The oldest human invention is the wheel. It may seem that there is nothing complicated about the wheel. But this is not the case.
It seems that the wheel doesn’t have many parameters, but when you start to explore it, everything turns out to be much more complicated. De facto the standard for gravel bikes is a wheel diameter of 28 inches. But when you start looking, not always in stores there is a similar parameter. The 700C designation is much more common. For the curious, I highly recommend reading about the ETRTO system and its comparison with other systems. This system is very easy to understand and the most adequate. As it turned out (I didn’t know this before), wheels 28 “, 29”, and 700C are essentially the same, the diameter of the rims for these designations is the same.
There is also such a parameter as ERD (Effective Rim Diameter). Roughly speaking, this is the inner diameter of the rim in millimeters + the thickness of the inner wall of the rim. Pay attention to this parameter last. It becomes useful when calculating the length of spokes. With a fixed rim diameter, the ERD parameter depends on the height of the rim profile.
I didn’t have to think too much about the diameter, but the width of the rim raised questions. Many people prefer to put wide tires on gravel wheels, so a wider rim is needed. But I’m just not from this caste, I wanted the wheels to be more road-like, and if you take wide rims, the tires just won’t fit in them. And I didn’t want to take very narrow rims either, after all, I’m going to ride not only on the roads, extra strength won’t be excess (and what if suddenly I want a wider rubber). For myself, I determined that I need rims with an inner width in the range of 21-24 mm.
As for the brand, my friends recommended Fulcrum. I found appropriate wheels of that brand in the Bike24 store, where I bought many parts for my bike.
Bike24 service is a disappointment
When placing an order in this store, among other products, I chose the Fulcrum Rapid Red 5 DB wheels. These are good budget wheels for gravel bikes, this is just what the doctor ordered. Aluminum rims, inner width 23 mm, 24 straight spokes.
However, the wheels were not in stock, they were supposed to be supplied in 1.5 months. It doesn’t matter, it was only mid-January, so I could wait. Note that the store does not send the order until it has collected it completely, in my case it was only necessary to wait for the wheels. A month later, I got a message from the support service that the wheels would be supplied only at the end of March, as an option, they offered to choose something else or remove this item. Usually, there is still snow in my city in March, not the best season to try a new bike, so I decided to wait.
In the second half of February, I again got a message from the support. It said they could not send wheels to me, the item is not shippable. As I understand it, the Fulcrum brand has exactly the same policy as Shimano, they divided the market, and shops from Europe are prohibited from selling their goods to the CIS countries. They asked what to do with the order. Still, the prices in this store are the most attractive, I decided to look for other wheels. And I found them almost identical in characteristics, it was DT Swiss G 1800 Spline 25. They even cost almost the same. I asked to replace the wheels with the selected ones, but before I asked if they would be able to deliver these wheels to me. The support wrote that they would send them, but that wheels were not in stock either, I must wait for the middle of March (a little more than a month). I agreed and waited calmly.
Once I looked at the website in mid-March and saw that the wheels appeared in stock. I wrote to support, asked when the order will be sent? They said that in a couple of days there will be a letter about sending. A week had passed, there was no letter. I wrote to them again. After a couple of days, they told me that they could not send these wheels to me, the item is not shippable. DT Swiss has the same vile trade policy. I was mad at Bike24 😠 When I tried to ask them to do me a favor because they gave me false information and I lost more than two months, they began to answer like parrots: “We cannot send this item to your country.” They repeated this answer for every subsequent message of mine 😡 In the end, I had to give up the wheels so the rest of the goods can be shipped.
As a result, 2.5 months are irretrievably lost. My advice. The prices for Bike24 are some of the best, and the descriptions of goods are quite high quality. The site is generally convenient to use (although it is far from ideal). If you are not from Europe, make sure that all the goods are in stock, then you will be informed at least immediately after the purchase that some items will not be delivered. Better yet, inspect the trade policies of the brands which products you are going to order.
Time was lost, it was necessary to re-solve the issue with the wheels. I found the same DT Swiss G 1800 Spline 25 wheelset from a Russian dealer. However, it cost twice as much! Russian bicycle shops are disheartening. As a rule, there is nothing there, and if there is, then the price is cosmic (as an example, the Presta nipple costs $13 – $20 apiece, while on Aliexpress you will pay $3 per pair).
For the same money for which wheels are sold in a local store (and this is a budget model, by the way), you can already assemble carbon wheels. Of course, these will be Chinese wheels. But! Mechanics praise the quality of the Chinese carbon rims. It was possible to buy assembled wheels, but it would have been more expensive, and I could not find exactly what I wanted: either the number of spokes is wrong, or the thickness of the rims is wrong. In the end, I decided to buy everything separately. I ordered almost all of the parts on Aliexpress.
I bought the rims in the CARBON-BIKE Store (Ali), having previously talked with the seller. He was helpful, resolved some of my questions. From him, I bought matte ETRTO 21-622 carbon rims for 24 spokes, with a profile height of 30 mm (ERD 579). It is believed that the larger the rim profile, the stiffer the wheel, which is good for track riding. I don’t need this stiffness, so I took the rims with the minimum available profile height. The rims are described as tubeless compatible.
I took Chinese Goldix hubs from the Newbike Store (Ali). This is the Chinese equivalent of DT Swiss straight-spoke hubs, not a clean replica, but similar. In theory, the price/quality ratio should be good, but I have not yet used them, I will see how they work in the future.
I decided to take regular spokes (not flat) 2 mm thick from the VITOOCYCLE Store (Ali). Since there are only 24 spokes on each wheel, I decided to be extra cautious and take thicker ones. Although I think 1.8 mm would be quite enough. I also took them on Aliexpress. I chose DT Swiss, but I guess it’s not the original. The hub seller added a nice schematic with all dimensions of the hubs, so I just used the DT Swiss calculator to calculate the length of spokes required. According to the calculation I needed spokes with a length of 285 – 287 mm, I rounded and ordered all the spokes with a length of 286 mm. It is convenient with this seller that you can order spokes of any length, just write him your wish.
When the spokes came, I had no complaints about them, but I was confused by the weight of nipples. They seemed to me very light, although the product description said it was brass. And buyers in the comments also said that it was brass, but what were their arguments based on?
I decided to check if the seller cheated me. I remembered the legend of Archimedes and a crown and decided to repeat it. I brimmed a little cup by water, put the nipples there, and weighed the displaced water. I also weighed the nipples beforehand. Knowing the mass of the displaced water and its density, I calculated its volume, which, in fact, is equal to the volume of the nipples. By dividing the mass of the nipples by the volume, we got their density, and got even 2 times less than that of aluminum! But this is most likely due to an error, there were air bubbles inside the nipples, a layer of varnish also contributed, and there was also a surface tension that prevented water from spilling. Nevertheless, the value obtained by me is 8.5 times less than the density of brass. This way I made sure the nipples are not made of brass.
Tires are the only wheel-related part that I didn’t buy on Aliexpress. I ordered them, along with the groupset, on Bike24. Nowadays, the mainstream is to use wide tires on gravel bikes, but I am not an adherent of this approach. I want the wheels to be more narrow so that the bike was good on the road. As a result, I ordered the Schwalbe G-One Allround Evolution TLE 35 mm wide. These are tubeless tires with a small tread, I think they will feel good both on the road and on the ground.
To assemble the wheels, I also needed rim tape, sealant, and valves.
With the valves came out a story that I ordered a pair of 48mm. I didn’t want the valves to stick out too much from the rim, it looks ugly. When they arrived, I discovered that one of them had a torn gasket. I ordered another pair. And only when the second pair came, I tried them on the rims and realized that the valves are too short. Carbon rims are high-profile, although I took the lowest profile, it’s still more than aluminum ones. Putting valves in their positions, they protruded quite a bit, even the thread for the nut did not protrude. As a result, I had to order a third pair, this time I took valves 60 mm long.
First, I spent time studying the specifics of the wheels, what parameters are there, what to look for. Then I wasted a lot of time because of the low-quality service of the store. After that, I spent a significant amount of time researching the domestic and Chinese markets, looking for the right rims, hubs, and spokes.
My bike is white, most likely dark gray matte rims would look fine, but I still wanted to paint the rims in the color of the frame. This is the whole story, which I will tell next.