Updated December 1st, 2023
Cycle Wheels USA is a small builder of custom bike wheels in Buffalo, New York. I ordered a set of custom wheels after suffering a brake down. They had the best prices I could find using your choice of hubs and rims and Sapim Race Spokes.
A few weeks ago while riding at DTE Foundation trail I was climbing a hill and my bike went PING! Immediately it felt like the chain broke. I got off the bike to see what happened expecting to see the chain laying on the ground. Nope, not this time. The chain was fine. The rear hub was blown out. I had a nice 6 mile walk back to the parking lot.
After getting home I found the free hub was stripped out. I checked online and couldn’t find the part in stock anywhere. I went to a few Specialized dealers and was told the part was back ordered to the end of time. My only hope to ride again this year was new wheels.
Cycle Wheels USA custom built wheelset
After deciding it was time for new wheels I went to work online looking to see what was available. This is the summer of COVID19, 2020 where everything outdoors related is sold out. Nothing used was on Ebay. There was very few factory wheelsets available under $1000 online. Most custom wheel builders published a 3 to 4 week lead time which was better than never. There was some wheels available from Stan’s No Tubs. A set of Stan’s Flow Mk3 wheels with Stan’s NEO hubs was $679. The Neo hubs do not get good reviews for durability.
After searching some forums and other places I came across Cycle Wheels USA and saw one or 2 good comments. I went to their site and found I could get Industry9 Hubs with Spank rims much cheaper than anywhere else.
Cycle Wheels USA is in Buffalo, New York and has been making custom wheels for 20 over years. I am from South East Michigan so Buffalo is only a few hours drive away if I have any issues with the wheels. Many of the custom wheel shops such as prowheelbuilder.com and coloradocyclist.com are in Colorado or somewhere else far away. I always like to shop more local when possible.
I ordered a set of wheels with Industy9 101 Hubs and Spank 350 rims for $609. They use Sapim Race Spokes and locking brass nipples as the base level. Their wheels come tubeless ready with tape and valves installed. Cycle Wheels USA was cheaper than anyplace else I could find and less expensive then a set of Stan’s Flow Mk3 Factory wheels. Prowheelbuilder.com cost $677 and ColoradoCyclist.com cost $657.
The order form on Cycle Wheels USA’s website is straight forward and easy to fill out. It was one of the faster and more streamlined selection forms. ProWheelBuilder.com and Fanatikbike.com had the 2 most complicated and time consuming forms. Cycle Wheel is not as flexible with the number of rim and hub combinations offered but they have all the most popular combinations. You can make your selections and get a price in just a couple of minutes from arriving at their website. For these wheels I chose Industry 9 101 Hubs and Spank 350 Rims.
The day after placing my order, Dave Szeliga, who runs Cycle Wheels USA, gave me a call. The Spank 350 rims I ordered were discontinued and replaced with Spank 359. The cost was the same. The only difference is they were 5 grams heavier. I said sure. I then asked how long it would take and he said 3 weeks. Everywhere else that puts a delivery time online also said 3 weeks so I was fine with that.
After a week of sitting around home not riding, I had a look and found something kind of acceptable at Jenson. I was getting kind of any so I called Cycle Wheels USA to find out about canceling my order. It should have been 2 more weeks. To my surprise, he said my wheels were built already and shipping tomorrow. That was 2 weeks faster then he said at the start of the week. He also said canceling was no problem. I didn’t because they were finished.
The wheels arrived from FedEx. They were neatly packed in one box with padding between the wheels and around the freehub. No scratches or dings from shipping.
Wheels straight and true
I installed my cassette and brake rotors on the wheels and put them on my bike. They spun straight and true. I checked all the spokes and they all felt about equal tension. No loose spokes anywhere. The rims were taped with valve stems installed. I couldn’t find any issues with the workmanship anywhere in the wheels.
I was pleasantly surprised at the sound of the Industy 9 101 rear hub. It has a very subtle hum to it when freewheeling. It doesn’t sound like a weedwhacker stuck to your back wheel like some other popular rear hubs. The below video gives a good idea of the sound. I think it is a bit more sedate in person than it sounds in this video.
I put a set of Maxxis Rekon 27.5 x 2.6 3C/EXO/TR tires on. I have been a long time fan of Maxxis tires. I have had 2.8 Rekon’s on my plus bike and really liked them. They replaced a set of 2.4 Ardents. The stock rims that came on my Specialized Camber were 27mm and didn’t feel good with 2.6 tires.
The bike came with Ground Control 2.6’s and they always feel like the bike was squirming around on top of them. Now with the 30.5mm width Spanky 359 rims I could go with Rekon 2.6’s.
The tires were easy to install. I found that ParkTool metal tire levers will bead and debead the most stubborn tire with ease. A quick jolt with a CO2 inflator beaded both tires with no fuss. I use Orange Seal Endurance sealant for a few years now and have been very pleased with it.
I pumped both tires up to 38psi, took them for a spin around the neighborhood and hung them up for the night. In the morning they were holding pressure still.
Going for a ride
I took the bike out to Island Lake Recreation Area for the first ride. It is one of my favorite close to home trails. It has a few rooted up climbs, some fast and flowy sections and a notorious amount of sand pits at the bottom of hills.
The first thing I noticed was how fast the Industry 9 hub engaged. There was no chunk at all when the ratchet engaged. I have never had a set of aftermarket wheels. I’ve always ridden bikes with 18 to 20 points engagement. The Industry 9 101 Hubs have 90 points. With the stock rear wheel and hub it felt like slamming into gear when the hub engaged due to 20 degrees of lash. With the i9 hub it felt like a smooth engagement.
When climbing steep and rooty sections this became very noticeable. No lash if you paused pedaling.
The second thing I noticed was that the bike felt much more stable and smooth. It had a bit of a wobbly feel at speed before that is gone now. It felt very comfortable rolling over roots and ruts downhill and when speed picked up.
It felt like the bike had a much lower resistance coast. I’m not sure if this was entirely the wheels or tires. The tire noise was much more quiet than the Ardents so I assume rolling resistance is less also.
On sandpits the 2.6 width tires felt really good. They felt almost as in control as the 2.8 plus bike I had. I could wobble around a little bit and still bring the bike back without the front wheel sliding out.
Custom Mountain Bike Wheels FAQ
Q: Where can I get Custom Bike Wheel built?
There are many custom bike wheel builders online. Your local bike shop might be able to build you a set of wheels too. They will charge you the full cost of the parts and charge for labor so it will most likely not be a cheap way to do it. Below is a list of some of the more popular custom wheel builders.
Q: Where to get Factory Wheels?
You can get factory built wheels at any local bike shop or all the popular online stores. I have had good luck shopping from Jenson and Chain Reaction Cycles. Chain Reaction Cycles is in the UK but they still manage to have lower prices on many items and faster shipping. I ordered my tires from Chain Reaction Cycles on Saturday and they arrived on Tuesday. Most of the popular rim and hub suppliers such as Stan’s No Tubes and Spank sell complete wheels through Jenson, your bike shop or their own website.
- your local bike shop
Q: What are the best cycling wheels?
There are a lot of factors for bike wheels depending on how you plan to use them. There is no best wheel for everyone. You do not want a super heavy wheel for cross country riding. You don’t want a lightweight wheel for downhill and enduro. If you aren’t sure what you are looking for, any custom wheel builder will be able to give you some ideas.
Q: How much do custom bike wheels cost?
You can get custom built wheels with better parts cheaper than factory wheels. A factory built set of wheels from Stans, Spank, Hope will run atleast $600 to $700. That is for a set of aluminum rims and their generic hubs. A set of Stan’s Flow Mk3 wheels from Stan’s currently runs $679. The Stan’s NEO hubs don’t have a great reputation for durability.
You can still expect to spend at least $550 for any set of custom wheels with really good hubs. I saw nothing cheaper anywhere. You can get the same set of Stans Flow Mk3 rims with Hope Hubs, that are bulletproof for $600. My set of Spank Rims with Industry 9 hubs was $609. If you choose carbon rims, add at least $600 to the price.
The very cheapest custom made wheels you can get are from Colorado Cyclist. They will make wheels using Shimano SLX hubs or for slightly more, XT hubs, and a few rim options for under $400. This is one of the best deals in the cycling world for replacement wheels if you are on a tight budget.
Q: It is cheaper to build your own MTB wheels?
In theory you would think that you could buy a package of parts for custom wheels yourself and build them for less. In reality, every time I tried buying the parts, I always came out hundreds of dollars more. You might be able to find Ebay special clearance parts to come up with something. If you go buy parts they will cost the following:
- Rims – $200
- Front Hub – $100
- Rear Hub – $250
- Spokes – $75
- Nipples – $15
- Rim Tape – $10
- Valve Stems – $15
- Total of parts- $665
After you buy the parts you still have to build the wheels. You need a truing stand if you don’t have one so throw a couple more hundreds onto that. You should leave building the wheel to the experts. You might come out ahead if you have hubs and a truing stand already.
Q: Do bike wheels make a difference?
Better bike wheels will feel better when you ride. They have more points of engagement, stiffer spokes, and better bearings. The rims can have more or less flexibility depending on their intended use. They are lighter weight then what came on your bike. Lighter rims make climbing easier because there is less mass to spin. More points of engagement make technical climbing easier. Once you ride on a good set of wheels you will never want to go back to cheap OEM wheels again.
Q: Are bikes with bigger wheels better?
The debate rages on whether 27.5inch or 29inch wheels are better. 27.5inch wheels are lighter, accelerate faster, and feel more agile. 29inch wheels are heavier. They roll over roots and rocks easier. They are more efficient on longer rides. 29inch wheels are the clear winners for cross country riding and racing. There is little debate there. Many downhill and enduro bikes are 27.5inch. What is more fun for the average person riding for fun? I don’t know. I’ve had 26inch, 27.5 and 29inch bikes. They were all fun to ride.
I am extremely pleased with this wheelset. I have heard that wheel upgrades make a huge difference in how the bike feels. I have always been skeptical given the cost of wheels. After going for a ride I am no longer a skeptic and see the benefit even for an average recreational rider. The bike just feels better. The quicker engagement rear hub makes technical climbing that much smoother and easier. After riding I would say that the wheels are well worth the price. I would definitely order from Cycle Wheels USA again.
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Co-Founder & Chief Editor
I grew up back east in Pennsylvania and learned to ski on a family trip to Killington, Vermont when I was 6. I immediately fell in love with the mountains and outdoors and have been skiing across the US and Canada ever since. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering, and have a Master’s Degree in Material Science and Reliability.
I am a total gear nerd and love learning how things work and thinking about how they could be improved. Nothing excites me more than trying out new gear. I’d rather spend 3 hours taking my bike apart and learning how to change something than go to a bike shop. These days I reside in Michigan by the Great Lakes and go skiing, biking, and boating as much as possible.