Do you build wheels fulltime? Currently, I also spin wrenches at the LBS part time. In the past, because of my connections in the bike industry, I have done contract work as a sale rep, run product demos, and built bikes for trade shows while running my wheel bizz.
How long have you been hand building wheels? I opened as a bike/ski repair shop in ’07. Along with repairs I was building wheels for customers and shortly morphed into MLW and selling wheels online. Before that I worked for a bicycle parts distributor where I sat in front of the truing stand building wheels daily till my fingers felt like they were going to fall off. I started working in a bike shop when shops had a Phil Wood spoke cutter and built wheels as needed.
Why not black spokes? Stainless spokes are silver when made, then afterwards they are anodized to a black. The anodization adds a layer of material like paint to the spoke. It can’t be measured with a micrometer but I know it’s there because I can feel it binding between the spoke elbow and hub flange and on the threads when I turn the nipples. Anodizing also changes the electron arrangement making spokes weaker.
What types of wheels do you build? You name it. I’ve built all kinds, but I’m still waiting for that first wheelchair wheelbuild...
What is UST? (Universal Tire System it’s a term like Kleenex) This is one manufactures name for tubeless. There are a number of tubeless systems on the market that work equally well. With the use of a sealing tape on an exposed spoke bed in the rim makes for a more traditional and lighter wheel. For mountain or cross any tire will work but tubeless specific tires work best.
What about tubeless road? Because of the higher pressure associated with road tires the rounded shape of the traditional hook and bead between the rim and tube needed to be changed. Tubeless road rims and tires have a square shape to the hook and bead. Road rims designed to work tubeless can be used tubeless or tubed. Road tires designed to work tubeless can be used tubeless or tubed. Road tires or rims NOT designed for tubeless will NOT work tubeless. Read that again if you have to, and pay special attention to the not part.
What’s the most expensive wheelset you ever built? With alloy rims, a BMX wheelset when I worked at a shop. I don’t remember the rim but Chris King hubs and titanium tie-dye spokes. I think the bill was ~$1500. I’m not sure about in today’s dollars.
What kind of wheels do you ride on your bike(s)? I’m my own best product tester so I ride it all. I really like the performance of tubeless though it makes changing tires to match riding conditions harder. Better quality aluminum rims come from the factory rounder and build up the best. Even inexpensive carbon rims come out of a mold so they are more consistently round. As for hubs you really get what you pay for. The hub really is the money part of the wheel. That being said Shimano hubs are pretty ho-hum but a lot of bang for the buck.
Are carbon rims worth the price? The real difference in carbon is when rims get wide or deep (+25mm). Whatever your budget is spend it on good hubs first then if there’s money left go for carbon rims.
What’s an open mold? Carbon products come out of a mold, and molds are super expensive. Bigger companies with more money own their own molds. Open molds are ones that anybody including you or I can use to produce a product.
How long does it take to build a wheel? Once I have all the parts about an hour. To get there I need to measure the rims and hubs to figure out the spoke lengths first. Two measurements on the hub and one on the rim are needed. Each measurement takes a different tool with accuracy to the nearest millimeter.