The Wheel Department

The Wheel Department

Precision bicycle wheelbuilding in Grand Rapids, MI since 2011

About TWD

Our wheels are hand-built to the highest industry standards, and we're very proud of our work.

Most riders at some point have probably heard the "pinging" of spokes in a new wheel as they unwind. As a spoke unwinds, the tension decreases, and the tension of your new wheelset is no longer even. We don't believe this should happen, and we take great care to ensure it doesn't.

We use a number of techniques and instruments to ensure that spokes are fully seated and evenly tensioned when they leave TWD. Each rim is individually checked on a surface plate to make sure we're starting with a top quality product. Spokes elbows are set flush against the hub flanges in a custom hydraulic wheel press.

Each of our builders uses a professional grade DT Swiss analog Tensio, which accurately measures spoke deflection to 1/100th of a millimeter. To compensate for slight changes over time in the calibration of the Tensio, we have a custom load cell with samples of each of our spoke stocks which we use to precisely pinpoint how each Tensio reads at a given tension.

We also take great pains to ensure perfect spoke length/ A common misnomer in building wheels is assuming that when spoke threads are covered by the nipple, the spoke length is acceptable. This is not true. Full thread engagement—where the spoke is fully threaded into the nipple—is paramount when building a wheel.

If the spoke is not engaging the threads near the bottom of the nipple, strength will be compromised. If the spoke too long, you may run out of threads before achieving proper tension. This is even more critical when using alloy nipples. At The Wheel Department, we stock a large variety of spoke lengths and use Phil Wood spoke cutters to precisely build each wheel to our exact specifications.

Contact Us

You want to get in touch with us, and we want to give you top notch service. To get things started, let us know why you're here:

The Builders

(Click each builder for more info)

Austin Russell

Building since 2012


Austin Russell

Bruce Thompson

Building since 2014


Bruce Thompson

Jeff Jacobi

Building since 2008


Jeff Jacobi

Keean Mansour

Building since 2014


Keean Mansour

Paul Van Wesep

Building since 2004


Paul Van Wesep

Ryan Olthouse

Building since 2007


Ryan Olthouse

Jonathan Seely

Building since 2013


Jonathan Seely

The Tools

Rims

Rims

We're not shy about the fact that we're part of Velocity USA, and while we might be a bit biased, we've built enough rims from other manufacturers to be able to say that Velocity rims uphold a high standard of precision and craftsmanship. If for some reason a Velocity rim does not meet your needs, we'll build what you provide.

Spokes

Spokes

We use DT Swiss Champion (straight guage) and Competition (double-butted) spokes for our Standard and Comp builds, respectively. On our Pro builds, you'll find Sapim's CX-Ray bladed spoke.

Each of our builds are built using proper lubrication at the nipple and rim interface, and a low strength thread sealant on the threads of the spoke. This helps reduce wind up (the twisting of the spoke) during the build process. Once the thread sealer sets, it aids in maintaining spoke tension without making the wheel more difficult to true in the future.

Wheel Press

Wheel Press

We have a custom-built pnuematic wheel press that ensures spoke heads are fully seated in the hub flange, spoke nipples are seated and spoke elbows rest flush against the hub flanges.

Tensio

Tensio

Each of our builders has a DT Swiss Tensio. They are expensive, costing about 8 to 10 times more than the tensiometers that most bicycle mechanics have access to. It may sound like we're bragging, and we probably are. The DT Tensio is accurate to 1/100th of a millimeter when measuring spoke deflection, which is something worth bragging about.

Tensio Calibration

Tensio Calibration

Most builders will get their tensio's calibrated by the manufacturer once, or maybe twice a year. Any changes in tension readings of a tensio in between calibrations means that the spoke tension, while likely "acceptable," will be slightly off. This is not acceptable to us. To ensure we know exactly what tension we're build to, our builders frequently check their Tensios using a custom load cell.

The builder loads a sample of the spoke stock they're working with and can then tell exactly where their Tensio reads at the desired tension. For most rims, that's around 120kgf, but certain rims and hubs will have tension limits which we are able to safely and accurately accomodate, rather than trusting the calibration of our Tensios and a manufacturer's tension chart.

The Process

The wheel building process starts with the rim. Each rim is hand-picked and staged for each build. Your builder first checks each rim on a surface place where it's evaluated for flatness and other extrusion defects. This also gives your builder a chance to visually inspect the rim for any imperfections in the finish.

Your builder hand-laces each wheel, giving The Wheel Department the ability to accommodate a wide variety of lacing patterns, nipple options and other special requests that only come with a hand-built wheel. The hands-on lacing process also gives the builder time to closely visually inspect the rim for any small finish imperfections.

Once laced, the hand-tensioning and truing process begins. Each wheel build requires hundreds, if not thousands, of minute, precise adjustments and a careful eye. The wheel is gradually brought to tension, one quarter-turn at a time, while paying close attention to vertical and lateral true, and consistent, even spoke tension.

Once your builder achieves balanced spoke tension, and true, the final step is to sign-off on the wheel. The Wheel Department is proud to stand behind each wheel that goes out the door, and our builders are proud of the quality and precision of their builds, which is why our builders sign each wheel.