Must be round

Alex Rims TA20

It was the rear hub totally seizing up that convinced the Halfakid it was time to retire Ol’ Paint in favor of a new bike. The mechanic we stumbled across that early Saturday morning did a very good job of cleaning and repacking the bearings, but he noted that the cups were probably damaged and he wouldn’t guarantee the hubs lasting much longer. So any rehabilitation is going to include new hubs.

While I’m considering replacement hubs, I have to think about the rims, too. They’re pretty deeply scored. The cheap V-brakes that Ol’ Paint came with seemed to have a genius for trapping whatever road grit was about and grinding it into the rim faces. And as replacing the hubs means rebuilding the wheels anyway, I started looking for rims that would fit and not break the bank.

Ol’ Paint is parked in front of the Halfakid’s apartment now, sans pedals, so I spent some time searching my usual online suppliers without having a look at what was on the bike. I knew the basic size I was looking for: 26-inch rims for rim brakes. The size is apparently common in many parts of the world, but was never a popular one in the US. And now V-brakes have been largely replaced by discs, so what 26-inch rims I was finding did not have brake faces.

Araya TM-840F
Araya TM-840F

After more than an hour of searching I came across a set of wheels with Shimano hubs and Araya rims that fit the spec. I was so relieved at finding something that I nearly hit the order button. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was the width, and I decided to check what’s on Ol’ Paint before pulling the trigger. So when I went riding with the Halfakid on the weekend, I took a moment to record the rim size and to have a look at the frame clearance.

Alex Rims DM18
Alex Rims DM18

I was glad I waited: not only did the rims clearly indicate their dimensions, but they showed the maker’s URL. Alex Rims is still very much in existence and offers a few varieties in the desired size, with rim brakes. Better still, the rims are readily available in Japan at prices corresponding to those in the US. So now I was looking at a new question: Did I want to pay a bit more to get these undoubtedly higher quality rims, and did I want to build my own wheels?

There are plenty of clear online guides for building wheels, and in fact I relaced a pair back in my college days. I even have a spoke wrench. The question is not in the lacing itself but in the subsequent truing. Patrick’s guide makes it sound easy, if somewhat time-consuming. But I remember having been pretty bad at this back in the day. Do I want to try it now, when I’m older and bit more patient? Or do I want to find a builder who can set me up for a reasonable fee?

Room to spare
Room to spare

Anyway, while I was checking out Ol’ Paint’s existing rims, I checked the clearance and there seems to be plenty (at least, so long as I don’t mount fenders). This gives me more flexibility as there are other rim sizes that differ only a bit from Ol’ Paint’s 26 inches. Choosing a 650B or 700C could give me a much wider range of rims to choose from.

While I was pondering whether I wanted to roll my own, I decided to search for a spoke length calculator. That brought me to Pro Wheel Builder. Their calculator includes not just rim sizes and lacing patterns, but a database of specific rims and hubs (as well as a disclaimer about the results). While I was poking about their site I started to wonder what it would cost to have them build a set of wheels for Ol’ Paint (and if they have rims of the required specs). And the answer is: they would pretty much fit the bill. They do ship to Japan, but the result is on the high end of what I was hoping to pay for replacement wheels for Ol’ Paint. More than double the cheap Araya wheels from the sketchy maker I’d first found. On the other hand, the cost of the wheelset pair (front and rear) would be about the same as I just paid for a front wheel only with a built-in generator for Kuroko. (That story is still to come.)

Meanwhile, I decided to have another go at finding a wheel builder closer to home. I’m getting a few hits, but they seem to be geared towards the upper end of the market (as are the replacement wheels in the shop where I bought Kuroko): Japanese bike enthusiasts aren’t shy about forking over the green stuff, and people looking to replace their wheels are nearly always looking to move up.

  • Wicked has a line of hand-built wheels starting at roughly what I originally paid for Ol’ Paint, entire.
  • ChrisKing takes that as a starting point and quickly goes up to what I paid for Kuroko, new.
  • Sim Works handles the ChrisKing line as well as some much more reasonable Velocity rims, but bless me if I can find the button to add items to the cart!
  • There’s Pax Project. Short of ringing them up, I couldn’t determine from the site if they had quite the size I’m looking for. Regardless, their prices start somewhat above what it would cost to order from Pro Wheel Builder, including the international shipping.
  • Circles has the Velocity Cliffhanger, a nice looking rim that fits the spec and at a good price. They’re for a bit wider tire than I’ve had on Ol’ Paint, but the clearance might be there to go wide.
  • Finally, WTB has the Frequency Team, a perfect match. From the reviews, they’re a bit heavy but they’re bulletproof. WTB also has tires, rim tape and reasonable seats (Ol’ Paint’s original WTB saddle is torn), as well as this 100% cotton long-sleeved T.
Pax Project
Pax Project

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