Labor's free, but it ain't cheap. Or, making the sausage.

Behind the Curtain Bicycle Biz Economics boyd business

We've lately done a bunch more builds with customer-supplied parts. Rolling with the changes is what we do, and as huge advocates of buying quality parts in order to have them pay off with durability, we're more than happy to have people send us great hubs to rebuild into new wheels. Or send us good rims that they're able to source themselves somehow. All good.

For the most part, we're able to do this at a cost that most people can quickly agree to. Often enough, it gets into a debate about what the cost "should" be, with a comparison to some of our built wheel pricing used as "evidence" against us. Let's use a Boyd Altamont/White Industries T11 build as an example, a build which we price at $895. Altamont rims are $105/ea, and a pair of black T11s retails for $475 (colors are more but let's stick to black). The CX Ray spokes we use retail for $3.60/ea, and black brass nipples are $.20/ea. Adding that up, you get $852, implying that we charge $43 to build a set of wheels. (the pic below shows ceramic versions of the rims, which cost more, but I like the picture and wanted to use it).

Then let's take a HED Belgium+/Chris King R45 disc build. Retail of the parts going into that sucker is $1215, but we charge $1150 for the whole caboodle (and add rim tape besides), implying that we'll pay you $65 to build your wheels. Which we won't do. (again, a slightly "not precisely what I'm talking about" pic but I wanted to use it)

We've talked many times before about needing to collect "x" on each set of wheels we ship out in order to make things work here. Quite often, the margin between our wholesale cost for a build's components works out to within a close shot of "x," as in the two examples above and many more. To us, there's not much reason to charge more than "x" when a build's component pricing would allow it, but the flip side is that there's a hard necessity to not make less than "x" when a build's component margins aren't capable of burying "x." We don't/won't/can't do that. 

So when the components have a low cost, which logically means that there aren't that many raw dollars of margin between wholesale and retail, or when the parts are being supplied to us and thus there is no margin between wholesale and retail, we have to get to "x" without that margin tailwind. Most often, people recognize that we bust our behinds to do good builds and that we need (I dislike the concept of "deserve" here) to make our nut in order to have it work, and they're happy to have us do the work. Sometimes, people get upset and think that the shop down the street that charges $65/wheel for build labor ties us to that price for the same. It doesn't. We'll thank you for getting in touch and courteously decline the proposition, but we know our parameters and we stick to them. They're not at all unrealistic. We know we're not going to be competitive on the "$400 all in" set of wheels, and we're not shy about it. But within the realm of what people who've read this far are looking for, we're probably right in the strike zone.

If you've got some parts you'd like us to turn into your favorite wheels, send us a note and find out for yourself. 

Lastly, very sad to hear the Paul Sherwen has passed. The Phil and Paul show was a fixture for almost everyone who'll see this, and if you never heard Paul's voice commenting along your on-bike heroics (purely imagined heroics, of course, in my personal case), you've missed out. 


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  • Mike on

    TLDR…you pay for premium talent.

    Basically people don’t understand how a business works 1) I imagine you guys aren’t paying retail for parts. 2) with your standard components you are very efficient as you know exactly what spoke lengths are needed, have already QA’d your inventory, you have backup hubs/rims if needed, etc…which all leads to 3) building a one-off custom wheelset takes more of your time to ensure the high quality end result as one gets with your standard list wheelsets.

    I for one have no problem paying a good wheelbuilder a premium rate to build with components. Last year I had my shop true my Rails after about 10k of miles on them, they didn’t even charge me as they maybe had to do a total of 2 full turns of a spoke wrench across all the spokes on both wheels, and I definitely have taken them places most people would be hesitant to take carbon road wheels w/ skinny tires.

  • Keith baumgardner on

    Unless your a math person, and i am (a Geometry and Algebra teacher) this can get a little confusing. But i think it is well said. I have not priced wheels bring built by you but your other products are very reasonable. Just saving now to get my first set of Disc Cafe Racers. Good luck in the future.

    Keith Baumgardner


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