We build wheels with string now

Every once in a while something truly unique comes into the bike industry – a product which is genuinely different and which has actual improvements and features.  If you’ve read my Journals you’ve heard me rant about how terms like “gamechanger” have been overused by marketing departments and that some minor product improvement does not make it a gamechanger.  My threshold for such provocative language is high and I expect actual and genuine steps in performance to justify them, not a colour change or a minor spec bump.

Well, Berd spokes are a gamechanger. Unlike every other spoke which is made of metal these Berd spokes are made with a fabric which feels like space-age string.  When playing with Berd spokes in your hand your brain struggles to comprehend how something so light and flimsy could be built into something as strong as a bicycle wheel. They’re incredible.

They’re also incredibly hard to work with.  They don’t lace into hubs like steel spokes, they don’t tension-up like steel spokes, and they don’t de-stress like steel spokes.  Honestly, we’ve tapped into all 15 years of our wheelbuilding experience and at the same time approached building these spokes with fresh eyes to ensure we’re able to deliver long-lasting wheels with them.  We needed to re-think and re-test most of our building procedures, and even now a Berd wheelset will take over twice as long to build as one of our other wheelsets.  We could literally build 8 “bike shop quality” wheels in the time it takes to build a single TrailBerd wheelset.

Berd’s woven UHMWPE fabric (ultra high molecular weight polyethylene) is most commonly recognizable under the brandname Dyneema and is used in things like high performance sail rigging, body armor, and spine implants.  There aren’t many uses inside the bike industry but it has two significant benefits when used in spokes:  Ultra light weight and increased vibration dampening.

Ultra Light Weight

They save a stunning 117 grams compared to the already light DT Swiss Aerolite spokes.  This chart shows how they stack up against other spokes that we and our competitors use.  Paired with the DT Swiss 180 EXP hubs and TrailBerd 30mm rims and our TrailBerd wheelset weighs a staggering 1305 grams.

The temptation when using such a light component is to make all of the other components really light and to chase some arbitrary target weight.  In our case the TrailBerds ended up weighing around 1305 grams but it would have been easy for us to get below 1300 grams, or even into the 1100-gram area.  But that’s not how we roll.  Our philosophy is to build high performance wheels which will enhance how your bike rides and there are two key things we’ve learned over the past 15 years and which we are unwilling to compromise on:

  1. 30mm rims are better.  We were early to the wide-rim “trend” and have been vocal about how much better your bike will be with wider rims for the past 7 years.  This is especially true on modern XC and down-country bikes where their excellent suspension platform is often handbraked by poor wheel selection.
  2. Light weight hubs suck.  It’s easy to drop another 60 grams of weight from the DT Swiss 180 hubs but then you’re looking at hubs which constantly need adjustment, and which creak, groan, and pop under load.  Trust me – if you spend a few minutes on Google you’ll see that I literally wrote a manual on how to stop a German brand’s hubs from creaking and I don’t want to do that again.  I love talking tech but I don’t want you calling me every 2 weeks because your hubs make bad noises.

If we’d paired a narrow 25mm rim with an ultralight hub we could saved even more weight and created a 1185 gram wheelset but, honestly, it would not perform as well as the TrailBerd, would feel fragile to ride, and it would not be as easy to own and use.  Would make a good headline though, if that’s what your goal is.

Smooth Confidence

The weight savings might be the key selling point but for those who have ridden the wheels it’s their incredible ability to smooth out chatter which is most talked about.  Riders like Ed Crossling who you see in these photos talks about the extra 10mm of suspension travel he’s gained and how highspeed chatter simply disappears.  Pair that with our 30mm internal-width Flite rim and XCs and Down Country bikes take on a new level of confidence and speed.  Ed’s been racing mountain bikes for 20 years and has witnessed XC bikes evolve into the trail-eating monsters of today and he couldn’t stop gushing about how the TrailBerds gave a smoother ride without giving up any of the responsiveness of a good hand-built wheel.

Custom Build from $5890

The TrailBerd is our top end MTB wheelset. It’s lighter than anything we’ve ever built and uses unique spokes which required a whole lot of learning to master to ensure the Wheelworks guarantees of quality and durability still apply.

It made sense for us to pair Berd spokes with the best quality hubs available and to get the most performance from the overall wheelset by using the highest spec carbon, resin, and layup schedule possible with from our 30mm Flite rim platform.  The simple result of using top quality components and a labour-intensive process is a price tag to match.

The future of Berd

The TrailBerd is our first wheelset using Berd spokes but won’t be our last.  Over the next 6 months you’ll see us leveraging these crazy spokes where we see benefits, and we’ll eventually have a selection of Berd wheelsets sitting alongside our steel-spoke.

I’m excited.  Incorporating Berd spokes has been a real challenge and I can’t wait to learn more about working with these incredible spokes.

If you’re as excited as I am about our new TrailBerd wheels you can read more about them on our website and keep an eye on our Instagram stories over the next few days. If you’d like to discuss whether the TrailBerd is the right wheelset for your XC or Down Country bike please call me on 04 387 3592 or tristan@wheelworks.co.nz