I recently worked on a pair of stock wheels from a Diamondback Century disc road bike. The wheels are nothing special, as most stock wheels tend to be. I did a re-tension and tension balance to get the most reliability out of the wheels. The front wheel was off dish about 1/4" and out of true. The rear wheel was also slightly off dish and out of true. The spokes hadn't been properly set. The wheels are labeled as Equation SE. They are 28 hole, 2-cross with black coated spokes and brass nipples.
While I got to work fixing the wheels I couldn't help think about the lack of quality on one of the most important components of the bike. The Industry is under-building wheels for a majority of riders. Broken spokes, out of true wheels, pitted cones and rounded out nipples seem all too common with most bikes in the $1000-1500 range. Why is it that the wheels and tires seem largely ignored for quality and reliability when they are the components that make a bicycle roll? The answers are obvious with cost and manufacturing. It probably seems odd that I would write about an issue that I could gain business through wheel sales due to these poorly built wheels but there are other factors at play.
When a shop sells a bike to a customer there has been a level of trust established. I dare to say that most shops will avoid informing their customer that the wheels and tires on their bike have a greater potential for issue than the drivetrain and other components on the bike.
My experience has been for every broken spoke or cracked rim on a stock wheel my customers have voiced disappointment about a ride being ruined and having to make a trip to the shop to have the spoke or wheel replaced. That trust has now faltered and it's hard to explain to a customer that the wheels on the bike they spent $1000+ aren't good enough.
This is where I can help get the best out of a set of stock wheels through proper tensioning and tension balancing. Each wheel is case by case as there are multiple factors at play. The Equation SE wheels were fairly bad but with some work I was able to make massive improvements.
Check out the front wheel charts below:
You can see how much the spoke tension varied as well as how low the tension was.
Check out the improvements below.
You can see that the tension increased by 47% on the disc side of the wheel and that the tension is much more balanced. This will help provide a more stable wheel when applying the brakes, cornering and getting out of the saddle as there won't be as significant a decrease in spoke tension when loads are applied.
The rear wheel turned out even better than the front.
The percentage of tension variance isn't as great as the front but the improvements made are obvious.
There was a small increase in tension, about 3% on the drive side and 6% on the non-drive side but the tolerance had a major improvement. The rims were surprisingly straight when tension was dropped to start from Zero tension. Some rims are a nightmare but these were in pretty decent shape.
Next time you're considering a new bike or new wheels think about what you can do to get the most for your money- even if it takes on a small expense to ensure reliability.
Not all wheels are created equal but with the right hands and some time, some wheels can be turned into more than what the factory intended. Unfortunately there are also wheel builders out there that are putting wheels out of similar quality with no regard to detail, quality and reliability.
Let me know what you think about your stock wheels, wheels you've had built but didn't meet your expectations or anything else I may have missed.