All About Wheels

Wheel Information by Intended Use

Road Wheels


Aerodynamics and light weight are the two most important factors in designing the optimal road racing wheelset. The advancements in tubular rim technology have produced carbon fiber deep V rims that yield a lighter wheel with better road feel. Tubular rims are half the weight of clincher rims and are more responsive to increases in speed. Thinner and fewer spokes enhance aerodynamics as they slice air faster, which mitigates wind resistance. However, too few spokes compromises strength. A custom wheelset will give you the ultimate competitive edge while balancing the safety issues of going scary light.

Gravy recommends allocating your resources to produce the best racing wheelset that will optimize your performance. Tubular carbon fiber deep V rims will be your lightest option. However, there are also clincher carbon rims and clincher deep V rims that provide the benefits of aerodynamics. Bladed, elliptical spokes encounter half the air resistance of standard round spokes and are a worthwhile cost/benefit trade-off. Therefore, a profile rim coupled with bladed spokes will yield a light, aerodynamic wheel with less gyroscopic inertia. The biggest consideration in tire choice is the weight of the rider. Race day, one-time use tires are one of the greatest improvements in racing wheels and designed for the serious racer. However, they should not be used for more than 200 miles as they are dangerous if used more than intended. The width of the tire should be 22mm for tubulars and 23mm for clinchers, with an extra 2mm width for those weighing over 180 lbs.


The training road wheelset should be durable, dependable and moderate in price. You want to be able to focus on training hard and safely without worrying about mechanical problems. A heavier wheelset will meet these objectives as well as give you an edge on race day when you deploy your lighter race wheelset.

Gravy recommends clincher rims with standard round spokes. Adding a few more spokes will also give you more durability. The tires should be 2m to 3m wider than racing tires due to greater flat protection, more comfortable ride and since pressure is lower, more rubber on the road equates to a safer ride. Remember, "one flat can ruin your whole day"!



Success in mountain bike racing is dependent on choosing the best tire for the course profile, surface and weather conditions. The choice of rubber is a huge factor in racing performance because it all comes down to traction. Tubeless tires are the choice for your racing wheelset. Lower air pressure allows the tire to be stiffer and provide more shock absorption. Pinch flats become non-existent due to the damping effect of beefy rubber on the trail. Tubeless tires limit rim options. However, spoke count and type can still vary substantially with aerodynamics not a crucial consideration.

Gravy recommends the Mavic tubeless rim as the best choice due to their patented UST system. Bontrager, DT-Swiss and Stans rims are also a good choice; however, they utilize a rim strip and sealant system which is not fullproof. We suggest standard double-butted spokes with a count of 32 for a light person, 36 for a heavier person and 28 for a light woman racer. If you are using clincher rims for racing, we recommend latex rubber tubes for your tires. Latex is lighter, more supple and will handle the bumps and rocks better. Wheelsets should be tailored for the different types of downhill racing as well as for cross country racers. We can help you customize your racing wheelsets for your racing preferences.


The same model holds for mountain training wheels as for road. A wheelset that is dependable, serviceable and moderate in price will facilitate your training schedule. We recommend clincher rims with a fatter, heavier tire for training. Butyl rubber tubes are the best value for your training tires as they are more durable.


Triathletes show no mercy and are racing the clock. The wheelset is more critical than ever to generate the most aerodynamic ride possible. This will result in maximized muscle efficiency and minimized muscle expenditure to benefit the transition to their running profile. The tri-wheelset rim should always be a deep V profile rim.

For the elite rider in a race with no weather issues, Gravy recommends a tri-spoke front wheel and a disc rear wheel. If the course has the potential for wind, a low count bladed spoke will be best for most races. The racing wheelset can be very course specific since the number of races per season is comparatively low. The training wheelset should be the same as a standard road wheelset.


Strength in the wheelset is paramount for the cyclocross rider because of the abuse the bike will incur. The wheelset needs to be light in order to boost acceleration and accommodate the start/stop nature of the sport. Proper tire choice is super crucial and course and weather specific. The cyclocross racer needs a suitcase full of tire options!

There is a fine line between strength and lightness. Gravy recommends clincher rims as they are more serviceable in the face of frequent flats. Elite racers may elect to use tubular in spite of the hassles caused by course abuse to the wheels. A few more spokes than road wheels will augment strength. Gravy can help you choose a variety of tires to best suit your racing needs.

Single Speed

The key feature in a single speed wheelset is lightness. The lighter the better in order to minimize the rider's energy expenditure required due to the absence of gearing options. We recommend investing a bit more money on a quality rear hubset. There is more leverage and torque on the rear wheel because of the energy required to compensate for lack of gears. A high quality free hub will yield a distinct difference in durability. Gravy recommends clincher rims and tires for the all- around single speed wheelset and tubeless for the serious racer.


Lightness of the wheelset is also the key success factor in an optimal track wheelset. Track racers are motivated by the clock and require a light wheelset to accelerate strong out of the pack. Track wheels should always use tubular tires because a higher pressure can be sewn in and there is minimal risk of a blowout. A quality hub is important for instant engagement to intensify your racing and distinguish your performance. For solo events, we recommend a front tri-spoke wheel and a rear disc wheel. For multiple racer events, a deep V rim with aerodynamic spokes should be employed to produce an even lighter wheel that will maximize the start/stop power of the racer.

Wheel Build and Component Selection
GravyWheels offers top-of-the-line tire, rim, spoke and hub manufacturers to choose from to build the wheelset of your dreams. The permutations of components, manufacturers and measurement specifications is vast, which is why you need advice and expertise in choosing the best components that are custom tailored to factor in your riding style, weight, height, and riding conditions. The consideration of these critical factors will yield optimal synchronicity among wheelset components.

When looking at components, you should focus and spend your resources on the components that matter most. The quality and attributes of the rims, spokes and hubs will have the greatest impact on the performance of your bicycle. The depth of choice in components can be overwhelming for the bicycle enthusiast. Certain types of components by particular manufacturers can make a significant upgrade to the performance of your wheelset. For example, the selection of a quality hub is important to ensure better engagement, less friction, warranty protection and better wear. Machine built wheelsets are not only weaker and more susceptible to failure but they are generic and not specifically suited for the needs and purpose of the individual rider. Everyone's needs are unique and should not be compromised by the fashion of the day chosen by a wheel assembly line.

The most critical factor of a wheelset is the actual build itself. It takes the art and science of wheel building to meld these components together to produce the optimal wheelset. That is the magic of GravyWheels! Only the build can ensure strength and an efficient energy transfer from the hub to the rim to the road.
The three most important aspects are:
(1) spoke configuration, (2) lacing pattern and (3) equilibrium of tension.
The spoke configuration is basically the type of spoke used and the spoke count. The lacing pattern has to do with the number of crosses between the rim and hub. The tensioning of spokes should be between 3% to 4% of each other. The spokes of our hand-built wheels are never over-tensioned. This helps preserve the integrity of the hub flange and rim eyelets. It also ensures spoke strength when tension is equally distributed.

GravyWheels can obtain any component available to target your needs for use and performance. Gravy mixes and matches elements to build the perfect wheelset for you. Gravy starts by determining the specifications to fit your needs and then select the best manufacturer in your price range. GravyWheels will build the best wheelset for your riding needs.

Radial Lacing, Low Spoke Count and Machine-Built Wheels

Gravy doesn't typically recommend radial lacing, low spoke count or machine-built wheels, unless there is some special circumstance that needs to be taken under consideration. When Gravy builds wheels, he considers strength and ride in addition to weight. Our customers are consistently amazed at his ability to achieve a lightweight wheel without sacrificing durability or performance. By using a mix of the latest in spoke, rim and hub technology he can provide a wheel that competes in weight and cost to any of those machine-built offerings but that rides better and lasts longer.

Radial Lacing

Radial lacing refers to a lacing pattern where the spokes go straight from the hub to the rim without crossing. Recently, this has become popular with custom and machine-built wheels because of the "look" and the supposed weight savings. Shorter spokes = less weight. Weight is important, but there are some problems inherent to radial lacing.

Rear wheel spokes have to transfer drive torque from the hub to the rim. To do this efficiently, some of the spokes need to be angled nearly tangent to the hub. If all of the rear-wheel spokes go straight out to the rim radially, they allow the hub to twist quite far before they catch up and drive the bike. Disc brakes use the spokes to transfer torque as well, so they also need to have at least some spokes angled out to the rim. Some believe that non-drive, non-disc wheels don't need to transfer torque so they can be radial, and some of the spokes on a drive or disc wheel can of course be radial, in theory. However, Gravy contends that all wheels under braking transfer load via spokes.

Radial lacing allows shorter, lighter, stiffer (because they are shorter) spokes, making for a lighter and stiffer wheel, but those stiffer spokes are more likely to break. They also impose higher stresses on the hub flange because radial lacing puts the greatest load on the place where there is the least material. Shimano has banned radial lacing on its hubs and several hub manufacturers have developed radial-specific hubs to answer the current demand.

All sorts of mixtures of radial and cross lacing options are possible, but they save only a little weight over good-ole cross lacing, and make life quite a bit harder on the hub and spokes.

Although low spoke-count, radially laced wheels are light and look cool, we've found that a bike handles much better with traditional three-cross, 32 spoke wheels. In the front especially, radially laced wheels seem to wander and don't hold their line as well. Put on a well-built three cross wheel and suddenly the front end responds faster and is more precise.

Gravy builds wheels to optimize strength and reduce stress on the wheel. Radial lacing puts the spoke doing the most work directly in the load path, which increases the stress/load on both the spoke and the hub. Building with crossings (tangent) puts the spoke doing the most work well past and ahead of the load path, saving all parts of the wheels from undue fatigue. An additional benefit to building two or three, or even four cross wheels, compared to radial, is the protection from chain suck. For example, if you throw your chain into the spokes, our "outside pulling" pattern will help your chain not to get sucked into your wheel.

A Note on Crossing Pattern Selection

In Gravy's experience, two cross spokes will be on average 10mm shorter and might save you 30 grams for the entire wheelset when compared to three cross. However a two cross pattern on a 32-hole rim has decreased trianglization compared to a three-cross pattern. The trianglization occurs where the spokes meets the hub flange. The smaller the triangle, the less stability at the hub. Spoke count also contributes to the trianglization. More spokes means less trianglization, while less spokes means more trianglization. Optimum tranglization occurs at the 9:00 o'clock and 3 o'clock spoke position, the widest base triangle. A 36-hole 4 cross, 32-hole 3 cross and 28-hole 2 cross all roughly have the same trianglization. If you want to save some weight and it makes sense for your build and style of riding, a 28 hole, 2 cross wheel makes much more sense than a 32 hole radial one.

Low Spoke Count

There are a number of machine-built wheels on the market that achieve weight savings through minimizing the number of spokes in the wheel. Less spokes = less weight.

The problem is simple. The fewer the spokes, the more load each spoke must bear. This results in a wheel with tremendous load on the spokes that can't be trued if you knock it out of whack and that will have a tendency to fail completely if you break a spoke. Ask anybody who has ever tried to true one and they will tell you.

Machine-built Wheels

The vast majority of wheels on the market today are machine-built, from low-end OEM wheels to expensive lightweight offerings from a variety of manufacturers. We all know who they are. Machine-built = cost savings to the manufacturer.

Although technology has come a long way, we do not believe you can replace the care that goes into a professionally hand-built wheel with a machine.

Machines bring the wheel up to tension very quickly, which sacrifices strength. Spoke tension is everything when it comes to bicycle wheels. To achieve a durable wheel, each spoke must have the appropriate amount of tension and all spokes must have the same tension. Gravy consistently sees even the high-end products come to him with inappropriate and/or unequal spoke tension. Rounded off nipples and wheels that are out of true are very common, right out of the box.

The final thing to consider if you are going to buy one of those funky-looking, radial, hardly a spoke to be found, all my friends have them, pre-built wheel sets, keep serviceability in mind. If you break a spoke or ding the rim, does your local shop stock the required spoke or rim for a rebuild? Does the wheel have to go back to the manufacturer and will this take a long time? Can it be repaired at all or will you need to replace the wheel?