The paradox of small

The paradox of small

In our recent post announcing the end of the Al33 era, two commenters reasonably suggested Alex rims as a potential source for rims. Simply, though they have some seemingly nice rims, they require too high a minimum purchase for us to even consider them. 

You could argue that we offer too much variety, and you might be correct. People seem a bit split between "just tell me what to get" and being very specific about their wants and needs. In any case, the way we're set up accommodates that latter, and we don't mind directing the former, so it's fine. Our size depends on both audiences, though, so we can't just go one way or the other. Sometimes we're smashed with orders, other times it's a struggle to get enough of them. It seems that it's always near impossible to get the right number of orders. 

The minimums you get quoted on rims from places like Alex are generally about 100 rims per rim/spoke drilling (and that's even a bit of a low end estimate). So that means if we want to do the Draw 2.1 (a rim we've looked at a few times), then we need to order 100 of them in 24h drilling. One spoke drilling generally doesn't cover what people want and need, so then we'd need to order 100 28h rims to go along with them. Not to mention that these are disc rims that we've ordered, and our rim brake rim flank is left completely uncovered. That's a very big proportion of our annual alloy disc rim consumption, and it would lock up a huge amount of our capital for a long time to pay for them, wait for them, get them, and then eventually sell through them. 

By contrast, in the last week we've ordered rims from HED, Boyd, Astral, Velocity, and RaceFace. The most of any was probably 10 HED rims, and then eight Velocity rims. Together they represent almost a full week of production capacity (which is roughly 15 builds a week), so to have more than that on hand doesn't make a lot of sense. You buy often enough so that you're not waiting on components, but you also try to not spend an hour a day buying stuff, and you try to save some on shipping cost. Very few of the above-mentioned rims are for stock, so we've been paid for most of them, we paid for all of them when we ordered them, and then for the accountants out there we will move that money out of unearned revenue when we ship the built wheels. If Alex had a US presence that allowed us to do the same cycle with them, either directly or through a distributor, we'd very likely have an "Alex wheels" section for me to hot link in this sentence. Alas...

Though custom everything is a pain in the butt, and more about the particular demands of selling EVERYTHING in a soon-to-come post, that's where our market niche is. Because most sane people recognize that custom everything is a pain in the butt, and they organize around that reality, and then live or die based on that (and we've seen quite a bit of "die" lately). We've managed to live through some pretty painful gyrations with how we do things, so we're inclined to stick largely with that game plan. 


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Catherine – People treat our wheels so nicely – drag them through mud, pour sweat on them. You’re real nice people out there, jeez!

dr_lha – A lot of companies make a lot of products at different quality and price points. There are Alex rims that we’d easily work with, and ones we’d take a hard pass on. But never forget that lesser components built well are going to outperform better products built poorly. The whole thing hinges on the build, and that’s where we earn our keep.

Brian – OEM is a way different business than aftermarket. Some like Mavic choose to do both, but their greater business being “built wheels” smooths out some of the difference because the same SKUs go to both channels. OEM is a bigger market, the whole marketplace is in the Far East, and it’s just easier and more efficient for Alex to do that, I guess.


Thanks for the explanation! Makes a lot of sense, especially given that they’re so established with the OEM market, that they would have huge minimums. Oh well, eventually I’ll get a disc brake road bike and can just rock some cafe racers instead of worrying about rim brake wheels….

Brian S.

I have to say, when I read “Alex Rims” my immediate thought was pretty much every crappy wheel that came stock on any bike where they don’t brand their own wheels. I’m sure they make some nice rims, but brand wise it’s a bit like asking someone to pay top dollar for a Schwinn these days.


Thanks for custom and small; it’s the style I love best. The build gives me something to admire as I drip wheels sweat on them! You’re obviously on to something business wise. I’m glad about that as well.

Catherine Seiferth

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