DCR Wheels Review
Sometimes stock wheels just don’t cut the mustard. So, where do you turn?
I’ve just bought a new wheelset from custom wheel builders DCR Wheels. All the wheels that leave their workshop are made to their individual customer’s requirements, so a regular wheel review may not be all that helpful (but I will oblige with this anyway in a separate post).
This review is more about the company itself, the process of ordering wheels from them and things to consider if you are thinking of going down the hand-built route. It’s not a sponsored or paid review, just my personal experience of the service.
Are handbuilt wheels still relevant?
Once upon a time all serious cyclists had wheels built to their exact requirements by a local wheel builder. But if you believe the big manufacturers, such services are no longer required by the cycling masses. Wheels are often made in large factories and much of the assembly work is done by machine which can bring production costs down.
I am one of the many riders who have always ridden factory wheels without needing anything else. Until now, that is.
Whilst you might suppose that the pros ride the same factory wheels that we all do, this is actually not the case. Most manufacturers have a small team of wheel builders who assemble by hand the sponsored riders’ wheels. These tend to be built to stricter tolerances than achieved in the ‘stock wheels’.
If you’re interested in having the same care taken over your next wheelset, then read on.
About DCR Wheels
DCR Wheels is run by David Meadows, a professional wheel builder who has been building commercially since 2007. There are a few other builders at the company and their collective experience on the truing stand runs into many decades worth. This growth indicates that there is a healthy market for custom wheels despite the seeming ubiquitousness of factory sets.
“I think the biggest threat to the sort of production we do is if everyone wants exactly the same thing, then it becomes build it cheap, pile it high, sell it cheap.”
David also highlights that although the wheels have changed to reflect changing trends, his typical customers have remained very much the same.
“Something that hasn’t changed is they’ve pretty much always been serious about cycling. Our wheels do a lot of miles!”
Like most custom wheel builders, they cater for a growing number of cyclists who want something that factory wheels cannot provide. This can be as simple as choosing the colour of your hubs to the more technical, such as specific spokes and lacing patterns.
As the above suggests, there is far more to building wheels than the physical act of building and truing them. There is the question of which components to use for which application. This is what made me reach out to DCR Wheels in the first place.
There is A LOT of information on their website. Even if you aren’t considering a hand-built wheelset, it’s still a great resource for geeking out on wheels and their components. After spending a considerable amount of time doing this myself, I emailed my requirements to David.
My build requirements
I have been running box section aluminium wheels forever. Aero wheels are the upgrade I have been considering for a while as they are clearly faster, and they look better!
As explained in this post, I think that good consistent braking should be more than just an afterthought. For this reason I was looking for a reasonably aero aluminium rim and a top quality hub suitable for British weather conditions.
Not to mention I wanted something that looked a bit more bling!
That last bit can be very hard to obtain from a factory wheelset. In fact most factory wheelset it’s all about the rims. You tend to get lumbered with whatever hubs they happen to stick with the wheelset.
Aluminium wheelsets are usually considered a budget product these days, such is the dominance of carbon. Unfortunately this means if you specifically want an aluminium wheelset, you will often have to make do with budget hubs.
This is where a custom wheelset delivers what the factory wheel cannot.
I emailed DCR Wheels with the crucial information they would need to help me hone in on the best options:
- Rider weight: 75kg
- Riding style and conditions: Purely road, no touring or gravel. All British weathers although generally not deepest winter. I may return to racing eventually so the wheels needed to be suitable for this.
- Tyre width: 25c. This is relevant as tyres larger than 28c can negate the gains of most aero rims, so rim choices can be partly governed by the tyres you run.
- Freehub body: Campagnolo.
- Rims: Aluminium aero (i.e. not box section).
- Budget: I set this at £800.
It is definitely worth approaching this with an open mind. Wheel builders are the best people to advise on choosing wheel components. I tried to give them an idea of what I was looking for in terms of performance and let them come up with the options in and around my budget.
Looking at DCR Wheels’ website it’s clear that they use components from lots of manufacturers. I was therefore confident they could offer something that ticks all the boxes for me.
Narrowing it down
The reply from David came after a few days and was very comprehensive. The AForce AL33 rim was the clear choice, which I had already had my eye on anyway – easy.
I had absolutely no preference on spokes so happy to follow David’s advice to build with Sapim CX-Rays.
The hub options were considerable, but the differences explained along with the all important colour possibilities! I wanted a light-ish high end reliable hub that I could maintain for years to come.
I know the DT Swiss 240s has an enviable reputation but I just can’t get past the look of it! This was a shame as this build would’ve been near enough smack on budget.
Chris King hubs were the most expensive option. They are arguably the connoisseur’s choice and come with a recognisable soundtrack. A Tune hubset is good looking, lightweight and has a reputation for reliability. Carbon-Ti (never heard of them before) were another option being the lightest and a fast engaging freehub.
DCR Wheels also do their own branded hubs which look very good value indeed, and were the cheapest of the lot. They are based on Bitex hubs, but are stripped and prepared specially for British weather conditions at DCR. Bitex hubs have a good reputation anyway but to have them specially prepared in this way is to me, a sign of conscientious engineering practices.
David sort of nudged me down the Carbon-Ti route for this build. Chris King have lots of good points but he pointed out that they need a bit of looking after. Also, further research revealed that proprietary tooling is required to service them properly. Running Campagnolo drivetrains I know first-hand what a pain in the arse that can be! Having two young children I also don’t have oodles of spare time to be tinkering in the garage.
I went for the Carbon-Ti hubs even though this blew my budget to smithereens! They offer the lightest weight and David has had excellent feedback from previous customers. They also come in gold which sealed the deal for me.
Good things come to those who wait
The lead time was three weeks at the time of ordering. Unfortunately, Carbon-Ti had some production issues at the time, so this extended the lead time to eight weeks in the end.
This is the great drawback to ordering anything custom and I’ve been here before. The sheer agony of waiting for something really exciting makes a week feel like a month and a month feel like a year!
This is completely at odds to the way the retail world works and the modern day customer is an impatient one. You can have anything you want the very next day if you have a national distributor of that product. I can order a set of high end wheels from anywhere in the world and they will be on my doorstep in a week.
Waiting for something to be made to order can seem very unnatural and frustrating, and the spoiled brat in you is just desperate to bust out! I always keep in mind that the finished product in my experience, has always been worth the wait.
David’s replies to emails sometimes did take a few days to come through. Important to keep in mind he is a wheel builder first and foremost, not sitting just waiting to answer emails. When the replies did come through he had answered all of my questions in detail.
Whilst the delay was a bit frustrating, David kept me informed and I never felt fobbed off at all. If you look at the DCR Wheels website and are impressed with the level of detail you find there, you will like dealing with them.
The quality of the finished product is very good but it’s the customer service that mean I wouldn’t hesitate to approach them again. They really go the extra mile in terms of advice offered and explaining the subtleties of different components.
Perhaps your requirements might be fairly simple, but I think it’s always worth firing an enquiry off to a local wheel builder to see what they can offer. I would also recommend detailing your requirements but keeping an open mind on specific components. Wheel builders do this stuff every day and know the components inside out, so they are best positioned to advise on the right combinations.
The prices seem to be quite competitive compared to similar factory offerings and you definitely get more service and advice thrown in. You are also keeping local people in jobs and the finished product will have a lower carbon footprint than if assembled in a far off land.
I can’t wait to ride these! A full wheel review will be on the website once I’ve tested them out, so check back again soon. Alternatively sign up for the newsletter in the sidebar for updates!