Stans Alpha / DT Swiss Handbuilt Wheels

Stans DT Swiss custom buildIt is often said that the best place to upgrade any bike is the wheels. Most off the shelf bikes will come with a fairly mediocre set of wheels out of the box. Why is this you may ask? The answer is very simple-cost. Most manufacturers and bike shops are trying to hit a price point with any given bike and the wheels are an expensive part to upgrade, hence many £2000+ road bikes will come with £200 wheels.

So if you have a bit more money to spend on your shiny new machine or you want to breathe new life into your current steed do you upgrade the group set or the wheels? In my view unless the running gear on the bike is completely knackered wheels every time. Nicer shifters are nice things to have and a better chainset may improve your front shifting for example but nothing transforms the way a bike rides like a good set of wheels.

So what wheels should you buy? There are many excellent options that come ready made from brands like Mavic, Shimano, Fulcrum and so on with Mavic being amongst our favourite factory options but you could also go down the custom built route and have some wheels made for you by a specialist wheel builder like Cycle Arts’ Tony Glover. A good wheel builder will carefully select each component for the wheels and talk you through the different options. Rims, spoke type and the pattern used to lace the spokes in the wheel along with the hubs that pull the whole package together all have a profound effect on the finished product.

Stans Alpha RimWhen I built my dream race bike we decided hand built was the best option. The heavy loads placed on my wheels in the past with sprint training, motor pacing, racing and the state of many of Northumberland’s roads mean my wheels have a pretty hard life. I have managed to pull the hubs out of poorly built factory wheels in the past so hand built it is. We chose Stans Alpha 340 and 400 rims with the lighter rim being used for the front wheel. Spokes are DT Aerolite in the front and a DT Aerolite/ Revolution mix in the rear wheel using just 24 of each. These spokes are very light with the Revolution spokes being used on the drive side of the rear wheel for added strength. The hubs are DT 240s, not as eye wateringly expensive as the ceramic flavoured 190 hubs but still offer maintenance free silky smooth running over many thousands of miles. The wheels weigh around 1.4kg for the pair on the Cycle Art scales of truth with rim tapes-lighter than all but the very best of the factory built wheels and lighter than many more expensive carbon offerings too.

So how good are they? Superb is the answer. the slightly wider than standard tubeless compatible rims mean the tyres sit a little wider than normal for a noticeably smoother ride and excellent road holding. Many harsher wheels get bounced about on bumpy surfaces loosing grip but 25mm Ultremos seem to stick to the road better than when mounted on other rims. The crossed spoke pattern means leateral rigidity is better than Mavic Ksyrium SLS wheels which are comparable in both weight and price to these hoops. Try as I might I cannot get these wheels to flex onto the brake pads, and I have tried. The smoothly machined brake surface performs better than the £1200 Giant P-SLR Aero wheels I also own and is showing no signs of wear after about 2000 miles, though most of them where dry. The low weight mean they get up to speed very quickly and climb better than any alloy wheel I have ever tried. Crosswinds barely trouble the rounded rim profile.

DT Swiss HubsProblems? Very few. the original version of the rims was perhaps a little too light but Stans have addressed that with the Alpha 400 and the updated version of the 340s. There are options across a wide range of drillings too so more or less spokes can be used depending on the application, which is the beauty of going down the hand built route. These particular rims can be hard to get a hold of so lead times can be quite long sometimes but if you are prepared to wait your patience will be rewarded with a very fine set of wheels. If you want to find out for yourself just how good a set of handbuilt wheels can be ask us nicely and we will let you try some for yourself. We do have a demo set and if I’m not out riding them you can even try my own personal set. So why not treat yourself and your bike to some new wheels? You are both worth it after all.

Tony from Cycle Art can build wheels to your specification – please call in for details. www.cycle-art.co.uk