Why are machine built wheels inferior?

General cycling advice ( NOT technical ! )
andrewk
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Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby andrewk » 27 Jun 2013, 4:53am

Having always been told that a good hand built wheel is better than machine built ones I have accepted this mantra and bought hand built wheels when replacing wheels.
BUT why are they better? In an era of automation and CNC machines which can fabricate a part with greater precision than any master craftsman why hasn't the assembly process of building a wheel been automated with greater precision in order to produce a perfect product? (I'm not referring to the cheap wheels supplied with BSOs.) Expensive ready built wheels sold as replacements or those fitted to high end bikes are I'm led to believe machine built and inferior to hand built ones. I can't understand why the job isn't done better by machine, surely its not impossible to set up the machines to achieve greater precision albeit at a lower rate of production.
Can anyone enlighten me?

thirdcrank
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby thirdcrank » 27 Jun 2013, 5:35am

There's a difference between machine-built wheels and factory-made wheels. The former are traditional spoked wheels, but a machine is used to replicate the work of the human wheelbuilder. The main difference is in the finishing, in that the normal machines can't check and remove the minor differences in tension. I think that machine-built wheels finished by hand should be OK. (The other difference here is that your mass-produced wheels tend to have cheaper components so can never be up to the top-of-the-range standard.)

Factory-made wheels are the more exotic kinds of wheels of different types, usually high-end, and built by what might be called non-traditional methods.

Ayesha
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby Ayesha » 27 Jun 2013, 7:05am

If you build a wheel where ALL the spokes are the SAME tension, the rim will wobble like a wiggly worm.
Spokes have threaded nipples so that each spoke can be minutely adjusted to achieve a spot-on rim.

With ‘Machine’ or ‘Factory’ wheels, between removing from box and fitting in bike, check the spoke tension and rim run. Then they will be as good as a pair of ‘hand-built’ wheels.

Machine built wheel of about 2004 / 05 got a bad name due to a spoke manufacturing defect.


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531colin
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby 531colin » 27 Jun 2013, 8:35am

I think the real answer to the question is that all the while 90% of bikes and bits are sold on price, then the huge majority of machine wheels will be built using older machines set up for speed, not quality. (and using cheap spokes) Apart from anything else, most are far, far too slack.
Traditional handbuilt 36 spoke wheels for touring are usually more durable than machine wheels of the type, as the handbuilds should be stress-relieved, tight and even.
There do seem to be machines which can stress relieve, but I suspect most can't/don't.
I have no personal experience with low spoke-count wheels, but several people report good things about some wheels, for some uses. These wheels tend to have deep section rims, which are rigid enough to compensate for low spoke counts, and may have more spokes on the rear driveside, for example.

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andrew_s
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby andrew_s » 27 Jun 2013, 2:13pm

There are wheelbuilding machines that can do as good a job as a good person.
However they aren't that quick (15-20 mins per wheel), so usually they are set up for quicker throughput and less quality.

There's also the point that a lot of "factory wheels" are built by hand in China, again under time pressure and with limited quality control.

andrewk
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby andrewk » 27 Jun 2013, 4:11pm



Thanks for the link to this thread, it's answered my questions and explained the issues well.
I'll continue buying hand built wheels with Sputnik rims from Spa when I need replacement wheels but what should I do to prolong the service life of the remaining not very good original fit wheels?

Given the inherent weakness that dishing causes and rim wear by rim brakes why aren't more people insisting on hub geared and disc braked bikes. Barring crashing and assuming a 6 monthly true up a good strong hand built wheel on such a bike should last the life of the bike. So why do so many tour on dérailleur geared and rim braked bikes?

RRSODL
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby RRSODL » 27 Jun 2013, 4:16pm

531colin wrote:I think the real answer to the question is that all the while 90% of bikes and bits are sold on price, then the huge majority of machine wheels will be built using older machines set up for speed, not quality. (and using cheap spokes) Apart from anything else, most are far, far too slack.
Traditional handbuilt 36 spoke wheels for touring are usually more durable than machine wheels of the type, as the handbuilds should be stress-relieved, tight and even.
There do seem to be machines which can stress relieve, but I suspect most can't/don't.
I have no personal experience with low spoke-count wheels, but several people report good things about some wheels, for some uses. These wheels tend to have deep section rims, which are rigid enough to compensate for low spoke counts, and may have more spokes on the rear driveside, for example.


Indeed, some factory wheels do perform rather well but the problem is not that but when something goes wrong. They have a relative short life, I understand about 6000 miles and when they go they are impossible to rebuild. Just the cost of considering a rebuild would put you off. There was a chap here I think that said a single spoke for his Mavic something was £16. On the other hand, at 6000 miles on a handbuilt wheel you might not need to invest anything for another few thousands miles and when you do then you can easily pick components off the shelf to rebuild the wheel besides the hub might not need replacing and even the spokes can be reused.

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philg
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby philg » 27 Jun 2013, 4:53pm

andrewk wrote:Having always been told that a good hand built wheel is better than machine built ones I have accepted this mantra and bought hand built wheels when replacing wheels.
BUT why are they better?

IME, they aren't.

I have 2 sets of Campag wheels (Vento; not expensive) and over some 8 years have never touched either, despite being on the heavy side and do seem to be bit of a pothole magnet. They have easily outperformed any of the handmade wheels I've used. YMMV

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531colin
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby 531colin » 27 Jun 2013, 5:43pm

Do Ventos have double the number of spokes driveside rear?.....triplet spoking?
Campag. cassette/spoke flange spacing makes for a horrible L. to R. tension differential in a conventional wheel, I wouldn't be surprised if triplet spoking with a relatively deep-section rim was more durable than a Campag-dished conventional wheel with a light-ish rim.

pete75
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby pete75 » 27 Jun 2013, 5:47pm


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531colin
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby 531colin » 27 Jun 2013, 5:51pm

andrewk wrote:


Thanks for the link to this thread, it's answered my questions and explained the issues well.
I'll continue buying hand built wheels with Sputnik rims from Spa when I need replacement wheels but what should I do to prolong the service life of the remaining not very good original fit wheels?

Given the inherent weakness that dishing causes and rim wear by rim brakes why aren't more people insisting on hub geared and disc braked bikes. Barring crashing and assuming a 6 monthly true up a good strong hand built wheel on such a bike should last the life of the bike. So why do so many tour on dérailleur geared and rim braked bikes?


To prolong the life of machine wheels, the very best thing you can do is to hand-finish them.....that's everything from stress-relieving onwards in the thread I linked.

6-monthly true-up? What are you doing to them?....I don't touch my (dished) wheels from one year to the next,,but I am quite light.
Derailleur/rim brake has advantages.....its what we are used to, we can bodge it up at the roadside, and that un-quantifiable...."nothing rides like a light bike"

Moodyman1

Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby Moodyman1 » 27 Jun 2013, 9:42pm

Agree with Colin about dérailleur and rim brakes.

Most folk will not wear their components out for years - it's only commuters who lean towards hubgears and disc brakes and there's plenty of those bikes around for that market

Brucey
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby Brucey » 28 Jun 2013, 1:20pm

philg wrote:
andrewk wrote:Having always been told that a good hand built wheel is better than machine built ones I have accepted this mantra and bought hand built wheels when replacing wheels.
BUT why are they better?

IME, they aren't.

I have 2 sets of Campag wheels (Vento; not expensive) and over some 8 years have never touched either, despite being on the heavy side and do seem to be bit of a pothole magnet. They have easily outperformed any of the handmade wheels I've used. YMMV


how many miles is that though? IME relatively few minimally-spoked wheels that see hard use get to the point where the rims are worn out without finding some other interesting way of falling apart first.

This is despite the fact that the rim braking surfaces are not very thick to start with.

By contrast all-weather riders using (say) Open Pro rims with similar braking surface thickness moan incessantly about rim wear and frequently rebuild worn out wheels with new rims. Other failures (hub cracking, spoke failures etc) are quite rare with handbuilt Open Pros etc despite the 'training bike' use/abuse they see; this speaks volumes for the design and construction of such wheels, I think.

cheers
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Mick F
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Re: Why are machine built wheels inferior?

Postby Mick F » 28 Jun 2013, 3:28pm

531colin wrote: ...... Campag. cassette/spoke flange spacing makes for a horrible L. to R. tension differential in a conventional wheel .....
It may be horrible, but what's the problem?

I ask, because I have no problem with mine. I also ask that even though I went down a huge pothole and wrote the back wheel off by a making it heart-shaped, it didn't buckle. You would think that a "horrible" tension differential would make the wheel prone to buckling, but IME it doesn't.
Rear Wheel.jpg
Mick F. Cornwall