Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Clyde (wheel) Conundrum.

I wrote this back in 2015, but the kind and quantity of wheel inquiries I've been receiving of late tell me that it's at least as important today.

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I've built a lot of bicycle wheels--something like 14,000 and counting.  That's my job and has been for more than a decade.

In the course of that decade I've noticed a trend, or pattern if you will: Heavier riders (aka "Clydesdales") need dependable wheels, but rarely seem to have the $ to spend on them.

It took me a few years to understand why.  And I know this doesn't apply to everyone (what one theory does?!) but it seems to fit ~75 or 80% of the clyde scenarios I've seen.

Generally speaking, it works like this:

John (not his real name) either realizes or is told by his wife, doctor, boss, kids, BFF, etc... that he needs to lose some weight.  He agrees, and eventually determines that riding bikes is the best way to shed pounds without beating the crap out of his joints.  So far so good.

So John buys a cheap bike.  After all, he's not a serious mountain biker, so he doesn't need to spend a buncha money just to spin down the bike path or around the neighborhood with his kids.

But then John discovers two things:

1. He likes riding, a lot.

2. He's actually losing weight.

So he rides more, and more.  But because he spent so little to begin with, his cheap bike starts to fail.  Some of the failures are because John is new to riding, not very smooth, and has a lot of mass to put into the pedals.  Chains break, pedal spindles bend, rims get dented, seat rails crumple, freehubs fail, sometimes wheels taco and whole frames crack.

Now John is bummed, because his 'fix' is now broken.  He wants to ride but can't until he spends more money.  This is usually where I first meet 'John', because he'll send me an email asking for hub or wheel advice.  And almost invariably John will say something along the lines of "I don't want to spend more than ~$300 on a wheelset, because the whole bike was only $500".

$300 doesn't buy much for wheels even if you're only ~145#.  $300 for a clyde wheelset is basically throwing away money--money that will then have to be spent again in order to get a durable, long lasting wheelset.

So my advice to John is usually some variant on "In order to get you something that will last, and that is serviceable, you need to spend a lot more than $300".  Sometimes John 'gets it' and we discuss options, other times he throws up his hands and I never hear back from him.

Moral of the story is that most bikes, especially cheap ones, were neither designed nor intended for true clydes.  But that doesn't mean clydes can't happily and aggressively ride bikes all the live-long day--it simply means that they need to choose their bikes and parts wisely.  To that end, doing it right instead of doing it twice is less expensive in the long run.




  1. Clyde here. 235# today, 420# a long time ago. Your post is right on. I started riding with a $500 Trek mountain bike from a sporting goods store. I rode it until I was strong enough that it was no longer economical to maintain, as I started riding more, and started riding more technical trails. Fortunately, my finances were sufficient to allow me to buy a (used) dream machine with great components. The wheels on my mountain bike are in great shape after two years of some pretty brutal hits. I wish the wheels on my road bike fared as well... I ride 37 mm tires at 60 psi so I have a fair amount of squish but still have to true the rims up every 500 miles or so... I definitely am going to upgrade next year when finances permit (and yeah, I'll certainly talk to you about helping out there.

    So the best advice I give other clydesdales is: ride it until you break it, and be sure to save up for your dream machine while you're doing it. Then you'll get out of the trap of throwing big money into fixing a bike that's not worth it. You'll have a dream machine that will last longer and be way more fun to ride. And you'll have earned it.

    Key to motivating youself to save money is to remember how much you were spending on the crappy fast food, junk food, or heavily processed whatever that made you fat in the first place. If you buy a $5,000 mountain bike, you can easily equate that to around $133 a month you're no longer spending on the food that ruins your health over a 3-year period. It pays for itself. If you don't think you were spending that much on poisonous junk food before, you're kidding yourself. You were.

    1. Great thoughts Brett -- congrats on the big loss. Sounds like a literal life change happened.

  2. Not a clyde by any stretch, but you made me a set of wheels back in 2009 for my 1st 29er. While I don't use that bike much anymore, they are still going strong after about 7 total years of decent usage across three different frames, and have barely needed any adjustments with a spoke wrench. I'm gonna throw them on my son's bike at some point just so they get used as they are a significant upgrade to his set and it is a waste for them to collect dust.

  3. Great post. Over my 20ish years of riding, I've learned that a little more weight in a well-built wheel can make a big difference in durability AND ride quality. Lighter isn't always better. Knowing where to put the weight, understanding the use-case, and for the love of Holy Smoke having a professional build your wheels will serve you right every time. Great article and great observations. Thanks Mike! PS: I still have the first wheelset you build for me in...2005ish? (1800 grams of Hope Pro II/Bontrager Mustang goodness) Thousands of miles and a few hub rebuilds later and it is still going strong!

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Joe. Glad to hear that OG set is still ticking along for you.