Custom hand built wheels, is there any sense in paying lots and lots for that if you're not competing on the elite level? What if you could get a pair of custom hand built wheels for a reasonable price? What if you could even have custom hand built wheels especially made for you, according to your needs, lighter, stiffer and more comfortable than many high-end factory made wheels for a similar price? Kanata Wheel Works is a single-man company located in Rauma, Finland, doing exactly as the company name says, building wheels. I had the possibility to test a pair of Kanata Wheel Works Custom SL 23 Aluminium wheels.
About Kanata Wheel Works
Kanata Wheel Works is a single-man company building wheels for cyclists whether you're an elite rider or an amateur. Jamie Given is the man behind Kanata and you can tell that this Canadian guy is working with passion on what he does. Jamie has been riding bikes all his life and been competitive on different levels in road cycling, so he knows what different kind of riders need and expect from a set of wheels. Back in the days, wheelbuilding was done in local bikeshops, but somewhere along the road the factory wheelsets came in and replaced a big part of that. Fortunately people like Jamie are slowly bringing back the knowledge and handcraft building wheels carefully according to your rider profile and needs. The truth is that factory wheels are usually a compromise and an end result of a pair of wheels that should suite the most of us riders, and probably that's why many of them actually don't.
The Kanata Wheel Works story begun years ago. Jamie had a set of wheels that needed some care, and that's where he got caught in it. "-I found myself stuck in getting more and more information about custom built wheels and how they should be built to suite different kind of riders. In the beginning it was really doing it for myself by trial and error and during the years I've learned a lot both working with wheels and researching the art of wheelbuilding talking to other dedicated wheelbuilders." And you can really tell that paying close attention to finest details and getting even the smallest of things right is what Kanata Wheel Works is all about. And as with any handcraft, every wheelbuilder add their own touch to the end product that makes them stand out. The internet today provides anyone of us detailed information of how to build your own wheels, but there are so much more to wheelbuilding than just getting pieces together. "-It's about quality control, you need to know that you're using only the best of materials and that they are certified and tested. If I see that the quality of a rim for instance does not meet the standards, let that be roundness or alignment, I will return the product back to the supplier." That's why the Kanata Wheel Works wheels come with a warranty, if you have a broken spoke or your Kanata Wheels would need any care, that is all taken care of and that's part of the promise of giving you the best set of wheels you can have. Notice that Kanata Wheel Works does not manufacture the components, but does use respected and well known manufacturer components to build the wheels. If your current wheels needs repairing, Kanata Wheel Works will also offer maintenance and repair services.
Ordering and price
You do not see a full detailed price-list on the Kanata website. That is because there are thousands of combinations depending on your weigth, the bike, the riding purposes, the surface you're riding on, the money you're willing to invest, the aero-factor you want to have, and the list goes on. Having a price-list would not suite the purpose nor the mentality and idea of building custom wheels for you. The way to get you the right set of wheels is at the end of the day easy. Basically you just tell Jamie a little bit about the rider you are, what the wheels would be used for and roughly how much you are willing to invest in them and you'll receive an offer with detailed information about the rims, components, spokes, nipples, hubs etc. For me, this was all a great learning experience since I had always been riding solely with factory wheels before (Mavic, Shimano and Campagnolo). What benefit different nipples, spokes and hubs would have depending on what the wheels would be used for, how you ride your bike, what your weight is, where your strenghts are, what kind of roads you ride on, how many watts you could save with aero spokes on this kind of rim and the list goes on. I probably learned more about wheels during the order process (10-15 minutes) than what I had learned before during the years I've been cycling.
For each component there is a price, as well as for the actual handcraft. According to Jamie you can have a pair of hand built alloy wheels from Kanata Wheel Works today starting from roughly 400 € whereas the price of a carbon wheel-set would start somewhere around 1400 €. That gives you hand built wheels built precisely for your purpose for roughly the same price than factory built wheels.
Shipping and Unboxing
The Kanata Wheel Works wheels come packed in a cardboard box designed especially for wheels. The wheels were firmly placed inside and were well protected by exterior possible damage.Would there be any harm caused to the wheels during transport, that would be taken care of and you are guaranteed to be delivered a set of wheels as promised. The delivery options as I write this are normal post and Matkahuolto that normally takes 2-3 business day to deliver your wheels.
The package I received withheld the Kanata Wheel Works Custom SL 23 Aluminium Wheelset. The Pacenti SL 23 aluminium rims are 24 mm (26,1 mm deep) wide and are one of the most popular rims used by wheel builders today. It is a durable and lightweight yet stiff and comfortable, which makes it possible to use in both training and racing and also to be used in cyclocross wheels. The Pacenti rims are also tubeless compatible. You can tell it's a quality manufactured rim.
The hubs are manufactured by Novatech (Novatech Road Hub) and they come with a nice Kanata logo finish. Novatech is probably one of the most well known hub brands out there, and they produce quality hubs for affordable prices. If you want quality but can't afford Chris King hubs, the Novatech hubs will probably be your choice. My wheel-set also came with Novatech quick releases. Maybe not the most beautiful ones out there, but they do their job more than well.
The spokes in my wheel-set are manufactured by Sapim (Sapim Laser). Sapim is a Belgian company that has been producing spokes for almost a century. That already tells you a bit about the company and the quality of their products. I chose the Sapim Laser spokes mainly because the aero spokes wouldn't have made this wheel-set much faster nor lighter. On this wheelset Sapim laser spokes were used on the front wheel and on the non-drive side rear wheel. Sapim D-Light spokes are used on the drive side rear wheel, this to make the wheel more durable. The Sapim D-Light spokes are slightly heavier and thicker, but can handle the forces of the drivetrain much better than the lighter spokes. This results in a durable pair of wheels.
Weight is usually important when you talk about wheels. So what did these wheels weigh? The rear wheel without cassette and quick releases weighted in at 834 g. The front wheel was of course slightly lighter weighing in at 650 g. Total weight for the wheel-set was therefore 1484 g. More or less the same weight as my Shimano Dura Ace wheels, that's not bad at all!
Riding the Wheels
The rims, being slightly wider than my old Dura Ace wheels also made the wheels look bigger. I used 23 mm wide Continental GP 4000 S II folding road tire and Michelin Air Comp Latex inner tube. The setup looks really good, and would probably look even better riding with 25 mm wide tires. Despite the wheels looking bigger, they are light and you could immediately feel that the roll resistance was good (low).
I have now ridden this pair of wheels for more than 1000 km both training and racing, and I have a pretty good sense of how the wheels perform and how they feel. I've been riding on rough roads in bad weather, riding fast in descents and hammered them going uphill.
From the first meters you could feel that you are riding on a wider set of wheels. Whether I've been riding into potholes, stones or crossing train tracks or sand roads the wheels feel comfortable and they handle any roughness in the road very well. A good example was in the Keravan Kevätpolkaisu race in May, where one section of the road was really in bad shape and there was punctures all over the peloton. I rode in to pretty bad potholes as well, but never lost control of the bike nor was I punctured. I knew many who had 2-3 punctures that day on the same section. The front wheel got hit hard by a large stone in the same race and there is only a small mark left from that, a small scratch. That would suggest the wheels will also be durable for years.
Many would say that aluminum wheels are made for training purposes. I would disagree. With these wheels I felt that I could respond to accelerations nicely, I was not left behind any riders attacking because of the rims. And when I had to accelerate whether it was uphill or flat, to attack or to better my position in the peloton, the response was immediate. They also roll well in downhill with this setup and sometimes where heavier guys had to pedal I could just coast (not sitting in slipstream that is). Because I am a pretty lightweight guy, Jamie built the wheels accordingly. Less spokes, less weight and faster wheels that suited me precisely. As I told you earlier, I've never ridden a hand-built wheel-set before, and I could immediately feel the difference.
Then there is the thing with sound that I like with wheels. Let's begin with the hubs. They are not too noisy. For instance some Mavics I've ridden are really loud and that's annoying especially if you are riding in a group and you are going downhill and you can't pedal. These hubs have a sound that does not irritate. The wheels themselves then. You know that sound from those Rapha videos where you can hear the birds sing, you can hear the heavy breathing of the cyclists and you can hear the sound of the wheels. That's the sound these wheels have. Push it harder, and you will feel the acceleration and you will hear the gentle sound from the wheels matching your pedal-stroke. They're really quiet, but if you pay close attention, you'll hear that gentle sound. Just the way it should be.
These wheels just feel great to ride with. They respond to any acceleration, they are comfortable to ride with. You also feel safe riding them, when you corner you know where the bike is going and you don't feel out of control. There is no over- or under-steering. The bike goes where you point it. The wide rim gives you a nice sense of stability, and I would even suggest riding them with 25 mm tires (or bigger if you're a big guy) to add even more comfort. If I would compare these wheels to anything I've ridden before, I would say it's probably the best pair of wheels I've ridden.
So is there any value in hand-built wheels? After riding these wheels I guess I am not going back to mass produced wheels again. These wheels feel like an extension to your body much the same way a perfectly fit bike feels like. The added comfort and feel of control I got riding with these wheels made the riding feel so much safer. Feeling more relaxed and safe on the bike will surely also affect your performance on the bike. And then the other thing. I know I have a set of wheels that I can trust. I know every detail, how the wheels were built, how the tension in my wheels is done, how the nipples are chosen and secured. Every detail is closely thought of according to the rider I am, and also every detail is made and finished with absolute care by Jamie himself. And would I have any questions regarding the wheels, I can just call Jamie and I will know. Would there be a broken spoke, Jamie will take care of it asap. That's the added value you get by having a wheel-set from Kanata Wheel Works.
After all the riding with these wheels I would warmly recommend a similar setup for any kind of rider whether you are looking for wheels for training and/or racing. Of course the details would probably be slightly different, but these components put together feels like a very durable, versatile and fast set of wheels I can trust. Part of it comes from using quality components, the other part comes from selecting the right components and putting them together to suite my needs. It becomes personal, and that feels good in every single way.
- Versatile (can be used in both training and racing and are also tubeless compatible)
- Good looking
- Affordable prizing
- Outstanding customer service - you know what you ride
- Pretty hard to get a 23 mm Continental tire on the first time, but the second time will be a swift change already