"At Fanatik our standards for wheel building are so high that it was almost as if I had to relearn how to build a wheel. They are some of the highest, if not the highest in the industry,” said Max Loewenstein.
Max is one of Fanatik’s expert wheel builders. Watching him methodically tensioning a wheel is akin to witnessing a sculptor coax a beautiful figure out of a block of clay. What was once a loose jumble of J-bend spokes transforms into a perfectly tensioned wheel ready for many seasons of riding.
“My record is eight wheels in a day but building that many is definitely tough on your body,” Max said, a spoke wrench in hand. With such a depth of knowledge and experience, I knew that he was exactly the person to ask when setting out to build the best bang-for-buck custom wheelset. I wanted a wheelset that was durable, affordable, and high performing; not a small request. However Max was swift with his answer: “you want one of these, they’re bombproof,” lifting a DT Swiss 511 rim smartly laced up to a Hope Pro 4 hub.
Retailing at $149.90, the DT Swiss 511 undercuts the price of any carbon option while offering similar durability. With aluminum construction and a wide profile, these rims are marketed for enduro applications. They are extremely versatile and would perform well on anything ranging from an aggressive trail bike to a full-on DH race rig. The 511 excels when the terrain is unrelentingly rough, negotiating ragged edges and gnarled beds of roots with ease. Featuring a 30mm internal diameter, these rims pair best with tires ranging from 2.4” - 2.6” in size.
I chose to have my rims laced up to Hope Pro 4 hubs front and rear. Based in the U.K., Hope long ago established itself as a high-quality bike parts manufacturer, producing CNC products with an exactness that leaves no detail overlooked. The Pro 4 is no exception, resulting in a high-performing hub that is visually striking. Available in six anodized color options, there is a beautifully eye-catching choice to tie together any build. The Pro 4 hub shell is machined from a single forged aluminum billet, featuring tall flanges to allow for an overall stiffer construction. Its 4 pawl ratchet system has 44-points of engagement, engaging every 8.2-degrees. Retailing at only $225 for the rear hub and $95 for the front, these hubs are a premium product at a digestible price point.
Sapim Race Double Butted spokes tie my wheelset together. Available in black and silver, they add yet another level of color coordination to one’s build option. Even more important than color coordination, they are extremely durable, ensuring a wheel that holds its shape for countless rides. For those looking for extra weight savings, DT Swiss Aerolite bladed spokes are also an option through the custom builder, albeit at a higher price.
On the trail this wheelset punches well above its price bracket, delivering a premium riding experience at an affordable cost. The alloy construction of the 511 rims allows for a perfect balance between stiffness and compliance. Taking rough terrain in stride, the 511 helps to mute out harsh edges.
Even with some less-than-ideal line choice, my wheels have always come out the other side ready for the next square edge hit. After months of riding, my wheelset is still as true as the moment it came out of the stand. It would take a herculean effort to deform these rims. Even with a tensiometer in hand, it would be difficult to tell my wheels apart from a fresh set, their only giveaway being a few cosmetic scratches.
The Hope Pro 4 hub is the literal driving force of this wheelset. With consistent engagement accompanied by a crackling metallic growl when freewheeling, the Pro 4 delivers a level of performance that is typically reserved for a more expensive price bracket. Their tactile responsiveness serves as a resounding reminder of their remarkable quality to price ratio.
Custom Wheel Builder
The beauty of our Custom Wheel Builder is the freedom to pick and tailor a wheelset given one's preferences. While this wheelset performs flawlessly for me, that doesn’t mean it can't be modified. Those with a larger budget and a desire for more instant engagement could opt for the Industry Nine Hydra or an Onyx Vesper hub. If weight savings is a priority, perhaps the 511’s slimmer sibling, the 471, could be a better choice. A set of We Are One Union rims laced up to a set Pro 4 hubs provides an entry into top-level carbon wheels while maintaining an affordable hub set.
For those looking to exit the realm of value build altogether, an Industry Nine System build is one of the premier wheelsets available. Making use of I9’s US-manufactured burly straight-pull spokes, 690 points of engagement, and I9 rims, a System build sacrifices nothing in the pursuit of perfection. Combined with the ability to color coordinate individual spokes, there is no denying that an Industry Nine System build is as custom as a wheelset can get.
Just because it’s custom doesn’t mean it has to break the bank. The reliability of this wheelset will save money in the long run. Max claims that he just had to true his 511 outfitted wheels for the first time in two years. Twenty-four full months of relentless Pacific Northwest thrashing without an issue insight. At that rate, I fully understand how mine have remained so pristine.
The combination of Hope Pro 4 hubs, DT Swiss 511 rims, and black Sapim spokes creates an elite wheelset at an attainable cost. Paired with the professional craftsmanship of one of our wheel builders, the end product is an elegantly shred-ready wheelset.