It’s been a long time between blog posts. 2021 is almost done. I’m glad to have made in though another year. Next year will be a special year for me as it will be the 10th Anniversary of Melody Wheels from our earliest days in Sydney. 10 years is not necessarily a long period time to be doing this but neither is it an insignificant passage of time. My favourite component manufacturer releases a special commemorative anniversary edition of their groupsets every decade… another 2 years and it’ll be their 90th. I won’t get ahead of myself, but thinking in decades is something to aspire to in an industry that is often driven by fads, fashion, and short-term focus.
The Good Stuff
One highlight this year was starting a secondary/sister business, Bicycle Spokes Australia, with my real life partner Pia. While I can’t say we’ll be giving Jeff Bezos anything to worry about, I’ve been happy with how our little online shop has progressed. Many aspects of wheel building require a detailed understanding of component choice, compatibility, and tool use. In this respect we’ve tried really hard to join the dots to make it easier for customers (professional and enthusiast) to get the best information on wheel building components and tools. We’ve also worked hard to make available a number of uncommon components and wheel building tools in Australia. There’s more to come here so watch this space.
It might sound silly but another happy thing this year has just been just enjoying riding my bike. Finding the balance between work, family, and bike is never easy, but essential (for me) to keep me on track. I know that all the cool kids are bike packing and riding gravel these days… but I’m an unrepentant roadie. I like waking up stupid early and getting a good ride in because the rest of my life is work and family. It works for me. I had a pretty rocky start to the year with some ongoing back issues, but eventually things corrected themselves. I’ve enjoyed doing a bit of cyclocross racing, the Tour of Margaret River, and my regular group rides with the South Perth Rouleurs and Spartan Cycling Club. These are the bookends of my week.
The no so Good Stuff
A common cliché is that you “learn from your mistakes”… and I’ve made plenty over the years. However there are only so many mistakes that you can afford to keep making. In 2021 I changed my approach to work scheduling with 1 month rolling calendar and a detailed “time block plan” for every day and week. This has generally gone well. Moving into 2022 I will be reviewing my labour pricing to better accommodate some of the work that I do. In theory wheels should be simple but the reality of what’s often involved in many jobs is more complex. I increasingly get referrals from many shops for wheel repairs because I guess the jobs are not very desirable jobs. I don’t mind taking on difficult jobs but there are only so many “jobs from hell” you can sustain and be financially viable. There is a risk/return wager with every job. You’d be amazed how quickly half a day can disappear on what was “just a little job”. My pricing structures need to accommodate more of the risks I take on with repair work. In my experience wheels are often neglected in regular maintenance, so by the time I get to see them, the problems have really escalated.
Following on from this issue, one decision I’ve made is that will no longer offer to fully rebuild proprietary wheels. By this I mean, systems wheels such as your Mavic, Fulcrum, Shimano etc. which require proprietary rims, spokes etc. that cannot be substituted with regular spokes and nipples. Very rarely do these jobs work out for me without a large number of headaches, costs, and complications in sourcing the right components and/or technical documents. Quoting on such jobs has been an exercise in perverse optimism bias and I’m just going to say ‘no’ from now on.
A second issue is tubular wheels and tyres. Most of the tubular tyres I come across in the workshop are not glued on to a standard that I would consider safe or desirable. The process of gluing a tyre doesn’t phase me like it did when I started out. I’ve become pretty good it. However the incredible amount time it takes to clean a rim back to the bare carbon or aluminum is time that I just cannot value properly. I need customers to meet me half way if they want to ride tubular wheels. I’ll happily glue your tyres on but I want you to clean the rims first. If you want to do the whole job yourself, then I’ll tell you every trick and so-called secret I know about getting the best results.
December and Beyond
Every year I take time off over the Christmas to New Year’s period and the first week of January. As things stand I’m currently booked out until 22nd of December for wheel builds. This means that there are just a few slots I have available for wheels that I can build this year. Once these slots are taken I’ll be booking jobs in for the second week of January. With wheel repairs I can still do relatively fast turnarounds within a 1-2 week timeframe (depending on the nature of the repair). I know everyone is riding more at this time of year, so I’ll do my best to keep customers rolling through to Christmas and beyond.
One last thing that I wanted to mention is that I am hosting an event next week on Friday 10 December. This will be with long-term collaborator Mooro Cycles who is a brilliant Perth-based custom frame builder. The theme is custom-made bicycles as a collaborative process. They’ll be plenty of drinks, nibbles, beautiful bikes, and conversations. If you’re free that night, I’d love to see you there. The event flyer is below.