Once upon a time, I built a fair number of wheels. Initially with Jobst Brant’s spiral-bound The Bicycle Wheel open at my side, and then by memory and feel. I built them for myself, at shops where I worked, and even as an overnight service for stranded alpine tourists and chalet hire fleets: hand-built wheels were the default choice for experienced riders. Gradually, times changed and the pre-built market began churning out quite respectable product while I left the bike-bum life for more bankable occupations.
Despite having the opportunity to spend time on some of the nicer pre-built options on the market, the desire to ride something of my own making, tailored to my own riding style and local riding conditions never quite went away. This autumn, I began thinking about what my ideal wheel would look like. Something built for long trail rides on rocky trails that would be at home anywhere my go-to 140/120mm bike was.
That translated (in my mind) to something reasonably light and reasonably priced, with a proven freehub that was unlikely to leave me with any very long walks out of the backcountry. Quiet freewheeling and 11-speed XD compatibility were also key. On the rim side, something wide would be nice – but not so wide that it would leave sidewalls overly exposed to the sharp and rough. Price was of course a factor: the end product needed to be nice without a domestically indefensible price tag.
Casting about the industry and racking my brain, I landed on DT Swiss’ mid-level 35o hubset. Modelled on the long-running 240 model, the 350 gets a less thoroughly machined hub shell (built in Asia as opposed to Switzerland), downgraded bearings, and a less-quick (but still respectable) eighteen points of engagement. Having long thought that the straight-pull version looked tidy, I opted to give that a chance, figuring that the pre-built folks might be on to something (which meant foregoing a pineapple or crow’s foot lacing pattern- probably not a bad thing).
At the rim, I recalled my Interbike discussion with Velocity about their new Blunt SS model. With a 27mm inside width and 400g claimed weight (27.5), the Blunt SS has been designed to prevent the sort of bead hook dings to which the original Blunt was admittedly prone. Perhaps the only standalone aluminium rim in its width/weight class, it was an intriguing option that seemed worth pursuing- and gets bonus points for being built in the first world.
On the scales pre-build, the Blunt SSes had me both worried and a little concerned with their below-advertised 370g weight. The front 15mm thru axle, IS disc hub weighed in at 137g and the rear 12mm thru axle, IS disc, XD driver hub 255g.
After a couple of false starts (hub label not visible through valve hole, spokes crossed over valve), the build process went remarkably smoothly. Straight-pull hubs really do make lacing straightforward, with every DT Competition spoke automatically pointed in the right direction. A dab of linseed oil on the threads helped with assembly and should (if old mechanics’ lore holds true) keep the alloy nipples from coming loose in the long term.
The first wheel came out true almost without effort and the second needed very little coaxing into a round-and-straight condition. When all was said and done and the (slightly narrow) Velocity sealing tape installed, the wheels hit the scales at 1,512g, some 10% lighter than the pre-built “XC Race” wheelset they displaced. The availability-dictated 28 spoke count had me somewhat worried, but is still higher than many pre-built options on the market.
Breaking the wheels in on a rocky, loose all-day ride was perhaps unwise, but I needn’t have worried. The usual first-week nip and tuck was in order, but only took a moment. In the month since, the wheels have continued to impress. The near- (or even sub-) carbon weight is quite nice, and – while nowhere near as revelatory as the Internet would have you believe – the tyre volume afforded by the wide rims is as well. Unwanted flex has not been an issue at all, with the wheels noticeably stiffer than some high-end pre-builts in their weight range and but not nearly as wooden feeling as some poorly tuned carbon wheelsets.
Overall: Only time and miles will tell if this combination holds up, but initial indications are quite good. For those willing to spend the time, the £440 price is quite good given the quality of the component parts – to say nothing of the satisfaction that comes from riding a wheel of one’s own making.
|Brand:||DT Swiss, Velocity|
|Product:||350 Straightpull, Blunt SS|
|From:||DT Swiss, Velocity USA|
|Price:||Approx. £440 exc. labour|
|Tested:||by Marc B for One Month|