche offering without rims from Mavic and Reynolds. If I wanted to add a rear wheel with a PowerTap hub to my set, there a high probability it would be one of these wheels. Half the wheels on our group (road) rides are from these two.

    Perhaps you should request a PowerTap wheel from other builders and see how they compare. Based on my experience with Competitive Cyclist, Excel Sports and Colorado Cyclist, they would be dialed in, too. Heck, I can build a set of wheels that lasts 10 years and I’m just a guy with a Park TM-1 and a truing stand. (Not being argumentative, just objective.)

  2. MCH

    Wheelbuilder has built several wheels for me. Although you pay a bit of a premium, I think that they offer some distinct advantages to standard factory built wheelsets. I’ve never been a big fan of the hubs that come with many factory wheelsets. Personally, I’ll take a set of DTs or Chris Kings any day. Based on spoke counts, it also seems that most factoy wheelsets are made for riders much lighter than I am. At 6’4″ and 190#, I find that a few more spokes goes a long way to creating a stiffer and more durable wheel. Finally, a highly skilled individual still seems to be able to build a better wheel than a machine. So, at least for me, working with a bespoke builder like Wheelbuilder is preferable to off-the-shelf.

  3. Eric Wiser

    I have several sets of Wheelbuilder wheels. I have Hed, Zipp, Reynolds and Velocity rims and I have used King and PowerTap hubs. I have never been disappointed. They have never needed serviced. Some sets have nearly 5000 miles on them. Plus, they built me a pair of Zipp 404′s with a PowerTap cheaper than Zipp. I plan to use them for all my wheelsets in the future. I made sure my last bike came without wheels so I could call Wheelbuilder for a new set.

  4. Jon Hebbard

    Here’s what I know–every other wheel set I’ve ridden has failed well before I thought the cost would indicate. I’ve had spokes pull right out of more than one Easton wheel, potato chipped a few more, and even had a flange fail. Then I got smart and bought a set of DT’s from Wheelbuilder.com. As the author indicates in the article above, they were true out of the box and remain so today–more than 15,000 miles down the road. Think about that for a second–thousands and thousands of miles (not all of them ridden on silky roads, either) and not one turn of a spoke wrench. Everyone has their own way of looking at things, but for me, there is no other place I will ever buy a set of wheels than from Wheelbuilder.

  5. Michael Fioretti

    @Alan

    We have a Reynolds wheelset available on our website here:

    http://www.powertap.com/collections/powertap-wheelsets/products/powertap-g3-46mm-carbon-wheelset

    And wheelbuilder offers Reynolds builds here:

    http://www.powertap.com/collections/powertap-wheelsets/products/powertap-g3-46mm-carbon-wheelset

    As for Mavic, you can still build with the Open Pro and their other normal rim offerings, but since many of their wheels use proprietary spokes you won’t be able to use a PowerTap. That’s something that you have to grapple with if you buy Mavic, and I think Mavic customers understand this.

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