One of the oft-cited mantras in the "how few spokes can I get away with" conundrum is that many factory wheels have parts that are all "engineered to work together." We spend enough of life discussing spoke count so I'm not even going to talk about it now, but I will mention that since my Quarq caught the flu I have been using my old 24h Powertap, which I built into an aluminum rim.
Neither Mike nor I are big E Engineers (those who possess engineering degrees and PE certs are big E Engineers), but engineering things isn't their exclusive domain. Heck, beavers are some of the planet's most prolific engineers, and despite many adorable animated stories about them which would have you believe otherwise, they don't talk or go to college or wear hard hats. That didn't keep MIT and CalTech from adopting them as school mascots. Alas, neither of us is a beaver, either.
Small e engineering is a reasonably simple process. All it takes is a good working knowledge of the traits of the materials you're using, and the parameters you want the finished product to hit. Certain factory wheel products have proprietary parts that are designed to work exclusively together, in the ways they interconnect parts, or in the way they use local reinforcing to address certain stresses. And in their being that way, one could say that thesed are optimized for their configuration, but that doesn't mean a wheel that's built using non-purpose-built-to-work-exclusively-together components can't be optimized for any given set of parameters. Optimizing builds and component selections using standardized parts has been going on for far far longer than we've been doing it, and will hopefully continue long after we're done.
The proximate cause for this blog is that a wheel company out there is once again passing off a standard product as their own, engineered and optimized to work in their wheel "system." They use a unique hub of their own design, standard but not specified spokes, and a rim that they buy from the brand that owns the rim's design and has exclusive rights to its manufacture. They lace it only in 20/24, and call it optimized and put no rider weight limit on it. When asked about it the rim recently, they stone cold straight up lied. And if you are going to do what they're doing, the rim they've chosen isn't the one to do it with. And they charge well north of $1000 for them. Well north. Presumably to support the array of athletes and teams they sponsor. The people behind this company may be the nicest people on the planet, I have no idea at all, but I disagree with their approach.
You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a company that's selling wheels with a sub-$250 cost of goods for $700 or $900 or $1150. Many of these still BS and pass their components off as "designed and E/engineered by us, manufactured just for us." Buying OEM stuff and having it laser engraved isn't engineering. Or Engineering. And it's probably easy to spot that our cost of goods is a hell of a lot higher than $250 on any build.
A big part of why we're so open about the branding of the components we use is so you know what you're getting, and you can make informed choices based on your prior experiences with them, their reputation in the marketplace, and our reputation for putting them together correctly. If it isn't really obvious, our patience with companies that play stupid tricks is 100% gone. We used to be pretty tactful about this stuff, but I wouldn't expect that anymore.