The surgeon and the funeral director: on proprietary wheels

I build wheels and I repair them. When it comes to repairing, I often find myself playing one of two roles: the surgeon and the funeral director.

“Yes, we can commence surgery but its not going to be easy and its going to cost.”

“I’m sorry but she’s gone, there is nothing that we can do. The rims aren’t available anymore, the aluminium spokes have all seized, even if we had the parts it would cost more to repair than the cost of a new wheel”.

In almost every case the wheel in question is a proprietary wheel. So what are proprietary wheels? Well, it’s a wheel that is made up of specific components which are designed only to work in a specific ‘wheel system’. I’m not going to pick on any brands but you’ll know them when you see them. They’ll probably have an unusual rim, spoke, nipple, or hub etc. Either way, if you crash, damage, or simply wear out part of the wheel, there is often nothing you can do to repair it. The expected service life of a propriety wheel appears to be shortening. Many wheel companies simply don’t bother stocking replacement parts especially in small markets like Australia. They simply assume that customers will move-on and purchase a new wheelset. The cycle continues! This may not bother many people, but if you want quality things that retain their value, and are less wasteful, then it makes no sense at all. Too many wheels end up in the trash heap because of built-in obsolescence. In the immortal words of Neil Young, they are a piece of …

Custom wheels are a genuine alternative to the cycle of waste that accompanies many propriety wheel systems. Good component manufacturers invest tremendous amounts in testing and quality control to ensure the durability and serviceability of their products. Reputations are hard to make, but easy to destroy. Durability and serviceability are always front-of-mind when a wheel builder advises on components. There are choices to be made. A well-designed wheel with quality components has serviceability and repairability built into its DNA. After years of faithful service, a repairable custom wheelset is often cheaper in the long run.