Handbuilt wheels on a mountain bike - would you? Wouldn't you?

AD has a problem. The rear wheel on his beater is broken beyond economic repair, so he needs a new rear wheel. The wheels on his susser would swop over easily, but then he'd need to buy wheels for that bike. His dilema is whether to buy a new, boggo basic rear wheel for the beater, or bite the bullet and go for a set of hand made wheels for the big bike.

He asked me what to do.

I'm the worst person to ask a question about wheels. My answer is always the same; buy a set of hand build wheels and be done with it. To me it is a no brainer - especially with Superstar pumping out decent wheels at £200. Even Hope hoops are only £330, and they last forever.

Why am I like this? Well.......

In 1994 I bought an Orange Clockwork C16R. It got used for everything; my commute to work, mountain biking each weekend plus holidays. I was doing 10,000 miles per annum on that bike and just kept wearing the wheels out. This being back in the day of rim brakes. The rims would go thin then would split somewhere. I was getting through two or three rims a year, and each time getting the wheel rebuilt would be a faff. I was using my bike 7 days per week, so it was a real loss not to have it.

About then I became aware of the Hope hydraulic brake being developed and bought one when it first came out. No more rim braking, at least on the front. But buying a really novel piece of bike kit meant also buying really novel wheels to go with it. Took the plunge and bought some Hope hoops. Brilliant. They didn't transform the ride; way too heavy for that. But they cut the maintenance instantly. I've had them on that bike for almost 20 years and 40,000 miles. Even the bearings are as fitted - never been apart or regreased in all that time. The rims are still true.

Since that day on all of my bikes the first thing I do is to buy a set of handbuilts. It sounds like an extravagance, but I build my own bikes up from bits; new, scavenged or off eBay. Quite often in building a bike I'll down-spec things like the crankset so as to upgrade the wheels. If you look at the price of wheels, there isn't a huge difference between handbuilt or factory. £180 factory or between £200 and £300 for average handbuilts. And up until perhaps 2005 my wheels of choice have exclusively been Hope at around £300 a pair. They are lightish at shy of 1900g, do the job and are essentially maintenance free. Fit a Stan's rim and away you go. But last week I changed my ploy and have bought into the Superstar brand. No idea how long they will last, but at £200 it seemed daft not to try. They're not as light as Hope though, about 200g heavier for the pair, but then Stan has increased the mass of his rims to suit the more freeride style of riding.

So, if you want new wheels for your bike, in my opinion go handmade. I've used stock wheels; heavy and unreliable, and also surprisingly expensive for what you get. I've also used Fulcrum, Hope and Superstar handmade and have been happy each and every time. All of my bikes now run handmade, and I have four bikes. Plus it gets better. The Superstar wheels cost me pretty much nothing. I had a set of year 1998 Hope wheels lying around as spare after I'd torn my Klien Mantra down. Put them on eBay, got back half of what they cost me in the first place. I couldn't re-use them as both were 9mm quick release, and the rear was rim brake only. Not bad though was it? 12 years hard use, perhaps 30,000 miles, and get back 50% of the initial cost price.

So, if you need new wheels or fancy cutting a bit of mass from your bike, then go handmade. GB in Croydon have some lovely Fulcrum tubeless wheels in the sale at £300......